Monthly Archives: March 2011

Rescue means rescue

Cody's rescue backed out of their commitment to him, leaving his fate uncertain if we had not stepped in to take him.

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.)

Baxter had dangerous animal aggression and a human bite on his record but was not a candidate for permanent adoption in our home. In order to keep others safe without condemning him to life in a crate, we said goodbye to him. It is hard to read (harder for me to write) but this was the (unfair) decision we were forced to make.

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.

This job is about making people happy, and helping them become better pet owners.



Filed under Make a Difference, Pets, Philosophy, Rescue

Canine Good Citizen-ship

Yesterday evening, the last of my five dogs, Dover, passed his Canine Good Citizen test.  This is huge for us because Dover, a deaf English setter, came to us with such severe canine compulsive disorder that he was disconnected from everything in the world around him except the lights and shadows he lived to chase.  He was a foster for an English setter rescue but it was clear that he was unadoptable after six months of sloooooow progress uphill and we adopted him.  I knew that placing him in an “average pet owner” home would be risky.  His condition is serious enough that he has been placed on anti-anxiety medication to help control the compulsion and for three years, managing his behavior and trying to recover his quality of life has been a huge part of our lives. We initially had kept him because it was the best thing for HIM but over time, we realized that we were just as much in love with him as any of our other dogs and can’t imagine this journey without him.  Passing his test last night was like planting our flag on top of Mt. Everest. Proof that we made this climb together.  I’m not sure what is in our future but I know this: whatever we try to accomplish, we will succeed!

What is CGC testing?

The American Kennel Club has a series of simple tests for you to demonstrate your dog’s status as a Canine Good Citizen (CGC)- essentially that he or she is a well mannered, respectable member of society and not a menace, danger or nuisance. This test is actually a jumping board to therapy dog testing but they are not the same thing.

What do you get? A certificate that proves your dog has proven itself in front of one to three evaluators. Some insurance companies will reduce your home owner’s rates if you present these certificates for the dogs in your household.

Your dog must pass ten tests for a 100% in order to be certified. Automatic dismissal occurs if the dog growls, snaps, bites, attacks or grabs any person or another dog. If the handler is unsportsmanlike, kicks, strikes or manhandles a dog at any time, the pair will be dismissed immediately. If your dog eliminates during the test, you will be dismissed although you can take the test at another date.

Your dog will wear a harness or collar (no correction collars or head halters) and depending on the facility where you test, you may be asked for proof of license or rabies.

SO, is your dog CGC-worthy?

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger
Evaluator approaches the handler, shakes hands with and greets the handler, ignoring the dog. The dog may be sitting, standing or laying down but may not break whatever position it’s in to go to the evaluator and cannot show signs of timidity or aggression.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting
Now the evaluator greets the dog, petting its head and body. The dog may stand or remain sitting politely for this but should not jump up on the evaluator and as above, cannot be shy or resentful.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming
The evaluator inspects the dog as a veterinarian might examine it, checking the body, feet, and ears. The handler brings a brush the dog is familiar with so the evaluator can lightly brush the dog. The dog should be healthy in appearance and cannot be frightened or aggressive in response to handling.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
Exactly what it says- your dog should walk beside you and not pull ahead on the leash. Usually you walk in an L shape pattern out and then back because there must be a left turn, a right turn, an about turn, a halt somewhere along the route and a halt at the end.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd
Essentially, a crowd of people (usually there are kids or people with crutches in this crowd at the tests I’ve observed) spreads out not too thinly and you are instructed to walk around them, passing fairly close. The dog doesn’t have to totally ignore people but shouldn’t jump or strain on the leash, be fearful, aggressive, or overly excited.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place
At this station, your dog is placed on a 20 ft line. You must ask your dog to sit and down to show that s/he knows how, and then you pick the position to leave your dog in for the duration of the test. Telling your dog to stay, you move to the end of the 20 foot line and wait for your evaluator to send you back to your dog, return to your position and then the dog may move.

Test 7: Coming when called
Usually done right after the sit while your dog is still on the long line, you now must put your dog in a stay and walk 10 feet away from your dog. When the evaluator gives you the signal, you release your dog and tell it to come to you. This test isn’t for the stay so your dog doesn’t need to be PERFECT in a stay here, but it certainly goes over better. All you’re doing is demonstrating that the dog will come to you when called.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog
Two test takers and their dogs walk across the floor to each other, they shake hands and say hello, exchange pleasantries, etc, and then continue walking. The dogs are on the outside, not walking face to face, and must not go to each other or the other handler. You don’t have to put them in a sit but some/most evaluators I have worked with like to see that.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction
This might be “dropping a crutch or cane,” “dropping a chair,” rolling a wheelchair, opening an umbrella, clanging pots or pans, etc. The dog is allowed to startle but can’t bark, lunge, or try to run away.

