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Responsible Rescue Part 4: Hoard and Board

Responsible Rescue Part 4: Hoard and Board

The Dark Side of Rescue

Note: These are very murky waters, and there is no right or wrong answer. A lot of people will probably disagree with me. I disagree with myself sometimes. There are days I change my mind over and over again. I don’t think there will ever be a clear answer, a clear yes or no. Rescue and animal welfare are full of gray areas. But if we never wade into them, we’ll never get any closer to the truth. So here we go.

In another blog post I’ll show you a checklist of how I think you can find a good rescue. But in the interim, I want to talk about why it matters. Why all live releases and rescues aren’t better than euthanasia. For a dog to thrive, it needs daily exercise, stimulation, attention, nutrition, shelter, and socialization (with humans, not all dogs like other dogs). They need regular vet care, and should be up to date on vaccinations, and spayed or neutered. A dog in a good rescue gets all those things. Usually they are in a foster home, but these things are possible for a fixed number of dogs in a temporary boarding situation.

The Five Freedoms

These are the 5 freedoms that must be met for a situation to be considered humane in animal welfare. Screenshot from the ASPCA, sourced from the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

These are the 5 freedoms that must be met for a situation to be considered humane in animal welfare. Screenshot from the ASPCA, sourced from the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

What happens when the Five Freedoms aren’t met?

This happens when the number of dogs outweighs the amount of care that can be given by a person or rescuer. This can be physically and emotionally (if the dogs are in a boarding facility or sanctuary where they are not adequately cared for, given daily walks and interaction) as well as medically. But when dogs are being euthanized daily, and the numbers pile up, and the calls go out for rescues to take the dogs, what do you do? What’s one more, one more, one more?

Of course, 1 or 2 extra temporary dogs may work out. But where do you draw the line? 10? 20? When do you say that’s enough, I cannot take anymore dogs- I will let this dog die? And how can you do it when people are screaming at you over the internet every single day, calling you a murderer, begging to save the life of an innocent, misunderstood baby?

That’s how we end up with terrible situations of hoarding. There’s no real definition of a “hoard-and-board” rescue or sanctuary that I’ve found, but in my opinion: when the capacity of a rescuer to emotionally, physically, and medically care for the animals in their care is exceeded, that’s hoarding. And the dogs who end up in this situation are arguably not better off than the ones who were euthanized in the shelter.

Jessica Dolce on sanctuaries

The biggest problem in rescue is that there is a finite number of resources available. This article by Jessica Dolce describes the problem with passing the buck more eloquently than I probably could. Here are some quotes from this article if it’s too long a read for you (though I do recommend it). She talks about sanctuaries, but the same applies to rescues who utilize long term, subpar boarding facilities:

“Shipping animals off to live in sanctuaries, many of which are not being run particularly well (there are exceptions), is not necessarily 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. It’s often the case that something like terminal illness, natural disaster, financial ruin, mental illness etc. pushes the sanctuary over the edge and the animals pay the price.

Before you raise your pitchforks at the owners 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 heads. From no-kill rescue groups and shelters that don’t want to euthanize pets they’ve taken into their care, but have run out [of] space or do not have resources for long-term housing.

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.

We are so invested in the misunderstood idea of “no kill” that we will do anything to postpone the death of the animals we care for. And so the dogs and cats get shipped out across the country or driven across the state, packed with their paperwork and all of our hopes that there really is a happy ending out there for every single animal. And then they wait. In kennels and cages for months, then years. 23 to 24 hours a day in their kennels. No family to call their own. Warehoused and tucked away from the world.”

Lack of oversight in rescue

When I posted on instagram asking how long it’s acceptable for a dog to remain in boarding, I got answers I was expecting. Some people, who know a lot about this, answered as I would—a few weeks, tops. I got some responses along the lines of “as long as is necessary to avoid dying in a shelter.” I’m sorry to tell you, but there are worse things than dying in a shelter. And here’s something else: there is almost no governance or regulation on rescues. There are business implications for those that are registered 501(c)3s, but there is a murky middle ground of what a rescue actually is and who it has to answer to. The FDA? The department of agriculture? A state or federal government? The better business bureau?

Here’s the result of rescues having no oversight or governance combined with shelters being more concerned about their live release rate than where their dogs end up (due to lack of resources to follow them, or a management decision, it’s impossible to know): meet the Fairfield Five. (Or go look at my friend @caithimms Instagram story highlights on the Fairfield Five.) This is a worst cast scenario, but it happened. And I guarantee you it’s happening elsewhere. To the dogs that people patted themselves on the back about rescuing on the internet. Bad boarding happens all the time. One particular case came to light a few weeks ago in Utica, NY. Dogs pulled from our local NYCACC, and from local shelters on Long Island. 118 dogs living in their own filth, rescues who sent them there and never check on them, never saw them again, because they were told the dogs were safe, they heard from others it was ok. It happens all the time.

Rescues exist to rescue dogs from euthanasia. I genuinely don’t think that all these rescuers were ill intentioned. I think they heard of a place that would cheaply board their rescued dogs and sent them there hoping that one day they’d get adopted. But if they didn’t continue to check in, to visit that dog, if they continued to pull more dogs, then that is not, by my definition, responsible rescue. I don’t think the NYC ACC is ill intentioned. I think many of the staff and volunteers are some of the hardest working people I know, who care so deeply about these dogs. But keeping their live release rate above 90% would be impossible without these boarding (some would call them hoarding) rescues. And the public pressure to do so is mind blowing. Take some time and look at the comments on some of the ACC’s Facebook posts. The things that people say are horrifying. Shelter workers received death threats a few weeks ago when a video of a sedated dog being walked into the back to be euthanized made its way around the internet. These people put their hearts and selves on the line every single day, and don’t deserve any of the negativity they must wade through every day just to do their jobs.

Unfortunately, good intentions aren’t enough. A dog being released from the shelter alive isn’t good enough. Rescues need to be thoroughly responsible, and the shelter needs to thoroughly vet them.

We need a better way to evaluate rescues, and we need that to be more important than a live release rate. I know it’s hard. I know it means a lower live release rate and more euthanasia. But I believe that’s what it means to truly, truly live in a world where we put animal welfare before animal survival. I hope one day we can get to a place where every healthy dog can truly be considered adoptable. We are not there yet.

Responsible Rescue Part 5: The Responsibility is All of Ours

Responsible Rescue Part 5: The Responsibility is All of Ours

Responsible Rescue Part 3: "No Kill"

Responsible Rescue Part 3: "No Kill"