The Underground World of Animal Rescue
The Sad Reality
You may have gone to an animal shelter and felt overwhelmed with the number of cute, caged dogs and cats that may or may not be able to leave. 1.5 million animals are euthanized each year in the United States; that is definitely a sad reality.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. Many people are coming to understand the animal rescue movement.
What Is Animal Rescue?
Animal rescue is a general term for when you rescue an animal, right? For this particular article, I'll be focusing on rescuing shelter animals. The necessary components of animal rescue are: transporting, fostering, fundraising, adopting, donating, and promoting.
Volunteering is also important, and while I don't have a specific section for volunteering, it will be mentioned throughout the article.
First up is transporting. This is probably the easiest way to get involved without making a huge commitment or spending a lot of money. You may not know this, but there are several means of transport that run nearly every weekend across the country. Some of these transportation systems have animals from the southern states, which are known for overpopulation. Some transported animals are local dogs that just need to be moved to their fosters.
I have worked with an animal rescue for many years, and never met them in person. The rescues I work with are Bootheel Paws Express, based out of southeast Missouri (very rural and high-kill). This organization transports every other weekend through Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. I have since moved more towards fundraising for them.
Transporting is wonderful because you get to meet some animals that are more than likely scared, but also craving that human interaction. As we'll see in the fostering section, some dogs may start out completely shy and by the end of the ride, they are fairly comfortable and besties with their seatmates. This is also proof that what nervousness you see in the shelter is just that: nerves.
If and when you transport, you need a blanket to cover the car seats or a dog cover. Some dogs may not have had baths yet and might be stinky. You should also get some crates. You can borrow these from a friend, a rescue, or buy them on Facebook or Craigslist. Some animals cannot be out of a crate, including puppies, cats, or dogs that don't get along with other dogs.
Once you transport in the same region, you start to meet some of the regular transporters. Most are very nice and helpful. It's almost another community in itself.
If you ever wanted a dog or cat, but couldn't afford it, this is the way to go. All you do is apply to foster for a local animal rescue. When your application is approved, they will most likely do a home check. They simply look around your house or apartment and make sure that things are animal-appropriate, i.e., you don't look like a hoarder, the dog has a dry bed inside, you have room for a dog, etc.. The house should basically be baby-proofed. If you have an apartment, also make sure that your landlord allows pets. This is very simple, but it can be overlooked. Most rescues provide food, crates, and all rescues provide medical care. All you have to do is take care of the animal, feed, water, exercise, and show them love.
I've heard so many people say: "I could never do that." Well, you could if you knew they were very close to not being alive. Fosters are incredibly important to animal rescue. In order for rescues to get in new animals, they have to make room, and many don't have a facility. This means that they need fosters all of the time. The more fosters they have, the more lives they are able to save. Fosters are literally lifesavers.
In the same breath, fostering is not easy at times and is not for everyone. It can be really hard, especially when some animals come straight from the shelter. They are stressed, they don't know you, they don't know where they are, and they may cry, pant, pace, potty in the house—sometimes it's not pretty. To combat this, I walk the new dogs as much as possible to wear them out. This also helps them learn to potty outside. I call the first night, the worst night, as they may not sleep either. Many cry, or again, pace. This behavior usually only lasts a few days as they get used to things. It's a really beautiful thing to see the transformation from shelter animal to companion animal.
If you have any other animals, it's wise to keep your foster dog separate for about the first two weeks. Many fosters have a nanny-gate up so that the dog can sniff the other animals while getting used to their space.
Once the foster dog gets settled in, they'll need to visit the rescue's veterinarian. The vets will often do a basic check-up, including a heartworm check. Some stray dogs have heartworms and require treatment, which is quite expensive (upwards of $600, plus it is a painful treatment). Some require other procedures, like teeth to be pulled and cysts removed. Almost all require a spay or neuter. You can see where the vet bills would add up quickly.
Adoption fees normally do not cover all of the vet costs, even if the vet gives a deep discount. For this reason, rescues need to fundraise.
Want to help? Find good ideas for fundraisers. Car washes, 5K runs, and bake sales can be ways to fundraise. Let me offer a piece of advice: Customink.com. Quite simply, you or someone creatively snazzy designs a shirt, and you sell it online for a short period of time. Your supporters can buy it and share it on Facebook. I've made over $34,000 for animal rescues by doing these campaigns. They can be successful with minimal time and volunteers.
