Friday, September 9, 2011

Sara's Choice

Do you remember that film Sophie's Choice with Meryl Streep? If not, look it up. It's basically about a woman who we find out is a mother who went to a concentration camp and had to choose which of her children will live and which will die. An impossible choice - but one she had to make - to avoid losing both to the gas chamber she chose one to go to the work camp and the other to go to the gas chamber.

The Holocaust was a long time ago now. The veterans who fought in that war (like my grandfather - who was an Army Air Corps navigator shot down over occupied France and saved by members of the French Resistance)  are almost all gone now and the Millenials, Gen Y don't even have the benefit of hearing the stories first hand (as my generation did).

But guess what - all over this country, particularly in the south, there is a very real holocaust going on in animal shelters. Some of these rural high kill animal control pounds (hard to call them a shelter when they are basically prisons that only exist to kill) - actually USE gas chambers. Do you know how gas chambers work? They shove all the cats, kittens, dogs and puppies in together in a rudimentary gas chamber - usually some kind of shack or truck type vehicle. The dogs are terrified and because it takes such a long time for them to die, they tear each other apart out of fear. So the less aggressive dogs get killed very violently first because the more aggressive dogs freak out and attack them to death. It takes like 20 minutes for them all to die. This is happening all over the south.

But even regardless of the way the dogs and cats are killed - and other shelters use different means, some more inhumane than others - does it really matter so much HOW they are killed as much as the very fact that literally MILLIONS of dogs and cats are KILLED every year in animal control prisons for no better reason than they have no place to live. People don't spay and neuter their dogs - and even worse, they purposely breed their dogs. The result is that dogs breed (and cats, let's not forget the cats), and instead of DOING something to prevent this, people just dump them at the shelter. Or they don't put a collar and ID tag on their dog or think to keep the dog inside or inside a fence and then when the dog runs off and gets lost and animal control picks up the dog and takes it to the 'shelter' the dog has 72 hours to wait until they get to be next in line to get killed.  Fantastic.

Soooo THEN those of us who actually care and want to help save some of these innocent lives (and really, they are innocent, they didn't ask to be bred, they didn't ask to be lost, they sure as hell didn't ask to be dumped at the 'shelter' and they DIDN'T DO ANYTHING WRONG) WE get to look through pictures upon pictures of dogs who are scheduled to be pts (euthanized, killed) within 3-5 days and PICK which ones we are going to save.

Most of us who do this don't have much money. A lot of us are unemployed - I am. Most of us don't have a ton of time either, taking care of our own animals as well as doing all the work that goes into actually finding homes for these dogs (which is basically a full time unpaid job). And most of us don't live in big houses or on big farms and we don't have room for more than 1 or 2 foster dogs at a time. SO, the people that most want to help are strapped financially, hardly have any extra time and have no room.  I am sure I can speak for everyone who rescues when I say that if we had the money, space and time we would rescue them ALL. Of course we would. People say all the time that they want to win the lottery so they could afford to buy land and rescue them all. There does seem to be a dearth of lottery winners in dog rescue. So in the meantime, while not winning the lottery, we have to make choices. We have to choose which dogs will live and which will die and we know that if we don't choose a dog and no one else does, that dog WILL die within a few days. No, they won't give a few more days to work on networking with more rescue groups or raising more money.

For the first few months that I was doing this I was pretty good at shutting that off - just choosing the few dogs that I personally could rescue - meaning that I could max out my credit cards paying for vetting, boarding and transport, and foster myself in my 1 bedroom rented apartment (with neighbors asking what is up with all the dogs). And for awhile there were dogs that I wanted to save but didn't have to because other rescues stepped up to save them, in a way saving me as well - from the guilt of knowing that I couldn't save them and knowing they would still be okay.  But lately, that has not been happening. Lately, if I am watching a dog and I want to save that dog, but I don't have the money, space or time to do it myself, that dog gets fcking KILLED.

This happened last month at Laurens, SC - a very high kill rural shelter that kills at least once a week. The dogs have basically no time and hardly any rescues even know about the shelter and certainly they don't make it easy to rescue from there. There was a gorgeous gorgeous white fluffy dog - about 20 pounds - so pretty. The volunteers who posted her pictures called her Sallie. I couldn't rescue Sallie - not because I couldn't take HER, but because she had 4 little beagle mix puppies that were young and I couldn't take her and leave her babies to die. I kept thinking maybe another rescue would take the puppies or even the whole family. 

Maybe I should have just fcking done it - taken the mama and left the adorable puppies to die in the shelter. Because the fact of the matter is that I didn't have the money or space to be able to rescue the whole family. But instead of making that impossible choice, I just didn't pull the mama and she got killed - along with her puppies. The whole fcking family KILLED. Her pics are still up on the facebook page for the shelter and I kept going back to her picture for weeks - just looking at her face, and her puppies faces, knowing that they are dead and in a landfill somewhere now.

That same week, after Sallie and her puppies were killed, I did manage to rescue one dog from Laurens. A black dog (which I love since they often get overlooked), a 40 pound flatcoat retriever - a gorgeous girl named Honey. Incredibly, I was able to get an approved adopter lined up for Honey and she is going directly to her forever home as soon as she gets off the transport. I was really happy to have saved Honey - she would have gone down that week. BUT, I couldn't really get Sallie out of my head.

