While there is a general definition of animal rescue, rescue is a combination of so many different things. We all know the basic gist of it…save animals and find them homes. Yet there are also things that aren’t always recognized. For example, learning that you have to care for an unexpected illness and knowing you’ll never be able to find a home for that pet as a result, yet knowing you want to commit to treatment. Or learning that you have the skills to actually construct something by hand for a dog in order to save funds. These things can be a feel good moment or they can be a heavy load to carry. The heavy load is what we try to battle with courage and strength without letting everyone down.
2011 will always be noted as one of the most difficult years I’ve ever faced. Among other things, we had several dogs cross the Rainbow Bridge. Total we had 6 in rescue, and I lost 4 of my own personal pets, as well as 1 family pet to whom I was very close. That totals about one a month. So far in 2012 we’ve lost another 2 of our rescues, and I, another family pet.
This is never an easy topic, regardless of how much effort made to save the animal, how many tests you run, or how much logic you use. The animals lost were mostly due to cancer, but we did have a few other explanations. Alli, for example, had Degenerative Myelopathy. We also had some aggression issues that we were not able to remedy, and some unexpected, on the spot decisions.
I think the general consensus is that rescue is full of good times and puppy kisses. There is great joy in finding a home for a dog that was abandoned or slated for euthanasia. There’s a humbling when you’re able to provide a senior with love, a warm bed and pain relief. Of course, watching a sick, timid, abused dog blossom into a confident, fun loving animal is always fantastic. However, what is often misunderstood is that while we have these incredible moments, we also have to deal with stress, despair and pain. There are decisions that are, to say the least, seemingly impossible.
Most of the dogs were dealing with illness. Alli, as mentioned, had Degenerative Myelopathy. She was falling over, lost control of her bladder and bowels, and I barely got her to the car the day her body gave out. Honey had a necrotic liver, on top of a bad heart, and I had to permit the doctors to euthanize her in the middle of surgery without me or her foster mother being able to say goodbye. Anna struggled to walk on her three legs and finally gave up. It hurt to see her weak and brittle. Emmy Lu…I couldn’t keep her out of her own urine. I tried every medication possible, but the combination of her age and illness wore down her body, and she needed relief. I also had to euthanize a Pyrenees to severe aggression after several months of working with her. She simply wasn’t sound, and it was obvious that she did not have a typical Pyrenees temperament (courtesy of her breeder). Ultimately, she came at my throat. Never would I put another person in that position, so I opted for euthanasia to free her from whatever torment she was fighting. I still cried for her because her distorted mind was not her fault…the jerks who bred her were to blame. They got the money, I got the attacks and the tears.
We also lost Patrick, the dog we fought so long and so hard for, only to make things worse for him. Six months of boarding, due to the lack of finding a home and several opportunities falling through, nor a foster home or even another rescue without cats, resulted in increased energy and him becoming very aggressive with other dogs. After not being allowed to come back to two boarding facilities, with no place for him to go safely, we had to make the extraordinarily difficult decision to let him go. It was the last thing I ever expected to do. He went down surrounded by people who loved him, all who fought hard to find the perfect spot, and he was happy. Victoria, probably due to the massive amounts of buckshot throughout her body, finally couldn’t function anymore due to extreme, obviously painful fear. Her kind soul resounded, but her terror caused her to put herself and other animals in danger. She was emotionally miserable, begging for help, and would rest her head on my lap with exhaustion. I watched her eyes, and you could see her trying to get away from the fear. Medications, natural remedies, a Thundershirt, a Calming Collar…you name it, I tried it. She was debilitated. Letting her go find peace at the Rainbow Bridge was the kindest thing to do, despite my thinking I could save her.
Illness and disease are hard to watch. Behaviors, however, are the hardest. When we’re faced with them, we struggle with uphill fights. Nothing is ever done quickly, as all efforts are made to assist the dog. I’ve even gone too long due to my determination to help, realizing all too late that it wasn’t fair to the animal. However, you have to step back and realize what’s really taking place.
None of this is fun to talk about. I almost shut the doors because after that much loss you are emotionally spent. To boot I was dealng with my father’s health issues and open heart surgeries where I could have easily lost him. You surpass devastation and just give up. However, the truth is that it’s part of the process and part of the learning. I had to focus on the animals that were in our care who also needed me. I had to keep up the fight for all the people who have been so kind to offer their support, as well as the animals who still need help. I had to remind myself of the good.
I must apologize for not announcing the many passings. Truth is I was exhausted from it all, and it got to the point where it was just too hard to think about, let alone talk about. In addition, with all the illness we’ve had, it was hard not to get caught up in the next dog who was struggling, as well as life’s other moments. Be that as it may, I should have continued with my notices of loss so that you could be a part of the animal’s journey. It was not intentional to keep you out of the loop.
The reality? You face obstacles that you wish you could avoid. Rescue isn’t easy, and never will you have all the solutions. However, it’s necessary, and we have to take our experiences and mold them to help those in the future and help us make wise decisions. We have to learn and apply. There were several lessons learned in the past year and a half:
- First and foremost, you do not pull a dog that you don’t have a spot for, regardless of how much you love them.
- Never allow emotions to get the best of you because it does not help the animals.
- Stick with the policies that you’ve created, such as do not board for extended periods of time or pull a dog when you don’t have a foster.
- There are times when you have to let go before you’re ready.
- When a dog is begging for mercy, allow it. Do not try to remedy something they don’t want.
- Evaluations are always good when pulling a dog from a shelter, even if you are well versed in the breed.
- There are things worse than death.
I always try to take what I’ve experienced and the knowledge I’ve gained and apply it to the future. I think it’s the only way we can continue to do the good and right things for the animals. Do I always like it? Certainly not. Yet I am willing to learn and keep trying, not only for those in the future, but for those to whom we’ve said goodbye.