Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It Takes a Special Someone

I suppose many people in the course of their lives never run into an animal rescuer, unless they choose to adopt an animal. Then they see the salesman/animal advocate who is trying to determine if a dog is a good fit for the potential home and if they will be a responsible pet owner. Like most of us, they are wearing their public face and what they see as their job at that point, helping you find a companion. You see clean dogs wearing colors and often clothes being loved and cared for by the rescue volunteers.

In my work -- the job that pays my bills and consumes virtually all hours not devoured by Ma status -- I see the other side of animal rescue. Since I started grooming I've offered free grooming to rescue dogs. For the last two years I've been opening the doors of my kennel to rescue groups during my off season. As long as they can bring the dogs up to date on shots, I offer temporary shelter while foster homes or permanent homes are found.

It's a different view of animals -- a front line view of hungry, desperate, dirty dogs, hungry dogs plucked from the side of the road, dogs pulled from death row after days of stress in an animal shelter, dogs surrendered again by the home where they thought they'd finally found sanctuary, dogs found by individuals who decided to offer a home to a dirty, matted, hungry little animal badly in need of a bath and haircut.

It takes a special kind of devotion to creatures God put beneath our domain to be an animal rescuer. Some days, even I think it also takes a special kind of crazy.

The crazy doesn't come from dealing with the animals, though. It comes from putting up with the people who are giving up their pet because: "I don't have enough time for her;" "He's just too big," "She jumps on the children;" "He pees on the carpet;" "She barks too much;" "I don't want to tie him up;" "She keeps having puppies;" "I just can't neuter him;" "We're having a baby." The list goes on and on.

It's a wonder animal rescuers don't start looking at all people like serial killers, after all, they look so normal. And, in a way, they have something in common because often the dogs they give up are put to sleep, and they get another dog forgetting that it needs to be trained or neutered, or that the adorable ball of fur will grow into a big, rambunctious dog that needs exercise and doesn't fit their lifestyle, or that managing children and dogs together requires effort from a parent and training for the dog and child. People all too often don't think out what it means to have a pet -- the responsibility and work, the training and vet bills that balance out the games, stress relief and unconditional love.

Even at a distance, I get aggravated with the people that these dogs belonged to. Everyone from animal hoarders to backyard breeders to people who find the dog just doesn't fit their life any more.

I find the dogs are very seldom to blame, even if they turn out to have behavior issues. Although sometimes they are too damaged by bad breeding and/or bad handling to be the ideal pet. Occasionally, I consider the owners as much a victim of circumstance, but that doesn't happen often.

Two years ago my first fosters were two perfectly wonderful, neutered, large breed females whose owner's work had suddenly been relocated from the rural rambling of Surry County to the city dwelling lifestyle of Charlotte. They had a limited time to move the whole family into a new apartment that the job would provide, and the absolute need to keep the job (who doesn't). The owner's wife took the dogs to get the vaccines they needed to board, spending over $100 at the vet's office, brought foot, and cried when she left. They stayed with me for several months before one was adopted and the other moved into long term foster care. She eventually found a home as well.

Last winter there was the Pekingese whose owner underwent a series of tragedies: first the death of his wife and then a diagnosis of potentially terminal cancer. Headed for Texas to be close to his daughter, he also paid for vetting and food and a month's board before deciding it was best to rehome the dog. I found her a new home within a couple of weeks.

She was quickly followed by two badly damaged chihuahuas who had been mother dogs in a backyard breeder's operation. They had never been well socialized and were entirely dependent on one another. One was so badly frightened of human contact that she would bite if cornered. They were with me for months and a rescue group took care of spaying and their dental issues. Gradually they were rehabilitated enough to come to me, although they could not be separated. I cried when they left and have been to see them twice. I'm not happy with the regression that the more timid one has undergone, but she has a warm, loving home, even if she doesn't want to be cuddled any more.

Since then, it seems there has been a constant flow, although I know there have been many times there were none and there have not been that many. Most of the dogs have been wonderful; warm, loving little animals once you got beyond the dirt, confusion and fear. One or two I'll admit I would not have pulled from the shelter and wished I had not fostered because they were unattractive mixtures of mutts saddled with bad behavior as well. Animal rescuers, however, often see just a living creature in need of help and do whatever they can.

With the return of cold weather, I'm once again seeing a lot of long-term rescues. In between the holidays, they justify heating the kennel and I think I'm at my highest number with seven: the absolutely beautiful American Bull Dog who had been tied out and jumped on by other male dogs so that, even now, he cannot abide being around another male dog his size (small dogs and females are OK and he trusts me to protect him when we walk with a leash because he has no issues then); the mature Shar'pei mix who is heartworm positive and needs neutering and whose owner went into assisted living and could not keep him; and five death row escapees, all owner surrenders at the animal shelter who were pulled within hours of the end of their lives' journey, who all appear to be wonderful dogs, only in need of a bath and neutering.

As vested as I get in these dogs (two have been with me more than two months), I cannot imagine how the people who work the actual front line manage it. They are blessed with a deep well of compassion that allows them to clean up, calm, feed, and love dogs (and cats and sometimes more) who are often not at their best and who sometimes have a long road to recovery from all types of abuse.

That they manage to do it for years, sometimes on their own and sometimes with a good support network of fosters and donors, is nothing short of amazing. That they do it without at some level coming to despise a vast portion of humanity is a miracle.

Joaquin Phoenix, despite the number of times he is quoted and the fact that I chose one of those images above, is wrong. Being kind to an animal who has been mistreated does take something away from animal rescuers. It takes away money, respect for their fellow human beings, and little pieces of their hearts. I know, because even a step removed being kind to these animals does the same thing for me.

But while it does take something, the rewards are so much greater: Seeing an animal who had never walked on grass run across a lawn in delighted surprise; Watching a dog that had never played engaged in a game of chase with another dog; Holding an animal who feared humans, but who finally felt your lap would be the perfect place to lie down; Knowing that an animal was alive, finally safe with a loving family because you were willing to give a little something of yourself to help them on the journey.

If you don't know a rescuer, then you really should. Help them out if you can. Adopt one of those experienced animals; foster one on his or her journey to a forever home; donate some of your money if you don't have the time, space, or ability to do anything else.

Yes, being kind to animals does take a little something, but you really wind up richer for the experience.

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