“I’ve made up my mind. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

We’ve talked about some “controversial” topics in past blogs. My July post on open adoptions caused a bit of a stir among many of you. Any time we write about some of the more progressive programs across the animal welfare movement, we tend to see two general kinds of responses. One group generally applauds the new data and the new way of thinking that can help save more lives. The other group digs in and simply denies the possibility that the new information could be correct. Why is that?

The Humane Research Council (HRC) just posted a blog about a phenomenon known as the “backfire effect.” The information feels very timely for this moment in animal welfare, when a new data-driven paradigm is changing long-held beliefs and sending lifesaving rates to all-time highs.

Programmatic changes and promotions such as fee-waived adoptions and open adoptions are two examples that have helped move animals out of shelters and into homes quicker than ever before. The research is very clear on both of those items. The amount paid for an animal as an adoption fee has nothing to do with how loved the animal will be. Regarding open adoptions, there’s little evidence to show that such pet placement policies result in higher returns than those involving an exhaustive, hassle-filled adoption process in which would-be adopters are made to feel guilty of poor pet parenting until they prove themselves worthy. Such restrictive or “closed” adoption policies, of course, move fewer animals into homes, meaning that more animals will be killed in the shelter.

So, when this new data-based evidence is presented, why does a group hold on to those deeply held beliefs, even though they may not be based on facts or may be just plain wrong? According to the HRC, there are a few reasons. The first, they say, is probably the most obvious — that we don’t like to be wrong. Who does — especially concerning practices with which we are comfortable?

Another reason, HRC says, is that once we internalize a belief, it’s hard to let that belief go. Rescuers invest a lot of trust in these decisions, which are difficult to step away from. And, maybe the most applicable reason for our field, we often let our emotions decide instead of our brains — especially for issues we care deeply about.

With about 9,000 animals killed in U.S. shelters each and every day, we need to be open to new ideas that may run opposite to what we believe to be true. More important, the animals depend on us to be open to them, because they are the ones dying in shelters when simple acceptance of new ways of thinking, innovative programs and progressive policies could save their lives.

Together, we can Save Them All if we don’t allow ourselves to believe that we have nothing left to learn about saving lives.

Cat Dog

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society