Having traveled to all the 48 contiguous states in America this past year and 48 animal rescues and shelters, we learned many things from the wonderful people doing an often thankless job. But we also learned from the good people out there trying to volunteer for, help, and adopt from these rescues.
Animal rescue starts with a desire to help, to save lives and to make a difference. And this important trait of an animal rescuer cannot be overlooked or undervalued. If the love isn’t there, there won’t be success in saving lives and making the difference that we want to. But, love is not the only important success trait to this way of life.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need animal rescues, shelters, organizations or selfless people to save lives. However, until we get to that point, it will take changes both for potential adopters and volunteers, and the rescues and shelters that are the backbone of this rescue movement.
Before our travels, I prepared my heart for what I was about to see, the people and animals we were going to meet, and the states we were going to visit. I had no agenda but to highlight the people doing these good things for animals across the country who normally would have received no thanks.
But as we traveled, it became very apparent to me that behind the scenes were a great divide between those in the rescues and the shelters and the people they were trying to reach to help them and their animals. This divide, I began to see, was caused not only by a lack of organization, but also being stretched too thin. This divide was caused by expectations not being met on both sides of the crate or cage so to speak. And I believe that it can be changed, but only if both sides are willing to accept that change is needed and not take offense. If we truly are all about saving lives, and willing to put the animals first that need us instead of our own egos, I believe that this can be done.
The first aspect I noticed that animal rescues and shelters were lacking was often organization. Here they were, spending countless hours, tears and resources to save and pull these animals. But once they were safe and in their care, many times, the ball dropped. There was no networking, no social media promotion, no updated website pictures or descriptions. Sometimes, their animals sat in the shelter or foster family with no one to adopt, for years, yes years. No one even knew about them. Yes, we understand that there are situations where backlog occurs, or emergency situations where these sort of processes take longer. And we realize every situation is different. But when we noticed this, it brought up a question in my mind. If rescues or shelters had a bit more “business”, this would be a rarity, not the norm. When it becomes the norm, that is the issue. We often hear pleas that these rescues or shelters need more help to get their job done. But does a business take on more work usually than they can handle? How successful for the longterm would this business be?
Criticizing others for trying to save lives is not what I am trying to convey. Only gratitude is in my heart after visiting so many rescues. But when I saw the divide from potential adopters not being able to reach these rescues by email, by social media, by telephone, I knew I had to address this. Why? People were getting frustrated, turning to breeders to get their new family member.
It put a bad spin on rescue in general, and I am sure no rescues out there want this. But reality has to be addressed. If you cannot handle the load you have, don’t take on more until you can find a way to handle it. Reach out to other rescues, reach out to the public. If you have social media, use it or don’t have it. If you have email, use it or don’t have it. The adopters out there usually are trying to work with you. Yes, you have to do your due diligence with background checks, home visits, etc. But be upfront about this and your reasons. Do what you say you will do. Don’t turn away adopters by not treating your rescue like a business. A business would never accept bad customer service. Don’t accept it from yours.
And for the public, potential adopters, fosters and volunteers? I ask that you understand that these rescues and shelters have invested much time and effort into each animal that goes into their care. They also have invested many funds for vet bills, rehabilitation and emergencies. They must have their procedures in place to make sure their investments who are the lives that they have saved not only end up in a forever home, but not back in their care. This costs them more time, more money and they are not able to save the next life if an adoption fails. Be patient, do your part, provide what they ask for and accept that a home visit is often necessary. They are not trying to intrude or inconvenience you. If it is important to you to save a life, make it important to be a part of the solution. And those adoption fees? Really think about complaining before you do. If you feel a fee is too high, then think about what went in to saving your potential new family member. Is that fee too high now?
Amy Heinz, the founder, has made it her goal to not only run her rescue in a business like manner, but she makes it fun. She uses social media to get people emotionally attached, involved and have fun. She networked for community support in a professional manner, and she used the power of TV to land a spot on the Puppy Bowl! Now, she is building a facility for the animals that will be able to save even more animals in DeSoto, Iowa. This took much work on her part, but she was supported by her family, her friends, and when times were hard, she didn’t give up but found a way to get the community involved to help her.
If animal rescue is no longer needed one day, it will be because of the efforts of people and rescues working together. It will take education to the public, and a business minded approach. But it will also take love. And we can never forget that. We can’t forget that. The animals are what are important, not our egos. We can make a change.
-Rachael Johnson, Owner and Girl Person of 2 Traveling Dogs