Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Irresponsible Rescuing"

It feels like forever since I've written in my blog.  I'm getting ready to list the house for sale and have been searching high and low for just the right home to spend the next 50 years.  Believe me - I'm NOT moving again.  As I'm beginning to prep the house for sale, I've picked up boxes in the basement to stack them neatly, and uncovered old dried up cat pee which has left me feeling less than chipper on this beautiful day. 

Yesterday, I received a "Mega Urgent" email from a fellow rescuer.  She needs money.  Badly.  She's a gal that rescues from the high-kill shelter where I rescue.  It was well written and heartfelt - it even included pictures of the cats that are currently in her care. 

Note the last two words in that paragraph:  IN. HER. CARE.

I feel guilty saying this, I really do - but it seems to be irresponsible rescuing to take hundreds of cats over a period of time that you cannot take care of properly.  Believe me, I've asked for donations too - but that's usually just for ONE cat that needs some special over the top care.  This is a rescuer who is taking cats from the shelter that is KNOWN to have sick cats and is asking for money for antibiotics etc. 

"Was this a surprise that you're going to have to pay for vet care for these cats?"

What's "irresponsible rescuing"?  I have my own personal definition:  "Rescuing more cats than you can space or money to care for them responsibly." 

I've talked about this on other blog posts.  I've known rescuers who put cats in cages in their bedrooms, garages, livingrooms, etc, and have NO plan as to what they're going to do with them.  I know one rescue where the directors put cats in their garages in cages.  These are not feral cats - these are loving little house cats, sitting in damp dark garages in cages. 

So now we have a rescuer asking for donations for her rescue.  Why on earth is she asking me??  If I have extra money, it's going to the cats in care for our rescue!  Not to somebody elses' rescue.   

Sure.  This sounds really bitchy and rereading it didn't make it any better.  I've backspaced and tried to soften it a bit.  But we're on the cusp of kitten season and all I can think about are these "rescues" who have a zillion cats in their homes and every nook and cranny of their homes and can't afford to vet them properly.


I haven't written in a while and obviously this has really been building up in my mind.  Thanks for listening to the rant.  I hope it comes at a time that might be helpful to another rescue who is thinking about taking too many cats.  We can't help them all.  I wish we could. 

Damn.  I really wish we could help them all.

(Post Script Note:  Please remember, this is rant - nothing is absolute and merely a tired rescuer's opinion.)


Anonymous said...

Beth, this post really pushes some buttons for me. It raises many questions about what responsible and ethical rescue means.

It seems that all rescuers are connected within a particular geographic area (as well as by different connections and presences online). There are friends, enemies, spouses, acquaintances and strangers who are involved in these efforts and many will rub shoulders(or butt heads) at some point whether by accident or design. Rescuers who come to it from completely different perspectives of class, education, income, religion, philosophies, age, sexual orientation - you name it.

You did not mention what this rescuer's particular situation is. Are the pleas for assistance an ongoing thing, or is this a new emergency situation ? There can be things that happen in a rescuer's life that can gravely impact a situation that had been functional, which can cause a fast slide into a negative situation, where things get desperate. Things that can be very hard to talk about like sudden unemployment, a serious illness, marital break-up, or domestic violence. A well managed rescue effort that depended on two people's income and efforts can be brought to its knees if one of those people decides to walk away, or becomes incapacitated. What should she do with those cats - will another rescue take them - or will she struggle on doing without, until someone from Animal Services steps in and takes all the cats, and euthanizes 60% or more of them ?

What do you feel the response of the rescue community should be, when it is perceived that a known rescuer has a problem ? It is very easy to be judgmental without having all the facts or the context of the circumstance.

Hoarding is an extremely serious issue, which is also a very difficult mental health issue. Anyone who watches Hoarders can see this. What should the response of the rescue community be, if an animal hoarder is discovered within the community ? Or if someone within that community is beginning to exhibit impaired judgement about their rescue efforts ? Or if someone had a situation that went bad and they are in over their head and struggling with too many cats ?

From your blog posts, you sound like you are in a very privileged situation. You have a supportive spouse and family, it sounds like you drive a nice vehicle, you have not mentioned a job other than doing full time rescue, your husband takes you on holidays to places like Paris, and you are currently shopping for a larger house when real estate in the GTA is at an all time high. This is an enviable, and very exceptional circumstance.

What do you think the correct response should be to the people who are doing irresponsible rescue ? Should the community reach out to attempt to assist them, and correct the situation, or should they be shamed and blamed ?

Debbie said...

I agree with 110%.
That is hoarding and not in the best interest of the cats.That is how disease spreads.I could go on!!
Thanks for being responsible Beth!!

Debbie said...

I agree with 110%.
That is hoarding and not in the best interest of the cats.That is how disease spreads.I could go on!!
Thanks for being responsible Beth!!

House of the Discarded said...

Anonymous: I think every rescuer is entitled to a mistake. We ALL walk a fine line and teeter on the brink of disaster. Most of us are only one emergency vet visit away from going under.

Many of these rescuers continue to take too many cats or think that keeping an enormous number of cats in a small area is the norm.

What should we do as a rescue community? We should give them a chance. Bail 'em out - ONCE.

I've received calls from other rescues asking me to take on 7 month old "kittens" who have been in their program for months. They can't afford to get the cat fixed.

Where does this all end? I want to be part of the solution - without creating NEW problems.

Honestly? I don't have all the answers.

House of the Discarded said...

2nd note to "Anonymous: Regarding my "privileged life": Our little rescue stands on it's own feet. We pay our bills and NONE of it comes from my personal accounts. It comes from adoption fees, donations and hard-ass fundraising by volunteers who care. Bringing up a well-deserved vacation or my supportive family seems silly.

