Friday, July 13, 2012

Hard Truths in Rescue

Recently at the rescue, we had to put a moratorium on intakes.  We were very much at our capacity.  It's difficult, because you want to save them all.  You want every unwanted animal to be safe and cared for.  However, every rescue organization has a responsibility to know its limit.  It is the first and most important lesson that every rescuer needs to learn. 

This year has been terrible for numbers of surrendered rabbits.  We receive dump calls and emails nearly every day.  As much as we want to, we cannot take them all.  The bulk of these calls are from people who bought a rabbit on a whim, and got tired of it after a few months.

"We got the kids a rabbit for Easter, and they're not taking care of it any more."

"We bought a baby bunny, but it's started biting and it smells."

"I have a rabbit, but I'm tired of it."

"I'm getting a puppy, and I don't want to take care of the rabbit too."

Oftentimes when we explain to people that we cannot take in their unwanted pet, they become irate.  "Isn't that what you're here for?" they ask.  Sure people.  Like it's our fault that they made an irresponsible decision, and we're terrible for not fixing their mistake.  They want to feel good about getting rid of their pet.  They don't have to feel as guilty giving it to a no-kill organization as opposed to the pound.

Well, the sad truth is that we cannot take them all.  We take in the ones we can.  A lot of time, we do squeeze in "just one more" - such as a special case of a splay-leg bunny or a bunny in danger of being PTS.

What would happen if we did try to take them all?  A rescue is supposed to be a sanctuary.  It's not a forever home, but it's a means to reaching one.  An animal in a rescue should by all means be in a sanitary environment, provided daily nutritional needs, and necessary vet care.  If this cannot be provided, there is no point to taking in the animal.  It's going from one bad situation to another.

Everyone likes the feel-good stories of rescue, but the fact that we cannot save them all is one that people would rather ignore.  You are the good guy if you can take in unwanted animals, but if you have to say no, you are the bad guy.  Rescuers can feel like the bad guy when saying no.  You come to the realization though, that you are not the reason this animal is not cared for.  Rescuers saying "no" are not the problem.  They are being responsible.  It is the irresponsible decisions of people that put these animals in jeopardy in the first place.

Will the overpopulation of animals ever cease to be a problem?  I highly doubt it.  As long as there is greed, ignorance, and poor decision-making on the part of the general populace, there will be unwanted animals.  We combat it by trying to educate people.  Don't breed your rabbits or other pets.  Don't buy a bunny for Easter.  Please be a responsible pet owner and research a potential pet's needs before acquiring one.  Adopt.

When we do say no, we offer alternatives.  We try to keep animals in their homes.  Correct behavioral problems by spaying/neutering.  Provide advice for destructive behavior.  Help people understand the needs of their pet.  We offer alternatives to taking their pet to the pound.  We suggest species-specific forums to re-home pets.  Give advice if they must use Craig's List (which we don't recommend - always ask for a re-homing fee if you use a website like CL).  Sometimes, that is all we can do.

People need to be more understanding when we must say no.  If you don't like it, then make a commitment to foster.  The more foster homes there are, the more animals rescues can save.  Donate toward vet care and daily needs.  Rescuers fund much of what they do out of their own pockets, and funds are sadly limited!

Please be a responsible pet owner.  Spay and neuter pets.  Don't make impulse purchases.  Above all, get it through your head that you are taking on the care of a living, breathing, feeling creature who deserves love, attention, and a healthy environment.


  1. This was nicely written, and I completely agree, people impulse-buy way too often, not realizing the consequences there are for the poor pet. :(

  2. Thank you for this well-written post. It is so difficult to say no, but sometimes it has to be done... and sometimes you lose one you love. I still cry when I think about a particular rabbit that I wish I could have saved. She was my favorite, a very intelligent rabbit that didn't have a good start to her life... or end. I wanted to save her, take her home and give her the home she deserves. But my landlord put the max at the 3 rabbits we already have. I still miss her every day and it made me realize that rescue is often associated with heartbreak.