Rescue is hard work. It’s disheartening, frustrating and heart breaking. You don’t get to choose when dogs need you and you have to see some of the worst of humanity. Luckily, there are heartwarming moments and just enough warm fuzzies to keep most people going.
Online Tools Benefit Rescue
The Internet, email, World Wide Web, sites like PetFinder.com and now, even Facebook, have added a whole new set of tools to the process of finding homes for shelter dogs. When I founded NYC Shiba Rescue in 2007, I never could have accomplished it without email, Google Docs, meetup.com and nycshibarescue.org. I have enormous respect for the “old school” rescuers – back when you just went to the shelter, loaded up with all the dogs you could take, took them home, and then tried desperately to find homes for them. I will admit, I couldn’t do it that way. With electronic communications, digital cameras, and websites though, the process is a lot more streamlined. NYCSR, for example, finds out almost instantaneously about Shibas and Shiba mixes in shelters all over our region of the country. We can coordinate with far flung volunteers to save those dogs. We can campaign for foster homes and solicit donations online. We post our available dogs on our website, petfinder.com and other sites. We get adoption applications electronically. It’s all good.
All of that online work is communication and coordination though. The real WORK still has to be done in the physical world. Shelter dogs have to be evaluated. They have to be transported to foster homes, taken to the vet, moved between homes, and taken care of by foster families. They have to be taken to meet potential adopters and eventually taken to their adoption day! Supplies have to be carted around. Events have to be attended. All of the online tools and social networking make the communication, coordination, and “advertising” part of rescue so much easier, but they don’t take the place of the actual rescue work.
Armchair Rescue Through Social Networking
One activity that email and social networking has given birth to is what I call “armchair rescue.” There are few things more frustrating to many people I know than armchair rescuers. Mostly they just forward emails and post information about dogs in need on sites like Facebook. I’m sure these good-hearted folks truly believe they are providing a useful service, but for the most part they aren’t accomplishing much of anything. They “network dogs” with a zeal and passion that I would love to see funneled into action instead. At its best this “networking” brings dogs to the attention of people who may not have seen them otherwise (although usually these people aren’t able to help because the dogs being posted are frequently not adoptable by the general public). Most of the time, I suppose it is essentially harmless, but it’s still extremely frustrating.
Why, You May Ask, is it Frustrating if it is Harmless?
It’s frustrating because if they really care, we would like their help! Many armchair rescuers will inundate rescuers with fb posts and email asking “how can we help this dog?” When given an answer that involves any real world effort on their part though, they always have reasons why they can’t do anything. If/when the dog is saved, they say how happy they are that “we” were able to help. If the dog can’t be saved, they blame the rescuers. Either way, they feel good about themselves, feeling as if they’ve “done their part.” Well, here’s a newsflash… rescue groups already know about these dogs. Posts and emails by armchair rescuers aren’t telling us anything we don’t already know. They are however wasting our time by making us respond to email, block spammers on Facebook, and explain to the 20 OTHER people who saw the post or email that we already know about the dog and that we’re doing what we can, etc.
One of my Shiba rescue friends voiced the frustration best a few days ago when she said “If you aren’t going to step up to the plate, then get out of the game!“
It May Not Always Be Harmless
So many times I’ve read where people on facebook have made up fantasies about “the sweet angel of a dog” and how all they need is love, when, in reality that dog has a Level 3 or 4 bite record and really should only go into a very experienced foster home. It worries me that all this networking may result in dogs ending up in inappropriate homes.
Even when you go into a shelter and evaluate a dog hands-on, you can’t be absolutely sure that you’re getting a valid read on its temperament. You definitely can’t tell from one photo that a dog is a sweetheart! (PS That sweet “smile” you are all commenting on, is a reaction to stress… not an indicator of temperament.)
Ways For Anyone to Step Up
Here are a few hints on how to really help save dogs. Whether you have a lot of time or a little, whether you can foster or not, whatever your circumstance, if you really care, there is something you can do to help.
Volunteer with a local shelter or rescue group!
- Provide a foster home if possible
- Conduct home visits
- Conduct shelter dog evaluations
- Help coordinate and/or drive transports
- Answer email inquiries
- Help with recruiting other volunteers
- Help with bookkeeping and other administrative tasks
- Help with fund raising
- Write press releases, blog entries, descriptions for petfinder.com, grant proposals, etc.
- Volunteer at events
(Can’t do any of those things? MAKE A DONATION.)
Have a car? Check out the numerous rescue transport groups and start volunteering to drive a leg of a rescue transport when you can. Help a dog get to safety. (Don’t have a car? MAKE A DONATION.)
Last, but not least, MAKE A DONATION. Rescue isn’t cheap and a lot of the people involved in rescue and transport are working hard to make ends meet. If you can’t donate your time, donate your cash, because they could sure use the help.