Responsible Rescue: How to Help an Animal in Need. ~ Sharon Saw

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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.

Susan and one of the pups in her care. This pup is from a litter of 5, whose mother, Phoebe, was rescued by Aaron, who visits the pups regularly and sponsors their monthly boarding and care. One of the pups has a heart problem and is very weak. Often, Susan is called about a cat/dog at such and such a place that looks injured and can Susan "do something about it?"
Susan and one of the pups in her care. This pup is from a litter of 5, whose mother, Phoebe, was rescued by Aaron, who visits the pups regularly and sponsors their monthly boarding and care. One of the pups has a heart problem and is very weak.

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.

This is Valo. His hind legs were dislocated and his spine was fractured. When we took him to the vet, we were told he would never walk again and it would be more humane to put him down. Susan, undaunted, decided to take him 325 km away to another vet for a second opinion. That vet recommended surgery, so Valo had major orthopedic surgery and Susan nursed him back to health herself. He now runs around, though he can’t jump as his hips are very weak!
This is Valo. His hind legs were dislocated and his spine was fractured. When we took him to the vet, we were told he would never walk again and it would be more humane to put him down. Susan, undaunted, decided to take him 325 km away to another vet for a second opinion. That vet recommended surgery, so Valo had major orthopedic surgery and Susan nursed him back to health herself. He now runs around, though he can’t jump as his hips are very weak!

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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About Sharon Saw

Sharon Saw is a Dharma student, mother and author of two books: Setrap the Protector (2009) and The Promise (2011). She has also edited several books and written for the popular magazine, Feng Shui World.


35 Responses to “Responsible Rescue: How to Help an Animal in Need. ~ Sharon Saw”

  1. Irene lim says:

    An informative and educational read. Very well written Sharon.

  2. Irene Cheok says:

    Sharon is right, we all need to raise awareness on responsibilities to animals. Be a voice to them, help them in any other ways so they do not suffer or be abused. It is said that if we have not loved an animal, a part of us is unawakened. Participation in loving and caring for animal creates a beautiful YOU!

  3. Jill Fam says:

    This is a fantastic article by Sharon Saw. She comprehends the whole scenario of what dog rescuers and dogs have to go through in our society. What we need to do is to ban all unlicensed breeders and educate the public at large on assuming responsibilities to dogs in order that problems faced would be minimised.

    • @sharonsaw says:

      Thanks Jill. Yes it is crucial for tighter regulation of pedigree breeders so that puppy mills STOP. In the meantime, if everyone can help a dog or cat which needs help, we would be able to make a difference – one animal at a time 🙂 Thanks for your support.

  4. Ai Chin says:

    Great Article by Sharon. It brings awareness to the general public of how much work there is with Animal Rescuers and at Animal Shelters.

  5. shirleymaya says:

    Such an informative article! I am not a fan of pets, but after reading this, I know where I can help by NOT contributing to the problem, but supporting in my own way to the solutions available to us, in each of our respective communities. Thank you, Sharon!

  6. Janice Monteiro-Lewis says:

    It’s great that there’s greater awareness now on strays/abused animals. Pet rescuers/fosterers/supporters are angels . Each day I pray for the strength&resources to help my little ‘zoo’&bless all who unselfishly go out of their way to help these creatues-big&small.Whatever way of contribution it makes a difference to these animals.Believe me I’ve seen many badly injured/abused animals who are actually ‘smiling’&confident now(watch them when they sleep).I also know that I have a strong network in case I need help/advise or any emergencies.It’s very humbling to be of service, to extend a hand to those who can’t speak but teach you about cohabiting peacefully. Choose love. Peace all!

    • @sharonsaw says:

      Thank you Janice! Yes they are angels and we can all support animals whatever way we can… wishing you all the strength and resources for your zoo and bless you for your love of animals! Much love to you!

  7. Jim Yeh says:

    Sharon and Susan is passionate about helping animals. I have witness with my own eyes the care Susan gives to her dogs. This article helps us understand that simply dropping off a dog or a cat is not enough, we need to donate our effort, time, money and care as well. Thank you Sharon for this great write up!

