March 26, 2015

The Meaning of Rescue

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.

35 comments:

  1. That photo of Ruby in the shelter made me sad and happy at the same time. Sad because she was there and it doesn't look like any place I'd want to be, let alone a dog would want to be. Happy, because now she has an amazing life with you (as does Boca).

    I always try to let people know that I adopted Blueberry from a rescue - because that rescue was the one that saved her and her puppies from being euthanized. I just adopted her - which is a good thing - but I can't take credit for the rescue.

    I am amazed at the number of people I meet that tell me they have rescued their dog and upon hearing more of the back story - 9 times out of 10 - that wasn't what happened at all! But hey, if people feel better about themselves for saying it - as long as the dog is happy and healthy - who am I to shoot them down?

    I have a great deal of respect for those that do rescue work. It's not a glamorous job at all and you are right - they are in it for the dogs (or other animals). Potential adopters should check their egos at the door.

    It is true that adopting any dog - you never really know what you are getting. While I know that some rescue organizations are less than reputable and will purposely conceal a dog's health or temperment issues - most of them are as forthcoming as they can be. When I found out about Blueberry's hip issues during her first vet appointment - I joked with the vet that she was supposed to be my healthy dog. I never once thought about returning her. I don't really get people that only want perfection - as if such a thing exists. I think flaws make us love our dogs even more. Considering I've developed my own health issues since I've adopted Blueberry - it has worked out well for both of us that we can't do any marathon hikes. I didn't get the dog I thought I wanted, but I ended up with the dog I needed. :)

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    1. I agree - I don't mind if people say adopted or rescued (I know of people who say "adopted" when they buy a dog from a pet store, though and THAT bugs me to no end). I think that rescues can get a bad rap from people that are impatient or that don't understand how they operate, and my hope in posting this was to raise awareness of the work that they do. You are so right that we get the dogs we need: I am constantly learning from my two wonderful girls.

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  2. I flat out love this perfect post. Yes, it is always about them. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Anna - I have learned so much during our many talks.

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  3. This is beautifully written, especially that last paragraph.

    Barley did come from a shelter and not a rescue--but our shelter is a small, rural shelter where they regularly have more dogs than they are built to hold and they get the strays, the surrenders, and all of the abuse cases, so many of the dogs they get are from terrible conditions. I never asked about Barley's past, so I have no idea what she went through before me and it really didn't matter because I just knew she was mine from the moment I saw her--but I think I adopted her and in that process I rescued her, too. I might not have been the one to pick her up off the streets or taken her from an unfit home or whatever her past might have been, but I did take a reactive dog, who was the only dog in the entire shelter without a kennel mate and also happened to be really smart and on the verge of going kennel crazy, and gave her a forever home. I see so many dogs from her shelter who are adopted and then returned because they weren't good with other dogs in the family or they required too much work--and unfortunately some of them have suffered after being in a kennel too long and have been put down while others have spent over half their lives living at the shelter, so I don't think that adopted and rescued necessarily have to be separate ideas because there are many different ways to rescue a dog.

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    1. Thanks so much, Beth. Shelters most certainly do rescue work - especially the small ones like you are talking about! Adopting a challenging dog is definitely a form of rescue - I think that Ruby could easily have been returned if she had been adopted by someone different. Thank you for rescuing Barley!

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  4. Wow, Ruby doesn't even look the same!!! I definitely agree that there is a difference between "rescuing" and "adopting." I guess I don't think about it very often though. Khloee and Wynston were both "rescues." I took them straight out of their horrible situations - there was not time for a foster home or shelter. In the end, it's sad that we label it anyways. What matters most is that we care for our animals and love them through EVERYTHING. It's sad that someone could get mad over a blind dog - it makes me absolutely sick. Would you want someone to be mad because YOU are blind? What a jerk.

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    1. I agree that we get hung up on labels. What matters most is that these dogs get the homes and lives they deserve, thanks to people like you!

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  5. Being thoughtful and not biting off more than one can chew is important for both the people and the animals.

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    1. Very true! Research is an important part of the process, and I think if more people took the time to do so, we would see fewer dogs relinquished or returned to shelters.

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  6. When we went to add a third dog, I had two important criteria in mind. The new dog had to be small enough that Nelly could survive an attack (if one occurred) and the kids had to connect with it. When they saw Theo, they knew he was the one. I took them to another shelter with puppies, but they only wanted Theo.

    I knew my limitations. I don't want to have to live keeping my dogs separate from each other. Other people do that quite well, I don't want that kind of stress. Even if we didn't have Nelly, I wouldn't consider a big dog unless it was gentle and had basic manners, because I'm not very strong.

    I really don't understand why people put so much into semantics. I adopted Theo from a no kill shelter. He wasn't in danger of being euthanized. As far as I can tell, he knew love in the past but he has a few issues. I'm just happy that we added a great dog to our family!

