Random Musings on Dogs, Photography, and the Vagaries of Life

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

To Rescue Near or Far, That is the Question

A week or so ago, an acquaintance posted the following message on Facebook:

Trying to understand why we have so many wonderful local animal rescue groups that go out of state to save animals when there are SO MANY animals right here that need help AND HOMES. I don't get it.

Her post got me thinking. It was a sincere, heartfelt comment, and one I’ve thought about many times.

For the past 10 years, I’ve volunteered with a county-based animal welfare organization in Maryland. We don’t operate a shelter; rather, we rescue animals from our county shelter and provide them a safe harbor in one of our foster homes until they find their forever families. We are committed to this effort because each year as many as 10,000 animals are euthanized at that shelter.

So when Hurricane Katrina devastated the American Southeast and rescue organizations across the United States opened their doors to thousands of animal victims, we made the decision not to do so. Our reason: For each Katrina dog or cat we took into our small foster program, another dog or cat languishing in our county shelter would remain behind bars…right in our own backyard but out of sight and out of mind.

I also work for another animal welfare organization in the nation’s capital. We take animals from several other local shelters that frequently run out of space, as well as a couple of rescue groups in other states. Occasionally, we are asked by national organizations like the ASPCA or the Humane Society of the United States to take animals they’ve rescued from puppy mills and hoarding situations or that have been made homeless by natural disasters. Most recently, we took in several dogs and cats whose homes were destroyed or made unlivable by Superstorm Sandy. Not knowing if or when they could care for their pets again, their people made the difficult and selfless decision to give their pets a new life by turning them over to the ASPCA.

As soon as the story of these animals’ arrival at our shelter hit the news, people were calling and emailing to ask when they’d be available for adoption…even though they’d never visited—or inquired about—the many other wonderful dogs and cats we have just waiting to go home.

The sad reality is that animals rescued from puppy mills, hoarding situations, or natural disasters generate more public attention than those picked up as strays or dumped like trash on an almost daily basis at local shelters in almost every county or municipality in every state in the nation. Their stories are “sexier” and generate lots of media attention, leading to high demand by potential adopters. In my uncharitable moments, I wonder if people like being able to tell their friends and family that they rescued a “Katrina” cat or a puppy mill survivor.

The fact is that there are no easy decisions when it comes to animal rescue because there are more homeless animals than people who want to give them homes. Fortunately, there are myriad shelters, rescue groups, and animal welfare organizations with almost as many missions and niches to fill. Collectively, we can—and do—make a difference.

And for me, at least, the bottom line is that an animal rescued is an animal rescued, no matter where that animal came from.