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It seemed like a good time to talk a bit about what the rescue world is up against.  Not just us, but rescues and shelters generally.  I want to explain why things seem so out of control and why rescues and shelters cannot solve the situation we are in currently.

Running an ethical and responsible rescue:

Doesn’t sound like it should be all that hard, does it?  But it is.  And gets harder when people are surrendering dogs in record numbers.

Running an ethical, responsible rescue has several features to it and if you start to compromise those features, you can easily slide into chaos and begin to compromise in ways that harm the dogs in your care, your volunteers and your adopters.

1. Not taking on more dogs than you can reasonably handle.  We have a limited number of foster homes.  There’s a reason for that.  Foster homes need and deserve help, support and education.  That takes time, effort and energy.  We strive to keep a number of foster homes so that some can get a break and some can take up the slack when others are taking a break.  That requires some juggling and some effort.  And many of my foster folks are worn out.  I’m worn out.  Taking on more foster homes isn’t always the answer. 

First, we scrutinize foster homes pretty carefully and many folks who email saying they want to foster decide after hearing about what is involved and what is expected that fostering isn’t for them.  As an all volunteer organization, we can only manage so many active homes and our dogs deserve top notch care and to have their progress, medically and behaviourally monitored.  So that limits how many dogs we can take on at any given time.  It means we periodically have to shut down the intake process.

2.  Not rushing dogs out of foster care. We do tend to have our dogs in foster care longer than some rescues.  There are several reasons for that.  We tend to get dogs with higher medical needs and given the stress that the veterinary world is currently under, we tend to have dogs in care longer due to the severity of their needs and the ability of the vet world to see patients in a timely manner.  We also want to have our dogs in our care long enough to be able to say with some confidence that we do actually know this dog well…..and give accurate information to potential adopters.  Some badly traumatized dogs take months and months to relax enough to show us who they are.  Rushing a dog out of foster care to make room for more may only result in that dog coming back to us because the adopter is seeing behaviours we didn’t because we did NOT have the dog in our care long enough.

3. Not over stressing our volunteers. Yeah, well, I think most of us are over stressed.  Our volunteers step up to the plate over and over again.  And yes, we are all tired.  And frankly, quite a few of us are deeply disheartened about the state of the dog world.  But we do what we can not to overload ourselves.  That means giving foster homes breaks, giving resident dogs a break and limiting how many dogs we can take in at any given time.

4.  Triaging intake. When we are flooded with requests to intake dogs, we do have to triage and put the dogs most at risk at the front of the line.  So a shelter dog will get priority over a dog in a home.  That just is how it is.  And unfortunately, sometimes that means we can’t take in an owner surrender due to the higher need of a dog in a shelter who is at an increased risk.

5.  Coordinating care. We have among the highest vets costs of most rescues.  We average a cost per dog of between 2 and 3 thousand dollars….often higher.  And that complex medical care needs to be coordinated, tracked and documented.  That’s a load to carry.  And our volunteer doing it is running full out.

6.  Going slower is sometimes faster. We don’t tend to rush into things.  Make decisions on the fly.  Sometimes a fast decision comes back to bite you on the rump….what felt like a good idea in the midst of the storm turns out to have made the situation worse.  So we evaluate.  We think.  We run stuff past the Board of Directors and experts in the area (whatever that area might be).

7. Focusing on the dog in front of you. Ultimately, we cannot save all the dogs in need.  So we focus on the dog in front of us and give THAT dog the best we have.  And our foster parents are the best.  As are our vets and our transporters and our event volunteers and our Board members. 

8.  The unadoptable dog. We get them.  Either due to age, health or behavioural issues.  These dogs stay in foster care for their lives.  We have never had so many dogs that simply cannot be adopted out as we have now.  And that unadoptable dog often means that foster home is unavailable for other dogs, often for years.

Things to remember when you are feeling like lashing out at a rescue.

I’ve been involved in rescue for almost 40 years.  I’ve NEVER seen it like this.  Ever.  Everyone  is swamped and many have closed their intake and some have closed their rescue after years of solid work because everyone is exhausted and it’s harder and harder to find folks willing to do this work.

As an example, I get between 30 and 50 emails a day related to rescue stuff.  Every day.  Most of our volunteers also work full time.  The rescue work is something they have taken on out of the goodness of their heart. 

Many of us knew we were headed for the abyss when the pandemic hit and people were desperate for dogs and got them any way they could….and now, for a lot of different reasons, can’t keep the dog any longer and so reach out to rescues and shelters.  And we are full.  Full to bursting.  My friends in the shelter system are really up against it….in ways I can’t even imagine.

This is the dog world right now.  Puppy millers are dumping puppies and breeding dogs because they cannot sell them.  Even ethical reputable breeders are scaling WAY back as they know that there just aren’t a ton of good homes for their dogs out there right now….and I’m not anti-breeder.  An experienced ethical breeder has value and worth, but even they are at a standstill right now.

Does the fact we can’t take in all the dogs about which we get emails bother me?  You bet it does.  But I try not to obsess because ultimately, it gets in the way of caring for the dog in front of you.  THAT should be the focus.

