They eat standing up in the kitchen so the 25 dogs don’t overwhelm them. Their bed sleeps 7 dogs, including a mastiff, in addition to two humans. And every day sees them giving pills, dropping medicine in ears, and scooping poop. Lots and lots of poop.
Yep, you guessed it. They rescue dogs.
David Rosenfelt gave us an amusing look inside the life of dog rescue in Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure (affiliate link). If you’re intrigued, check out my review of Dogtripping at A Traveler’s Library.
But reading this light and entertaining book brought to mind a serious quote I read many years ago. It stuck with me. And I’ve spent hours pondering it.
The paragraph was written by Jon Katz, perhaps the best dog writer in America. Katz always makes me think, whether I agree with him or not. Here’s what he wrote:
If Americans find themselves homeless, laid off, abused, or in need of urgent medical care, no van will pull up in their driveways to whisk them off for treatment, place them in temporary housing, then drive them around the country to find them appropriate new homes and visit them regularly to monitor their progress and make sure they’re OK. With dogs, though, it happens every day.
He wrote this in the story of how he got one of his border collies, Rescuing Fly: A Journey on the Dog Underground Railroad. Forget for a moment, the inappropriateness of comparing compassionate, hard-working people who help dogs to the brave men and women who risked their lives to bring enslaved people to freedom. That’s a post for another day. And another blog.
But here are the questions I imagine Katz is asking in this article: Why do people rescue dogs? And why don’t we rescue people the same way?
First of all, there are programs that whisk people off to shelters, give them treatment and counseling, find them jobs, and follow-up with them once they become independent.
But I think Katz is asking, why do thousands of volunteers give up hours of free time to transport dogs from bad living situations and high-kill shelters to places where they can get new homes? Why do they give their money to this cause? And the implied question: Shouldn’t all these resources go toward rescuing people?
Why Do People Rescue Dogs?
The answer is simple. Because they can.
When a volunteer rescues a dog by taking him from a shelter, getting a negligent owner to surrender him, or picking him up from the dog track, the dog doesn’t complain.
Dogs don’t say: “Y’know, I hear it’s cold up north. I’d rather just stay here.” They don’t have opposable thumbs that allow them to open a crate, roll down a window, or open a car door.
People rescue dogs because it’s easy. Okay, not easy. But easy compared with rescuing people.
The most satisfying part of my job as a housing counselor has been seeing people dig themselves out of deep debt and become homeowners after years of hard work. But my job does not involve rescuing anyone.
I can advise people. I encourage them. I point out resources. But they do the work themselves. So their success is not mine to claim. And neither is their failure.
But sometimes I do feel the need to rescue. And it gets pretty personal. That was certainly the case with my husband’s mother.
Mama B brought out people’s desire to rescue her. Her smile included a hint of mischief that many found charming. She had a generous spirit. And she was so petite I could have tucked her in my coat pocket with room to spare.
Since she was a young woman, Mama B struggled with being bipolar. She was hospitalized several times in her life. She found it hard, in her younger days, to come to terms with having to take medicine to keep her from having the manic highs which must have felt amazing in the early stages.
As she aged, many people tried to rescue Mama B. If they could only help her clean her apartment, eat more nutritious food, manage her money, her life would be so much better. Their “help” came with the hurtful message to my husband: “If you could just manage your mother better, she’d have a much higher quality of life. Why aren’t you doing more for her?”
But then, Mama B’s rescuers wised up. They learned that she had food to eat. But she didn’t want to cook it. And she didn’t want you to cook it. She wanted something else to eat.
She had money. But she didn’t want to be told how to spend it.
In reality, she wanted to be left alone to do what she wanted when she wanted to do it. Y’know, like every American ever born.
Mama B didn’t want to be rescued. She wanted to live her life. On her own terms.
I tried the rescuing thing too. I fell into the same trap. And I caused unintended hurt to my husband who had played caregiver to Mama B in some form since he was a teenager.
It’s hard to see someone you think needs rescuing and respect their wishes to live the way they want to.
People are more autonomous than dogs. They have rights under the law that keep them from being subjugated. They have voices that can tell you what they want and don’t want. And they have opposable thumbs that can help them sign restraining orders or just walk out the door.
Should Dog Rescue Efforts Be Redirected To People Rescue?
Katz implies that intensive dog rescue is less worthy than efforts to help people. I don’t think it’s so black and white.
For one, I believe that efforts to help animals ultimately help people as well. Yep, you got me. Katz’s article inspired my personal theme for Blog the Change for Animals – Want to Protect Animals? Care About People.
But I also have an insider’s look at people involved in dog rescue. They’re some of the most compassionate people I know—to people and to dogs.
I know some have already supported aid efforts to victims of typhoon Haiyan. Others share their dogs with people in nursing homes and hospices as well as helping children learn to read. Others support people stricken with cancer. Some are sacrificial caregivers for family members, taking the stress and burden that others can’t manage.
I don’t think people who rescue dogs use up their compassion on dogs so they have nothing left for people. If anything, compassion for one living creature, one that’s “easy” to help, strengthens those empathy muscles so they can spread the compassion around.
So why do people rescue dogs? Because they can. And in a world where so many problems feel insurmountable, Mr. Katz, that’s good enough.
Your Turn: What do you think of Mr. Katz’s comments about the resources put toward animal rescue? Is it a good thing? Or do some people favor animals over humans too much?
photo credits: (Mutts are the Best) freeloosedirt, (Dog Eye) sadiehart, (Rescue Dog in Crate) ilovemytank via photopin cc. Rescue Ribbon is from Flickr.
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