Why people do rescue

If you can't run with the big dogs. . . .



Introduction

There are lots of really hard-working conscientious, very caring people doing rescue all over America. I feel very strongly about rescue, so it's difficult for me to see situations that reflect badly on the rescue world. Unfortunately, though, these situations do exist.

Rescue in some areas and in some breeds has a bad reputation. You'd think that saving lives would be looked on favorably, but because rescue means many things to many people, this is not always true. In some of these instances, the attitude is understandable — there are many people who are doing rescue who really should leave it to someone else.

The following categories of “rescuers” should be viewed with concern. If you are looking for a rescue dog (or considering joining the ranks of rescue), these are the people and circumstances to avoid.


Collectors

These people will spend a lot of time talking about how great they are. They rescue everything — any breed, any mixed breed, cats, wild animals. They have a grand collection of animals living at their places. They don't spay or neuter because they don't have the time or money; anything adopted from them is free to reproduce and cause rescue problems in future generations.

Collectors don't provide veterinary care because they lack time and money. Many animals that come from collectors have health problems that accumulate high medical costs and often result in death of the animal and financial and emotional trauma to the adopter.

Collectors spend all their time feeding and cleaning after their charges, so they don't know anything about the animals' individual personalities; they can't tell adopters what to expect from the animal, so the adoptions often fail and the animal is returned.

Although they have problems with disease, collectors do not euthanize sick or aggressive animals because they “love animals too much.” Thus they place sick animals that run up medical bills for the adopter or aggressive animals that are unsafe around humans. If an aggressive or inappropriately-placed animal injures someone, rescue, the breed, and dogs usually suffer the consequences.


Breeders

Unfortunately, some people take purebred dogs in “rescue” to breed them and sell the puppies. They don't care about the health, temperament, or quality of the dogs, just their reproductive status. Some of these “rescuers” give the dog to a friend or relative for breeding.

If they do find homes for the dogs, they don't sterilize before placing and they don't screen adopters to restrict breeding potential.

Mixed breeds are not safe from these people. There is someone in my area who specializes in small mixed breeds. She sells Yorki-poos, Peke-a-poos, schnoodles — you get the idea. It doesn't matter what the dog's actual background is; if the pups can be passed off as something, they will be.


Bleeding hearts

This sounds funny coming from me because many people think I am a bleeding heart myself. I will be the first to admit that I don't believe in taking another creature's life lightly, but euthanasia is a necessary part of rescue. If you can't handle it, stay out of rescue.

Euthanasia is a painful process for me. I still feel the same pain and agony and helplessness for Nicky, the first dog I had to kill. It never goes away; it never gets easier.

The “easiest” decisions to euthanize are for the sick animals, the ones in pain. I know I am releasing them to a God who will see they are better cared for than they were on earth, but I am always sad that I didn't find them earlier, when help might have made a difference.

Next are the vicious animals. Although there is the pain of taking a life away, I know I am saving the dog from hurting a human, maybe seriously. I also consider the possibility of such a dog dying a terrifying death instead of a peaceful one with me. There is a sadness with these dogs, too; maybes if we found it early enough we could have changed the temperament or kept the animal from living a life that made it vicious.

We also make the decision to euthanize if a dog is unplaceable because of age or behavior or is a Malamute-wolf hybrid.

It is almost impossible to place a dog that is 10 or 12 years old. It is difficult to imagine someone dumping a dog after all those years together, but they do. If age alone is the reason for death, it makes me angry.

Some dogs are unplaceable. They aren't vicious or unhealthy, and they aren't old. They are mental misfits — unbelievable nervous, uncomfortable inside or out, or won't stay in a fence, any fence. They will injure themselves trying to escape. They never relax, never seem happy or content. They are a struggle to deal with and impossible to place.

The hybrids are tough. I tend to get along with these creatures and I truly appreciate the pieces of them that are wild. However, for the preservation of my breed, Malamute-wolf-hybrids in rescue should be euthanized. Hybrids are poor pets for virtually all pet owners, and they give the dog breed part of their heritage a bad name when they are misidentified as a purebred on purpose or out of ignorance.

The most difficult animal to euthanize is the one you spend time, money, and energy on, the one you grow to appreciate and love, the one who commits an unforgivable act of aggression. The pain is dreadful and long-lasting.

Euthanasia is ugly, painful, emotionally stressful, a moral struggle, and very necessary. If you can't do it, stay out of rescue.


Rescuer categories

There are lots of really hard-working conscientious, very caring people doing rescue all over America. I feel very strongly about rescue, so it's difficult for me to see situations that reflect badly on the rescue world. Unfortunately, though, these situations do exist.

Rescue in some areas and in some breeds has a bad reputation. You'd think that saving lives would be looked on favorably, but because rescue means many things to many people, this is not always true. In some of these instances, the attitude is understandable — there are many people who are doing rescue who really should leave it to someone else.