And some of us haven’t fostered in a while.  I haven’t.  I’m exhausted.  And I have a 12 year old pug with hind end mobility issues who needs my focus and my energy and frankly, needs no stress.  She’s been a trooper for years, helping with foster dogs and teaching dog skills I can’t teach.  Now she’s got some health issues that aren’t going to get better and need my care, attention and focus and I cannot ask her to be stressed right now.  And fostering is stressful…for us and for our dogs.

This is the reality right now. We are trying.  Trying as hard as we can, but the demand is way way bigger than the availability.  I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Know that I appreciate the folks who have supported us, have been in lock step with us all the way….but we are in the storm, staring into the abyss.  And I don’t know when or how this will get better.  So we will care for the dogs we can and send up hopeful wishes to the Dog Gods and Goddesses for the ones we cannot intake.

Thank you all and doG bless.


TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic photos of an abused dog appear in this blog post

This topic comes up a lot in rescue work. It’s very much on my mind as I watch puppy millers and backyard breeders dump their dogs on rescues and shelters. And it came up again due to a couple of high medical pugs that ended up with us. And foster folks are, rightfully, feeling a great deal of anger about the lack of care their fosters received in their previous homes. So, I wanted to talk about this as it is prevalent, and we need to know how to grapple with it.

Pugalug rescue, Dexter, surrendered for euthanization. Pugalug took him in and paid for his enucleation surgery.

A couple of additions to this, given the times we live in….the pandemic has NOT helped. We are all stretched very thin. We are all feeling the impact of two+ years of uncertainty, isolation, frustration, unending free floating anxiety and the constant need to assess risk. Recognize that having less of a grip on your emotions is a perfectly normal response to an utterly abnormal time.

Recognize you’re likely tired. So tired. Take care of yourself. You don’t need to have an immediate response to everything. Give yourself time to process and to exhale. And remember…….while we can’t save them all, we can sure as heck change the world for the dog in front of us.

Rescue work, sadly, has a lot of anger attached to it. Anger from owners who surrender their dog, anger from folks who didn’t get selected to adopt a dog they wanted, anger from adopters when a dog they adopted doesn’t turn out to be the dog they imagined. And anger felt in the rescue community about all of the above.

Dexter recovering from enucleation surgery and head trauma that likely caused his eye to pop out of its socket.

Feeling anger about a dog that has clearly suffered, sometimes horribly, at the hands of humans is a natural response. However, it can also end up consuming you and making you less effective at dealing with the animals in your care. Anger can eat you up and can have ripple effects across your life. Anger that piles up and is not somehow channeled will, ultimately, burn you out. Ask any veterinarian, vet tech, shelter worker, rescuer or animal behaviourist.

What do we do with our anger?

I’ve been involved in rescue/shelter work for 30+ years. I’ve seen some stuff that will curl your hair. I’ve had to grapple with anger or resign myself to being consumed by it. Here is my advice, for what it is worth.

Permanent scars down Dexter's left side. Signs of past trauma from his old life.

1. Find a way to channel it. Direct that anger to giving the dog in front of you the best care you can. Use the anger to begin to look at best practices in behaviour modification and training. Put your energy into becoming skilled at this work.

2. Remember, you likely cannot change the person who caused this damage, but you may be able to change the world for the dog in rescue.

3. Write about it. That’s my primary outlet. But if writing doesn’t work for you, talk to folks who will understand. Channel the energy anger can give you into another outlet….crafts, sports, music, learning. Make no mistake…in its early stages, anger can be very energizing. Over the long haul, however, it will suck you dry

4. Be really clear about the anger. Is it really at the person or organization? Or are you also resurrecting old unresolved anger from something else? I say this because I spent a LARGE chunk of my life as a social worker…and I know that anger is often suppressed and can pop up in unexpected ways…so don’t be afraid to take a hard look at the anger and what may be its root cause.

5. Be aware of the ways in which many of us, especially women, are trained in our lives to suppress anger. That suppression may also mean that when it does rear its head, it overwhelms us.

Dexter's exterior wounds have healed, but he has a long journey ahead of him healing from the pain and trauma of his early years.

6. Start to recognize good anger from bad anger. Good anger motivates. Bad anger consumes and punishes.

7. Get help if needed. There are many folks who need some safe place to blow off their emotions. Recognize that while emotions aren’t aberrant or wrong, they can be terrifying to us and to those around us. And it can be VERY hard to remember that you are there to drain the swamp, when you are up to your arse in alligators.

8. Hang with folks who have developed a successful relationship with their anger. They do exist. They have to or no one would be able to function.

9. Pick your struggles. Evaluate what makes you angry. Is it every damn thing or only some things? Has your ability to not get outraged at everything diminished? Why is that? What can you do about it? 10. Last, but by no means least, DO NOT take your anger out on your vet or their staff. They are stretched to the absolute limit and have put up with way more rage and aggression from humans than anyone should have to.

Dexter's world has been changed by the love, care and support of Pugalug's donors, his foster family and the compassionate care of his wonderful veterinary team.

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