I’ve been at this a while. A long while. Before Precious Paws I was in the “rescue world” and animal sheltering for several years and now Precious Paws is entering our 13th year. That’s roughly 20ish years of rescue. And I love it. I have loved rescue since the first day that I walked into the Northumberland Humane Society and started cleaning cat cages. I loved it enough to let it direct my life onto the path that I’ve followed thus far. I have met some of the most important people in my life because of rescue. I have discovered my strengths and capabilities because of rescue. I quite simply wouldn’t be a fraction of the person that I am today without animal rescue.
Now can I tell you a secret? Some days I loathe rescue. Some days I plot my escape from rescue. Some days I know without a doubt in my mind that my life would be simpler without rescue. I consider closing intake, adopting out our last dog, and then shutting this whole thing down. Because the honest truth of running a rescue organization (or volunteering for one) is that it’s EXHAUSTING. It’s draining. It wreaks havoc on your heart and soul. You become a tad cynical (if you’re lucky only a tad). You give up time with your own family – to organize transports, vet appointments, adoptions, surrenders, and all the other millions of tasks needed. You have to develop a hard shell so to speak. You can’t say yes to every animal who needs you and you have to learn to protect yourself from the pain of that.
Every day I field requests from shelters who need to find rescue for dogs in their care because the dog isn’t medically or behaviourally ready for adoption or because they are out of space. Every day I read through emails and listen to voicemails from owners who aren’t able or aren’t willing to keep their own dogs. Every day I have to pick and choose and try to place dogs into our program as foster space and money allows. And every day I have to say no. I have to say no because we don’t have another foster who can take in a large breed adult. I have to say no because we don’t have the resources to take in another high-needs medical case. I have to say no because we can’t take dogs that are aggressive to every stranger they meet and because that mythical “farm with no other animals and/or people” doesn’t exist.
Shelters workers understand. They are right there in the thick of this alongside every one of us rescuers. But some owners? Well you wouldn’t believe the emails/phone calls/messages I receive. The people who got that adorable puppy and didn’t do a damn thing with him until he was 80lbs, fearful of everything, snapping at strangers and has now bitten multiple people so won’t your rescue take him? What do you mean you can’t? I can’t euthanize him! He’s got “so much potential”! He just needs to “find the right home”. And my goodness, don’t ever even think of suggesting responsible euthanasia! Just this week I was told I should be “ashamed” to call myself a rescue. Why? Because I recommended humane euthanasia for a dog who was so aggressive that it could only be around 3 people in the home so lived his life either in a crate or outside. Truthfully? I am ashamed. Ashamed that people think that having a dog is akin to having a lawn ornament. And when their dog starts to bite because it’s never received any training or socialization in it’s life – it’s now a rescue’s problem.
So on top of the day to day grind of rescue – the organizing, scheduling, events, fundraising, adoptions, returns, surrenders, shelter transfers, and and and…. – we often get people piling on their criticism and judgement and cruelty. It’s absolutely no wonder that so many shelter workers and rescue volunteers face burn out so quickly and so often.
Those of us in rescue are usually (almost always) doing this for free. We aren’t getting paid for all the hours we put into this (trust me, it’s a LOT of hours). We do this for the love of animals. To better their lives. Most times my family is supportive and understanding and other times they are annoyed that yet another weekend I’m gone doing an adoption or a meet and greet or a fundraiser or I’m sitting at my computer doing administrative work. And when I vent and complain and cry about a rough day or week or month, the response is sometimes “so why do it?” or “then just stop”. As if it would be that easy to just up and walk away.
All of this to say – burn out is REAL. It is sometimes easy to look at all of the negative effects that rescue has on my life and want to run the other way. And sometimes when you’re in the tired, angry, depressing stages that affect every one of us in rescue, it’s hard to see the other side of things. This is when that popular slogan of “self care” comes into play. Sometimes I have to say no to an event or I have to postpone an adoption by a couple days so that I can have a “rescue free” weekend with my family. Sometimes I have to stay out of our email account and turn the rescue cell phone off. One year I took an (almost) entire month off from the rescue in order to breathe and make more space and time for my family. Because although I certainly do try, I just can’t do it all. Every one of us can only do our best. As volunteers in rescue we need to protect ourselves from the heartache that comes with this “industry”, we need to take mental breaks and physical breaks, we need to say no sometimes and not feel badly about that. And we need support. Support us by volunteering. Support us by making a donation. Support us by listening in a positive way. Support us by taking care of your own dog, by making sure your dog is properly trained and socialized inside AND outside of home.
None of us can do everything. But every one of us can do SOMETHING. And when we all work together we ease the burden.