I wish I didn’t feel that there was a need for me to make a post like this, but after the experiences of the past week, I know that there is. If you are following my blog or know me on Facebook, you already know that I am an animal rescuer (among other things…) I assumed that responsible rescue was something with a real definition and generally understood protocol that were in place, but now I see that mileage varies among people in the “rescue” world.
What is Rescue?
I cannot speak for others, unfortunately, but below are the six key parameters that outline “rescue” to me. These are the principles that govern the way I make my choices and take my actions. I can’t say that I do the “best” job, but I can tell you that I do what is right.
1. Rescue is a lifetime commitment. We say this about adoption and attempt to drill into the public’s mind that when you adopt an animal, you are adopting it for “life.” We tell them to be ready to commit to 5, 10, 15 years or more and we expect that they will. What some rescuers don’t realize, however, is that RESCUE is a lifetime commitment, as well. Once you have raised your hand and verbally agreed to accept responsibility for that animal’s life- this is, before it is even in your arms; do not SAY you will help if you don’t intend to follow through, your word is your reputation– it means you will do whatever is necessary to care for it in a way that meets or even exceeds the standards and expectations that you hold your adopters to. Rescue requires making sometimes huge sacrifices for the sake of the animals you have agreed to help.
2. Rescue is a safety net. There must always be someone ultimately responsible for the care of each animal that is rescued and you must be prepared to be that person. You do not get to remove it from a shelter, hand it to someone else, pat yourself on the back and move on. Foster home placements fail, adoptions fail, things happen that we were not prepared for. You must be that animal’s safety net because when others turn their backs, you are the one that made the original lifetime commitment to that animal (see #1.) Note: You should microchip (and REGISTER) the animals you place because you can never be sure that anyone is going to be perfectly responsible with the animal you entrusted to them and this step can keep them from ending up in a distant shelter or PTS.
3. Rescue means rescue. The Merriam-Webster definition of rescue is “to free from confinement, danger, [harm: by proxy via “save”] or evil: to save, deliver.” Rescue is not simply taking an animal from a bad situation or the threat of a bad situation and placing it in something kind of better. Your duty is to keep that animal safe from all harm and danger. This requires proper veterinary care and husbandry with no boundaries. This means spaying and neutering to prevent your rescues from adding to the population of pets needing homes. “Any place is better than no place at all” does NOT apply. We hear and see stories almost daily about animal “rescuers” who “got in over their heads” by hoarding, keeping animals inhumanely or not providing proper daily care or diet. Pulling an animal from a shelter or a bad situation in order to keep it in an inhumane or irresponsible way is NOT rescue. Additionally, you must PLACE these animals with proper care and attention to their future homes, matching them with people that will understand and meet their needs. Adopting them out to just anyone versus taking the time to properly screen homes is lazy and dangerous. Take what you can handle and appropriately place, and leave what you can’t. You are not a superhero, and rescue work is about quality, not quantity (the Starfish Story tells us this.)
4. Rescue sometimes means goodbyes and broken hearts. In the past, I have gone above and beyond what many of my rescue friends tell me they could have or would have done for animals in my rescue. I have adopted most of my fosters that turned out to be “unadoptable” due to temperament or health so I could focus on giving them the life they needed and deserved, but sometimes that isn’t an option. In the saddest of cases, the last thing I can do for an animal in need is hold him in my arms and tell him that I love him and that this was not his fault, as he is put to rest forever. This is hard, but it is a part of rescue. If you do not have the heart to euthanize an animal and would instead let it suffer with low quality of life (mentally or physically) or languish in a cage for the rest of its life because you are too selfish to make that trip to the vet, you have NO business being an animal rescuer. “Suck it up” and deal with the heartache, because this isn’t about you and if your emotions are more important than the animal’s well-being, you’re not a rescuer anyway.
5. Rescue is a people business. If you are rescuing animals because you “like them more than people” or think that it is an opportunity to feel superior to others, you may want to re-think your line of work. Animal rescue is about educating others (see #6) and helping them to become better stewards for their pets. It is about completing families and helping them find the right fit for their home. It is about working together, with volunteers and other rescue groups, to save lives. If you are a mean, jaded, bitchy individual, and you do not try to put on a professional front, shame on you. The face YOU put forward is the face of all rescue. I do not care to be considered a peer to someone that treats other people poorly. At all times, you are responsible for maintaining the reputation of animal rescuers everywhere and that means first and foremost, you need to be NICE to people. Return your phone calls and emails, don’t be too judgmental and don’t treat others like they are an annoyance. Rescue is non-profit work, but it is still a business and you are supposed to be a professional.
6. Rescuers are teachers. At some point in your life, you were probably not as good a pet owner as you are now. You didn’t know the things you know, you didn’t have the experience you do now. Please do not assume that every person that is taking poor care of their pets is doing so because he or she is evil and abusive. Many are simply uneducated or lack the resources to do better. Sometimes, opening a friendly line of communication about animal care can encourage people to do some research and become better caretakers of their pets. Sometimes, we need to be more direct and tell them what changes they can make. Sometimes we simply grab the animals from a bad situation and run with it, but no matter what it takes I believe in the “teach a man to fish” perspective. Yes, I want to get animals out of bad situations and that is the first priority, but if I can prevent future pets for that family from being treated inhumanely or being cared for poorly due to ignorance on the part of the owners, then I am doing more for the animal population in general. You must be friendly and polite (see #5) even when you don’t feel like it, but if you manage to get through you may have saved many more lives than the one cradled in your protective care now.