When The People At Animal Rescues Are The Ones That Need Saving

This post is part of our Saturday Editorial section.  Normally, we let the dogs do all the talking every weekday.

Oh, what lessons we learn in life.  Sometimes, we think that we know it all.  Sometimes, we think that we are experts in what we deem important in our lives.  If we devote much of time, energy and devotion to a cause, it only becomes natural that the cause becomes part of who we are.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about animal rescue.  I sure was wrong.  Because I had not recognized the most important part.  Yet.

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As I have said before, I never expected my life to take a turn, literally, to the path of animal rescue.  This path chose me.  Or, in fact, my dogs led me down it.  I also never expected that this path would lead me to the 48 contiguous states and 48 animal rescues in the span of less than a two year time period.  But, I wouldn’t change that now.  Although that path changed me.

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I knew before our trip, “48 states, 48 rescues” that the problem of animal homelessness in our country was an overwhelming one.  I tried to prepare myself, and mostly, I tried to prepare my husband.  My husband was not one who liked social media, and I had been solely in charge of the animal rescue side of our brand.  I was the one that shared posts of animals and situations to set up transport.  My husband preferred to leave that to me..because honestly, he couldn’t handle this emotionally.  Maybe you have felt the same.  And that is why the premise of our brand, websites and social media sites have also presented animal rescue in a fun way.  Yet, now, we were going to see these animals face to face.  But we found that often, it wasn’t the animals that affected us the most on this trip. It was the people.  The people at the shelters, rescues and organizations who had spent years of their time doing this.  I felt their pain beyond any emotion in animal rescue that I had ever felt.  And it broke my heart.

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South Coast Humane Society, Oregon

So many have asked us since this trip of one specific example that touched us the most.  And when I honestly say there was not, I mean it.  Because to say that one animal or one person that we met was more important than another would be disrespectful.  Every person and every animal had their own, important story.  And the story that we read over and over were that there is a big problem in this country and our world. Not just for animals.  But for the people that are trying to save these animals.

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Animeals, Missoula, Montana

Many times, the exhaustion and weariness would be apparent the moment we walked into a shelter.  But most times, it wasn’t until we toured the facilities or homes and heard the stories of the animals, that we saw a need.  Of course, for the animals.  But the ones telling us these stories were leaving out one crucial detail of their rescue.  Their story.  Why they gave so much of themselves.  And why they did this.  Day after day.  Year after year.

But beyond that, we wanted to know, what kept them going.  So many times, it was the fact that they helped even one animal that propelled them forward.  And we knew how that felt.

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Soft Paws Rescue, Santa Rosa, California

Sometimes, they felt like they had no choice.  They felt if they did not help the animals in their community, no one else would.  And I suppose in many times, they were correct.  Very correct. And yet, I saw the exhaustion, the mental and physical exhaustion.  Not many people have a job or volunteer in life or death situations.  Yet, for animal rescuers, every day is this situation.  So with all the good that we saw in these selfless people doing what they could for animals where they lived and beyond, we saw the need for changes. Because not only are the animals in a life or death situation, the people helping them are too.

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Dixie Day Spay, Cleveland, Tennessee

Why?  There is no stopping animal rescuers.  When your heart is in the right place, you keep going, you keep advocating and you keep working.  A few weeks ago, an article that I wrote last year went viral, “Why It Hurts Me When My Friend Buys A Pet”.  And when it went viral, the comments on social media and the article itself provided an outlet for many who did not feel the same about the plight of homeless animals.  The conversation surprised me.  No, not the remarks.  I have heard the excuses all before.  But how I felt about these remarks surprised me.  I was really angry inside.  I felt no one seemed to care that I had spent two years of my life and funds to visit 48 shelters to learn and give praise to these rescuers.  NO, they did not care.  I was not going to change their minds no matter what.  And it is that feeling I had of helplessness and disrespect that I know animal rescuers feel everyday.  Yet.  They keep going.  They keep doing.  Oh, how I admire them.

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Four Paws Pet Adoption, Idaho

So how are we going to help these ones who need saving themselves?  I will be blunt. Feeling sorry for them helps no one.  Until there is not a need for animal rescue any longer, the ones doing the work will push themselves to the limit. They will give of themselves every day.  Some days they may think they can’t do it one more day.  Yet they will.  And if we don’t help them first, and advocate for animal rescue second, this cycle will continue.  Say thank you to a shelter worker, volunteer or organization today.  Whether that thank you is with a donation, a card, or a meal to the people helping the animals, do your part. Do you know who originally helped YOUR rescue animal? Can you thank them in some way today?