    In-fighting is so destructive to a community that I just stay far away when I can. When being "right" is the most important thing, it is hard to accomplish anything worthwhile..

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    1. It sounds like you did your research! I wish that more people did the same - I think we would see fewer dogs in shelters. I think that any dog that gets a home and family of its own after being alone in a shelter or on the street has been rescued.

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  7. Yes, ticks are definitely not the top problem in most cases. Great article.

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  8. Thank you for being a voice for rescue. It's a topic close to our hearts.
    Love,
    Lola and Lexy

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  9. I'm glad that you and your dogs found each other. :) It was brave of you to try a new route so that you could help them. I personally use the words rescue and adopted interchangeably. I consider both of my kitties to be adopted, but really I found Manna as an abandoned kitten. Either way, they are my kids. You're right - you have to be ready for some potential "surprises" when you rescue an animal or adopt from a not-so-fancy shelter. It is soooo worth it in the end.
    -Purrs from your friends at www.PlayfulKitty.net

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    1. Thank you, Robin! My girls have taught me so much. You are absolutely right that it is worth it.

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  10. To be honest I probably would have been freaked out by finding a tick(s) as well since it's not something I've ever dealt with. There are a lot of rescues out there that are "feet on the street" types as the ones you adopted from and I'm always amazed at the lengths they go to for their animals. Those are the ones I find myself checking back with and supporting - even though I'm just getting most of the updates from their FB page it's so nice to be able to support someone and see exactly where that support is going. It takes a real tough person to be able to handle that sort of work, and I commend everyone in that field. I don't think I'm nearly tough or resilient enough for it.

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    1. I really admire those rescues, too, Jen - and I don't think I'd be tough enough to do that work on a regular basis, either. They definitely deserve our support.

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  11. Rescue is the hardest thing. I've seen friends struggle, give up their homes, jobs, etc. all for the animals. They are happy in finding homes for hundreds if not thousands of animals... but it is not for everyone. There is a silver lining to rescue, but there is also the horrible dark side of it that most don't see. The pain, the sadness, and the guilt that you can feel because you couldn't save 'that' one. For a short while I rescued a number of shih tzus, you still see half of those now, I just only wish I could continue to save them. A rescued dog is a true gift.

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    1. You are so right! Two dogs is my limit for now, but I hope I can foster again someday, and in the meantime I will focus my efforts on advocacy and awareness.

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  12. We're glad that you found each other... we have three rescue cats who had a rough start in life, but they are a joy in our lives.

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  13. Good post. I prefer to say that I have adopted my babies, even though I technically "rescued" a couple of them. To me, their pasts matter in that their pasts have made them who they are, but I also like to focus on the present day and just be thankful that I have two loving kitties whom I can share my life with.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by! I know that I appreciate my Ginger Sisters every single day - I know they don't spend time dwelling on the past and that is one of the wonderful things about animals.

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  14. I always say I adopted Luna, but she is a my rescue dog. For two reasons - 1. She was at some point rescued. I don't know who or the details, but I do know she was found wandering the road and taken to a high kill shelter. A local rescue group pulled her out and we were forever united. And 2. I feel like she rescued me in a way. My life has changed so much for the better with her.

    I love hearing a good rescue story, but sometimes I think it makes adopting a rescued dog seem like not as exciting or not as big of a deal. BUT IT IS. Any dog is exciting and finding a forever home for any dog is a big deal.

    -Jessica from Beagles & Bargains

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    1. So true, Jessica! It's amazing how much they add to our lives, and I think EVERY dog's story is an important one.

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  15. This post really moved me. I read a lot of pet blogs, dog/cat rescue, etc. and this was very enlightening for me. I didn't realize the word "rescue" was something people squabbled about - and that's good info for me to know, because I blog about it, and I need to be aware of that. I also learned a lot from this, and am sharing it like crazy b/c it has such an important message. Bravo to you for spreading the word. :) (no option for me to leave my name here - so, I'm Anne from The Pet Mom as an FYI!). :)

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    1. That means a lot to me, Anne! I really wanted to stand up for rescues, because I think sometimes people forget how hard their job is.

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  16. This was a great read! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  17. Totally agree! All of our dogs are rescues, and the two girls were adopted from the shelter (Willow by me, and Chloe by my mom). Working through Willows fear of men, and sever separation anxiety was not easy, but we managed!

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  18. Our boys were both rescues, Charlie came from Golden Retriever Rescue Group Operated With Love Statewide. I cannot thank them enough for the level of support they provided to make Charlie's transition go so smoothly. Our experience has completely turned us on to rescuing....did Charlie learn some bad habits and need more behavioral support, yes, but we knew what we were getting into. I think we will always rescue as long as our lifestyle allows us to put the time into training that is needed.

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  19. Those pictures of your girls are so perfect, even though Ruby's is also heartbreaking. I'm so happy she found you, and I can tell she is too, in every other picture I've seen of her.

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