In a previous post I mentioned that breeders were the founding members of the movement we now know as animal rescue. Good and caring breeders would take in an animal that was either fully or primarily the breed they specialized in and donate their time, money and expertise to help this animal find a new home. They had a lot of experience dealing with their chosen breed, and from spending time in show rings and with like-minded breeders they had a wide range of information and expertise to draw from. Over time, however, private shelters popped up and these new rescuers took in the majority of animals that were either found roaming in areas where there was no animal control or were given up by their families.
This is not to say that there weren’t shelters before this. Animals were being taken in in the early 1800s by the founding Society for the Prevention of Cruelty in Animals (SPCA) in Britain and moved to the US shortly after. Animal welfare was considered a waste of money and time then, and the SPCA had its work cut out for it in educating the public and lobbying for the introduction of anti-cruelty laws. Much of what we know now about the needs and care of pet animals are due to the tireless efforts of the SPCA both then and now. Earlier than the fledgling SPCA, animal control housed strays in “shelters” and euthanized them with great efficiency. Until the 1900s, public opinion stated that stray animals were a public health hazard instead of an animal welfare problem. Of course, packs of animals that carried disease due to not being vaccinated helped to reinforce this idea. The foundation of the SPCA by Henry Bergh in Britain was the first real step in the right direction. Soon after it expanded into the US, the American Human Association (AHA) developed and by 1954 the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) formed. These three organizations make up the largest and most influential of the organizations running shelter based operations. They promote training for their employees and run their shelters in a fairly consistent manner although they are the target of much rescue anger as they do practice euthanasia. There are a number of no-kill SPCAs that have been founded, but in general these organizations practice with an open admission policy (see differences here) whereas private rescues and shelters have limited admission policies, requiring them to turn any animals away when they are at capacity. In these places, it is truly “one out and one in”, bringing credence to the saying that “by adopting an animal, you provide the space for another animal to be rescued”.
The above organizations often work hand in hand with local animal control or run animal control themselves. In many cases they have the power to investigate animal cruelty charges and seize animals that are not being cared for. Private rescues and shelters have no such power, and as limited admission organizations, can choose which animals they will receive into care. They are under no obligations to provide anything but the basic care for the animals they keep and are able to charge whatever they wish as an adoption “fee”. They can take in owner surrenders that have been fully vetted already, homeless animals, animals transferred from the SPCA, HSUS and AHA (to avoid overcapacity), animals advertised on kijiji, to name a few. No one polices these organizations any more than anyone in the general public, and there is no set of qualifications to open or run a private rescue. Anyone, from a dog trainer to someone who has owned no animals in their lifetime can have one. What does this mean for the animals?
There are people who are running rescues and shelters who are genuinely doing a great job. These are mostly people who are dedicated to their cause, will go above and beyond for any animal they choose to help and who most importantly lead a life that is balanced. They have interests and friends apart from the the species or breed they work with, know how to delegate, are financially independent and vigilant about signs of obsession, depression and burn out. They are dedicated to doing the right thing by the animals in their care (proper vet care and social/psychological development) and even after they have gone to their new homes. They ask for help when they need it and don’t pretend to always have the answers. Most importantly, they are available or make someone available to help their foster homes and adoptive homes be as successful as they can be with their new charges. They know the importance of animal/home compatibility as rescue retention is one of the best ways to ensure the animals don’t end up back in the system. These rescuers treat their donations in a responsible way and don’t act like there is an endless pot of money to back up what they would like to do. They also recognize that euthanasia is sometimes a necessary part of rescue, but never do it in a knee-jerk fashion or without thoroughly reviewing their options. Apart from all of this, they know that without their supports and volunteers they would be able to do exactly nothing for their rescues and treat them accordingly.
Is this an idealistic standard of a good rescuer? Certainly it is. There are rescuers who do all of the above, but more common are the ones who do some of this and are striving to work towards the rest. Either way, these people are a cut above the rest and it shows. While other rescues struggle with public opinion, these people inspire and motivate – and are rewarded with great loyalty. While other rescues struggle to retain volunteers and supporters, these rescuers are so transparent in their care of their rescues that people naturally want to support them. While other rescues avoid scrutiny, these rescuers welcome honest inquiries. But why should all of this matter? Isn’t it truly just about supporting any rescue that appears to be helping?
Considering that the “other rescues” include people who are:
- Idiots – there is no better way to say this; these are people who know nothing about what they are doing and yet act as though they do. At the best, they cause minor problems, but at worst they can cause the death of an animal or in jury to a human.
- Liars – people in rescue have come to expect that they won’t be told the truth about a surrendered animal. These rescuers lie about the animals in their care however, in an attempt to get them into a home. They may exaggerate the animal’s history or outright lie about the temperament or health of the animal. At least, this can cause adjustment trouble and mistrust in the foster or adoptive home and at most can cause the animal to be returned or euthanized.
