Sunday, June 23, 2013

My First Experience as the Official Member of an Animal Rescue

**Me and my American Pit Bull Terrier Daisy Mae Saare**

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been planning a trip to Georgia to assist in an animal adoption. As the owner of an American Pit Bull Terrier I wanted to introduce a socialized dog who listens to commands and loves people to the world. Upon arrival I did what any author does—I watched the people around me. True I spoke with the wonderful team members but I also paid attention to the work involved.

Let’s just say it was an eye-opening experience.

If you don’t mind I’m going to go back in time for a moment. A few months ago my husband wanted a Basset Hound. I spoke to Gina (a member of the crew) about this and tried to find a rescue. The ones I located (for the most part) were a great distance from our home and the adoption fees were steep. Also there were a lot of steps involved. House visits. A contract. Etc. Although our home is fine it seemed like a lot of work.

After consulting my husband (whose mother located a breeder) we decided to get a puppy. We got Mayhem and brought him home. I felt badly about this (I was set on rescuing) but I told myself it was for the best.

Back to present day. I’m watching things take place. I’m noticing the food, the kennels, the tents and everything else that’s been set up in an effort to place at least one dog in a secure home. Then I started doing figures in my head. Kennels aren’t cheap. Neither are tents. Then there’s food, leashes, collars, harnesses, toys, bowls, mats, puppy pads…

Then, like a slap to the face, it hit me.

The rescue and foster parents spend an enormous amount of money, not to mention set aside a lot of time. They take animals in and sometimes have their hearts broken. They never know if they can save a dog (for example if a dog is heartworm positive recovery can be lengthy and can cost thousands of dollars) or if the dogs they do take will find homes. Tons of love (and sometimes years) can be invested into a dog that—through no fault of its own—might not ever be adopted. This can be due a person wanting a puppy. Or wanting a certain breed (I know, shame on me). It can even come down to color preference (I learned black dogs and cats are always the last to be adopted).

You can often find the ones who have been fostered longest. They “know” their foster person and get super excited when they see them. It’s adorable yet heartbreaking as you know that best case the dog will be adopted, acclimate to their new home and be loved by another. While in the worst scenario the dog will stay with the foster and take up a slot that could be filled by another.

So I’m watching everything. It’s blazing hot. The rescue volunteers and foster parents are trying to keep everyone cool. In the meantime they sit and wait. Some people venture up and say hello but mostly they want to look. The donations jar is visited but not often. A couple of people expressed interest in a dog but after several hours no one had a home. I waited, hoping to see an adoption in progress. The minutes ticked by, hours passed.

Then it dawned on me that it wasn’t going to happen.

After several hours the team decided to pack up. Keep in mind this is GA in the summer. It’s incredibly hot and dogs heat quicker than we do. First the dogs were secured and then everyone broke down tents and packed up kennels, retrieved food, broke down tables, etc. As this happened I glanced at the donations jar.

There were over a dozen volunteers who had traveled with animals. The amount I counted wouldn’t even cover the cost of gas much less the food, puppy pads and other things the dogs required. Once we were settled I visited Gina's house and get a bird’s eye view of life in a foster home.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun and can be a blast. I love puppies and spent at least an hour playing with them (Daisy Mae was in Heaven). But puppies take time. They also eat a lot of food. They have to have vaccinations and some of the dogs in Gina’s care are ill (she currently has a dog battling heartworms and cancer--another has a permanent limp due to a leg injury).

Although the rescue does cover some of the cost they can’t do so without donations. From what I’d seen the pickings were pretty slim at the event.

Curious, I spoke to Gina at length and learned that it wasn’t what I thought at all. Those fees I worried about when looking for a rescue? Turns out it’s to pay for altering a pet as well as the shots and vet care provided. Some dogs (as I stated) stay with a foster for a long time. That adds up. Then there is the cost for gas, toys for the animals and other things that many foster parents pay for out of their own pockets. Then there are “surprises” like female dogs they adopt who turn out to be pregnant. That means more money, more shots, more food.

Believe me these people do not pocket money. They are not bringing it hand over fist either. Every single dime goes toward the well-being of the animals in their homes.

I know that right now times are tough. Many are struggling financially. I’ve had to stop donating to certain charities as my husband is a government contracted employee and the sequester is occurring. Nevertheless I’ve spoken with Gina about ways we might work together to raise money for the rescue.

