|Boca ready for her flight off the island - photo courtesy of The Humane Society of Grand Bahama|
Inspired once again by my friend Anna's wonderful writing (I'm not kidding, she has a book coming out soon), I wanted to talk about my own experience and the evolution of my thinking regarding rescue, which happened over the course of adopting two rescue dogs. There is a lot of controversy surrounding "rescue" vs. "adopted" and the criticism that people like to throw the term 'rescue' around to feel better about themselves. Some think we should forget our animals' pasts and live in the moment, to stop labeling them as rescues and ourselves as rescuers. There is a lot of in-fighting even among the people who are fighting for a common cause.
To be clear: I did not rescue Ruby and Boca firsthand - I adopted them. The savior credit goes to Ruby's angels, who pulled her from death row in an Arkansas shelter and transported her to Colorado, and Boca's angels, who saved her off the streets of The Bahamas, housed her for a full year and flew her to Denver. They were absolutely delivered from terrible fates, and I am forever grateful to the wings both literal and figurative that flew them home to me. I will always refer to them as rescues, as a tribute to those who saved them and what they have overcome.
What I didn't fully understand about rescue, despite having volunteered, transported and fostered for Norwegian Elkhound Rescue, is the shoestring budget they are normally operating on, the extremes of abuse and neglect that they witness on a regular basis, and the level of dedication they have to their customers - the animals. They aren't in business to make sure you get a perfect dog, but to make sure the dog gets a forever home. You can hardly blame them if they seem overprotective or ask a lot of questions - they have seen the worst of the worst.
|Ruby at the dog pound in Arkansas - photo courtesy of Arkansas Angels for Animals|
A few days after adopting Ruby, I found a tick in her ear, followed by two more on her back. I was somewhat horrified, to be honest. I didn't understand how the vet that had performed her spay had missed them, or how she had been released to me in this condition. I had always adopted animals from big fancy shelters, where my pets were sent home with free vet checks, obedience classes and a goodie bags. I contacted the adoption coordinator to let her know about the ticks, and she apologized but didn't seem to think it was a big deal. Ruby's icky freeloaders were evicted with no ill effects, and as a bonus I am now really good at removing them!
I was later humbled as I realized why it wasn't a big deal. I started following the efforts of the rescues and shelters that were instrumental in saving The Ginger Sisters' lives. I saw picture after picture on Facebook of the desperate dogs they were trying to help. These were not animals that were relinquished because someone was moving and kenneled in state-of-the-art, well-funded shelters. These were animals that were skinny and starving, badly injured, bald with mange. If they had ever had a home, they had now been dumped on a highway or abandoned on a chain. They roamed the streets of the south, the Caribbean and rural Colorado. They probably had ticks, and ticks were the least of their problems.
I will repeat what Anna says: rescue is not for everyone. The sad story dog is not the instant gratification dog. As much as I am an advocate for adoption and nearly always encourage anyone I know to rescue or adopt, I am the first to admit that it can be hard. It takes patience, creativity, and a willingness to let go of expectations. I met someone at an event recently who said their friend had also adopted a potcake, but was mad because the dog turned out to be partially blind. It's true: a rescue dog might come with some unwelcome hitchhikers, be leash-reactive, or have an eye problem. There are no guarantees with a rescue dog except one: they will love you and change you for life. Not because they're a rescue, but because they're a dog and that is what they do best.