A lot of common questions about animal rescue are answered here in a single screen shot. This is a correspondence I had with a woman in Nova Scotia over the last few days via Facebook. Some people use Facebook to connect only with actual friends and family, but in my case, most of my "friends" are people I've never met in person, and I use the page more as a public, online 'presence' that's available to anyone who wants to look at it. Because the vast majority of people who add me as a friend are doing so because of my rescue work, this is what it says in the 'About Me' section of my profile: "Please don't use Facebook to try to place an animal; go to www.olympicanimalsanctuary.org/placement.html. Please don't tag me in photos I'm not in, and please don't include me in messages to multiple people. Thanks for understanding." That's the only thing it says there, in fact.
I accept every friend request, and then I unsubscribe from the people I don't know. Sorry if that's you, but if I don't do it I won't see status updates from people I know in real life. So when I got a friend request from this woman in Canada, I accepted it as I always do. The next thing I knew, she had added me to a group called "SAVE BRINDI AND FRANCESCA FROM THE CITY OF HALIFAX!!!!" I don't like that feature on Facebook; I shouldn't be able to be added to a group without my permission. But I neglected to mention it in my profile information (although you'd think people would infer that I wouldn't be into it), so I couldn't be too upset. I looked briefly at the group page (very briefly -- not long enough to discover that the Francesca in the group's name was this woman, not a second dog) and messaged the woman who added me. The screenshot here is the exchange that took place; I don't expect you to read the entire thing, because I have no intention of doing so myself. (She also added me to a second Facebook group.)
I said at the beginning that this answers a lot of questions. Here are a few of them:
There's a good chance that any rescue you know of is being negatively impacted by someone like this. This certainly isn't the first time I've dealt with it. The problem is that it's the dog (or other animal) that's paying the ultimate price when people refuse to behave in a reasonable manner. I hope Brindi can be saved, but with this lady as her advocate (who didn't know what an advocate was) I fear her chances are slim.
Yesterday I took Jimmy, a new dog from California, to the beach for a walk. About a half mile up the shore I noticed something a little out of place - a black and white, roughly spherical object on the sand about fifty yards ahead of us. I suspected it was an injured bird, which was confirmed when Jimmy and I came closer. Having been declared dangerous in San Mateo County after killing a couple of small animals in his neighborhood and being the kind of dog who would enjoy giving a bird a few, strong shakes, Jimmy was a bit of a handful, but I managed to get my shirt off and wrap it around the bird with one hand while restraining the dog with the other. (Fortunately I had a second shirt on underneath, lest my bare abdominal muscles and handsome nipples create a surge of desperate attempts at infidelity along the waterfront.) The unhappy bird, a western grebe, jabbed and snapped at me as I carried him back down the beach, and Jimmy begged for what he seemed certain was soon to be his for the shaking.
We approached a family we'd passed a few minutes earlier, and the father, not surprisingly, noticed the bird in my hand. "You caught a bird?" "Yeah," I responded, thinking it was a weird thing to ask a guy holding a grebe wrapped in a t-shirt, and then came the second question, "Why'd you catch a bird?" as if I could have captured a healthy grebe with nothing but my bare hands and wild animal reflexes. I explained briefly that the bird was injured and asked the man for help getting him and Jimmy back to my truck. He hesitated, seeming to have trouble deciding whether to be more afraid of the bird or Jimmy. "I don't know, dude..." "He doesn't have teeth. Just take him." Concluding that I was scarier than both dog and bird, he did what the big tattooed man told him to do. I instructed him to carry the bird the same way I had been doing, keeping its legs and wings wrapped in the shirt to prevent it from further injuring itself. We walked the rest of the way back to the parking lot, where the guy began asking me why the Twilight tour bus was there. "I guess it's not to annoy me, personally," I answered, "but sometimes it seems that way. "No really, why is the Twilight bus here? Does this beach have anything to do with Twilight?" "I don't know, I'm not a thirteen year old girl."