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Magnolia Chapter Of The Humane Society, Louisiana

And to the animal rescuers out there who think that no one knows how much they do, or how much they give of themselves everyday, we say thank you.  You are amazing.  You are a true lifesaver.

But you, and only you will have to decide if you are important enough to take a break, to take a breather, to take a day off.  Don’t let anyone tell you when to do it.  You will know when it is time.  And the animals will be here when you get back. You were meant to do this.  And every animal you have saved, helped, bandaged, or loved thanks you too. But above all else, thank yourself.

-Rachael Johnson, Owner and Girl Person of 2 Traveling Dogs and Your Dog’s Diner

Watch all of our 48 episodes of “Stop Hounding Me” at 48 animal rescues and shelters across the USA on YouTube.

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Not All Animal Rescues Are Good

Some things are pretty straight forward in our lives.  We know that the sun will come up and go down.  We know that there are there are good people in this world, and bad.  But what happens when the supposed “good people” out there turn out to be…well…not so good?

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When our family decided to go on our “48 states, 48 rescues” tour, I prepared myself for the inevitable.  I would see dogs and cats and other animals that I felt sorry for.  I would want to adopt all of the animals.  And I would be seeing things that would make me angry, upset or defeated.

When we chose all of the 48 rescues or shelters that we highlighted on our trip, we tried to be as careful as possible.  We always chose an organization with a 501c3 tax status.  We did our research on the rescue with news articles, filed complaints, and scrutinized their social media pages.  And often, it took us a very long time to find a rescue that we wanted to visit in each state.  Why?  There were a lot of questionable ones out there.

This was a surprising fact to me.  There is no denying that shelters and rescue organizations serve a vital role in our world.  With millions of unwanted and homeless animals, if not for the people out there sacrificing so much of themselves, money and time, these animals would have no where to go.  People would have no where to turn when they needed help with their animals.

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But with all of the shelters and rescue organizations that are doing wonderful things out there, we have began to realize that there are surprisingly many that are not doing such wonderful things.  So, what can YOU do if you encounter such a rescue?  What can  you do if you are a volunteer and see something that needs to be reported or looked at more closely?  The fact is, it all comes down to the animals.  And even if they are in the pretense of a safe place, the truth is, not all places that claim to be such are looking out for their best interests.  It is such a sad fact…isn’t it?

I had to ask myself in a specific situation this week, what would cause someone to operate an animal rescue, but misuse funds, or send dogs for euthanization regularly? What would cause someone to continue to pull animals from shelters, but turn to making big profits out of selling puppies?  What would cause a rescue organization to turn to puppy mills or breeders for “overstocks” in order to sell these same dogs themselves?  These things happen in animal rescue? Yes.  They do.  As an advocate for animals, and a proponent to “Make Rescues The Breed Of Choice”, I can tell you, no one is more disturbed about this than I am.  Because it gives people an excuse to stop rescuing.  It gives people an excuse to buy a dog from a breeder and feel good about it.  It gives people an excuse to stop caring, stop doing and stop donating.  And this is just…wrong!

But as wrong as this is, and as mad as I was this week trying to navigate my way through information on how to report a rescue or shelter of abuse, I educated myself.  I spoke with the Humane Society of The United States and the ASPCA directly on their suggestions on what to do if, for example, you are fostering for a rescue, or have adopted, or are a volunteer and suspect either misuse of funds, abuse, or endangerment of an animal.  Should you just sit back and do nothing, thinking that since they are a rescue, they must know it all?  Should you just forget about it and move on to another shelter or rescue? You must not.  Because if we are all true advocates for animals, we will speak up.  We will use the proper methods and go to the proper authorities.  This is another way that we can help change the plight of many animals and start a change from within.

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First of all, the Humane Society puts it very blunt.

“Remember, though, that there is a difference between bad shelter practice and differences in opinion about operational strategy – before you move forward with a complaint, review sheltering best practices resources and try to engage the organization in productive collaboration. While countless lives have been saved because a member of the public spoke up and to end harmful shelter practices, opportunities to save lives have also been lost because people have become too embroiled in philosophical disagreements to implement new lifesaving programs.”

They also recommend trying to make a change from within.  But what if all of your efforts fail? Is there anything you can do with lives are at stake? The Humane Society continues.