  8. Ong Moh Mei says:

    Thanks for bringing the issue of animal rescue to people’s attention. It is so true that many people think they are rescuing animals and claim to do so but what really happend is just dumping the responsible onto someone else or an animal shelter. In some cases the animal could end up worse than before beig “rescued”. It takes much much more work, care and finances to really rescue animals and provide them a better life.

    • @sharonsaw says:

      Sometimes people would rather drop off a sick pet to an animal shelter because they hope to avoid the terrible decision of euthanasia but what they are actually doing is to just shift that responsibility to others. Not fair at all. To anyone.

      Work, care and finances are really the keys to good animal welfare. And everyone can make a difference – one animal at a time.

  9. Dee Dee says:

    Great article. Must read for all especially those who call themselves animal rescuers. It takes more than a phone call to be a rescue. This article is a tribute to the real rescuers out there. You guys and girls are heros everyday. How to be a hero? Adopt a pet.

  10. Susan Lim says:

    Thank you Sharon for taking time out to write this educational piece that speaks to the heart and addresses core issues. There are many independent rescuers in Malaysia and shelters known and not known doing its best each day. The truth is no shelters can ever cope with the exponential population growth of homeless dogs and cats and the care required for injured and sick animals. Help from the community is very much needed…though the % of people in malaysia who gives a hoot about animals are small, it is still very much appreciated and needed. Shelters should function as half way houses for animals to recover, rehabilitated and rehomed. Sadly, most of the animals are euthanized because no new homes would open up their doors to take them in. If they are not euthanized, the shelters would end up operating at maximum capacity with resources going towards the care of just that few dogs and cats for the rest of their lives with not much room left for any newly rescued animals.

    "Each year in the United States, between eight and twelve million cats and dogs are
    euthanized simply because no homes are available for them"

    So why not just do mass killing to take care of this problem? This was done in India and turned out to NOT be a solution for this problem in non developed countries. January 1994, the killing programme was replaced by mass sterilisation of stray dogs. The sterilisation programme is carried out by non-government organisations in collaboration with the municipal corporation.
    Source :

    We all love beautiful stories of how cute, frail puppies are rescued and abused and injured dogs are given medical help and care to total recovery. I love stories of such and strives to provide such care however, what saddens me is knowing that what I do each day does not address the core issue as hundreds of dogs and cats would have been born on the street each day where I live. Educating the public is a must thus i appreciate this article tremendously.

    Do the math…a dog or cat can start to reproduce at 6 – 8 mths of age and this will go on for average 6 years. Each year they can have two litters..each on average with 4 kittens/puppies. These kittens and puppies will start reproducing at 6 – 8mths of age with two litters each year and so on. How many dogs and cats would we have in 6 years because of the one female and male dog mating under the beautiful starry night! Not to mention the many health issues, aggression leading to injuries, territorial problems and many other issues can be reduced through sterilization.

    Let's start by educating ourselves and sharing with our friends.

  11. Marleene Mohd Seth says:

    Very interesting article Sharon. Lots of information on animal rescue. It has opened a new perspective on animal rescue for me, and I fall under the "call animal rescue, but I am not responsible for the animal" category. But that's all changed for me. I will not buy a pet from the store, I will put in the effort, time and invest some care and concern for these poor abandoned creatures.

  12. Lin mun says:

    Great article Sharon and thanks for sharing this information which I think is important to creat awareness to care and love animals.

  13. May Li says:

    Hi Sharon, enjoyed reading this write-up as it has brought public in the light of right attitude towards animals rescues. I came across many animals lovers who took great care of stray dogs and cats, and I salute them for their heroic acts. These people are bodhisattvas who have taken initiatives to show their compassion towards sentient beings by ensuring the welfare of these animals are taken care of, just like treating their own family. Nevertheless, in our society, great love as such is still lack. Education and publicity are essential to bring forth the awareness to cultivate compassion and actions such as to adopt or sponsor for rescuing activities of needy animals. It is also my wish that the animals breeders would come to their senses one day to stop cruel acts in attempting to get rid of unwanted newborns. May all beings be well and happy.