Jimmy went into the carrier in the back of the truck, and since I didn't have any small pet carriers with me, the grebe got a dog bed on the back seat. As I walked around to the driver's side, I heard the guy asking his wife why the Twilight bus was at the beach, and heard her answer, "I don't know, what are you asking me for?" He seemed like a nice guy, but seriously, dude, let it go.
Because the grebe was in severe shock, I had my doubts that he would survive the drive home, much less the trip to Sequim where he'd receive treatment. I spoke briefly on the phone to the area's wildlife rehabilitators and they asked me to keep him overnight, and if he lived until morning, to drive him over. As I pulled into my parking lot the bird's head dropped to his side and I thought he was dead, but when I opened the truck door to remove him, he perked up slightly. To my surprise the little grebe not only lived through the night, but had moved around his cage a little, defecated, possibly had a drink, and was alert, with his head held upright. I loaded him into a small carrier and delivered him to the vet's office in Sequim, and to be honest, I'll still be surprised if he lives, but we tried. I had only hoped that he'd die in a warm, soft resting place and not be picked apart by scavengers while he was still alive; despite what a natural end that would have been for him, I felt a little mercy was in order, mercy being that thing that we're told separates us from the lower animals.
I'm pretty good at spotting wildlife, injured or otherwise. The first time my friend Jason visited me in Washington, I pointed out twenty or thirty bald eagles a day, of which I believe he saw two the entire week. In Jason's defense, if instead of eagles it had been Volkswagen Rabbits or marginally attractive women ten years on either side of dateable, he'd have had me beaten hands down. But the point is that I've gotten increasingly good at noticing the things that other people miss, perhaps always looking for what's slightly out of place, like the contrasting black and white of a bird on land that's rarely seen out of water - one that dozens of people must have missed as they walked past, perhaps some of them wishing they were seeing more wildlife on their beach trip.
The ability to detect what's not quite right and respond appropriately will make a person effective in just about any profession, and it's certainly the case in companion animal welfare. Theoretically, dog and cat rescue isn't much different than wildlife rescue: one rescuer sees something not quite right, responds, enlists the help of the public if needed, and then hands the animal off to the people best suited to meeting its needs, in this case a veterinarian and a rehab center, who accept the animal without hesitation. Each entity does its part and fills its unique niche for the greater good and for the good of each individual animal.
But if dogs and cats are like birds along the beach, then companion animal rescue is a colossal oil spill, with more floating lifeless in the water and sitting listless on the sand than flying overhead, and those lucky few who are in flight had better fly far, or it's only a matter of time before they join their doomed counterparts. It doesn't take a professional to see that something is wrong, but it might take one to find what isn't. When faced with a scene where far more is wrong than right, where do you start? Do you focus on containing and removing the oil that's already spilled? Do you try to stop the spill at its source? Do you pick birds from the beach, or do you receive the birds, clean and treat them, and then release them when their environment is safe again? Ideally people would be doing all of those things, working in concert to bring the disaster to a close. Emphasis on "ideally".
Animal shelters ought to be the equivalent of the rehab centers where the oil-saturated birds go for treatment and recovery. In theory, they take in homeless and wayward animals, returning them to the homes from whence they strayed or placing them with new, adoptive families, providing medical care and behavioral rehabilitation along the way as needed. It's important to note that some shelters do operate that way, but for some reason, most don't; they take in homeless and wayward animals, return a few to their homes, adopt out a few, and kill the rest before they can become a drain on resources - resources that, by the way, exist for the sole purpose of caring for homeless animals. They call all of it rescue, but such opposing courses of action can hardly be called the same thing. One animal is placed in a house with a family, while another is placed in a freezer - could both placements be considered rescue? Could anyone really believe them to be? Or could it be that the people responsible for increasing the length and quality of the lives of dogs and cats in America, who took on that daunting task of their own volition, have betrayed the public trust, and rather than admit their shortcomings, mistakes, and in some cases, crimes, have chosen instead to defend them, lie about them, and attack anyone who dares to suggest that killing healthy animals shouldn't be part of the rescue picture?
