The road to dog rescue is paved with the 3 Bs: Bugs, Barf, and Bites, and I’ve had my share of them all. Date night with Karen is less likely to involve a romantic dinner and more likely to involve detonating flea bombs in my car to eliminate party favors left by a recent transport. I have been forced to drive long distances to find carwashes whose staff don’t recognize me, since one can only feign ignorance about copious amounts of vomit in the backseat so many times before starting to smell… suspicious. Seven years and a dozen surgeries later, my face bears its own testament to the inherent risk involved in working with animals, particularly abused ones.
The bad days of rescue are dark and devastating, their nights sleepless and haunted by images of horrors inflicted on helpless creatures. Differently heartbreaking are the many sweet senior dogs who, after years of love and loyalty, are thanked for their service with a one-way trip to a kill shelter. It is worth noting that not all animal cruelty is intentional, hoarding situations often begin with the best of intentions, spiraling out of control before ending with starvation, disease, and death. Trying to ensure better outcomes for these dogs can be physically painful and emotionally wrenching.
A recent news story hit home for local dog lovers, involving not just depravity and torture, but dogs many of us knew and people we trusted. It has been extremely difficult, after considering the magnitude of suffering and barbarity taking place just next door, not to question the integrity of everyone working in rescue circles. Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.” Through the crack in our foundation, there are still rays of light, streaming, beaming through. Those are the good souls, and dog rescue has them in spades.
Over the past two decades, I have been lucky enough to meet some of the most amazing individuals through dog welfare and advocacy projects and organizations. Most of them fly below the radar, as their mission is to help animals, not to be recognized for their efforts. These are the true heroes, using their work breaks not to rest, but to make calls to screen prospective adopters, driving transport legs on their days (and nights!) off. They open their homes to foster dogs, doting on them before sending them off to adoptive families with a hug and cheerful smile – barely maintaining their composure while the transport car leaves the driveway before the tears begin flowing. 48 hours later, the next pup in need is welcomed with open arms to begin the cycle again.
The rescue community is comprised of many skilled and compassionate professionals. Our beloved vet of many years made housecalls – even when he wasn’t working. If one of our hospice dogs began to experience discomfort, no matter what the day or time, he would hustle over, bringing medication and reassurance. When it was time, he euthanized dying dogs at our home so they could remain in a familiar environment, surrounded by love until the very end. Tonight, a groomer will leave her full-time job and drive directly our rescue founder’s house to spend hours gently removing painful matted knots from three dogs who arrived in deplorable condition. Also rarely mentioned are the many dog rescue folk who have advanced degrees and unlimited earning potential, yet choose to work for next to nothing to further the cause.
Being involved in rescue means having someone you can call at odd hours and open the conversation with “there is this dog who needs a home by tomorrow….” and knowing that person will spring into action. Sometimes it means calling once the dog is already in your car (oops!) which happens to be headed south towards rescue headquarters… Rescue means finding dogs in your favorite chair, hogging your bed, perhaps even on your dining room table. Rescue is a kindred spirit at the office, whose clothes are covered with the familiar fine mist of dog hair. It means caring about animals you’ve never met, and trusting in relative strangers – which, on rare occasions, can lead to trouble. More often than not, however, dog people remind us of all that is good in the world.