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Ego- The Silent Killer of Rescue

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

By: Katie Johnson

“A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.” “The I or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of it’s thoughts.” “The meaning of Ego is self especially as contrasted with another self or the world.” When you google the meaning of “ego” all of these definitions pop up and while all of them are correct, the focus here is the ego which causes individuals to compare themselves to others in such a way as to believe they are “superior to others.” We see this a lot in rescue. The fight to “be the best.” The idea that someone is better than someone else because of the work that they do or have contributed to. Unpopular opinion, charities are breeding grounds for narcissists. Ouch, did that trigger you? If so, I suggest taking some deep breaths, put on some calming music and sit with your feelings and examine why that was a trigger for you. If you, like me run a dog rescue/animal sanctuary you probably know exactly what I am speaking of and if you are a rescuer that does not lead with ego than you also, like me, were not triggered by that statement. In fact, you probably shouted out loud “Yes! Exactly!” Because you, again like me, have seen the effects of narcissism in rescue and have encountered the “look at me, look at me” individuals. Those that want to say they helped a dog/animal. Those that value the ability to say they helped or tell what they have done more than the actual rescue and safety of the animal. There are a number of different examples that I want to explore and talk about, but first it is important to differentiate between ego and pride.

The ego that I am referring to is the belief that “I am superior to others. I am better than others.” The idea that they are a of a higher caliber because of the work that they do or have done. Taking pride in oneself and their work is an entirely different thing. To take pride in oneself is to be humble. There isn’t even a question of being superior to others because there is no competition. Everyone is special and unique and has something to offer in their own right. Having pride and taking pride in oneself and their work comes with the understanding that no one is “better” or “worse” than anyone else. That in this time and space and on this plane all existence is important and needed. A lion has no more importance than an ant. A weed isn’t less than the moon. Taking pride in yourself or your work is acknowledging and accepting that everyone is unique and there is no competition. There is no race to the finish line. There is no conceit. Ego, the kind in which I am talking about is a disease and it has become commonplace, especially in rescue. It is a virus that goes unchecked and uncontrolled. A silent killer.

Why a killer of rescue? Because this ego makes rescuers that don’t lead with their ego want to quit and in fact has caused many to do just that. Ego has forced rescues to close and has caused an unbearable working environment. People that lead from their heart space truly understand that there is no space for ego in rescue or charity for that matter. If you lead from your heart you want to help those in need from a space of love not accolade. Those searching for pats on the back and “atta boys” miss the true foundation of charity work. While rescue’s getting those kind and thoughtful messages should appreciate them and I am sure they do, it’s not the basis for their work. Rescuers and rescue’s that truly want to make a difference in the world would do it whether they were recognized or not. Recognition isn’t the goal, bringing light to the darkness is. So let’s go back to that triggering comment above about narcissists.

First, let’s define what a narcissist is. A narcissist is a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves. They think very highly of oneself, needing admiration, believing others are inferior, and lacking empathy for others. So how does charity work breed narcissism? It's pretty simple really. Being involved in a charity is a great way to say, “Look at me, look at me. Look at how much more important I am than you because I do charity work.” Here is a great example for you. I had a woman message me on Facebook, about a year ago saying that she was going to report the rescue because “every time I post the dogs, they are outside and we should be saving dogs from being outside.” To begin, the dogs have the option to go in and out and most of the time they want to be outside, I mean who wouldn’t? Especially after being locked in a kennel at a loud shelter. Secondly, this woman has never been to the ranch and has no idea what she was talking about. When I pointed these things out to her, she responded that “You are a terrible rescue and I know about rescue. I save 75 dogs a day!” Now, if you are in animal welfare in any capacity, I am sure you just spit your coffee, water, wine (no judgements here 😊) out of your mouth laughing. 75 dogs a day! Come on now, that’s impossible and we all know it. This woman wanted me to say, “Wow! 75 dogs a day! You are amazing, incredible! What would the animals do without you? Teach me your ways.” She wanted those pats on the back, those accolades, those “atta girls!” No, no I did not give them to her. First of all she’s a straight up liar, no one can save 75 dogs a day and two my purpose in life isn’t to feed the ego of others.