Did you ever hear someone, after the recent Gulf of Mexico spill or the Exxon Valdez disaster, suggest that the problem wasn't the oil, but that there were simply too many birds? Chances are you didn't, but talk to animal rescuers enough and you'll hear all kinds of crazy shit. 'We can't save them all.' 'Our kill rate is lower than average, so we're proud of that.' 'It's not fair to devote extra resources to one animal when we don't have enough as it is.' 'There are good dogs and bad dogs.' 'Maybe we kill them after five days, but we give them five more days than anyone else would.'
They'll tell you we're in crisis. They'll blame dog and cat breeders. They'll blame animal abusers. They'll blame local government for not throwing more money their way, despite their mismanagement of the money they've already been given. They'll tell you there simply aren't enough homes for all the animals, and that it's better they die at the shelter than take their chances on the street. Of course, no one has asked the dogs and cats what they'd prefer. And no one will point out that nearly all of them came from homes at one time, suggesting either that there actually are enough homes, or that the number of negligent or abusive people with dogs and cats is far higher than it would appear to even the most experienced rescuer.
Most shelter personnel would probably suggest the latter, but they won't tell you that if they increased their spay/neuter programs by a mere three or four percent there would be no surplus of dogs and cats, and they would actually save money that could be put toward the care of the special needs animals they so disdain. They won't tell you about the local rescues that they refuse to work with, or the way they've tried to stop others in the area from rescuing animals at all because it affects their intake numbers, with implications on their funding, if not their very relevance. They won't tell you about the dogs they kill based solely on their appearance, or the cats they kill because of easily treatable illnesses or injuries. They won't tell you about dogs that never get walked or dogs that get choked on the end of a catch pole or pepper sprayed daily because their staff don't know how to move them out of their kennels. They won't tell you about the wholesale slaughter of feral cats. They won't tell you about the cheap, toxic food the animals are fed. They won't tell you how they deny adoption applications from minorities. They'll just tell you there's been an oil spill, that dogs and cats are the oil, and that the public and the government are the tanker captains, drunk at the helm.
Then they'll congratulate themselves for having a lower kill rate than some other shelter in some other part of the country, or for being lower than the national average. They might even proudly proclaim themselves "low-kill", a term that belies an attitude that animals simply don't matter that much - certainly not enough to make killing them intolerable. They're just 'spilled oil' that needs to be cleaned up. No one in a homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter brags about only killing fifteen percent of the clients, and when someone is found to have murdered another person, rarely does anyone suggest excusing him on the grounds that he's not a serial killer. But those are people. Dogs and cats are just an inconvenient mess, and messes get wiped up and thrown away, not saved, transformed, cherished.
Have you ever heard someone say, "I rescued my dog from a shelter"? I hear it all the time, and it's a very fitting way of putting it. At some shelters, adopters are treated like partners in rescue, working with the staff to locate and provide the best home for each dog and cat. But far more often people feel like subversives, trying to save an animal in spite of the shelter staff's desire to kill it. Adopters, not shelter staff, are the rescuers. Foster care groups and other, small, independent organizations have been formed across the country to rescue animals from shelters where they'd otherwise be killed, some specializing in the most desperate cases - the ones that aren't worth the shelters' resources. In the oil spill that is companion animal welfare, they have the feel of first responders, even though, technically, they aren't. Maybe that's because they're the ones actually engaged in rescue. They're the ones that see the spill for what it is: they do triage, dogs and cats are the birds, and adopters provide long-term care.
And where do the shelters fit in? They're certainly not rescuers, and they don't provide long-term care. They lack the organization, effectiveness, or clarity of purpose of even the most inept government agency, or the skill and discipline of a drunken sea captain, and in our extended metaphor, that leaves only one possibility...
They're the fucking oil.