Resuming with the list, the following categories of “rescuers” should be viewed with concern. If you are looking for a rescue dog (or considering joining the ranks of rescue), these are the people and circumstances to avoid.


Idiots

This is pretty blunt but very accurate. There are people doing rescue who are stupid or uninformed. Or both. They have good hearts, but they go willy-nilly through the world placing animals and spouting words of “wisdom” that are totally incorrect. At best, they give false information that will be taken as gospel and cause minor troubles. At worst, they cause a dog to be euthanized or a human to be injured.


Liars

Again, blunt and accurate. We in rescue know people will tell us anything to get us to take their animal. We have learned to evaluate animals ourselves and not take the word of the owner as gospel. In all fairness, some people can't be objective about their animal. But some people just lie.

If you are doing rescue and you lie, you are doing more harm than good. People need to know the truth about an animal, its past, its health, its capabilities, and its limitations to the best of your knowledge. Truth about the animal can make the adjustment period easier and sometimes make the difference between an animal that gets to stay in a home and one that gets returned or euthanized.


Money makers

This one fascinates me. There are people who use rescue dogs as a means of making money. They don't breed them, but they use them to get donations. They do a lot of advertising and use the media to play up the really sad cases and make a good deal of money through donations. There are also people who get dog food donated and use it to feed their own dogs. Some of these people do a good job with their rescue dogs, and some don't. But either way, they are unethically taking money for themselves that was given to help the dogs.


One-dog rescuers

This is odd and not too common. There are people who say they do rescue, take one animal into their home, and then for the next six or seven years, they say they are full and can't take any more dogs. Sometimes a breed club pays for the care of the dog; if this is the case, the club is paying for the “rescuer” to own a pet.

Even if the person takes financial responsibility for the dog, he is keeping other needy animals from getting into rescue because he is listed as the rescue contact for the area. Some people just like to tell others they do rescue because they like the sound of the words and idea.


Power-mongers

There are people who do rescue by themselves, do a good job, and are a real asset to their communities. There are also people who draw all the attention they can to themselves, not for money, but for the ability to control. This is not always bad. Rescue needs the outgoing person who draws a lot of publicity. Otherwise, how could anyone know we are here?

But if you do this for any reason other than to help the animals, you are doing more harm than good. If you use your position to control finances, placement of animals, publicity, or anything else without making the animal the top priority, you are not needed in rescue.


Emotional cripples

There are people doing rescue who get something crucial from the animals that they aren't getting from their own animals or from the people in their lives. I have always said that we get more from rescue dogs than we give. They teach so much about dog behavior, breed specifics, resilience, stamina, the ability to love and keep loving, and the ability to heal and love again.

I never could have owned 70-plus Malamutes in seven years and learned from them all that I have from the same number of rescue dogs. But if you put your emotions, your feelings first and the welfare of the animals second, you are not doing what' best for the animals.

Vets love the emotional cripples, for they sometimes turn their charges into hypochondriacs. Along with running to the clinic at the drop of a hat, they tend to keep dogs far too long. If the dogs are kept in kennels, they can lose their housetraining, socialization, and obedience training, situations that make it more difficult to find them a home.


Doing a good rescue job

There are many things necessary for doing a good job in rescue. You need:


Know your limits

When we started Malamute rescue in Ohio, we had a dog every so often, but with lots of breathing space in between. There were no serious problems with health or temperament. Now there are three of us and we always have multiple dogs. There is no breathing space. There are sometimes dogs on a waiting list, staying with their owners until we place one and have room. If you let someone make you feel guilty for what you do, you will burn out faster and be no good to anyone. So, acknowledge your limit. If it's one dog at a time, do that. If you can handle three, do that.

Remember your situation will change over time and what may work for you now will no longer be acceptable. When that happens, change your rescue along with the rest of your life. At a National Animal Interest Alliance rescue symposium in North Carolina several years ago we met a woman who had done Weimaraner rescue of many years and had done an outstanding job. She finally felt that the time had come for her to stop foster care, so someone else does that job and she raises money, talks to groups, does phone work, transports dogs, and checks on dogs in pounds and shelters. There are many ways to help.

Try to be nice to people as well as the animals. It's usually not hard to be nice to the adopters. They are taking one of my dogs and giving it a home with lots of love and attention. The ones giving up the animals are sometimes harder to deal with. Most often they are living through rough times or have come to a place when they can no longer care for the animal.

But sometimes I meet a really ugly person who has abused an animal, totally neglected its care, or for some other reason doesn't win my respect. I try to be reasonable, to not be judgmental, to be understanding. Sometimes during a conversation, something is said that helps you deal with the situation and help the person as well as the dog. Sometimes, I just want to get the dog and be away from there as quickly as possible.

If you want to be in rescue try hard to develop your people skills. These skills are important when taking dogs, when placing dogs, and when helping people solve a behavior problem so they can keep the dog.

Linda Smith

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