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.


  1. GREAT post! I haven't been over to DDF yet, but I'm sure the post is in my updates.

    As I was taught since birth, it comes down to ego.

    You are 100% dead on. Those that can differentiate between the rush and "doing it for the dog" are successful. Those that don't, end up as hoarders, quite frequently or splintering or reorganizing. Instead of pooling strengths and resources end up back pedaling, running on this ice or worse.

  2. You hit the nail on the head with this one!

    I find it very frustrating when egos get in the way of finding what's right for the dog. It is always the dog/cat who suffers.

    I've seen instances where the dogs/cats are euthanized thanks to people who argue/fight over who is "right" in their methods only to find that both people throw up their hands and give up ... when that happens, the animal suffers.


    I know a few people who have turned into "hoarders" as well because they get that rush and don't want to say "no".

    Then there are those who can't let their fosters go. They end up with "just one more" until the next thing they know, they are sitting with 35+ cats and 10+ dogs and they are featured as a headline on the 6-o'clock news.


  3. I waited in the reception room of the OSPCA twice, in the last two weeks. During the first wait, an older couple came, wanted to surrender their nine year old dog. Wife had suddenly decided she was allergic.

    During the second wait, a young couple came in, they'd lost their puppy, nine months old, not neutered. They said "neighbours saw someone take it off the road". (It was running loose, off their property.) They wanted to get another dog QUICK, so their four year old daughter wouldn't be upset...

    I could not have said anything kind to either couple. Good thing I stayed quiet, eh?

    I'm kinda disgusted with the whole lot of them, right now.
    People, and the humane agencies. Seems like big business can rule in rescue, too.
    Kudos to the work you do, and DDF too. I'd lose my temper, I know I would...


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