We all get into dog rescue for different reasons. Some of the reasons are to do with genuine compassion for homeless dogs, others with how it makes us feel to be a rescuer. The feel good factor, if you like. For some rescue is a way of giving, for others the rewards, fellowship, praise, feel good factor are equally if not more important. Whatever it is that got us involved in the first place, there comes a point when we ask ourselves, is it worth it? Is it even the right thing to do for the dogs involved? And what about those, that don’t make it into rescue?
Nearly four years ago, when my late husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I went through a phase of worrying what would happen to our two dogs, if he and I were to pass away.
The old collie was never going to be a problem, for the few years he had left, a close friend would care for him. The 18 month old aloof and wayward English Setter, however, was a different matter altogether. If anything happened to us, who would ensure he went to a home, which could meet his breed specific needs. A home where his prey instinct would be understood and where he would be loved.
As I googled Setter Rescues, I came across a number of foreign rescue organisations. Here I was, the proud owner of an English Setter, and until that moment I hadn’t even known, how his kind suffered as rejected hunting dogs, mainly in Southern European countries. I had never heard of hunters, abandoning or killing dogs, who didn’t ‘perform’ well enough, whose hunting instinct wasn’t strong enough. I’d never heard of hunters, abandoning or killing dogs, too old to hunt or to breed from.
Doing my research, I came across the picture of a starving, sick English Setter, a little boy just like mine, laying on a blue blanket too weak to do more than wag his tail, and I couldn’t walk away. Knowing that it is easy to fall for a scam, I got in touch with a Greek friend, who checked out the poster. When she confirmed that the lady indeed was a rescuer, known for her dedication and kindness, I got in touch. And not only did I pay for the dog’s medical treatment, I agreed to ship him from Greece to the UK. Not only did I adopt him, I also three years later still work with the small local rescue where he came from.
But – and this may shock you - I do not believe in rescue!
I do not for even a moment kid myself, that rescue is the answer to the global problem of unwanted dogs, because for ever dog rescued, hundreds are left behind to starve and to suffer. I actually believe that the rescue of individual animals, relocating them across Europe and rehoming them in the UK is a waste of resource, financial and in terms of effort. And I understand that the only way forward, the only robust and sustainable solution to the animal welfare problem is education, neutering and enforcement of strong animal welfare laws. Education and neutering is what we all should be concentrating on, that’s what we should spend our money and time one, not the fate of a few individual dogs, while hundreds of others suffer and die.
These days, I have dozens and dozens of friends in rescue, and I know for a fact that at least some of them feel the same. So why are we all still here, why haven’t we acted upon our knowledge and started educating and neutering? Or, if we have started, why aren’t we spending our entire effort on these worthy causes, why do we still waste time on individual dogs?
Jimmy. That’s why.
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While there are two month old puppies like Jimmy, desperately rooting through rubbish bins, they’ve been dumped in and they can’t get out of, we can’t walk away. While, despite active neutering programs, there are municipal rubbish dumps crawling with puppies, we can’t walk away. While there are dogs on short chains or in concrete kennels, starved and thirsty, without adequate medical care, mistreated and unloved, we can’t walk away.
Who could, looking into pleading eyes, stroking dirty and matted fur, seeing sores and malnutrition, and receiving the grateful lick of a little tongue, turn their heart into stone and go about saving future dogs, while those around them suffer.
I am not sentimental, and neither to my knowledge are any of the front line rescuers I work with. Hard decisions have to be made. Late term abortion of yet more unwanted puppies has to happen. The infection risks in catch-neuter-return programmes have to be accepted. Aggressive dogs with no chance of ever getting out of kennels, that are barely able to keep them alive, have to be put to sleep. Seriously ill dogs, for whom there is no medical treatment, have to be put to sleep. But what about all the others? What about babies like Jimmy, abandoned and left to die?
According to a Chinese proverb, "if you save a life, you become responsible for that life."
The minute my friend Marta pulled Jimmy out of that rubbish bin, he became her (and as her rescue partner) my responsibility.
So here I go, writing another post about another homeless dog, a two month old Greek Shepherd puppy called Jimmy, I will interview prospective adopters, organising home checks and figure out the logistics of transport. If necessary I will foster. And I dare say, I will continue to do so for the next dog and the one after that. All of this, at the expense of time I could spend educating young people or supporting a neutering program.
The logical long term solution to the problem of unwanted animals may stare me in the eye, but while at the same time a little dog like Jimmy looks up at me with his or her last glimmer of hope, everything else will have to wait.
P.S.: When old enough, Jimmy will be looking for a home, so please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you can help him.