Another great example, I had someone message me on Instagram telling me that she heard through her friend that one of our sanctuary dogs lives in a “shed” with no lights, windows, ac, etc. and she would be better off euthanized than in our care. Shaking my head as I even write this. I immediately went down to that dogs sanctuary house and took pictures and sent them to her, which honestly I didn’t have to do, but I did. She immediately responded with an apology and an excuse that she’s just passionate. No lady, you have no idea what you are talking about, and you are embarrassed with the message you sent (you should be, saying a dog was better off dead) and now you are making excuses saying your deplorable behavior is because you are passionate. Again, this is ego at play. Now, I will give credit where credit is due and she did apologize, but with an excuse (ego). By the way, in the dictionary next to passionate it doesn’t say “being passionate means you get to be an asshole and treat people poorly.”

Ego is present in every aspect of rescue. I’ve first hand seen behavioralists and trainers refuse to work with dogs and sentence them to death because “well if I can’t work with a dog and I am the best behavioralist/trainer there is, then no one can work with this dog.” Ego. And worse because that ego murders animals. I’ve seen it from rescues too. Everyone wants to be the best. Everyone wants to be the dog whisperer, which by the way the absolute worst coined term ever! No one is a dog whisperer and since that term has been in circulation more animals have been killed because these so called “dog whisperers” don’t take the proper training and courses and can’t even read dog body language correctly get bitten and then dogs are killed. Ego. Ego. Ego. Only a narcissist would rather kill a dog than let someone else try to work with the dog because they believe if they can’t do it no one can.

Ego is present even in advocacy. People want to feel like they are apart of something, are saving lives, are making a difference. Now there isn’t anything wrong with that per say. But it does become a problem when you promise rescues donations, to pay for vet care, boarding to send food, etc. so that they will save the animal and then you back out on that promise. Why is this a narcissistic move? Well because if these people actually cared about the animal and the well-being of the animal they would follow through on their promises. What we are actually seeing is these people getting their ego stroked and getting a high from helping to save a dog, but then leaving the rescue high and dry with no funds to care for the animal. That isn’t life saving work! That is actually killing more animals because now the rescue has even less funds and an extra animal to care for. Now the rescue has to close because that dog cost $3000 in boarding that you said you would pay for and didn’t and now the rescue is bankrupt. Now the rescue is closed, and they can’t save anymore animals, so more animals actually died and will continue to die because you needed to stroke your own ego. This has actually happened to us on numerous occasions. Again, ego. The need to feel superior. It’s everywhere in rescue and it is causing rescue after rescue after rescue to close.

Now ego and pride can sometimes be hard to separate. Rescues have to talk about the work that they are doing to get help from the public. It’s honestly my least favorite part. While I am very proud of the work we do, I don’t like feeling like I’m “bragging”. Because to me this is work that I should be doing. It’s my purpose. It’s the path God, the Universe whoever and whatever you believe in laid out for me. But in order to get followers and donations rescues have to share what makes them special. Now is that ego, no, it’s taking pride in your work. But I am sure other’s, probably those that walk the line of ego and pride will see it otherwise and that’s ok. I’m not here to prove anything to anyone. I’m here to do the work that was intended for me. I’m here to lead with love and compassion and to do my best to change this world and make it a better and brighter place. I don’t need accolades and while we here at LHRR appreciate the kind words, it’s not why we do this work. Rescuers leave rescue because of the drama that comes with too many narcissists fighting for the top spot. The backstabbing, the lies, the rumors, the I am better than you. Rescues should be working together. Rescues, trainers, advocates, volunteers, behavioralists, shelters everyone should be supporting each other and working together to make the changes needed, not tearing each other apart. If everyone lived and loved from their heart, oh what a world it would be. If everyone put ego aside we may actually make a difference. Together.

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