If you Google search the phrase “animal rescue people are crazy” you’ll get more than 8 million hits. Having worked in the rescue community for nearly 4 years, I am not surprised by this number nor do I disagree with the sentiment.
Animal rescues and advocates are a passionate bunch of people. We see the worst of what humanity does to animals every single day and after a while, it is difficult not to be affected by it. We get angry at people, we feel frustrated by the laws or lack thereof, and we often fantasize about doing to some pet owners what they have done to their own pets. We become so engrossed in caring for neglected, abandoned, and abused pets that we begin to feel that it is never ending.
In public we are forced to show kindness and compassion, to convince people to support our causes and to protect helpless creatures. We must exemplify unconditional love. Behind the scenes we are reduced to tears on a regular basis and because we reserve all of the good in us for the animals entrusted to us, what is left for human beings is often not very pretty.
It takes a certain kind of person to work in animal rescue. The majority of us are very emotional and willing to give of ourselves freely. We are warm-hearted and nurturing, but we are often thin-skinned and easy to hurt. We are prone to being over-protective. Again, because of what we give the animals we work with, what we have left for people can be less than ideal. The best of us can seem aloof and hard, but that comes from years of doing this work effectively and protecting our hearts. Those who succeed in rescue for many years are those that have found a way to curb their emotions and turn rescue into a business of sorts. On occasion you can find someone in rescue who is warm and caring to animals and people alike and those people are special indeed.
Our overwhelming need to protect these animals, especially when they have already been through so much in their lives, translates to extensive adoption processes and almost impossible standards. We have an intense need to see that potential homes have the same compassion and commitment to the animals that we do. Intellectually, we understand that people who do not see the horrors that we experience every day can never live up to our ideal, but we do everything possible to get as close to that as we can. Emotionally, it is hard for us to let go and trust that all humans are not terrible to their pets.
We are also guilty of fighting amongst ourselves. If you have ever visited a rescue group on Facebook you might think you stumbled into a group for middle school children. A great number of rescues are run by women, so it’s much like witnessing a cat fight between 13 year old girls over a boy. It is ridiculous and most of us are ashamed by it, but it goes back to all those intense emotions we keep buried. Just like in middle school, we too have bullies – those who think they are better than everyone else and it is a problem that needs to be addressed. We rarely stop to recognize that we are making fools of ourselves in the eyes of the general public, but rest assured, each of us wants the same thing – protection for all animals. Whether you adopt from a bully or a target, you are still doing a wonderful thing.
When approaching a rescue to adopt a pet, here are some things to keep in mind:
- You are going to be asked to jump through some hoops and it’s not always easy, but in the end you’ll be rewarded with a loving pet and the gratitude of an overworked and underfunded organization that wants nothing more than to see the animal be loved for the rest of it’s life.
- Remember that we are human beings, not big business entities. Many of us came to rescue because we love animals. For many it is more a calling than a career and we take our work personally. We see horrors that most people couldn’t stomach – often. Please have some compassion for us, too.
- We all fear that you are going to support a so-called rescue that is really no more than a pet store taking advantage of helpless animals. Please do some research about any rescue you are considering adopting from or donating to. If you have no idea how to go about this research, talk to respected animal people in your community – like your veterinarian or animal control authorities – anyone you know is a true animal lover and advocate. They typically know all the local rescues and which ones are legitimate. Rescues that have been open for long periods of time are usually a good place to look as those with fraudulent intentions generally don’t last long, but always do your homework to be sure!
- 501(c)3 means that an organization is non-profit and tax exempt. This usually indicates a legitimate rescue, but not always (see above). Also, not all legitimate rescues are 501(c)3, so do not count them out! Small, in-home rescues are often hugely dedicated, loving animal advocates and deserve your donations and your consideration for adoption.
- If you feel a rescue is too difficult to work with, try another. Not all rescues have the same philosophies and policies. Not all people work well together and that is OK, just move on. It does not mean that they are not a good rescue. Perspectives vary and not all people see eye to eye. There are so many animals in need, who you adopt from is not as important as the fact that you are adopting rather than buying from a breeder or pet store (at least not to us!).
I encourage everyone to volunteer at a rescue for at least one day before adopting. It will open your eyes in ways you never imagined and the next time you encounter a “crazy” person in animal rescue, it might be easier to forgive them for being a bit…prickly. They work very hard only to feel that they have failed in some way when the next abused animal arrives.