I read a fair amount of animal rescue material. Cats, dogs, other wildlife. Books written by ordinary people and wildlife professionals alike, and so I can agree 100% that the overarching principle here in this book, as well as in many other rescue publications, is that “It’s About the Animal.” In this case, the dog, as the author puts it so succinctly here:
[…] my rescues had always been about me: about my conscience, about making myself feel better. How could I leave the dog out there? How could I sleep knowing he was hungry, or mistreated, or scared? Me, me, me. It’s not about me. Or you. It’s not about assuaging our own morals, or paying tribute to our righteousness. No, it’s about the dog. About improving their quality of life.
Now that is some truth right there, and this truth is learned the hard way, always, in the choices we have to make, in the wins and in the losses. Believe me there are losses. Lots of them, and our author doesn’t sugar coat that fact. Most people don’t understand what rescue takes: the time, the money, the emotional investment, including the often crippling frustration and sadness.
There are so many misconceptions about dog rescue. Many people see it as a fad, a sub-theme of the veganism and sustainability tree-hugging movement. Or a sort of hobby: Oh, you do rescue? That’s cool. I do crochet. Or they confuse it with fostering, or with adoption. I hear it all the time: We rescued our dog from the shelter. No, guys. The dog was already safe at the shelter. You may have adopted a dog from the shelter (something for which all of us are eternally grateful to you)—but the dog was rescued by someone else. The truth is that most people don’t know what rescuing really is. Or what it takes. (Or what it gives.
Those who know me, know that both of my rescue cats took the better part of 9 years. I did little else with my time so that I could properly socialize them, gain their trust, and eventually, hopefully, get them inside. One came in of his own volition after 5 years with an illness that cost me over $3,000 in the first six months, and the other still had to be trapped after 8 years of working with him, and his immediate medical needs cost me upwards of the same. But over the 20 years we’ve been in our house, I think at one point we were feeding and caring for something like 12 cats. The time you need to dedicate to this can be exhausting, and rescuers do it solely because we want to improve the quality of life for a creature who is having a difficult time of it for one reason or another. As the author explains in the book, rescuing is a state of mindfulness. Not about ourselves, but about the animal in need. We are in it for them, which makes rescuers a rare breed of human in my opinion, and our author talks a lot about that sort of person in comparison to your normal average sort of pet person. The differences are glaring in some areas, and certain people who might wander into reading this book, who are of the latter sort, might get offended at those realities and those comparisons, but that doesn’t make those observations any less true.
Most people, when they adopt (or otherwise acquire) a dog, do so with explicit (and implicit) expectations. They’re looking for a playmate for their kids, or a quiet companion that will fill an emptying nest, or an exercise partner, or a security asset, or an imposing specimen that will reinforce their social status. They come to the shelters already envisioning the life this new family member will enable, or enhance. And very, very few are willing to readjust that vision, even let go of it altogether, to save a growling, wary dog who looks more like s/he wants to have you for dinner than cuddle with you.
Most people do seek the “unconditional love” that is supposed to come with pet ownership, never realizing that it’s a companionship not ownership and that the unconditional love actually has to come from them, not the animal. Animals are individual sentient beings. They are who they are, and rescue animal personalities have been shaped by hardship and/or abuse or neglect.
This dog is… who he is. He might get better, he might not. But he’s begun to trust you. Don’t betray that trust by trying to make him into someone he’s not.
Rescuers understand this. We don’t want to be molded or coerced into being something we are not, so why would we try to do that to an animal, rescue or not. Many rescuers I know are just odd lots looking to accept and help the lost lots. Rescuers do what they do because compassion compels us to do what needs to be done. Even when we make our husband pull over in traffic so we can help a turtle stuck in the middle of the road, and then subsequently stuck under a guardrail, when we have no gear with us, and we have to dig the poor thing free with our bare hands in a mound of poison ivy. My husband just smiles at me and gives me the goal post when I succeed, and a shoulder to cry on when I don’t. The author here understands this through and through, and her compassion and knowledge shines through with every word on the page. Our author says the street is a tough place and it that takes a strong physiology to survive there. That goes for the rescuers as well. When you realize that you can’t save everything, and like she instructs us in the book, it’s often best to forget about the big picture and focus on the moment, the dog, the animal, the beautiful creature you are trying to help right now. Helping one animal won’t change the world, she says, but it will change the world for that one creature. Focus on that, because the world can be a stifling place and it can paralyze you into that “what does it matter” mindset. I’ve been there; it does, and you have to work through that futility. Every small gesture adds up, so even if you can only help one and there are limitations to what you can do, what you CAN DO is still something, and something is better than nothing. Our author tells us that over and over again. Rescuing is about perseverance. It’s about the animal, in this case, the dog.
This book is a bit different from some of the others I’ve read, which were basically memoirs devoted to how the person got into rescuing via their own personal struggle. These stories are often heartbreakingly sad coming of enlightenment type stories. This is not that type of book. It is most definitely a How To tutorial for people who might be interested in going down this road. It’s structured as such with chapters on gear and illness and rescue techniques, and it’s candid, often brutally and pointedly honest, and this tact is much appreciated because rescue isn’t a Hallmark commercial. A lot of very valuable lessons can be gleaned from the pages here, and the afterword will set you to tears. It takes bravery to admit our mistakes. I’ve made a ton over the years, and I wasn’t able to save every creature I tried to help either no matter what I did. Rescuing is a whole lot of planning that often turns on a dime into a whole lot of chaos. Most rescuers happen into it accidentally. We just happen to be there and we just happen to have the compulsion to do what needs to be done. With guides like this, you get better at just being there: You’ve got gear in the car. A vet on speed dial. A spare room in the house or a large holding cage.
And for those who are more adopters than rescuers, there’s some advice for you too:
The best home for a renegade dog will be with people who are open-minded, who have few preconceptions about what a dog should be like. Who are willing to put the dog first, and adapt their lives to him/her.
Of course, that’s the best home for anything really.
I would consider this a preparedness book to better help you help them (dogs, cats, possum, turtles, whatever) but the afterword might destroy you though. If it doesn’t, then you might be the sort of person who can do this thing.