Just a few notes about Customink:
- I don't work for them, I just like the efficiency and ease of their fundraisers, and have used them for a few years.
- When you design a shirt, keep it simple. Look at other campaigns already running and find out what you like and don't like. Be sure to run everything by the rescue.
- Use colors that people will actually buy and wear. I've seen too many fundraisers with a plain white shirt. You need to have more options than that, and Customink allows five colors and styles (example: sweatshirt, t-shirt, etc.) Personally, I'm a spiller, so I would not buy anything white. I can't be the only one.
- Don't put anything on the back of the shirt if you can help it. This reduces your profits. Also, don't use more than one font color if you can nor upload a design for the same reason. It is quite easy to put together a design with their website.
- Customink allows you to get a check via mail or via Paypal. The payment usually arrives in two weeks after the campaign ends.
- You do not need to be a registered organization to use Customink. This is awesome, because which rescues have the money to get registered? Very few.
Adoption—the hill at the top of animal rescue. You found an animal that grabbed at your heartstrings and you adopted. You should feel good.
A few things:
- Be sure and let your animal decompress for at least two weeks, if not a month. Just like when you started any new job, you need to time to adjust. The existing animals or people needed time to adjust. It's not fair for the animal to give them any less time. I have seen plenty of accounts where some adopters give up after only a few days. Don't do this. You deserve a chance, and so do the new animal.
- As I mentioned in the fostering section, do separate your animals from the new animal for about two weeks. They need to get used to each other.
- Also, don't adopt if you feel like an animal is disposable or you will take them back to the rescue or shelter if you move, have a baby, or can't afford them. You can prepare for these things, so please be responsible. If you can only keep a dog for a short time, please just foster. Rescue contracts do have a stipulation where you need to bring the dog back if anything changes. Do follow this stipulation.
- Get preventions for your animal, including flea/tick and heartworm preventions. This will save you hundreds of dollars down the road and will keep your pet's health.
- Get your animal microchipped if they aren't already. Update the information every time you move. The rescue or shelter should have the contact information to the microchip company for you to do that.
- Spay and neuter your animals to reduce the number of homeless animals. Spaying and neutering also reduces many types of cancer, increases their lifespan, and can reduce marking, to say the least. Please do it! This is me begging you.
Donating is pretty similar to fundraising, so I'll keep this one short. You can support the rescue by donating money, or by going to various events that the fundraising committee puts on. This can be through dances, dinners, and silent auctions. The rescue benefits while you party and drink wine? Sure! I've also found some pretty good deals from silent auctions through rescues, including about half the price for gift certificates. It can pay to donate.
Of course, be sure to get a receipt (unless you received an item or service in exchange) because you can claim your donations at the end of the year. Rescues often need consistent donations throughout the year to basically pick up where the fundraising efforts and adoption fees couldn't pay for. Rescue budgets usually just break even, if that. It is definitely not a money-making venture.
This is probably the easiest one of all—sharing the animals on Facebook for a rescue or an adopter. There are so many cute faces. You may not be looking for an animal right now, but you may have a friend or a friend-of-a-friend who is. It helps the animal and also the rescue.
One thing to consider is that not animal rescues may be good. In the news, you can see some reports of animal rescues who are actually hoarders. They may think they have the animals' best interest at heart, but they don't have room for them all, nor the resources to take care of them. This turns into neglect. Most rescues are operating normally. Just be sure to do your research before supporting any rescue.
Getting Better Every Day . . .
I've painted the good, the bad, and the ugly of animal rescue. No matter if you support animal rescue or not, I think we can agree that it's very sad to see any animal being put down in shelters.
The good news is that more and more people are understanding the importance of animal rescue. I'm predicting that during the next few years, that awful number (that I mentioned in the introduction) will slowly go down. In high-kill areas, lowering that number will take some time and a bunch of dedicated people with an aggressive spay-neuter plan. It can be done. If that euthanasia statistic bothers you, and it should, get involved.
Transport. Foster. Fundraise. Adopt. Donate. Promote. Then, Repeat.