The ultimate (and sad) truth is a rescue can’t take in dogs unless dogs find homes. For every one that remains (even loved and cared for) with a foster another dog waits in the pound and will probably be put to sleep. People are not altering their pets, meaning more and more of them are having unwanted puppies. These puppies grow into dogs that, sadly, often produce more and more puppies. Then you have those like me who can love a dog but go about bringing new members into our fold in a far less helpful way. It’s a vicious cycle. Oh and as for those contracts and house visits I mentioned? Turns out those are more than necessary. Some puppies are adopted prior to being spayed or neutered (rare but it does happen) and what do you suppose happens when someone gets a purebred dog or bully breed? Let’s just say more puppies are involved.

Also a home has to be safe for a dog. It needs a kennel, an adequate fenced in and secure area, as well as a place to take shelter in the event the animal is outdoors for an extended period of time. The rescue does keep tabs on their animals to ensure the dogs and cats they place (I refer to dogs all the time as my daughter is allergic so we don’t have those—just to clarify) are being properly care for.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something I should mention. I apologize.

Truthfully the enormity of the situation is still sinking in.

I’m one of those people who—when she knows she can assist in the care of an animal—rushes to help when I’m able. Now I understand the heart and mind have to have balance. Although I decided this after Mayhem’s arrival I’m repeating it here. I will never buy another dog. Don’t misunderstand me either: I would never turn back the clock. Daisy and Mayhem mean the world to me. What I’m saying is when we add to our home it will be a foster or rescue. There are too many animals out there that need loving homes and care. I might have arrived to the game a bit late but I’m here and I’m ready to get up to bat.

So if you’re like me and want to help I’d definitely ask to volunteer. Look around and find an organization you feel passionate about. Make friends. Be there for them when they make hard decisions and rejoice with them when they place an animal with a family. It’s not easy—you’ll have to find the right fit—but once you do you’ll know it’s where you’re meant to be.

That’s what happened to me.

 I will return with updates on work soon. I'm also working with my Critical Care for Animal Angels:


lisekimhorton said...

Jamie - a thought provoking, though sobering, post and I am very glad you have become a rescue/adoption convert! That you have given so much thought to the situation of pet fostering and adoption shows how very much you care. As someone who always rescues - from my 2 cairns to the 3 rescued racing greyhounds, to cats adopted from LI shelters - I can honestly say that I have had just as much love from my runty little Cairn rescue guy who clearly had something else in his doggy family tree, to all of my other dogs that were all full grown when I adopted. I do not miss the puppyhood at all! So welcome to this wonderful club, and thank you for spreading the awareness and the bleak truths. May they be the tipping point for many many other animal lovers looking to add to their homes!

J.A. Saare / Aline Hunter said...

Hi Lise,

I actually started donating first and talking to Gina (one of the head fosters and folks at the rescue in GA). Overtime I wanted to do more. So I talked to her and planned a trip (to bring along Daisy). I heard stories between that time and started to understand a bit better.

Then I went to the adoption and saw things firsthand.

It's very sobering but I learned a lot (I still am). I will do what I can and we hope to foster in the future (we are currently expanding our back fence, even though the dogs are indoors they need a larger area to exercise).

TY for all you do to help as well. :) One at a time (hopefully) lives can be saved.


Felicia the Geeky Blogger said...

I am so glad to hear when people get involved in the process! There is so much that people can do: foster, transport, social network, donate (items or money), or volunteer. There are so many good rescue organizations out there and they work hard to save who they can.

Don't feel bad about buying, it sounds like she was meant to be with you :)

I love this blog: . I am hoping to start fostering next year (still need some work done to my home) but until then I transport and social network.

Thank you for getting the word out about rescues and the work they do! YOU ROCK!

Anonymous said...

If the group you were with has their IRS tax-exempt status, section 501(c)(3), they are welcome to go to Petco Foundation's grant Website at Links at the left will describe the different types of grants (the 4Rs Project Grant would be best for a new group) we have available. Petco Foundation really, really cares; heck, I wouldn't work there if I didn't think so!

oreoparris said...

Growing up our dogs were always bought from a breeder but then my sis when to vet school and adopted a beagle from an experimentation project. Since then every animal I've had or my family has been an adoption. Usually just donate to the local ASPCA but will now look into the other agencies you and the readers have mentioned. Thanks.