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The whos, hows, whats, whens, and wheres of rescue: why rescues can't save more

Oconee County Animal Shelter put out a call this week for foster homes for Easter and Lilly.  Thanks to the power of social media, both puppies found foster homes and were saved.
Oconee County Animal Shelter https://www.facebook.com/oconeeanimalshelter

The posts race across social media feeds: Loki will be euthanized at 5 pm today if a rescue cannot be found. Quite often, that post will be repeated over and over and one rescue after another pleas for a foster home to step forward so that they will have a place for Loki.

So many times people post on these requests, demanding to know why the rescue does not just save the dog, and find a place for it later.

The answer is simple.

A rescue that deserves the respect and support of the community is one that knows their limits. They know when they are approaching those limits, and they know how to say “no”. When they don't do this, then it can be very bad for the animals, who may have been spared euthanasia in a shelter only to end up sick or starving in an overcrowded facility. Everyone has seen the stories on the news where animal control goes in and seizes animals, many of them sick or dying, in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

No rescue wants that to happen.

Yes, that means that quite often an animal may die a humane death in a kill shelter because they can’t take it into their rescue.

But before damning the rescue for not saving the life of the animal, consider the whole picture.

First, vet care is not free. Although many vets will offer discounts and payment plans to rescues, the reality is that those vets have to make a living too. So the cost of vet care has to be factored in to every single rescue. That cute fluffy puppy playing in its cage at the shelter may look totally healthy now, but two days from now, while in its quarantine period at the rescue, that puppy may break with parvovirus despite being vaccinated before the rescue took it in.

Next, in most cases the “pull fees” from the shelters are not free. “Pull fees” are what the kill-shelters charge a rescue when it rescues or “pulls” a pet. Pull fees vary depending on what vet care the pet receives at the shelter. Most shelters will routinely vaccinate all animals that are old enough immediately upon intake for diseases that are extremely contagious in the shelters such as parvo and kennel cough. They also usually spay or neuter the pets before they leave the shelter, and if they are old enough they also make sure the pet has a current rabies vaccination.

The “pull fee” accomplishes two things. It recovers part of the cost associated with these vaccines and surgeries. It also ensures that the rescue has a financial stake in the pet, to avoid those miscreants who may try to pull dogs or cats for unscrupulous reasons and to provide a barrier to hoarding.

Vet bills and pull fees are actually the easy barriers to overcome. Animal lovers often come together on social media to sponsor the pull fees and the costs of vet care, which is necessary since adoption fees rarely cover the entire cost of the care that the pet has received since it came into the rescue.

The biggest obstacle that a rescue faces is space.

Basically think of a rescue as a cruise ship docked out in the harbor. There are a finite number of cabins on the ship. Once those cabins are filled, they are filled.

A responsible rescue will not start doubling and tripling occupancy of the cabins. Overcrowded conditions lead to the spread of disease, as well as sanitation issues because it takes a lot more work to clean up 100 cages if there are two or three animals in a cage than if there is just one animal.

Instead, to keep the pets healthy, they will make sure that the “cruisers” in the cabin have disembarked to either foster homes or permanent adoptive homes. Once an animal leaves, another can take its place.

Most county and municipal shelters are kill-shelters because they are not allowed to say no. When all of the “cabins” are full, a “cabin” can be freed up for new occupants by euthanizing the pet occupying the space. That’s what euthanizing for space is all about.

This is where one person can make a tremendous difference, especially in the life of one specific animal. This is why foster homes are so important.

Most rescues aren’t like a pet store with row upon row of cages where the pets live until they are adopted. Although some rescues do have kennel facilities for short term holding, most rescues prefer to have their pets in private homes.

Foster homes and foster families come in all shapes and sizes. Some have no pets; they may have recently lost a much-loved pet and are not ready to make a long-term commitment to another pet yet. Others may know that they cannot make a long-term commitment due to an anticipate move or deployment but very much want to enjoy the companionship of a pet. Still others have pets and children but are willing to open their hearts and lives to another pet for a short time and provide a foster home while an adoptive home is being found.

Most rescues will provide a crate and will cover food and vet care for the pets they place in foster homes. Some people prefer to take the tax deduction they get by donating food and vet care. Note: please see your tax advisor for advice on this subject.

Foster homes can be short-term, for just a few days; other pets may need longer-term foster care. Most rescues will work with their foster homes on this. They will also stay in regular contact with the foster family to make sure that all is going well, and will step in and assist if any issues occur.

Fostering is also a great way to get to know an animal before making a long-term commitment to adoption. Many rescues offer “foster-to-adopt” programs.

There is no doubt that foster homes save lives. In most cases, finding a foster home is the primary obstacle preventing a rescue from saving an animal on death row at a kill shelter.

To those who have a problem with the rescue not saving that beautiful pet’s life, please consider doing the following:

  • Offer to foster the pet, even for a few days
  • Contact the rescue, and offer any skills that you have
  • Donate even $5 or $10 to help with the vet bills
  • Donate dog or cat food, or kitty litter, or pee pads
  • Stop by and play with puppies or kittens and spend some time socializing them
  • Help spread the word about a homeless pet in need via social media and email
  • Help out at an adoptathon - set up cages, break down cages, walk dogs, talk to people
  • Do just about anything constructive, other than complain about the pretty dog who is going to be killed if the big bad rescue does not do something to save it

Rescues are almost always run by volunteers. It takes a lot of volunteers to run a large rescue. Each of those volunteers wants to save the pets – that is why they put their time, effort, and money into doing everything possible to save those lives.

They welcome new like-minded volunteers.

This is a partial listing the many organizations involved in saving animals nearby which welcome new volunteers. (If a rescue has been left off this list, please email llasky@gmail.com and it will be added.)

Stay tuned for Part 3.