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The importance of 'pledges' in shelter pet rescue

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There's a delicate balance in the world of shelter pet rescue. It's fragile, yet strong. Enlightening, but heartbreaking. Should any part of the system used to save shelter pets hit a weak spot, it means animals may die.

This system is only as strong as it's weakest link, and it's based on the honor of one person to pay another.

Today I'd like to talk about pledges. Consider this the equivalent of a dowry. It's an incentive needed to get a dog or cat out of the shelter environment before the shelter decides to kill it. Anyone who watches the urgent lists at their favorite shelter knows what an exciting world animal advocates are a part of.

It usually starts with one person offering $5 or so as a 'pledge' to a reputable rescue willing to pay a visit to the shelter and receive money for the dog or cat to offset any expenses the rescue may have. Pledgers may choose one or more shelters whom they prefer to do business with.

While sponsors are necessary to pay the pull fee (what I call bail money)on as many urgent list shelter pets as possible, pledgers sometimes raise in the hundreds of dollars to send with a single rescue that agrees to save a cat or dog.

This may sound excessive, but many of these animals incur very large medical bills before they're physically able to be adopted into a family. Those who run legitimate rescues don't make a lot of money. That dog you pay $150 to adopt may have cost the rescue $400, $500 or even more in vet bills to treat a physical injury or medical condition.

This is why rescues get upset when pledges refuse to pay up when the dog or cat is rescued. The backing out of a system that is based on honor instead of written contracts makes animal rescue a difficult world at times.

So what IS a pledge? The dictionary has several explanations, depending on whether the word is used as a noun, verb or legal term.
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When used as a noun, a pledge is a solemn promise or undertaking. A vow, word of honor, commitment, assurance, oath or guarantee are synonyms.

When used as a legal term, a pledge is something that is given as security for the fulfillment of a contract or the payment of a debt and is liable to forfeiture in the event of failure. Surety, bond, security, collateral, guarantee or deposit are terms associated with the legal meaning of a pledge.

When used as a verb, pledge means a person or organization is committed to by a solemn promise.

So what happens when a person pledges, and then doesn't honor their agreement? That person hurts the animal involved, as it may mean a rescue will face unnecessary hardship because someone isn't paying money they promised to pay once the animal is safely out of the shelter.

I was recently approached by a rescue who had a few people break their pledges. I was asked to offer a suggestion to get the pledger to pay up. I suggested making a list of each person who pledged, and how much they promised, and posting it to the Facebook thread of the cat or dog rescued.

Women (and men) are busy these days. They may forget who and how much they promised to help. Some work with more than one animal shelter, and simply can't keep up with whom and how much they owe. So a nice little note is great.

Leaving a note on the Facebook thread for the now rescued pet is also good advertising. It shows the rescue is efficient in keeping up with the monetary part of their business. It also encourages people who didn't pledge to make a small donation to that rescue. In other words, leaving a 'bill' listing pledges and pledgers can lead to future pledges.

People in the animal advocacy community enjoy working with someone who knows how to keep up with money. It's a necessity on the way to finding the dog or cat a forever home. To be vigilant about money usually means the rescue will be equally professional about finding a good home.

Unfortunately, the rescue world came crashing down a few months ago when it was learned Anderson County 'rescuer' Julianne Westberry had received hundreds of dollars in pledges.

After taking the money and taking the cats, she dumped them in her own personal hell to die of starvation and dehydration.

Although Westberry is awaiting trial for ill treatment of animals and animal torture, it's the financial charges that may eventually come that may be her downfall.

It's also affecting the shelter world with a lot of negativity, as pledgers are afraid to donate. Just remember, you can't base the efforts of rescues in upstate South Carolina, North Carolina, and other states conned by Westberry. I do a lot of writing to help the Greenville County Animal Care Services pets find a home. To my knowledge, Westberry was one of a kind.

By not continuing to support rescues, or by failing to honor pledges, means Westberry is still leaving a legacy of death behind her.

If you want to help a cat or dog at a high-kill shelter, please pledge a few dollars. And be sure to pay what you owe when the time comes.

Rescues, your comments are welcome on whether the issue of pledges not being paid is growing since the Westberry case made the news.

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