When I drove across the country a couple of weeks ago, something had changed since the last time I made the trek; what happened to all the pro-life billboards? When driving through the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin a couple of summers ago it seemed like we couldn't go a mile or two without seeing an 'Abortion is Murder' billboard with a picture of a hacked up fetus on it. And all that graphic, shock and shame-based marketing made me think of sandwiches.
Hold on, I can explain! Have you seen or heard a Subway commercial lately? The bulk of their advertising in the past few years has been focused on shaming and mocking overweight people.
OK, so it's not exactly saying, 'Have another burger, fatass!' but the implication is there: if you don't eat what we tell you to eat, you'll be fat, and if you're fat, you're miserable and unlovable. Just ask Jared. Maybe that's effective marketing, but it's also pretty slimy. Besides that, Quizno's is so much better than Subway, and Quizno's never gave me shit for going to Carl's Jr. They just told me their sandwiches tasted good. (And have you had that Batch 81 sauce? It rivals Arby's Sauce as the greatest condiment ever created.)
So Subway wants you to be ashamed of what you eat, and the Midwest wants you to hate yourself for the rest of your life if you've ever even considered an abortion, but it's not just Big Sandwich and the Religious Right who use shame to sell products and push agendas -- have a look at some animal rescue websites.
Check out Causes on Facebook, of which my organization has begun to make good use recently; the top animal rescue organizations on that site are showing you pictures of mangled fighting dogs, burned kittens, or just sad-ass puppies waiting miserably to be adopted. Don't you dare look away -- these animals need your help. And the fact that these top animal welfare organizations, including ASPCA, HSUS, and PETA, oppose the no-kill movement, meaning that in many cases they advocate the killing of the very same animals in their photos, all the while calling it 'rescue', you shouldn't be dissuaded from giving them your money, because after all, if you don't, more pit bulls will be mangled, and more kittens will be set on fire. Hell, you might as well be holding the match.
And then there's this delightful ad:
I can't tell you how many people have told me they turn the TV off when that one comes on. I'm surprised the networks will even air it. So I'd like to pose a few questions, to HSUS and the other organizations that use similar marketing strategies to raise money for their rescue (and animal killing) work -- Do you think the 'shock and shame' model changes hearts and minds? Do you think you make more money showing people disgusting images of torture, or showing them an alternative? And if you're showing people graphic images of animal suffering in order to raise money for your cause, aren't you exploiting those animals for gain, even benefiting from their pain? Is any of it really necessary?
I deal with the horror of animal abuse every day. I see the things in the HSUS ads firsthand. And I change the channel when those commercials come on. I don't deny that the ads are effective -- clearly they attract donors and volunteers, but I think it would be interesting to see psych evaluations done on the people who respond favorably to them. I can't responsibly hypothesize about what the results would indicate, but I will say that the reputation of animal rescuers for being 'crazy' isn't entirely undeserved, and furthermore, when I, who live in a kennel with a pack of feral dogs, often feel like one of the most sane people in our field, something's very wrong. I think it's entirely possible that shock and shame attract the mentally ill and repel the mentally stable. Honestly, if you think about it, how could that not be the case? If nothing else it's manipulative, and mentally stable people tend to walk away when they feel they're being manipulated.
I've stayed away from shock and shame in my own organization's website and promotional materials, preferring to show people images of healthy animals playing and having a good time. Sure, I tell their stories, but if I tell you a dog's face was torn half-off, do I really need to show you a photo of it? There's a big difference between not hiding the ugly truth from people and shoving it in their faces. Do I need to put a grotesque image in your head that haunts you for the rest of your life? Do I need to give your children nightmares? My Sanctuary may not be a multi-million dollar a year organization (yet), but for a nonprofit founded less than three years ago, I think we do pretty well. In the last five hours we've raised $150 with this photo:
It's not a ton of money, but we'll use every cent of it to save animals. Maybe we'd get more money if she was covered in wounds and lying in a pool of blood, but I'm not doing that. We'll build this organization without blood money, without shame money, without 'Please God make it stop!' money. And unlike the others, we won't be then using that money to kill healthy dogs and cats in some back room. Look -- I can be as negative and accusatory as anyone (this rant is the proof), but putting aside whatever foul mood I might be in or whatever's pissing me off today, even the very topic of this entry, 'at the end of the day' as they say, I'd rather create beauty than try to put a dent in ugliness. Sure, it's semantics, a glass half full/glass half empty kind of thing (or as my good friend Brent once said, the glass is half empty, and the other half is piss) but if I have the choice between showing you how ugly the world is or showing you another option, well, I think you know where I stand.
