Dear animal loving public,
I want you to know, you have some ownership in how hoarding situations happen and how the unhealthy wholesale warehousing of rescued animals becomes the norm over long periods of time. Pay attention, ‘cause I am talking to you, each and every animal loving person out there, including you.
The public regularly uses words and phrases like: kill, murder, step up, and hero to demand action, to get attention, and to encourage rescues to overcommit “just this time” because we MUST save this animal. We need to stop. It is counterproductive and it endangers the animals.
I am not saying we shouldn’t give it our all and continue to be passionate about saving animals, but it is under this inflammatory culture and because of this emotionally charged public sentiment that rescue individuals, rescue groups, and the shelters are encouraged to extend themselves too far and the animals they hope to help suffer.
Rescues often take the animals the municipal shelters can’t help, animals with medical or behavioral issues or breeds that are more difficult to adopt out. When the rescues answer the public pleas to help these animals and to save them from being murdered, it often also requires an unknown commitment of time and money. This can cause the rescuers to unknowingly overcommit and get in a crack.
Sometimes they get out of the crack, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they can raise funds and pay their bills, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they turn into hoarders all while people are encouraging them to help and calling them heroes.
Read that again slowly and carefully, sometimes they turn into hoarders and warehousers all while people are encouraging them to help and calling them heroes.
Want to understand that better? Read about what happened to the no-kill shelter run by Animal Guardians. This group had done amazing work over time and helped many, many animals. They were in touch with us when we first caught Tasha. They offered for Tasha to come rehab at their facility as they thought they had appropriate fencing to contain our feral escape artist. The veterinarian consulted with them on the phone and we thought we had a place for her to go. But we insisted on seeing the property and the facility first. The lady kept cancelling the appointments and saying she was very busy. So we moved on and you all know how that story ended – this sucker ended up over her head with the feral husky Tasha. A few months after we had talked with them, the group made the news as the Humane Society of North Texas raided the property and took custody of hundred of animals found in deplorable conditions.
It’s a not just here locally, it is a national trend. Just this week there was a story about an animal rescuer in Minneapolis being charged with torturing dogs in his care.
Also this week a woman near Waco was arrested by Ellis County’s Sheriff’s Deputies for cruelty. The SPCA seized about 80 animals and found many dead dogs in trash bags in the back yard. This woman was a respected, qualified, trainer. But somewhere along the line she got in a crack. Maybe it was a mental health issue that turned the tide for her, but it really doesn’t matter. There should never have been that many animals in her care without volunteers, partnerships, and or loads of employees.
The last big SPCA case before the Waco case was from a well known 501c3 “no kill” rescue group. They were saving animals from shelters who were scheduled to be euthanized and then housing them in deplorable conditions with no vet care.
How can we do our part to prevent this kind of terrible tragedy? When awesome professional rescuers, individual rescuers, and rescue groups get up and do the hard work everyday, say thank you. Do not use the word hero. Do not use the word murder. Do not use the word kill. Understand that there are worse things than a humane euthanasia, and wholesale long term warehousing of animals in inhumane conditions is one of them.
Find a group you believe in and support them. But first, understand their best practices, take a tour, compare and contrast to other organizations in the area, and then give them your support. Time, money, volunteering, networking, fundraising – bring your skills and resources to the table and they will put you to work.
Do not be blind to feedback or criticism you hear about your chosen group, there is often at least some truth in it. Have realistic expectations, but do not compromise and say, “they are doing the best they can”, when best practices and policies are not being followed. We can always improve what we are doing and we should always look at feedback that will improve the welfare and quality of life of the animals we serve.
Do not be insulted when people want to know where and how the animals are being cared for and don’t ever hesitate to ask questions. Whether it is a private rescue or public shelter, transparency and truth are always in order when advocating for animals. It is too easy for groups and people to become overwhelmed, underfunded, and to find themselves without the resources or staff to help properly care for the animals they have in their custody. When people are overwhelmed, they tend to isolate in shame. Nothing will get solved in that gap, the gap will only get larger and help will get farther away.
Don’t hate on the professionals when they can’t help. Veterinarians, clinics, and boarding facilities are running animal welfare businesses. They are not charities, 5013c, nor do they run lines of credit – they do not want to be your bank. Don’t expect free services or to be able to run up a bill (unless the vet is your bff). Pay your bills. If you don’t, there will be culture of distrust and a gap between the rescuers and the services they need. There is some of that now in our community and it makes it harder to foster relationships with the local vets. The vets are not the problem, they are part of our solution. Let’s embrace them and what they can do to help.
Foster a safe and collaborative environment for rescues and shelters. In order to keep our rescues healthy and connected to consistent help and support, there has to be an expectation of transparency and one of checking in and being checked on regularly. We all need to be OK with that. We need not be defensive about questions about care, policy, and resources. We all need to feel safe in a checks and balances model. These checks and balances are the only way we can prevent each other from slipping in over our heads. It can happen to anyone.
Need a real world example of things getting bigger than we expect? Take a look at me. I am no one’s victim. I have made my own conscious decisions over time, but the world doesn’t always go as planned. And sometimes, maybe often times, we have no idea what we are getting ourselves into. Trust me when I tell you I was well informed, but I had no idea.
Now remember, I always used to pick up the occasional dog here and there and rescue and rehabilitate them, but the need in my own front yard became a crisis level issue. I had dog packs in my yard three years running. Who knew my effort to catch Tasha and and her pack would end up with the husky, that had been shot by the city and left to suffer and almost die, ending up at my house to be rehabilitated and that it would take years to socialize her.