And now it has happened again. At Rutherford there were two small jack russell looking mixes - both male, about the same size, similar enough markings that I thought the pics might be the same dog. My friend Johnny who has been rescuing from Rutherford on his own too, really loved this dog too. We pulled the one - named Fonzie - and coming up on transport next week. But we didn't have the money, space or time to pull the other.  I kept checking his page and kept sharing his pictures, asking others to step in and save this adorable little guy. I just kept thinking SOMEONE would save this dog. Well, I saw the RIP album today and lo and behold, there were his pictures - this gorgeous little guy who would have been a great NYC dog - very adoptable - and NO ONE fcking stepped up to save him.

This little dude didn't even have a name - his 'name' was the ID number  DOG - ID#A018815 And the shelter volunteers wrote this info under his pictures: I am a male, black and white Beagle mix. The shelter staff think I am about 2 years old. I have been at the shelter since Aug 23, 2011.
I saw this picture today in the RIP album and I about lost my shit. I am SICK of seeing good dogs, sweet dogs, adoptable dogs, get killed just because *I* can't save them. I am sick of it! Where is everyone? Why is it always just the same few people who rescue every week form this shelter? People like Sarah Miraglia, who is a PhD student, works at Syracuse University,  has 2 kids and 7 of her own dogs at home - SHE still manages to stretch her budget and reorganize her space to fit more foster dogs. And she manages to be an incredibly responsible rescuer - she has a rigorous application process, reference checks, a home visit, and never ever adopts out a sick or unspayed/unneutered animal. I can't seem to post a link to her facebook page, but if you can search Loki Grrl Rescue on fb, please like her page, people like her need more support. Here is her petfinder link:

And there are a few others like her - like me - but WHERE THE FCK IS EVERYONE ELSE?!  

I can't take them ALL! Sarah and Johnny can't take them ALL! WHERE IS EVERYONE?! 
This is not fair. It is not fair that this dog who looked so much like Fonzie - the one Johnny and I saved - should have had to die.  HOW are we expected to make that choice?! How can we sleep at night knowing we picked the one who would live and the other would be left to die - unnamed and unknown except by a few volunteers at the shelter and a few of us who looked at his pictures for the few days that he sat in prison, waiting for death. I posted how upset I was on my fb page and I got a few comments and my sister wrote one that I am reposting here:

Rachel Shwayder
"Sara, listen to Susan, any one person can only do what they can, the fault in the case of these shelters lies not with the rescuers, or even that there are too few rescuers, but with a shelter system that is a) very likely underfunded, understaffed, and under appreciated by their own communities, b) that people treat these shelters as dumping grounds for unwanted dogs who they allow to breed indiscriminately, and c) a political system in the area that hasn't decided that animal welfare ranks very high on their list of things to manage in the city or county... I honestly wish that more effort went into promoting and providing affordable spay/neuter, some idiots can afford to pay but won't allocate money to the proper care of their animals, a skilled vet team can get a dog or cat done in minutes and it just doesn't have to cost what many charge private clients.  So shame on the majority of vets (I know you all work with some great ones) who don't make this a priority.  All of this I am saying basically to point out that you are hying to work against an entire system to save each dog, so you have to consider your achievements. Just think, I have foster dogs who have literally been with me up to 2 years before getting a home, even Esme was only months waiting and once you got her back it was only weeks, to me - that is amazing."
It makes sense - of course it makes sense - but you know what - there is nothing that can make me feel better about making the choice to save one life and let another die. I can never be okay with that choice. I almost want to give up - to never have to make that choice again. 

But I can't give up. And now we are in it even deeper because Johnny and I were watching this gorgeous Eskimo dog and wanted to save her but she had 4 puppies and we knew we couldn't handle 4 puppies. They would have been killed today - they had been in the shelter since last week and it was overcrowded and they wouldn't have even made it through to the usual kill on Friday afternoon. We knew we couldn't save the mama and let the puppies die. How could we do that? How could you ever look at a dog again knowing you let her puppies die in a prison? So, we just bit the bullet and maxed out our credit cards and rescued the whole fcking family. Poor Johnny is going to foster them all at his apt. We are just hoping against hope that we can get them into homes quickly. Meanwhile we are looking at over 1000 in costs between vetting, boarding and transport. But we had to do it - because I can't go on looking at Belle's pictures the way I look at Sallie's, knowing that I failed her when I should have saved her. 

This family is now in foster care with a wonderful and caring rescuer in NC named Susan Thompson. She has been rescuing independently for many many years, struggles financially, and puts all her limited funds, time and space into helping save dogs and promoting spay/neuter in her area. She has given them all baths and heartguard and dewormed them and they had their shots and next week they will get spayed and neutered. Then they will travel up here to be adopted. It will cost Johnny and I at least 1000 and we haven't had much support. We need donations. I started a chipin to help pay the expenses of saving this family. 

Please donate if you can and please share this with your contacts. Sallie and her puppies didn't make it out, but Belle and her puppies did because we took the risk, not knowing how we would pay for it or where we would put them. But we couldn't save this mama and let her puppies die - it is another impossible choice. 

1 comment:

  1. thank you, Sara, for calling attention to the contradictions of animal rescue. we know - and hate - that our decisions affect who lives and who dies. we're working in a system beyond our control, but the weight of this responsibility falls on those of us who care enough to do something, even though what we do is frequently met with more death and more killing despite our best efforts. like you, i call on EVERYONE and ANYONE reading this blog to DO SOMETHING. donate money/supplies/time, foster, transport, something, anything. DON'T WAIT for the lottery or for heaven. don't just "pray" and "hope" for someone to save the beautiful and innocent faces that tug at your heart. STEP UP and DO SOMETHING.