Rescued: The Most Overused and Misunderstood Buzzword of Our Time

In addition to my volunteer work for the Stokes County Humane Society, I have a “real” job.  I work for a non-profit low-cost spay/neuter clinic.  We charge $80 to spay a female dog under 40 lb – my own vet charges $300 for the same surgery.  I make this distinction so you will understand why it rubs me the wrong way when I answer the phone and have this conversation:

“How much to spay a thirty pound dog?”

“Eighty dollars – if she’s not current on her rabies we’re required by state law to give one and that’s $15 more.”

– Silence –

“Hello?  Are you still there?”

“Oh.  Yeah.  It’s just that I… I rescued this dog, and $95… wow, that’s really expensive.  Since I rescued this dog and everything, can I get a discount or something?”

“Our prices are three times lower than most full-service clinics – we’re a non-profit, and we’ve discounted these prices as low as they can go.”

“Well, I can’t afford it.  I just won’t spay her.  I can’t believe you charge that much.  That’s terrible.”

End conversation.

Today I’m going to say the things I’m thinking during those conversations, and I’m likely going to step on as many toes as I did yesterday – but these are things that need to be said, because until we take off our rose-colored glasses and face the real issues, nothing will ever change.

What is rescue?  Well, in the simplest possible terms, rescue is when someone is taken from a perilous or life-threatening situation and taken to safety and a better situation.

Rescue is when a man is stranded on the roof of his house during a major flood and the National Guard helicopter comes and airlifts him to dry ground, where he is then provided with food, shelter, clothing, running water, medical care, and information on how to improve his situation, protect his assets, and avoid being caught in a flood again.

Rescue is NOT taking that man from that roof and putting him on a higher roof a few houses down.  He’s farther away from the water on a two-story roof, but he’s still in the same basic situation as he was before:  No shelter, no food, no safety.

Rescue is when a person or group pulls a dog from a kill shelter, or picks up a cat from the streets, and immediately takes that animal to a vet for a checkup, and then places the animal in a place where it will be sheltered, fed, watered, handled, trained, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and given medication when applicable – and where, eventually, it will be adopted by a family who will continue the standard of care provided by the original rescuer.

Rescue is NOT when a person takes an animal from a shelter or off the street and takes it to a home where it is NOT vetted, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, where it doesn’t have constant access to clean water, where it won’t receive emergency care if needed, and where it will most likely die a probably painful death due to neglect.

If you can’t afford to have a dog vetted, vaccinated, and altered, you did NOT rescue that dog.  

If you go to the animal shelter and get an American Pit Bull Terrier for free because his adoption fee is sponsored, and you take that bully home with you and immediately start looking for a bitch to breed him with even though you can’t afford good quality food and basic vaccines and wellness care, you did NOT rescue that dog.  You haven’t bettered his situation; you’ve only changed it – probably for the worse.

If your dog dies of congestive heart failure due to heartworm disease because you couldn’t afford an annual heartworm test and heartworm preventative, then you did NOT rescue that dog.  In fact, that dog might have been better off having never been “rescued.”

If your dog dies of parvo or distemper because you couldn’t afford to keep him vaccinated, then you did not rescue that dog.

If your dog spits out litter after litter of puppies and eventually dies as a result of a complicated delivery or a pyometra, you did NOT rescue that dog.  You prolonged her life but you didn’t provide any sort of quality of life.  

If you have so many animals that you can’t afford to feed them, you can’t (or don’t) clean up after them, and they are behind on their vaccines, then you did NOT rescue those animals. In fact, if that is the case, you are a hoarder, and most of your animals are going to wind up euthanised anyway as a result of long-term neglect, so you might as well have spared them the suffering and left them in the shelter.  If you’re a hoarder you’re most likely  holding onto those animals because you don’t think anyone else can love or care for them as well as you.  If this is your stance, let me enlighten you:  You are NOT providing them any sort of care, and if you really loved them you’d let them go to people who CAN provide them with the care they need.

If you can’t afford to take care of an animal that you intend to keep, you didn’t rescue that animal.  If you rush into oncoming traffic and pluck a puppy from the brink of death, only to take it home and let it die because you couldn’t afford to have it treated for tapeworms, then you didn’t rescue that puppy.  If you pluck the pup from traffic and carry it to a rescue group or a shelter facility – even a high-kill shelter facility – because you’ve got the sense to know you’re not financially able to care for a pet, then – THEN – you have rescued that puppy.  Otherwise, you might have taken it out of the frying pan, but you’ve left it in the fire.

Stokes County Humane Society is a non-profit animal welfare organisation that does have a couple of no-kill rescue programs.  SCHS immediately vets any and all animals brought out of the shelter.  We vaccinate, we heartworm test, and we spay/neuter.  We feed the animals in our program high-quality foods.  All of the animals in our program are in foster homes where they are taught indoor and outdoor manners, receive basic training, and are loved and treated as family pets for the duration of their stay.  Foster families take their foster pups and dogs on camping trips, hiking in the mountains, to soccer games, to parks, festivals, and parades.  We have an adoption application process that includes reference checks, home visits, and requires a potential adopter to meet the animal at least once prior to the adoption being finalized.  We firmly believe that anyone who can’t afford our $150 adoption fee for a fully vetted, vaccinated, microchipped, spayed/neutered animal won’t be able to provide the care the animal needs.  That’s the reason we charge an adoption fee!  One hundred fifty dollars doesn’t BEGIN to compensate for what we’ve spent on these kids while they’re in our care.

Yesterday I spoke out in opposition of sponsoring adoption fees for shelter adoptions.  Today I remain firm in that opposition, but I will say this:  The only time I would ever support an adoption fee sponsorship would be if there was an application process that included reference checks and a home visit prior to the adoption, and if a legally binding adoption contract including a spay/neuter clause for unaltered animals was required.

If there is no contract, if there is no spay/neuter clause, then those animals coming out of shelters on sponsorships aren’t being rescued.  It might make you feel warm and fuzzy inside because those animals are no longer on death row in the shelter, but your actions haven’t improved their lives.  If their lives haven’t been improved, then your sponsorship dollars have been wasted.

3 thoughts on “Rescued: The Most Overused and Misunderstood Buzzword of Our Time

  1. I believe in what you say. We have two big, goofy, adorable dogs we rescued from shelters. They both had their vaccinations and altering done before we ever took them home (We paid for the fees, obviously). But I do know people that are suffering from tight budgets, and they get behind. I don’t think their pets are any less well loved, or well treated, but I know some of them aren’t as on top of vaccinations as they should be. And I feel bad, because their ‘parents’ worry, and there’s not much help for them out there.

    1. I don’t think the problem is with people who get behind because times are hard… I think the problem is with people who are never able to do what needs doing from the beginning. Those are the ones I have a problem with.

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