Seriously, there was never intent for me to keep any of these pack dogs for a long period of time, but who knew. To compound the issues, as my skill set grew, I was able to help more and more complicated cases. Who knew I would have three generations of the same dog pack in my house.
These unsocial dogs are not quick to place, they take time to rehabilitate. I had already broken my no Pit rule by the time the pack showed up and so I have had a pit clogging up the numbers and the flow ever since I made that misstep.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Pitty and she is the most amazing gentle dog, but she is the only dog that I have not been able to “flip” or “place” after she was ready. Just say the word pit bull and watch the doors close and the conversation shut down. She will probably live here forever. Don’t ever criticize a group that won’t take pit bulls, it is a no win situation. If your rescue is full of dogs you can’t place, you can’t help the others.
So now I have my personal dog, a wonderful pit, a crazy Husky, her crazy kid, her kid’s kid, another dog named Lucy (aka White Patch) that ended up here because DAS didn’t hold up their end of an arrangement, and then there is Hank. Go read about our little guy Hank.
Who knew he was going to be so complicated? Who knew a “three day” commitment was going to cost so much in time and money. But what’s a girl to do? Euthanize him before we knew if we could truly help him?
Well, if I was being a good steward of time and money, I probably should have. But I am convinced because of my passion, emotions, and a track record of healing the toughest cases that we can still help him. He even has a date lined up IF we can get him healthy. Oh the yin and the yang of living on hope and being a softie.
So I find myself today in over my head. To confess a little more, I have held myself to a very strict rule about staying in the lawful numbers of animals. I believe the numbers are law for a reason, a reason I believe in. But I now find myself consciously over the limit. Hank makes 7 dogs in the house. The law says I can have 6 dogs. Now, I can request a special permit, but I should not have 7 dogs and I don’t want to do this again so I have not requested the permit. Don’t get all judgey on me, I am sharing the story of how hoarding can easily happen so we can look out for each other and see it coming instead of seeing it in the review mirror.
Hank was going to be here for just for a few days, and then a few weeks. But he has been here for about 7 weeks now. And he has a few more weeks before we will know for sure if we can help him or if have to euthanize him. So, I will be illegal for about 2 months when it is all said and done. Not good. Lesson learned.
But this is how it happens, circumstance and best intentions get the best of us. I could not let Hank go to the shelter because I knew they would EU him on intake based their capacity and his body condition. While I strongly support turning dogs into the shelter, on that day, I did not want to be called a murder. I did not want to feel like a murder and so I started a “scheme” to help him.
I made arrangements for him to legally go to the SPCA after the 72 hold. But as we soon figured out, he was too sick to go and I made the choice to see what we could do to save him. If we could get him well, he could go to the SPCA. Turns out that path to helping Hank was more complicated than most, and we’ve seen some doozies. And here we are.
Now don’t freak out and call the authorities on me just yet. I have support all around me that is making sure Hank is not here more than a few more weeks and that we have a timeline on making a decision about if we can truly help him or if we have to help him over the rainbow bridge. I have told all my closest friends and veterinarian to NOT let me bring in any new dogs- under any circumstance or crazy scheme.
And we are making big progress towards getting the numbers down. I am actively placing one of the other dogs into the SPCA adoption program through a partnership we are developing with them. But due to a large number of unexpected animal seizures this past week, even the SPCA is at capacity and we have to wait another week or two. Lucy is making great strides and should be ready for her forever home or the SPCA adoption program in the next few months. That will get me back to 4 dogs, my personal dog and three fosters. When I first started rescuing, I had a saying, “Three dogs is dog lady, four dogs is crazy dog lady.” What I would do to get back to crazy dog lady status!
The lady that ran the Guardian Angels facility was a loving person who cared about animals. Many established rescuers knew her personally. She helped many animals over the years. I believe her name was Annette.
The lady that ran the boarding and training facility near Waco, she was an established professional. I believe she ran in circles with highly trained trainers and behaviorists. She loved animals. Her name was Gayle.
None of these rescuers knew when they started in rescue that their story would end so tragically with neglect, abuse, and cruelty charges.
Many years from now maybe you will read my name in the paper in the obits. Maybe you will read that I worked tirelessly to change the City’s animal culture, that I rescued hundreds of street dogs, or that neglected animals in my care were seized in a raid. I pray it’s the first two only and I am thankful for my circle of support that will help ensure that the later never happens.
While we wait for time to tell my story, let’s remember that rescuers are people and we all need help and we all need to keep an eye each other. I am an accidental rescuer and I have become an strong animal advocate, but above all, I am a person with a name. Will you use it when you call me a “murderer” for turning in loose animals in to the shelter? Or will you be part of the solution and part of an effort to change the vernacular we all use to speak to and about animal rescuers and animal professionals.
A balanced approach will solve the overpopulation issues for our city and our country. Education, prevention, and a strong spay and neuter culture will over time bring both the unwanted animal population and the euthanasia numbers down. But we must come to terms with where we are today.
Today, we should begin the long term planning to achieve the goal of having “no–kill” open admission shelters (see, there is that inflammatory word again), but for today, the reality is that the issues require euthanasia to be part of the conversation.
There are many worse things that can happen to a loose dog than a humane euthanasia and the last thing any of us want to happen is to see those inhumane things happen at the hands of our rescues. Be the change: advocate, educate, volunteer, adopt, spay and neuter, and don’t accept the terms hero and murder in our rescue conversations.