Animal rescue does not mean picking up an animal and dropping it off at a friend’s place or animal shelter.
Sure, we may feel that we have done something good. But then what? Do we pat ourselves on the back and go on our merry way, happy that we have “saved” a poor stray? Do we ever wonder what happens to that animal?
What we are doing is reporting, not rescuing. If we really care about the animal, we should pick it up and take it to the vet. Let the vet check to make sure it’s okay and healthy. If it needs medical treatment, ensure that the animal receives it. We then should foster it until it is adopted or adopt it ourselves. If we do that, we are animal rescuers.
True, we may not have the time. But we can take an active interest in this animal we wish to save. We can act responsibly by paying the vet fees. We can sponsor the care for the animal until it is adopted. We can also actively ask around for someone to foster or adopt it ourselves. When we have committed to sponsoring the animal, we have an added incentive to find someone to adopt it! And we are taking responsibility from beginning to end.
My housemate, Susan Lim, has been an avid animal lover ever since I’ve known her. I have learned over the years that when she is extremely nice to me, it usually means that she has adopted a cat or dog from somewhere and would like to bring it home! I must admit that I am not crazy about animals, though I am a softie at heart and was instrumental in adopting (sometimes inadvertently) a few of our cats. Since Susan has become more involved in animal rescue and animal care, I have learned a few things which I would like to share.
If we simply call an animal rescuer to pick up the animal, we are not taking responsibility.
In fact, we are dumping. People would leave animals tied to the gates of animal shelters, which I personally find very cowardly. What’s up with that? At the very least we should have the decency to ask the animal shelter if they can take the animal in, and if we can contribute something towards its care. That’s the humane thing to do.
Dumping imposes a huge burden on animal shelters and animal rescuers. All the animal shelters I know of operate at maximum capacity (and most are over capacity), and they have to look after the medical fees, the ensuing medical care, the food, hygiene and loving attention required by each animal. More often than not, the animals which have been rescued are sick animals or animals which have been injured. Even if the animal is healthy, it will need vaccinations, sterilization, etc.—and all of this costs money.
Sadly, in Malaysia, where I live, there is not much care for animals. After all, if people are willing to dump old folks (this is another story), why not animals? It is very difficult for animal shelters to be financially sustainable. And the care required for the animals is unending. Once we take an animal into care, we cannot just throw it out onto the streets, where it is likely to be injured again. So essentially, all rescued animals are rescued for life.
The public is constantly asked for funding for cancer, handicapped people, autism, AIDS and a million other human welfare needs. Unfortunately, animals are way down on the list of priorities for most people. This is not a criticism at all, but merely a fact. As such, unless there are people who are crazy about animals, most people would rather donate to a cause for human benefit. Especially if there is tax-exemption involved.
All charity is good, but could we please spare a thought (and some change) for the ones most neglected by society?
Animal rescuers are really the unsung heroes of society. If we are Buddhist, we believe that all animals are sentient beings and should be loved equally as much as humans. For people who do not believe this, let us at least acknowledge that animals should not suffer. At the very least, let’s not make it difficult for people who are doing their best to give care to animals.
So, what can we really do? There are so many animals out there; we cannot possibly save them all. So, let’s start by supporting those who are actively providing animal care.
1. Adopt an animal.
We all know someone who wants to get a pet. Please, let’s not immediately buy a dog or cat from a pet shop.
If we do, let’s at least find out where the pups come from; we may find that we are supporting a very cruel, inhumane establishment where dogs are caged up just to make puppies. These are called puppy-mills, and my friends once rescued a pedigree dog who spent her whole life making puppies, to the extent that her hind legs no longer function. When these dogs are no longer able to reproduce, they are euthanized. Fortunately this one was saved and is a lovely, happy dog today.
Instead, let’s adopt from a shelter. Why? Because dogs which are up for adoption are unwanted. They may not look like pedigrees, but they are equally loyal and loving. In general, mixed-breed animals are tougher health-wise than pedigrees. If we can, let’s adopt those who are weaker and sick, because those are the ones least likely to be adopted.
By adopting them, we not only give a loving home to those who are least wanted, but we also free the animal rescuer to look after other animals. Whether pedigree or mixed-breed, they are, first and foremost, animals who want to be loved, so please let’s think of adoption first. If we can’t adopt, we can also foster, which is just temporary and perhaps more manageable, so that resources can be freed to help others.
2. Support an animal shelter/rescuer.
When we adopt an animal from a shelter or a rescuer, let’s leave a donation. The shelter or rescuer have undoubtedly paid for the animal’s medical fees and any medical procedures. We can give something back to them so that they can continue their work. Let’s appreciate them. None of them do this to be rich. In fact, we can rest assured that most of the animal rescuers pay for the necessities of their work from their own meager pockets.
When Susan wanted to start her animal work, I offered to commit to a small monthly sponsorship as a way to encourage other people to make donations. She told me that it was not necessary because I was providing the housing for many of her animals and sponsoring them already, including animals I didn’t know about!
All animal shelters and animal rescuers need help. They need pet food. They need people to help out—bathing the animals, cleaning the shelter, ferrying animals to the vet. It is a full time job. Socializing the animals is another huge job. In order for strays to be adopted, they need to have their health restored and become socialized so that they can get along with people and other dogs. Like babies, orphaned puppies or kittens need to be fed ’round the clock.
Most of all, they need cold, hard cash. We can check out the shelter and/or rescuer, get to know them personally and see what they do. When we trust that they are genuine, we can make a donation so that they can cover vet bills and buy decent pet food.
3. Share animal stories on social media.
We can use social media to raise awareness about adoption, funds needed, etc. It’s free! Tell our friends about these needy animals and maybe someone, somewhere, will share the info with their friends—who may be looking for a loving dog or cat for their home.
4. Support sterilization.
The main problem with stray animals is their rate of reproduction. Sterilization of as many strays as possible is one of the ways to combat this perennial problem. Sterilization can cost around $40 for a dog and $25 for a cat. These rates would vary depending on which country and locale you are in. In fact, these rates have been specially discounted by certain kind-hearted vets in my area. After the surgery, the animal needs special care in order to recuperate, which may incur boarding fees at the vets also.
We should also sponsor sterilization so that the number of stray animals can be reduced. There are programs which “sterilize and release,” meaning that strays are picked up off the street, sterilized then returned to the place they were picked up from. The objective is to control the population of strays, which cuts the problem at the root.
5. Go vegetarian.
Okay, so we don’t have space in our home to adopt a pet, and we don’t have funds to donate. But we do care about animals. What can we do? Go vegetarian. H.E. Tsem Rinpoche has always advocated vegetarianism to create compassion for animals. Perhaps it is difficult for us to be vegetarian full time, in which case, we can just be vegetarian once or twice a week and then increase it from there.
I hope this gives an insight into the animal rescuers’ world. Please do share this with others so that we can all jointly take responsibility and care for those who cannot care for themselves.
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Assistant Ed: Dejah Beauchamp/Ed: Sara Crolick