  14. I think that this article is very well written and all points are laid out accurately. People should not dump their animals into shelters as they lose interest of the animal as they would be imposing a heavier burden upon the animal rescuer. When you are dumping your animals at shelters, you are causing the rescuer to have to find more funding and will be very detrimental to both the rescued dogs and the rescuer.

    Also, people who want to help animals can donate to shelters, ensuring the safety of the animals there because there will still be dumpers who do not give a second thought to the burdens they have just created.

    Next, sterilization is a very effective method of preventing further problems for rescuers. I remember reading an article that one cat alone is capable of giving birth to a total of more than 300 cats in a year, amazing! But amazingly sad as they would be caught by the local pounds and be put down. So, be responsible and sterilise your pets.

    Finally, I would like to thank my mother for taking out the time of her busy life to write this extremely informative article on the proper way to help animals.

  15. Suzanne says:

    We should stop buying pets instead, start adopting.

  16. Victoria Rainone says:

    A beautifully written article about animal rescue. A no nonsense eye opener about the way we treat animals worldwide. I can't quote exactly, but Gandhi said that we can judge a country by the way they treat their animals, or maybe it was judge a human by how they treat their animals. Either way, this issue is important to the planet because, as a Buddhist, I believe we have been every living thing from beginningless time over and over and over. We have been animals, over and over and over and how we have finally developed out minds enough to have taken a human rebirth. As one of my great Lama's says, if we knew how hard we had to work to take a human rebirth we'd be on our knees crying with joy and gratitude. It IS our responsibility whenever we see any animal suffering to do whatever possible to serve. I say serve because I'm not big on "helping." Serving is not coming from the ego. It is coming from the clear mind. Selfless. At the very least, when you do think you want to get a pet, especially if it has special needs (like a parrot or other exotic) read ten books about that animal. Ask people. Talk to people who have those pets. Make sure if you do get that particular pet, it is not put in a cage and left there for life. In the case of parrots, they ALL have the intelligence level of a two to three year old human toddler. That is BRILLIANT for an animal. So, if you want to torture something, torture yourself and leave animals to those of us who really care and take the time to truly rescue them and treat them the way they deserve to be treated. Geshe Soepa of FPMT calls animals, "persons." He's right. They are persons, in a different realm. Next life, that could be me. Thank you, Sharon Saw and Susan Lim. My hero's.

  17. Wendy Loh says:

    Thanks for writing this amazing article, Sharon. To be honest, rescuing animals has become a fad. This noble initiative has been downgraded to being a feel good phenomenon, which is very sad. If we think about it, an animal be it a dog, cat or a rabbit is viewed by many as a plaything and not a life form. And yes, dumping is a crime! This happens because everyone wants to be seen as a "hero" – rescuing a dog from a puppy mill but no one wants to do the work of nursing, nurturing and caring for the dog thereafter. Is this sheer ignorance? If we choose not to physically care for the rescued dog, then at the very least sponsor food, money or pay for the vet bills. If there is a will, there is always a way. It is just a matter of priority, really.

  18. Cherry davis says:

    Why would any one beat an inocent animal

  19. Storm says:

    I’m from NYC and there’s a large number of rescues that add to the over population problem because they don’t follow up regarding spay and neuter even though it’s in their contract. A “rescue” i used to volunteer with would get in tons of puppies from out of state. People would fill out an application the same day, sometimes references were checked but mostly not. The new adopter would go get the dog from a truck or petco and never to be seen or heard from them again. After a while i called them out on it and they said they didn’t have time to follow up on all the dogs because their too busy saving hundreds of lives. Whats more surprising is that there not the only rescue like this! after a number of years i stopped volunteering because it made me sick. So while their bringing in 10 pit puppies from out of state a month and a bunch of other breed pups how many actually get neutered, end up in the wrong hands or become breeders to continue to clog the system. It’s disgusting…These are the same groups that get tons of money from Maddies fund and other the mayors Alliance because their so called “numbers” are high.

  20. Royal Canin says:

    I am amazed reading your article, Thumbs up for tuning our mind and enlightening us on the topic of animal rescue. I hope that everyone follows the points mention above.

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