Responsible Rescue Part 5: The Responsibility is All of Ours
Advocating for a dog to be rescued then not following up on where it goes after it’s decided the dog will live is not saving that dog.
Here’s where I get up on my soap box. Please bear with me. This will not apply to everyone who reads this, and it might not even apply to most. But here we go.
Rescues and sanctuaries that seem too good to be true, that take in “unadoptable” dogs for hefty boarding fees and say they are giving the dogs a great life probably are too good to be true. (Some might not be. The vast majority are.) There are a finite number of resources out there. There are more “unadoptable” dogs than there are resources and homes. We cannot achieve a dream of no-kill, of saving them all, until we acknowledge that there are some dogs we truly cannot save. And right now, it’s way more than the “unadoptable” ones.
We are sentencing perfectly adoptable dogs to a lifetime in solitary confinement under the guise of saving them. We have to figure out a better solution. There has to be a better way.
This is a quote from my friend Misha, a fellow animal advocate and ACC volunteer. It was written after the exposure of the boarding conditions of a boarding facility in Utica, where many of our local ACC pulls had ended up through various rescues:
“If you have multiple dogs in boarding, “board and train,” “training,” a foster home with multiple other fosters, in long-term foster aka a year or more - then you have no business pulling At Risk dogs…
I appreciate that rescue is hard, at times impossible. That there are “difficult” dogs that still deserve homes. That behaviors change. And that the best intentions can quickly lead to much too much to handle….
Mistakes happen, of course, and things go wrong, especially when dealing with complex, sentient beings. No one is to blame when a placement simply doesn’t work. But knowingly leaving dogs to languish for months and years, being cagey, opaque, or flat-out lying about dogs’ whereabouts, and/or continuing to collect pledge money all the while when your garage is chock full - that is wrong. And where accountability is needed.
By bringing these dogs into your rescue you made a promise to them. Not to find the perfect family or home, but to do your goddamn best. Most of all you promised to shield them from suffering. And that promise has unequivocally been broken.
I can’t tell you how difficult it is to meet, love, market, and advocate for these ACC dogs all the while knowing they might be better off just staying at the shelter. There is no relief when they are rescued, just held breath. Waiting for that shoe to drop.
It is demoralizing, depressing, heartbreaking. And yet people continue to bash ACC. When those committing real wrongs go quietly about breaking those promises.
I’m tired of it. Stand by your animals, handle your business, deal with what’s in your garage whatever that may mean. Stop pretending, obfuscating, lying. Keep your promises to these animals and stop making me break mine. Or I’ll keep telling the truth.”
Where do we go from here?
In my opinion, here’s where we start:
Better and clear regulation of rescues and sanctuaries, as well as boarding facilities
More transparency in the location of animals rescued from “high kill” shelters
Better spay and neuter programs and education
Better resources to keep animals in their homes so they don’t enter the shelter
More education on rescue dogs and fostering to gain more adoptive and foster homes for the dogs already in the system
More openness and transparency about the fact that sometimes, the answer is to let a dog go, and try to save another one waiting in its place
So there you have it. A clumsy working-my-way-through the conundrum of no-kill, kill shelters, and irresponsible rescue. In a sentence, the problem with objectively measuring a live release rate out of a shelter is that it doesn’t take into regard the quality of the home or rescue the dog is placed with. There are thousands of dogs sitting in boarding or sanctuaries across the country. They are technically alive. They are not rescued.
Jessica Dolce’s words are a marching order for me. I would hope for you too.
“If you are a rescuer: saving an animal doesn’t end at pulling them off the euthanasia list or picking them off the street. If you cannot commit to the process of housing, managing, adopting out, and providing owner support to the pet that you are “rescuing”, then you need to examine what it means to “save” an animal. The glory of pulling a dog from the “to be killed” list isn’t the end zone. The real success comes when the pet is in a home that you or your group is providing ongoing support for. If you can’t do that, do not point fingers that no one will help you. You committed to caring for this animal, once you saved it, so the animal is now your responsibility. See it through, even if in the end, there is no glory.
…Instead of passing their suffering along to someone else, in an attempt to relieve ourselves of the psychological pain of euthanizing an animal or the physical discomfort of having to do the difficult work of management and foster care, I beg you to carry the weight for them. Do the hard work. But, if you cannot place them in another home, if you cannot provide the care they need to stay sane and healthy in a long term, no-kill shelter environment, if you cannot manage them safely around others, if they are suffering, you must take responsibility for their life: Love them until the very last minute and let them go.”