There is not a day that goes by in rescue that someone doesn’t need to ask for donations. It’s a no-brainer that the only way that rescues can function is with the constant injection of funds and supplies. Every morning, when you and I are waking up and looking around our homes over the things that we are responsible for… the leaders of rescues are doing the same – except that their gaze encompasses a number of foster homes as well. It is a never-ending, long-term, exhausting job, one that is dependent on the goodwill of the public to keep going. Talk about anyone critical of rescues, and the first subject that will come up is how this will impact the public’s perception of rescue; certainly it is assumed that any negative comments regarding rescue operations will result in fewer donations and adoptions. The result of this line of thinking is that all mistakes, all bad decisions, all outright misappropriations…. all of it is kept under wraps, only to be discussed among “qualified” individuals. Come along and ask why funds are being used here, why certain decisions are being made there and more likely than not you will be told that it is none of your business and further that you are hardly in a position to ask questions, you who hasn’t done rescue like they have. If you want to give money without question, that is another thing entirely.
In every community, open the local paper on any given week and you will see a heart warming story about a local rescue that only needs a small bit of money to keep going, usually accompanied by a recent tragedy that befell them or a difficult rescue they have stepped forward to help. Could you find it in your heart to donate? The reporter very seldom, if ever, looks into the financials of the rescue they are promoting, nor do they actively seek out these stories – most of the time, it is someone from the rescue who contacts them with the information. As a result, we find that the same rescues are promoted over and over, and the same rescue leaders are featured again and again. The end result of that is that the same organizations receive the lion’s share of the support… leading to more exposure and consequently more support. Considering what we now know about the leaders of these rescues (see Who is Rescuing), we know that not all of the support goes directly to the animals, and in many cases the animal featured is quietly shuffled to another rescue or disappears.
Rescues are playing at a dangerous game, and I’ll tell you why. There is probably nothing more powerful than public opinion, nothing more feared and sought after than the passionate emotion of the average person. It can make or break a company when compounded with the opinions of others, just ask Blackberry. When we love something, we REALLY love it… and conversely when we hate something, we HATE it. Which is fine when we are dealing with inanimate products, but seldom do our passions run deeper than with animals. Not even how we feel about the abuse of children can compare to our feelings on the abuse of animals here in the Western world. Take the recent case of Robert Fawcett, the man who killed the sled dogs he had bought to use in his business during the 2010 Olympics. When his business collapsed post-Olympics, the dogs were killed and put in a mass grave. When the killings came to light early in 2011, the public outrage was palpable. Never mind that these people who were calling for the slow death of Mr. Fawcett had never been a part of the sled dog industry, had never been responsible for working dogs or so much as been on a sled ride…. they were “animal lovers” and knew that Robert Fawcett should have adopted these dogs to “loving” homes, not killed them. Not a one of these people educated themselves on the needs of a working Siberian dog or what the options really were for people who could no longer keep those they had – their rage at the injust killing of these gorgeous dogs knew no bounds. In sentencing Mr. Fawcett on November 23rd of this year, the judge noted that he gave him no jail time for the 9 dogs found to have suffered because “the international demonization of Fawcett was an overwhelming mitigating factor”. He further noted that Fawcett “was blamed for the sins of an entire industry while being widely accused of killing 100 sled dogs inhumanely, a claim made in a Worksafe BC report”. Never mind that only 43 dogs were found in the grave, and that only 9 of those were found to have suffered unnecessarily. The wife and children of Mr. Fawcett are collateral damage – gone into hiding.
I can’t comment on the necessity of Robert Fawcett’s decision to kill the dogs in his care, but I do know that decision forever changed his life. I don’t know whether that course of action was recommended to him by others, although it is of note that he had previously put down dogs in a humane manner. It is my understanding that sled dogs are not easily rehomed, nor is it often recommended to do so as they have been bred to have a higher than normal prey drive and consequently have very high maintenance needs. They have seldom been properly socialized with families as well, an essential part of a successful match with such working dogs. It is also of note that currently, the laws in Canada do not make it a criminal offense to put down a dog on your own, and indeed it is the law in many rural areas that you can shoot someone else’s dog that is a nuisance to your livestock. Mr. Fawcett did nothing against the law by putting the dogs down – he was on trial for the suffering of the 9 dogs that were found to not have died instantly. What is most bothersome about this story is that so many regular people have been incited into a mob mentality against Fawcett, spewing their anger at him all over social media, calling for his death and offering to do it themselves. Apparently the hypocrisy of those statements are lost on them.
