What do you think of when you picture an animal rescue?
Before I was part of Heartland Small Animal Rescue, I only knew one side of the rescue. I saw the adorable dogs, cats and small animals waiting to be adopted. I saw families filling out adoption paperwork and taking the lucky animals home. I saw my family enjoying our own rescue pets. These are all the happy images that came into my mind and still do when I think of all the wonderful things about animal rescues.
Kari Horton is a volunteer with Heartland Small Animal Rescue
– a nonprofit that rescues animals scheduled for euthanasia in local shelters. To read more from Heartland, check out the rescue’s community blog for The Elkhart Truth, Tails from the Heart
Unfortunately, different memories and visions also come to me now as I think about my experiences in the rescue. Some are horribly sad, and they still bring tears to my eyes. Some are stomach wrenching. Others spark anger every time I dare to remember them. These situations will likely provoke the same emotions and reactions with you. So, I caution you not to read on if you are looking for a happy ending. These stories do not have those.
Two other rescuers and I went to a shelter to bring some animals into the rescue. We were asked to specifically take one small dog and a small animal. We did. While we were there, we were given a tour of the facility, as we often are. We were showed all of the animals waiting to be adopted, those waiting to go to the adoption side of the shelter and those we knew were doomed for euthanasia. Then, we met Sylvia. She looked horrible. She was skinny and visibly very ill. The shelter simply didn’t have the means to take care of her, and she would die. The rescuer that was with me decided she couldn’t leave her. So, she was put in a crate in my SUV and transported back with us. We all knew she was horribly sick to begin with and had numerous things wrong with her. Her foster did everything she could, gave her medications, took her to the vet, cleaned up after every mess she made and gave Sylvia countless hours of love and attention. Sylvia died last week. Despite every effort being made to save her, she died. Her foster and those of us that had the privilege of meeting her are heartbroken. She was a sweet soul that deserved a better life than she was allowed, and someone should have cared for her before she got so sick she died. They didn’t, and now we will mourn for her and remember her.
My family took in a particularly difficult dog. We knew he was known not to like most people. We cautiously introduced him into our family. Amazingly, he loved everyone in our home, including our smallest child. He did not like any guests that came into our home. He felt he needed to protect us. We didn’t know anything about his past, but it seemed something must have happened to him at his home. He guarded us like we were his prized possessions. We adored him. We had come to the realization that he would likely be a long-term foster. He was simply too stressed to attend adoption events, and he was too particular about the people he liked to safely adopt him into another family. He was also a senior. He really became a part of our family. Then, he began experiencing a lot of pain in his joints and legs. It continually worsened, and despite the pain medication, he wasn’t okay. His behavior became unpredictable and dangerous due to the pain he was feeling. The only humane thing to do was to let him be free of the pain. He was put to sleep. I still cry every time I think of him. Although I know there was no other possible outcome, my heart often searches for what I could have done differently. I wanted to save him, but I could not.
We have one very dedicated volunteer who often accepts whole litters of puppies and their moms into her home, or a pregnant mom. The mothers are usually too young, have been bred too many times and have poor health themselves. Puppies, especially certain breeds, are delicate and fragile creatures. Often they die, even when given the absolute best care after arriving at our rescue. Each one of these puppies is loved by our foster, and each one is painfully remembered. She often blames herself that maybe something small done differently would have changed the outcome. It isn’t her fault, and she will take on yet another litter and try to save the puppies with the same earnest.
Each month we receive countless emails, texts and phone calls begging for our rescue to save hundreds of animals that are “on death row.” They are on the list to be euthanized, and if we don’t pull them out of the shelters, they will die. Sometimes, we are a day too late when we finally find a way to accept another dog. Often, we simply don’t have a spot left anywhere. Our generous fosters already have more dogs than they would really like to have, and we simply have to say, “No, we have no more room.” We do this with very heavy hearts. We know we are sentencing these animals to death when we don’t take them into our rescue. I am often told, “You can only do so much.” I know this is true. Our rescue can only do so much. That just isn’t much consolation when you look into the eyes of a dog and pet him one last time as you turn away. That same helpless feeling and the sadness that sometimes overcomes our rescuers is very present when we close an email with picture after picture of animals that will be put down at the end of the day without our help. We simply can’t save them all. However, we always look at each picture, and we acknowledge every dog in the shelter. They at least deserve that. They deserve that someone sees their sad eyes and knows they existed before they die.
Our rescue has so many success stories – dogs that were neglected, beaten or near death when they arrived and have gone on to become healthy and loved pets in wonderful families. We are very proud of each of these successes, and we are very thankful to the fosters that pour their souls into savings these creatures, big and small. We are grateful to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and to be able to give back to our community.
All of those things do not and cannot take away the pain of those that weren’t saved, those that died and those that we loved with everything we had. We have to remember them, and we need to share these stories too. Each of these animals holds a special place in our hearts. Their memories drive us to go back again to those shelters, to look at those emails and to bring that sick dog home. It is these lost souls we couldn’t save that keep us from quitting when it all seems like too much. It often feels like they are watching over us and guiding us. We refuse to let them die in vain. They are the reason more animals will be saved and have happy endings.
If you would like more information regarding Heartland Small Animal Rescue, please visit our website at www.heartlandsmallanimalrescue.org.
Would you like to become one of our community bloggers?
Get in touch with our community manager, Ann Elise Taylor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.