It's good to be home. Here's how the last couple of days went:
The night of my last entry I started to get pretty tired as we got into Montana, so I started calling Motel 6s. At the one in Billings, no one would answer the phone, so I figured 'screw them' and made a reservation in Butte. After trying to find a Pacific Pride (the members-only commercial fueling stations I try to use when I'm on the road) near Bozeman and discovering that all three of the ones in the area had converted to Commercial Fueling Network (the members-only commercial fueling stations I ought to be using when I'm on the road), which I discovered by driving all over the Bozeman area and going to all three stations, I filled up at Flying J, already fighting to stay awake, and made the rest of the drive to Butte. The Motel six in Butte is right at the junction of I-90 and I-15, and should be easy to find, but when you're exhausted and relying too heavily on GPS, things aren't as easy as they should be. Instead of having me exit I-90 and basically drive right into the motel parking lot, the GPS had me go down I-15, exit onto some middle-of-nowhere road, and drive into what looked like the hybrid of a trailer park and a train station, where I crossed no less than 30 sets of railroad tracks before ending up at the other end of the road that the motel was on. But even when I was going the right way, the GPS was trying to steer me back in the wrong direction, and when it started repeating, "When possible, make a U-turn," over and over without even a second's pause between repetitions, I threw it against the door of the truck.
I got all of the dogs inside the room and was ready to sleep by around 4:30 AM. Guido and Tony slept in crates, same as the night before. I slept about four hours before getting up and loading everyone out again, and this time it was an older, white, non-Russian man who kept asking me if he could clean my room yet. What the hell, Motel-6? Tell your housekeepers that check-out time is at noon and to leave me alone, especially when I've only been there four hours.
We got back on the road and had a pretty uneventful day. Either that or a lot of things happened that I can't remember because I was so tired. We got into Forks around 10 PM; all the dogs looked good, and my little ferals were all happy to see me, which was a little surprising, because in the past they've tended to revert slightly to their former, wilder selves when I've gone away. I took Maddie up to the small dog room and introduced him around; he was a little confused but he'll figure it out. Tony and Guido went into kennels, and Katie stayed in my room with me and the ferals. She is so good with other dogs, I may just keep her in here with me.
I have a couple of photos to share, taken with my phone again. The first is Maddie looking sad in the truck when I came back from lunch -- this was the sight that greeted me every time I returned to the truck after leaving him, even if it was only for a minute. (Don't worry, I always left the engine on during the day.) The second is Maddie when he smelled the ocean for the first time, as we crossed the Tacoma Narrows bridge.
I'm sitting at a truck stop with some dogs in the back of the truck, and I have to take a leak, so I'm going to try to write this quickly. Here's what's happened since I left the hotel with the old guy in his pajamas sitting in a chair in the hallway:
First, I got my pizza, thanks to a late start when I left Madison:
That's at Gino's East in Chicago, and sorry about this, vegetarians and vegans, but there's a sausage patty that covers the entire surface of the pizza. (I can get into a whole meat discussion some other time.) It took me 2 days to eat this thing.
