Monday, June 29, 2009

Messengers of Bad News

Were I accurately to describe my current work, it would primarily be, "messenger of bad news" to those calling to abandon animals or requesting pick up and safe sanctuary for strays.

Indeed, about 90% or even more of the current calls we are receiving are, what we in rescue refer to as "dump calls."

There is, unfortunately, no guaranteed "safe sanctuary" for the thousands of strays that live on New York City streets, nor the tens of thousands of pets, annually abandoned in our city shelters.

As for those animals who actually do get rescued, far too many of them end up "warehoused" for months (or even years) in too-crowded "no kill shelters," foster homes or boarding kennels.

The general public is, for all intensive purposes, totally "clueless" about the realities as evidence by the number of people who call to "donate" animals.

"Donate?" I asked one woman last week. "Is that supposed to be a joke?"

So far today, it is not even noon and I've had five calls to give up animals and none to adopt.

One of the calls is from a couple who adopted a 9-year-old, Cocker Spaniel, "Daisy" from us three years ago and now want to return the dog due to "moving soon."

The husband actually called more than a month ago and at that time I requested him to email pictures of the dog, as well as write a short bio about her.

He never did that.

This time I asked when Daisy had last seen a vet.

"More than a year ago," was the reply.

When I told "John" that Daisy would need to be checked out and updated on shots, (especially now that she is 12-years-old) he asked, "Well, isn't that your job?"

Quite frankly, it isn't.

When people adopt dogs, they accept responsibility for care -- part of which is medical. It comes with the territory of "ownership."

I haven't owned Daisy for three years.

Nevertheless, I do "get" why people have the idea these days that rescue groups and shelters are responsible for everything including (at least according to, "From Underdog to Wonderdog" on Animal Planet) the carpentry in a potential adopter's home!

The problem is, these aren't "potential adopters." These are the current owners of the dog.

Of course, whenever we request people to own up to their responsibilities in having pets (i.e. neuter, vet care, etc.) we are always told, "We don't have the money!"

But, I bet if we went to the people's homes, we would find HD TV's, I-Phones and all the other technological and other gadgets that come with the consumerism world we live in.

They just "never have money" when it comes to their animals.

I don't know what to do about Daisy.

Yes, she is a dog who was adopted from us three years ago and in an ideal world, we should and would, take her back.

But, it isn't an ideal world anymore -- if indeed, it ever was.

In fact, I believe we are farthest from the "ideal" then ever.

Perhaps it was naivete or inflated sense of "idealism" that prompted us to put in our adoption contracts (written in the early 90's), that we would always "take back animals."

The clause was written with the realization that in cases of adoptions that don't work out, the animal can be dumped back (or euthanized) in the pound without us even knowing. (This would, however, not happen now, since all animals rescued from the shelter are microchipped. -- If one ends up back in the pound, even years later, we are called from the shelter about it.)

But, what about cases where the adoptions do work out and adopters call us years later to "return" animals that are now geriatric and therefore, very difficult, if not impossible to re-home?

Currently, we are not able to place young, healthy and friendly cats and dogs, let alone those whose ages are now in double digits.

Its a terrible dilemma what to do in a situation like Daisy's.

Its a good thing that the sweet little Cocker Spaniel can't realize that the people who brought her into their home three years ago, never really accepted full responsibility for or commitment to her. ("Use, abuse and lose" seems to be more the attitude.)

"Isn't that your job?" they ask of those who rescued the dog three years ago and thought we were placing her into a forever home.

Perhaps there is no such thing anymore as "forever homes?"

Judging by the calls we get everyday, it would be easy to think such.

Perhaps its time to change our adoption contract to keep up with the times?

But, then, would that not be giving up the fight and saying, in essence, "We don't want the responsibility either?"

As said, a difficult dilemma:

"You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't."

As people "create the government we deserve," so too do we create the shelters and rescue groups we deserve.

In the later case though, it's the animals who pay for that with rescuers and shelter personnel too often becoming, instead of saviors, "messengers of bad news." --PCA


KD in Texas said...

There is still such a thing as a "forever home"... my 2 cats and 1 dog have one... so do my sister's 2 cats, and my mom's 3 cats. I know we're all from the same family, and thus have similar values, but I know of others who also seem to feel the same way about their pets. "Forever homes" may be getting harder to find, especially in this economy and culture of sometimes selfish decisions and irresponsibility, but they do still exist.

Regarding the promise in your contract to always take back an animal you have adopted out; are you guaranteed that if an animal is dumped back at the pound that you will be called and given the opportunity to re-rescue that animal? If you are, my instinct would be to remove that promise from your contract. Not only does it hold you legally responsible to take back an animal (which could and probably does happen during times when you're already having trouble finding space for all those you're currently responsible for), but in my opinion, it also gives potential adopters an escape clause. "I don't have to make a real commitment. If it doesn't work out, I can always return him/her." I regard it as similar to getting married knowing that you can always divorce if the marriage doesn't suit you. Yes, there are good reasons for divorce. But if you go into a marriage expecting to divorce someday, you probably will. And if you go into a pet adoption knowing that someone else will take the pet once you no longer have room in your life for it, then you probably won't keep that pet for life either. It just decreases the amount of responsibility and commitment an adopter has to make at the outset. Removing that clause may be one key to getting people to take their pet adoptions more seriously, hopefully resulting in fewer re-dumped pets.

Just my 2c!

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