Whose job is ‘rescue’?

March 23, 2011

When you are running a rescue organization, you receive all kinds of calls.  The majority are quite astonishing.  For instance, this was an actual message left on our rescue group’s voice mail system, “I’m getting married and I have to get rid of my dog because my fiancé doesn’t do dogs.”

Another remarkable email we recently received read, “My work situation has changed drastically in the last few months and we can’t afford to keep our dog anymore.  And my fiancée and I are planning on having children, so we really can’t keep our dog.”

What?  Really?  You think your child will be less expensive than a dog?  Or are you trying to suck up welfare money using your child?

But we can’t say any of these things because then these people take the dog to the pound and say, “We contacted the rescue, but they forced us to take our dog to the pound.”

So, I have to zip it up and help those who don’t deserve our compassion or help because the dogs do.  These poor dogs deserve better life with better people.

Doing rescue is like practicing Zen, but probably more challenging in some ways.

A neighbor of mine called me—I’ll call her “Jo.”  She said that she found a dog on the street, and asked me what to do.  Well, she was not really asking for my advice.  She just wanted to transfer the responsibility to me and say, “I rescued a dog today!”

I had a dinner date.  This was already an hour before my date would pick me up, and I asked her to hold onto the dog overnight, so that I could properly deal with this project.  I offered a crate, so that she could keep the little dog (the dog was only 10-15 lbs.) without worrying about ruining her fancy condo.  She said No.  She claimed her husband would divorce her.

Really?  If your marriage is that fragile, maybe you should get divorced.  But again, I couldn’t say that.

I got on the phone and miraculously found a foster home.  I called Jo back and told her that the dog had a place to stay.  I thought she’d be grateful.  But she demanded that I take over the dog right then and there.

Remember, I had a dinner date, and by this time, he could show up at any minute to pick me up.  Jo threatened me that she would take the dog to the pound if I didn’t take him.  I told her that the foster home is closer than the pound.  She claimed that she was driving around doing her real estate job and didn’t feel like driving anymore.

She had no plan for the evening, but I had a dinner date.  Didn’t matter to her.  She repeated she’d take the dog to the pound.  Wait, I thought you didn’t want to drive?  Then she shouted at me that it was my “job” because I do rescue.

This was a neighbor I was friendly with.  I was even at many of her home parties where she wanted me to tell her guests some interesting rescue stories (she’s now my story piece at other people’s parties).  So, she knew that we were all volunteers, and this was not my “job.”

I reminded her of it, but she was not listening because it’s either 1) I take the poor dog to the foster, or 2) she takes him to the pound.  I asked her to get his impound number if she took him to the pound, so that we could follow up and make sure he wouldn’t be killed.  She said if I wanted the impound number, I had to take him to the pound myself.  Huh?  I had a foster lined up.  I had a dinner date.

Eventually, my date showed up.  I explained to him the chaos Jo was creating, and he kindly cancelled the reservation and offered to let us take the dog to the foster home.  As I was receiving the dog from Jo, she spewed, “I was going to give your organization a donation, but I will give it to other organizations!”

Wow, we took the dog as you demanded, didn’t we?  Jo did not even say a word of “thank you.”

The next day, I posted flyers and online ads, and eventually found his guardian.  I brought him back to his home and lectured his guardian about how not to lose her dog again.

What continually makes me feel aghast is the entitlement people like Jo believe they have.  Rescuers are not your slaves.  We always thank nice people on behalf of animals, but it’s only because they can’t talk.  When you help an animal, you are not doing the rescuer a favor.  You are doing the animal a favor.

We, rescue volunteers, are not a dumping ground.  We happen to have more knowledge about what to do with orphaned dogs, and you are welcome to ask for our help.  And we go out of our way to help people who are willing to learn and work with us for the dog they rescued.  When you stay with us till the dog is adopted, you can then proudly say you “rescued” the dog.

A week after I returned the dog I picked up from Jo, we received a donation with a thank-you note from the dog’s guardian.  It lifted my spirit, especially after badly bashed by Jo (I did not write everything she said).  Even though I lectured the dog’s guardian, she appreciated that I cared, and it was nice to feel validated by a human for a change.

Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.