- Moneymakers – rescuers who live off the proceeds of their rescue. They don’t breed, but they use them to get donations. They do a lot of fundraising, advertising and use the media to play up the very sad cases and get a lot of donations through them. These people may siphon off small amounts of money for themselves or live entirely off of donations. Either way, this behavior is extremely unethical and leads to the rescuer making bad decisions in order to keep their pocketbook full.
- One Animal Rescuers – not very common, these people say they do rescue, take one animal into their home, and then say for the next number of years that they are full. Sometimes they are the breed or species representative in the area and don’t allow for other animals to come into care. Other times they just like the attention that being labelled a rescuer gets them. Keeping an animal in this way while purporting to be a rescue or foster home does not allow for other animals to be helped.
- Power-Mongers – these rescuers do rescue by themselves, mostly do a good job, and are a real asset to their community. They also draw a lot of attention to themselves, not for the good of the rescue, but for the ability to control. These people can inspire mixed feelings – on the one hand, they are doing good for some animals but on the other they cannot and do not relinquish control. If these people use their power to control finances, placement of animals, publicity or anything else other than making the animal the top priority – then they are doing more harm than good.
- Emotional Cripples – these people get something vital from the animals they care for in rescue that they aren’t getting from their own animals or from other humans. While it is true that everyone who is involved in rescue tends gets so much more back from the animals they care for than what they give (apart from burn out situations), these rescuers put their emotions first and the animals second. This means they cannot have the best interests of the animals at heart. Some veterinarians love the emotional cripples as they often turn their charges into hypochondriacs which translates into a great deal of business for the vet. Along with running to the vet for every little thing, they also tend to keep the animals far too long. If the animals are kept in confining environments such as cages, this can lead to severe regression in emotional and physical stability. An inability to move animals on can be passed off as “caring too much”, or “trying to find the perfect home”. In truth, the rescuer is unable to detach from the animal. These rescuers can also make unhealthy decisions regarding sick, injured or deformed animals, replacing the animal’s emotional state for their own. They believe the animal is happy to continue living in the state they are in, because they themselves get a payoff from doing so.
it becomes as important not to support their dysfunction as it is to not support pet stores and mills. As the care these “rescuers” have bestow their animals is run through their dysfunctional filter first, and as their priorities are to their own needs primarily… no animal can possibly get the what they truly need. It may also mean that any information the volunteers, foster and adoptive homes receive from the rescue can’t be trusted, leaving them to figure things out on their own. As most animals in care have physical and or emotional needs, this can be a recipe for disaster depending on the level of experience the volunteers, foster or adoptive homes have. At the least this can place the animals in a less than great light when introduced to the public, and at the most this can lead to extreme frustration and possible unwarranted euthanization. A quick internet search brings up many stories of people unhappy with the information or support given by the rescues they have been involved with, as well as stories of rescues refusing to give animals to perfectly good homes because they weren’t “good” enough. How do these methods help animals? How do they help people to become avid supporters of rescues and their charges when they are consistently let down by the very people who are meant to be sincerely altruistic?
When you begin to question the validity of some rescuers and the operating methods of some rescues, you had best put your protective gear on. It is the widely held belief that to question a particular rescue or rescues in any way undermines the movement as a whole. Even good rescuers hold on the mistaken idea that if one rescue is found to be operating improperly, or it is proven that a rescuer is behaving badly, it will cause people to refuse to support rescue as a whole. Basically, they protect and enable bad rescues to continue and quiet people who have concerns because they believe that a black mark on the movement will discredit it entirely in the public eye. A great deal of time and effort is given over to covering up the consequences of bad decisions by certain rescues and rescuers because they also feel that what small good is done by these rescues outweighs whatever negative things they have done. This is an extremely dangerous viewpoint as allowing any wrongdoing to continue, especially in a non-profit arena can lead to extreme consequences that no one is prepared to deal with (for ex. rescue hoarding, fraud). Further, the rescue organizations that are behaving badly are interacting with the public every day. They hold adoption fairs, facilitate adoptions and have foster homes and other volunteers. They are ALREADY doing a great deal of damage to the animal welfare movement as for those people, they are the living embodiment of what rescue means. Multitudes of people no longer support good rescues because they have been burned in the past by another rescue or rescuer. As they could not find answers for their concerns, or proper resolution for the issues the rescuer caused, they unfortunately draw the conclusion that all rescues are the same way. Who can blame them?
In essence, by not holding every rescue and rescuer to a high standard, by not welcoming scrutiny into every individual rescue, and by turning a blind eye to bad behavior, the rescue movement is shooting itself in the proverbial foot. For every person they alienate from rescue, there are many more that person will tell about their experiences and give those people pause when considering rescue for their next animal companion. Good rescuers must take concerns seriously, must not pretend that some good outweighs the bad, and must realize that rescuing is not a right, it is a responsibility. The public must do their homework and refuse to support rescues that are not transparent and aren’t practicing ethically. If the rescue movements asks us to not support unethical breeders, we must respond by asking them to be the ethics we wish to see in the world. Otherwise, we have a big hand in continuing the exploitation of animals.