Test 10: Supervised separation
Tester leaves dog with an evaluator or a test volunteer and goes out of sight for three minutes. As long as the dog doesn’t throw a total fit (constantly bark, whine, pace, or otherwise seem freaked out though mild nervousness is okay) it should be able to pass.

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Filed under Dog Training, Make a Difference, Personal, Rescue

Japan Disaster Relief: you can make a difference!

I’ve been relatively quiet about the situation in Japan.  It is time to bring it up, however.  When Hurricane Katrina struck, the rest of the country mobilized to come together and help the people and animals that were displaced by the tragic natural disaster.  The landscape in some areas of the Gulf Coast remains empty and changed, homes ruined and clutter and debris scattered about, more than five years later.

Japan is a country with amazing culture, beautiful landscape and a rich history.  They need our help.  Stop here for a list of ways you can help. WorldVets is trying to help with donations, vet care, and relief support.   You can like them on Facebook to get real updates on their progress. Click here to see the blog hop; check out how some bloggers like Sparkle the Cat (donating $1 for every comment today…) are trying to help.  Consider donating or just spread awareness and messages of compassion and encourage others to pitch in and help.  This all goes, of course, hand in hand with supporting the efforts of disaster relief and humanitarian groups such as the Red Cross.  Japan has been an ally of ours, with an overwhelming response to Hurricane Katrina, and if we can help, we should.  When a natural disaster of this magnitude strikes, our loyalty, compassion and kindness should NOT have borders.  It’s not a nation that struggles now.  Individuals do.  There are so many things, even small things, that we can do to make a difference for someone in need.

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Filed under Make a Difference, Personal, Rescue


Last year something inside me changed.  I knew that I was overwhelmed with rescue work and needed a break, but I couldn’t stop rescuing.  That break came inadvertently in February after my long time foster, Bunny, was adopted.  That very same weekend, I had taken in Callie, a 15 year old chow mix that we found just days later to be diagnosed with renal failure.  She had come from a woman who had lost everything- her husband, her home, her own health, and now she was moving again and was losing her pets.  I adopted Callie because I was determined to give her the best care and treatment possible, something I was wary of expecting an adopter to do, and I wanted to help her poor “dogmom” who had cared for and loved her for so long.

My world came crashing down when Ross then put his foot down and said “no more fosters!”  I didn’t realize it at the time but it was what I needed.  I had been fostering so many dogs and animals, and for so long, that I was merely existing on the momentum I had created.  It didn’t seem so bad to have three dogs at a time, or six foster guinea pigs in addition to my own.  I was getting by and doing rescue, which I loved.  I hate to see the rescue’s website looking empty and being that I have few foster homes (one at that time) to help alleviate the burden, I tried to make up for the deficit by taking in more animals and just keeping them here.  What I was doing, though I wasn’t acutely aware of it at the time, was trying to bury my clinical depression in a pile of “good deeds” and work that would make me feel better.  It was still there, though, and in my quiet moments I could feel it.  Ross is an amazing husband and allowed me to do whatever it was that it seemed that I needed, but the stress had taken its toll on him, too.

Taking care of Callie, just one “extra” dog, was more work than all three dogs I’d been fostering when 2010 rolled in.  She was constantly going to the vet’s office for bloodwork, she was on medication and supplements, had specially balanced home cooked diets that I had to make every couple days and then as time wore on and her stomach started to give her problems due to the acid reflux caused by her disease, I had to experiment with meals three times a day to try and get her to eat.  After she spent a weekend at the vet getting her system flushed out, I gave Callie fluids twice a day at home until it became too much for her.  She was painful and let us know how much she hated the experience despite all our efforts to use counter-conditioning and just make it as comfortable for her as possible.  She would run away if she saw me walk toward the kitchen where her bags of fluid were stored.  She would try to bite when I tried to insert the needle… it became a matter of medical quality of life versus emotional quality of life and there was NO winning scenario.  The day we stopped Callie’s fluids, we started a downhill slide that took many days off her life.  But what would those extra days have been if she was no longer interested in allowing me to pet her, if she was fearful every time she saw a bag of fluids or I simply stood and walked to the kitchen?  I needed her to trust me.  It was a little too late for that, unfortunately, and she and I never had the same relationship again although she was much happier once the needles and lactated ringers were put away for good.

Callie was with us for five months before the time came to say goodbye.  She was not eating very well at all and had lost weight that she didn’t have to lose in the first place.  I knew when I made the appointment for the vet’s office that this was probably the end for us.  I was as prepared as you could be- I had five months of watching this dog survive with advanced renal disease and had seen her decline in the last few weeks.  I was determined that she would not suffer.  We did bloodwork that day to confirm that her kidney values were off the charts and that aside from leaving her for another weekend for an IV flush and putting her back on fluids, there was no hope at all that we would see a change.  I said goodbye that day. The next morning I was back at the vet to pick up the tiny urn that now contained the dusty remnants of almost sixteen years of living, love and the wonderful dog that had come to be such a huge part of my life.