“Where do you lodge a complaint? It can be difficult to know where to turn to complain about an organization’s policies or procedures. To get results, you need to understand who is in charge of the organization: Public organizations, such as municipal animal control agencies, typically have a leader that is ultimately accountable to the elected officials of the city or county. The good news is that politicians are typically very reactive to citizen concerns; the bad news is that the process of making change in a government can be slow and tedious. If you have tried reaching out to the head of the agency (and onward up the chain of command) to no avail, discuss your concerns with local political officials either one-on-one or at a public meeting. But remember, politicians hear lots of complaints on all kinds of different topics – raising specific concerns, or better yet having concrete solutions available to solve those concerns (particularly if they won’t cost the municipality money!), tends to be much more effective than simply voicing general complaints. Private organizations are generally run by an Executive Director, who reports to a private Board of Directors. These agencies do not report to any national humane organizations, like The HSUS or ASPCA. Unless they are violating a specific law or ordinance (regarding tax law, for example, or animal cruelty) the Board of Directors has virtually unrestricted authority to set the organization’s path. However, private agencies are dependent on donor dollars to survive, so they are typically willing to hear concerns about their operations, particularly if those concerns might affect their bottom line. If you have already met with the Executive Director of the organization and have not been satisfied, request to speak directly with the Board of Directors.
Private agencies with government contracts generally report to a Board of Directors just as private organizations do, but they can also be influenced by public policy due to their contractual relationships. Use both paths to make your voice heard. What other agencies might hear your concerns? Local or state law enforcement/attorney general offices may become involved if active cruelty is occurring; ask about filing a formal complaint. Governmental agencies must make budget information available to taxpayers, and private 501(c)(3)s must file federal 990 forms with the IRS – these are available for public viewing on websites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator.

If you suspect improper use of donated funds, you may also file a complaint with the IRS. http://nonprofit.about.com/od/fundraising/a/safegiving.htm

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) oversees how euthanasia and other drugs are acquired, stored and managed; if you suspect that drugs are being stolen or misused, contact your local DEA office (http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/offices_n_dirs/fielddiv/index.html). Your state Veterinary Board or Department of Agriculture may be charged with overseeing and/ or inspecting local shelters – file a complaint if you suspect the shelter is violating local or state law. Tips for complaining effectively can be found at http://www.howtocomplain.com/info/advice.shtml.

Sit on a citizens’ advisory board: Many public shelters have an advisory board that serves as a liaison between the shelter and elected community officials. If such an entity exists, see about getting yourself appointed. If there is not yet one in place, talk to local officials about creating one. o Use Freedom of Information Laws: Obtaining records of the shelter’s operations can be the easiest way to document abuses or violations (or to reassure yourself that circumstances are not as you feared). Every public agency or organization with public contracts is subject to state and federal open records laws (sometimes referred to as freedom of information laws or public access laws) which allow citizens to obtain copies of all documents created or produced by the shelter. To learn more about the federal Freedom of Information Act or to see what public access laws apply in your state visit: http://publications.usa.gov/epublications/foia/foia.htm

Use Open Meeting Laws: All states have in place some form of open meetings and open records laws that ensure citizens have access to government meetings. These “sunshine laws” or “open meeting laws” prevent government officials from holding meetings and making decisions behind closed doors. You can find information about the rules applicable in your state at http://www.rcfp.org/open-government-guide.

Engaging the media: A sympathetic but objective reporter can be a strong ally. Most media outlets have websites with contact information, either for the entity itself or for individual reporters. o Use your political savvy: Many groups have successfully lobbied local political leaders and completely upended existing outdated shelter operational philosophies. Be professional, visit local officials, and make yourself an ally to them politically, rather than just a thorn in their side, and you stand a greater chance of success.

Consider filling in the gaps instead of fighting: If what your shelter needs is an effective foster program, a comprehensive pet retention program, or a rescue transfer program, perhaps the best way to achieve that goal is to start that group yourself. Many people have dramatically reduced shelter euthanasia by creating a viable alternative, rather than fighting a stressful battle to force the shelter to change.”

We thank the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA for getting us this information and their time.  And if you have continued reading this information, we thank you for your time too.  It is a sad world for many animals out there who find themselves homeless, abused or neglected.  Add to the sadness anticipation of a new beginning in a rescue or shelter that turns out to be the opposite.  We can’t change the world ourselves, but we can make a world of difference for one animal.  We all know in our hearts what is right and wrong.  Don’t sit back and let someone else convince you that abuse…even if at a shelter or rescue is normal.  We cannot anticipate all situations that you may encounter, the local laws where you live, or the exact steps you will need to take.  But if you make the time to find out, and make a difference, the bad rescues out there will cease to operate.  This will not be an easy task, or a short one.  But if we all long for a day when shelters and rescues aren’t needed at all, we will continue to support the good ones.  We will continue to tell them thank you.  And we will continue to make it possible for them to KEEP doing great things by removing ones that give them a bad name.

-Rachael Johnson, Owner, 2 Traveling Dogs

Catch our daily dog blog where dogs do all the talking at www.2travelingdogs.com

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