Conversely, in the minds of these same people, anyone who helps an animal is a saint. Any rescue, any rescuer, any supporter – they are angels. The motivations of such rescuers matters not, nor do the long-term effects of their actions. Recently I was told of a group that is bringing dogs in to rescue from a northern community that has no physical access to vet care. Historically, this community has hosted one or two subsidized spay and neuter clinics per year put on by the humane society to the south of them. As in many isolated communities, dogs run free whether owned or not, and typically are not fixed, vaccinated or given vet care when needed. This is par for the course in this area, and one local woman decided to provide a place for some of the dogs to stay until she could arrange for them to get into rescue organizations in the larger city. The group I am talking about formed to help this woman get the dogs into rescues in the city, and to date (a year and a half later) they have brought down 215 dogs at a cost of approximately $230 per dog. Puppies are cheaper to send, and there are tons of puppies! At any given time, 10-25 pups are being cared for up in this community waiting to get into rescue – and this group are held up as saints for helping them, often lauded in the local city paper for their selfless acts. On closer inspection, however, a strange fact comes to light. This group has only been a part of facilitating one spay and neuter clinic in that same span of 1.5 years, and that clinic was mostly organized by a previous resident of the northern community. While there are calls for money to bring endless dogs and puppies down from the north, while there are endless foster and adoptive homes needed to house these dogs… virtually nothing has been done to prevent these animals from being born. When asked, the group said there was a plan in the works, and more recently has commented that they are organizing something for the spring. As it isn’t even winter officially yet, the worst time for pups to be born, the spring clinic is small comfort. Dogs have died and suffered already waiting to be flown down and for lack of essential over-the-counter veterinary supplies. Recently, a member of the group that lives in the city had boxes of donated supplies stolen from her front yard. Yes, she was storing the supplies in her front yard and was shocked that they were stolen. It mattered not, though, as the story quickly made it’s way into the media and the donations poured in. One of the local rescue leaders who was instrumental in getting the story into the media posted on social media that the theft was in fact turning out to have been a blessing. Not a one of these people supporting this group has stopped to ask where all the money is going (plane fees to fly the dogs, vet care once here) and if that is the best use of the money. No one has questioned whether there are homes for all these dogs in a limited market already saturated with rescues and shelters, or if they have, they have been told to be quiet. No one has asked perhaps the most important questions – what effect does the decision not to concentrate on spay and neuter but on bringing an endless stream of dogs down from this community have long-term? Is it ethical to allow more animals to be born into such uncertain circumstances where such a birth can be tantamount to a death sentence? Is it right to depend on the public in one area to pay for and absorb the animals coming from such a community? What are the longer term effects on the psyche and physical health of the time these animals have spent in the north – and are these problems well identified and explained to potential adopters? Questions might turn the tide of support and that cannot be risked.
Does it matter that these organizations are not willing to be transparent to the average person? I would argue that yes, it does, and not only does it matter, but it is vitally important for the animals. As they don’t have a English-speaking voice, their wishes and needs are so very often overlooked – to their detriment and the detriment of the people who care for them. If we don’t start to be selective about where we put our money, if we just give without requiring accountability, we are just as responsible for their well being as those directly making the decisions for them. Many of these organizations truly believe that there is an endless pot of money to draw from and that people will continue to donate no matter what… and therefore, they do not treat the donations they get with respect. They make decisions no self-respecting business person would ever make, and then ask for more money.
If you are alright with your hard earned money being misappropriated, go ahead and give without asking for accountability. It is certainly the easier option. If you’d rather sleep well at night knowing that the money you gave went to ethical and productive means, make the decision to support only credible and transparent rescues. It may seem harsh, but as public opinion is the only thing that these organizations will listen to, every dollar you give is making a big statement about what practices need to continue and which need to stop. Let’s work together this year to help those who can’t speak for themselves and not just trust that someone else is doing it.