I had hoped to be able to get to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo in time for dinner, to have a repeat of my last drive to the east coast where I ate Buffalo wings in the place where they were invented, but it wasn't to be this time. So instead I pulled an all-nighter to get to Massachusetts and pick up Maddie, my first rescue of this trip. That's right -- Madison, WI to Templeton, MA without stopping to sleep, and then to Warwick, NY, where I grabbed a shower, picked up another dog, and hung out for awhile before finally sleeping. It took over 36 hours. It was only 1,300 miles or so, but there was a ton of road construction, plus the stop for pizza, the time it takes to do a rescue, the time it takes to get lost in Warwick, NY, the most confusingly laid out town I've ever been to, where despite having been there twice before, I couldn't find my way around. Anyway, the dogs:
Maddie is a cockapoo (a huge one) with numerous, severe bites in his history, including at least one that sent someone to the ER. He's been good with me once we got over the initial meeting. He sleeps with his head on my lap while I drive.
Katie is the dog from Warwick; the reason I have Katie is a little complicated, or maybe it's not. I got an email from a woman named Eileen in NJ who volunteers at a shelter in Trenton that had a dog named Dillon who had knocked heads with a small boy at a Petco adoption event. The shelter decided Dillon was probably dangerous and hired an outside firm to do a behavior assessment. The people who did the assessment were imbeciles and chose to interpret normal dog behavior as unpredictability, and decided to deem Dillon non-adoptable. Eileen wanted me to take him, but being in the hands of idiots and assholes isn't enough to qualify a dog for placement with me. So I worked it out with Warwick Valley Humane Society to take in Dillon, assess him, and if he turned out to be truly dangerous I'd take him, either now or in the future should his behavior change over time. In return for them taking Dillon, I took Katie, a little pit-type dog with a pretty interesting behavior pathology. Katie obsesses over objects, and her obsession can escalate to the point of losing control and becoming dangerous to anyone trying to handle her at the time. It's a behavior I've seen in other dogs, but where I've seen it the most is with wild cats. Katie loves plastic water bottles, Frisbees, blankets, but she can also obsess over things like grass or a person's fingers. It starts with nibbling and progresses to biting and shaking, so she has to be diverted. So far it hasn't been too difficult, but as she becomes more comfortable and settles into the Sanctuary, we may see some changes. Anyway, here's a picture of Dillon, now at Warwick, where he's available for adoption -- he looks like a boxer/pit mix to me:
From Warwick I went to Noblesville, IN. I picked up Guido and Tony; Guido was kind of a high profile dog -- here's the story. That's the first search result I found -- there are a lot more stories about this if you want to hunt around. Guido is interesting; he definitely has barrier issues. When I first met him he was very 'mouthy' but I could keep him under control fairly easily; when I left the yard and came back a few minutes later he bit me. The bite didn't do any damage, but probably could have. He went for me again when I was lifting him into the back of the truck, but since then has been fine with me once he is out of his travel crate. Inside the crate, he's pretty defensive. We'll get through it. Here's Guido:
Tony bit a couple of Hamilton Humane's board members, and truthfully, I took him because board members of animal rescues are usually a total pain in the ass and a thorn in my side. I instantly liked Tony when I heard he'd bitten not one, but two of them. Here he is:
Tony was named Toby before I took him, but I have a dog named Toby who looks just like him, so that needed to be changed.
From Indiana, it was back on the road. I stayed at a Motel 6 in Sioux Falls, SD last night, and this morning the Russian maids were hassling me at 10 AM to get out of the room so they could clean it, even though check out time was noon. So I've had bad experiences with Russians on both road trips I've taken to the east coast, the previous experience being at a restaurant in Jackson, WY, staffed entirely by Russians who wouldn't take anyone's order. But I'm not willing to give up on you yet, Russia.
So now I'm at a Flying J, and this entry ended up not being so short, didn't it? And I still have to pee. So I'm going to wrap this up. Seacrest out.
Whether we're lavishing them with affection, maligning them for their violent behavior, parading them around as fashion accessories, or utilizing them as tools to aid us in our work or recreation, dogs are a pretty big deal. They mean different things to different people, but they mean something to just about everyone on the planet, and that's significant - you can't say that about cell phones, Volkswagens, hedgehogs, ball bearings, or lemon trees. You can't say that about most things in the world.