The burden of animal rescue work

Posted by: Kathy Powelson Tags: , | Categories: News


There is a compassion fatigue epidemic among animal rescue professionals.

Animal rescue workers carry a heavy burden that is very difficult to understand unless you have experienced it yourself. We are isolated. Often misunderstood. We are overworked. We are frustrated with careless and irresponsible people. And we are tired, so tired of all the suffering that somehow we ended up being responsible to prevent and respond to.

Animal rescue is the only charitable caring profession in British Columbia that is not funded by the provincial government. Municipal funding and regulation varies from community to community. From state of the art shelters with progressive animal control bylaws to no shelters and no animal control bylaws and everything in between. And despite the fact that approximately 95% of the organizations doing animal rescue in BC are run by volunteers and rely almost exclusively on public donations, it is also the only caring profession where there seems to be an expectation that we are solely responsible for ensuring the unwanted and discarded are saved from death.

In addition to the valuable work community based rescue organizations do by pulling animals from local shelters to make room for other animals coming into the shelter and to provide much needed medical care and/or behaviour training, many of these groups work outside the shelter system in efforts to improve the lives of unwanted and neglected animals in the community.

Life happens and sometimes life circumstances change in a way that genuinely impacts a person’s ability to continue to care for their pet. When this happens, and that person reaches out to the rescue community for help people rally together to help, and there is gratitude for the often heroic efforts these groups made to ensure the pet is placed in a safe and loving environment.

What happens more often, however, is someone no longer wants to care for their pet and then will contact a rescue stating in various different forms, if the rescue does not take the pet they will be responsible for the death of that animal. The person dumping their pet(s) will not have had a previous relationship with this organization, and has likely never provided a donation to support the life saving work they do. Yet for reasons we cannot quite understand, when they no longer have any use for the animal they brought into their home to care for it becomes our responsibility to save this discarded creature from certain death.

To add to the complete insanity of this all, is the reasons these pets lives are in danger. A few months ago we did an informal survey in a closed Facebook group of rescues in BC and asked them to list some of the reasons people have asked them to take their pets. They go as follows:

  • We couldn’t find a place with a dishwasher that allowed dogs
  • He has David Bowie eyes
  • The cat is a free loader, it just sleeps all day
  • The cat keeps getting pregnant
  • We are retired and our 17 year old dog doesn’t fit our new lifestyle
  • My new boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t like it
  • The dog is old and stinky and we have people coming over for Christmas
  • Our daughter is going to college and won’t be around to care for the cat we have had for 16 years
  • My dog is gay
  • The dog sheds
  • I didn’t realize a Great Pyrenese would get so big
  • Our senior dog doesn’t get along with the new puppy, so we need to find a new home for the old dog
  • Our new dog doesn’t get along with our senior cat, so we need to find a home for our old cat
  • The dog/cat is too old
  • My 10 week old puppy can’t keep up with me on my mountain bike

  • Every time we receive an email or phone call with a request like this, we panic and rage at the same time. Because we know what will happen if we say no. They end up left behind in an apartment, tied to a tree in a park or dumped outside a veterinary clinic. They are taken for a walk through the forest and left there. They are found wondering the streets. If they are lucky, they are found before they become sick and/or seriously injured. But many times they are not, and by the time they are found it’s a race to try to keep them alive.

    So the next time you see a post on Facebook from one of your animal loving friends, don’t roll your eyes and discount the message they are sharing. It is coming from a genuine desire to make the world a better place. The next time, you see a plea for a donation to an animal rescue organization, consider making a contribution. And if you have a friend or family member involved in animal rescue work give them a hug, let them know they are amazing, and encourage them to take some time for themselves.

    And most of all, love your pets for their entire lives and allow them to grow old on your couch.

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