Puppy Goes Zoom

Dogs, cats, randomness–my adventures in pet ownership and fostering

Failures, successes, and fates worse than death (not exactly a cheery post)

on July 21, 2012

I just read How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary, a pretty heart-rending post about animal “sanctuaries” where animals are badly neglected. Sometimes this happens because a sanctuary gets overwhelmed with more animals than it can handle. Other times, as apparently happened with Tiger Ranch, the neglect is part of a deliberate scam. Take in animals, take donations for their care, spend the money on yourself, and leave them to starve or die of illness. She makes the point that this can happen in part because people want happy endings for every animal, and we push so hard for those happy endings, pressuring people and organizations who are already overloaded. That creates both the opportunity for scams and a huge impulse for rescues and sanctuaries to take “just one more.”

Shipping animals off to live in sanctuaries, many of which are not being run particularly well (there are exceptions, but it’s not the norm), is not saving them. It’s often the beginning of a life sentence. Time and time again, we hear about sanctuaries that started off ok, but due to a variety of circumstances the sanctuary falls apart and the animals suffer. That’s often the case: terminal illness, natural disaster, financial ruin, mental illness etc. – something pushes the sanctuary over the edge and the animals pay the price.

Before you raise your pitchforks at the owner’s of these sanctuaries to call them monsters, I ask you to look at the whole picture. Where are these animals coming from?

From people like me: everyday people who “rescue” animals and desperately reach out for help once they realize they’re in over their head. From no-kill rescue groups and shelters that don’t want to euthanize pets they’ve taken into their care, but have run out space or do not have resources for long-term housing. From families that for whatever reason cannot care for their pets.

We all keep pushing down the chain. Individuals reach out to shelters, shelters plead with rescues to pull dogs, rescues can’t place all the dogs, so they board hard-to-place dogs in sanctuaries.

We’re all begging for someone else to give us the happy ending we so desperately want for the animals we love. If people deny us, we lash out that no one will help. If a shelter isn’t no-kill, we refuse to donate to them. We keep pushing and pushing until someone will take this painful, difficult situation off of our doorstep.

This sort of solidified my nascent philosophy about animal rescue. The first thing you have to accept is that you can’t save them all, and you will do more harm than good if you try. Every time the rescue we foster with posts another URGENT message, I start to think, “Well, maybe we could…” or “What if we took just one more?” And then I remind myself that we’re already outnumbered two to one by furry animals, that we need to focus on getting Reba adopted, and that Diamond needs a lot more attention than we could give her if we brought home another foster.

Because you can’t help them all, no matter what you do, it makes more sense, to me, to focus on quality rather than quantity (though I realize you can go overboard in that direction too). The bit that stood out to me from this post was her point that “you’re only rescuing an animal if you see it through all the way to the end, whatever that end may be.” Passing the buck isn’t the same, because you don’t know what happens after someone else has taken the problem off your hands. Instead, you have to accept that you can’t do everything, and focus on what you can do well in your own little corner of the universe.

It kind of ties in with Debbie Jacobs’ posts calling for more accountability in animal rescue. She makes the point, and I agree, that it’s short-sighted to cheer for a rescue placing a bunch of dogs when no one is keeping track of what happens with those dogs after they’re placed. Are they still in the home? Are they doing well? Or are there problems? Did the dog get rehomed again? Are they being mistreated? Maybe some adopters lied on their applications and are now breeding the dog or using them for fighting. If you don’t follow up, who knows?

So far, it’s easy for me to follow up with the dogs I’ve personally fostered, because there are two of them, and we still have one. I friended Gertie’s adopter on Facebook primarily to get updates on how she’s doing (and cute pictures). I hope to continue with that for as many dogs as we foster, because I think it’s good information to have (especially when we’ve already had a dog come back to us once, but that’s a whole other post).

Both Jessica and Debbie make the point that euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen to an animal. Being in a state of never-ending terror, or in constant agonizing pain, or going crazy from months of confinement, those are worse. So before putting or keeping an animal in an iffy situation (a sanctuary you can’t be sure about, an adopter you haven’t had time to research, a questionable rescue, etc.), the question to ask is, “Can I say with confidence that this is better, from the animal’s point of view, than being put to sleep?” Sometimes it might not be. Sometimes euthanasia might be the kindest option. Either way, it’s often better to take responsibility for the hard choice, rather than pushing it onto someone else and assuming that everything will be okay.

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