Tag Archives: dogs

A Life Shattering Experience

On this day last year, I was at a vet’s office while my elderly cat underwent surgery when I got a text message.  “Check Facebook.  Bunny and Brock are missing.” Bunny is the single most special animal I’ve ever fostered.  I almost didn’t let her go, and every day for the last year, I have wished that I hadn’t.  She was worth giving up the rescue for, to me.  She was worth it all. When Bunny arrived  in our care, she was one of the most fearful dogs I’d ever seen.  She was nearly feral.  She was born in a shelter as evidence in a hoarder’s animal cruelty trial, and spent the first eight months of her life without leaving her kennel or seeing daylight, or grass.  She and her siblings were said to be so afraid of grass that they collapsed on it and crawled, dragging their handlers to the sidewalk where they could at least feel the familiarity of concrete.  Volunteers for a border collie rescue had helped to socialize them, driving for hours  each week to arrive at the shelter and work with the 20 dogs that were left out of the original 30 or so (some died in the kennels, including some of the pups that were born there, and Bunny’s mother.)

When we took Bunny in, it was a lot of work, effort and a heck of a learning experience for me.  We went through so much together.  It was just a completely fulfilling experience for me, though, as I really learned about the kind of dogs that I love to help.  I would take in a million Bunnys just to see them blossom the way she did.  She was here for over a year, and she was a huge part of my life.  I was close to keeping her with that “perfect” home came along, and I was able to let her go so I could continue my rescue work.

A year later, that text message came, and my world was shaken, rocked, off its foundation.  We launched into action.  A Facebook page just for the two dogs and their search effort quickly grew to over a hundred people.   Volunteers donated an incredible amount of money to help cover advertising costs, and my husband, best friend and myself spent well over 30 hours the first week searching on foot, searching with dogs, and hanging flyers and posters to try and find the dogs.  I spent every day making a trip out to hang more posters or to search, even if I was alone.  In addition to ads, we contacted media, had the dogs’ story make the front page of the paper locally here and featured in a large spread in a weekly paper that comes out in a large area locally.  We had http://www.findtoto.org send calls out to thousands of neighbors in the area to report the dogs missing.  I took and made phone calls daily as nearly every stray dog sighting in a huge radius was called in to me- with not a single one showing any hope of being the dogs.  While I didn’t know Brock that well, we never narrowed our search for just Bunny.  It’s our hope that if she is alive, so is he.

We never had a confirmed sighting of the dogs.  After a month, our efforts on foot dwindled.  We kept our flyers updated, kept checking Craigslist and other sites, but nothing really seemed to stand out.  It’s like they disappeared.  In fact, some theories came out that perhaps their adopters gave them away (I hope not, and am not accusing them of such,) or perhaps they were stolen, or picked up and moved far away.  I will probably never know.

It’s been a year, and I’ve never stopped thinking about Bunny.  I’ve never stopped missing her.  My heart has not been whole.  I have never regretted one of my mistakes in rescue as much as I regret not keeping her here, with me, where she never would have ended up in this situation.  Some days, the misery I feel over losing her is unbearable.  In terms of closure and the ability to move on, it would have been better to find her lifeless body than never to have found her at all.   I fear I’ll have this pain with me for the rest of my life.

In the past year, it has been more difficult to allow rescued animals to go.  I have a harder time parting with fosters, a harder time trusting adopters, and an emotion of protectiveness that overcomes reason too often.  I can only hope that this will fade, or I  may have to give up my rescue for Bunny after all.

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Merry Christmas!

Just some photos for this post as everyone is really busy with the holiday, I know. Enjoy!

The three STAR dogs got pressies and they just loved them:

 

And the sanctuary rats got their cage gussied up and had a lot of fun ripping down their popcorn garland!

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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.

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Filed under Make a Difference, Pets, Philosophy, Rescue