It had been five months since I was able to take on a new foster.  We were adopting out- slowly- some of our long term guinea pig residents and we had decided to adopt our long term cat foster, Tally.  My home was becoming less a place of chaos despite Callie’s enormous presence.  She filled the void that fostering would have made otherwise, while at the same time making it possible to take a step back from my rescue work.  When I came out of the experience with Callie, my head was more clear, I had more time on my hands, and I was a better, calmer person.  Instead of go-go-going at the whirlwind pace I had previously been keeping, I was able to get out for classes with my foster dog and then my own dogs.  We adopted out our long term fosters- all of them- and built a huge new cage for the guinea pigs, giving them a better life than they’d been living (not that they’d had it all that bad!)  I’ve even been able to adopt a trio of senior rats for myself, because of the extra room and space.  Friends and family noticed a difference in my confidence, attitude, and overall happiness.  The depression I had been squashing down started to recede on its own and for the first time in a long time, I felt in control of my life.  The panic and anxiety caused over my recent (and ongoing) missing dog scare has taken some of that away from me but it’s still there.  The happiness that I had waited for so long to feel is right there, and in my quiet moments I can feel it.

That is how Callie rescued me.



Filed under Personal, Pets, Rescue

Lost- part 1: They’re missing

Bunny plays with a toy for the very first time

On February 19th, 2009, I brought home a foster dog named Bunny.  Victim of a faulty legal system, she had grown up in a kennel at a shelter from birth to three years where she got very little human interaction.  Though she was not yet born at the time of seizure, she was considered “evidence” in an animal hoarding cruelty trial with thirty other dogs and the “evidence” dogs were mostly ignored by the shelter.  It was eight months before Bunny saw grass or breathed fresh air for the first time thanks to caring volunteers, and she and many of the other dogs born into this situation were terrified of the large world outside.   The result of her “sheltered” life was a fearful, skittish dog that was afraid to move from tile to carpet, jumped and scattered the first time she saw a TV, was afraid to step onto a dog bed or other elevated surface and was afraid of people.  She was basically feral.  It took me farther than I have ever gone into the realm of rehabilitation and therapy to get her to a point where she could eventually go out with me in public, meet new people without being too frightened and eventually, become adopted. I even took her to obedience classes for socialization towards the end of her stay here.  The first week, she hid under a chair and would not take treats.  By the eighth week, she graduated after being able to participate in class and complete all her exercises with the rest of the class.  Though she had made progress, I was unsure if I would ever be able to adopt her out or if I would be able to let her go, emotionally.  I was  A lot of people fell in love with Bunny through Facebook, reading my updates on both my page and that of the rescue’s, and I think that most didn’t believe I ever could let her go (me either!)  Though a deleted account resulted in its permanent loss, we kept a blog for Bunny as well that detailed some of our milestones.  The greatest of these came the day Bunny met a young couple that had experience with shelter and had adopted a dog that had fear and security issues of his own.  She trusted them instantly, it seemed fated.  We spent a month meeting up for weekly playdates and bringing Bunny to their home to let her get used to them, and once she even spent the night.  Her slumber party went so well that I only came back the next day to have her adopters officially sign paperwork and make her part of their family.  I was so happy and so proud of her.  She was adopted on February 28th of 2010.

Even though she was a different dog by the time we found her a home, Bunny was still fearful.  Her owners, whom Bunny adored from the moment she met them, were going to continue taking her to classes, working on socialization exercises and helping her continue to grow.  Then they got married, then pregnant soon after adopting her and redirected their focus to this new life they were embarking on.   While she is super happy and relaxed at home or out on a hike with her canine housemate, Brock, Bunny is still not sure what to think about new people or places.

Bunny meeting Brock for the first time

On February 14th, five days shy of her 2 year rescue-date anniversary and two weeks before her one year adoption anniversary, Bunny and Brock went missing.  No one has really seen them since as far as we can tell.  It has been a heartbreaking, lifechanging experience for me.  This dog would have stayed here but I worked through my own attachments and let her go.  And now, I have no idea where she is.  With every phone call that doesn’t lead us to Brock and Bunny, I feel a little more lost myself.  These dogs are my family.  In this hard time, though, I have learned how lucky I truly am after seeing a community of friends, rescue supporters, and total strangers who simply love dogs and are moved by our dedication to trying to get Bunny and Brock back into safety.  Something inside me knows that there is more out there and knows that I could offer more, myself.  I have felt this way before, and STAR is now six years old.

Bunny, far more confident, after many months of rehab and loving care.

In the next few blogs I am going to start putting down thoughts and tips on finding lost pets, preventing pet loss, etc.  I will also be talking about my new resolve to do something more with life and why I feel it’s so important to do so.  I hope that if you are a pet lover, you will learn from my experience and be better prepared if something should happen to your pet.  Stay tuned!

-Crystal, The Star Thrower


Filed under Lost, Pets, Rescue, Uncategorized