Thursday, August 12, 2010
Doing it for the Dogs, Not for the Rush
Today’s post on Dogs Deserve Freedom made me want to commit to print a theory I’ve long held about the nature of animal-rescue volunteers. People who are attracted to animal rescue are passionate, committed, prone to seeking justice and, above all, they are addicted to the rush. Yes, the rush. The high. We’re in for the dogs, but the rush is exhilarating. It’s really what drives us.
Animal rescue is as exciting and unpredictable as car racing (Yes, I’m reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”). When I get a dog out of the kill room, or pull a sick animal through a deadly illness, or place a dog with a good family, I feel the rush. The adrenaline kicks in when we walk into the Shelter, and it ratchets upward when we are confronted with the evidence of a throw-away society. I feel like a superhero—although it pains me to admit it—when I pull a dog from a kennel. And the dogs worship me. I bask in their neediness. In some ways, I can’t help it—I’m a long-time volunteer, a parent and a recovering co-dependent.
Working a good 12-step program and maturity have helped me to identify my danger zones—the times when I’m too close, too enmeshed, and too focused. That’s when I have learned to draw back and take deep breath and remember why I am doing animal rescue: I’m doing it for the dog. One dog at a time. Okay, maybe two or three at a time. I have done it for Queenie, JoJo, Aribella (those are the ones who died). I have done it for Dancer, Snowy, Rusty, Riley, Chloe, and countless others. But if I’m honest, it always comes back to the rush. That rush just feels so good. It makes me feel so alive.
The urge to seek the rush is why I think that animal rescue groups have such difficulty working together. Each person firmly, passionately believes that his or her way of doing animal rescue is the best way to “save” dogs. I call it the “Most-est Right-est” Syndrome. In short, MY way is the RIGHT way to save the animal. The rush is calling us.
Because it is so difficult for the animal rescue volunteer to compromise, or even to entertain the idea that there may be more than one “right” way to do things, groups view each other as the “enemy.” Shelter staff people are “evil”—callous, uncaring, curt and harsh. Breed Rescue groups are “greedy”, cherry-picking the “best” dogs and leaving the train wrecks in the Shelter. Shelter volunteers are “lone wolf” types, preferring to run their own Off-Sites their own ways. The fund-raising group feels that the Off-site volunteers are “cheating” them of donations. The person who is “Most-est Right-est” generally sets the agenda, and sometimes that agenda isn’t all that good for the animals. However, the moment an agenda is set, the in-fighting begins again. It’s all about the rush.
People bristle if any sort of structure or cooperation is suggested. I have watched volunteers accuse other volunteers of “animal cruelty”. In the Shelter or at an Off-site, you can come home feeling like you’ve run a marathon. You feel vindicated, victorious. The rush is so addictive.
I watch as our groups, splinter and re-splinter, fracturing like cracks in ice floes, cleaving off and creating new groups that will crack, fracture and cleave yet again. What is my defense? Well, I try to keep to the focus on the animal, the individual dog. I remind myself by keeping a collar filled with tags and bells from animals I’ve helped. I take photos, most of which are never posted on-line, to help me remember the dogs.
My goal is to keep my focus where it should be, which is on what's best for each dog. By doing animal rescue volunteer work, I can make life better, even if just for a brief moment, for one dog.
I wish our groups could cooperate more. I try to keep an open mind. I try to work for the greater good, even when inside, I feel my own way is “Most-est Right-est.” I try to remember that isn’t about me. It isn’t about the rush, it’s about the dogs.