Anonymous said...

I am not trying to make a personal attack on you. The issue with privilege is that the people who have it, are often unaware that their experience is not universal. There are different forms of privilege - economic privilege, white privilege, class privilege. Most of the discussions that pertain to privilege take place in communities or organizations concerned with social justice.

I believe that it is important for a community to support the others within their community, even when the connections are weak. As you know, one rescuer with a disastrous situation can cast a dark shadow over all rescuers efforts (ie recent Caboodle Ranch ASPCA charges pertaining to animal welfare and conditions).

This woman might be pleading for assistance because her situation has become really desperate. I do not think it is wise for any community to ignore trouble within their own. If every director of the established cat rescues in the GTA knows that X has a problem with level of care/possible hoarding - and everyone turns away or shakes their head or says that this person should have known better then that situation will never change. It will be another horrible news story about an overwhelming number of cats seized from an awful situation, with animal cruelty charges laid. The only thing this person learns is trauma, and the importance of being more secretive, the next time.

Should you bail her out completely ? Probably not. Have you asked what is really going on, what kind of help does she need ? If a bunch of rescuers each offered to help her with just one thing - and made communication safe and without judgement, then perhaps her situation (or other situations like this) could improve as opposed to escalating or spiraling out of control.

Some links about the concept of privilege:

Anonymous said...

I also received the plea that Beth is referring to. And I am familiar - as a former adopter and briefly casual acquaintance - with the person in charge. What I personally witnessed, was a home filled to the gills with free-roaming cats. Over a hundred. One tiny room (literally, a large closet) had a bunch of cats, a sofa and a TV - that was the FeLeuk room. I was introduced to SEVERAL cats who had been in the rescue's care for months or years, who had significant uncomfortable dental issues that couldn't be treated until another desperate fundraising plea, because no vets in 50 miles would extend them any more credit. And yet they continued to take in more cats. More and more cats. There's more, but I'll stop here. No, this is not a one-time problem.

~*Connie*~ said...

To Anonymous, I seriously hope you were asking to learn and to not criticize, I can read that both ways. I'm going to choose to believe you were looking to learn.

You asked "What do you think the correct response should be to the people who are doing irresponsible rescue ? Should the community reach out to attempt to assist them, and correct the situation, or should they be shamed and blamed ? "

I think the correct response to irresponsible rescue is their rescue should be closed. period. But the question becomes when do they become irresponsible? That is a very fine line. Like Beth said, one call for general help is one thing, but if you are passing the hat around for every day expenses ALL THE TIME, then you are in IT (irresponsible territory). Taking on one or two animals that need more work then you can handle and passing the hat for that, fine - as we all need a good win every once in a while. Doing it regularly IT.

I volunteer with a pretty wealthy rescue (by the standards I see on the internet) They are not flush by any means, they pinch pennies, have very young staff because they do not have high salaries and are a little too frugal in the vet department if you ask me - who sits at home with foster cats in my care who I would take to a vet if they were my cats.. But they aren't my cats, and often situations clear up before needing to get a vet involved. (fortunately they are not penny wise and pound foolish)

We as a society can NOT SAVE THEM ALL! we can only do what we can with what we have for those we can reach. Until society gets it through their head that neutering and controlling the population BEFORE they show up we are going to have to put beautiful, healthy, friendly happy pets down.

As for Beth's "privileged life" so what? do you expect her to give up every penny she has to help someone else out who put themselves in the situation they are in?

and lets just say she's willing to do that? then the irresponsible rescue will be bailed out FOR NOW.. but since they haven't had to face any consequences for going over board and taking on more then they can handle, what is to stop them from ending up in this same situation again?? and since hypothetical Beth gave away every penny she has, she can't help. So now IR needs help again and Beth is in the poor house with her flour sack clothing and she can no longer save those she would have been able to rescue if she has been wise and not bailed out IR.

(Beth, my apologies for putting you in flour sacks)

As for my comment to Beth's post, I so feel for you. I am lucky I am far removed from such situations with my limited contact with the shelter and my sitting in my home with my foster kittens doing what I can. I've said it before and I'll continue saying it, I have a great respect for what you are able to do.

Tina Keating said...

Response to Anonymous: I find your comments on Beth's personal situation to be nothing short of offensive. I seriously doubt that you will find a not-for-profit animal rescue group with a leader who does more than Beth does for these animals. Beth provides support for these animals in HOURS of her time. She not only gives 110% of herself physically and emotionally, but she provides her support and guidance to many, many volunteers who help her to attain a common goal...the RESPONSIBLE rescue of many homeless cats. I know that when my time is invested in Forever Home, it is going 100% to RESPONSIBLE rescue! I know that there will never be a situation where a cat is left in a cage for an extended period of time OR a situation where proper vet care cannot be administered. Beth handles a RESPONSIBLE rescue and that means not taking on more than you and your group can handle. It means never running out of love for the animals, and it means being financially able to care for the animals you take into your care. If the bank account says you don't rescue tomorrow, then you DON'T RESCUE! That ensures the cats of today, won't become homeless cats of tomorrow. Beth leads this rescue with professionalism and care, and her personal situation or finances (whether good or bad) should have no bearing on what she does for this rescue or any other! From where I stand, her willingness to use her time and enery on this cause should be applauded and I hope and pray that she is enveloped in good fortune for many, many years to come!


Caroline said...

I think most ppl in rescue do the best that they can, the trick is to knowing your limit and to stick within it! This is one of the reasons I don't go to the high euth shelters and instead get someone else to pick up the cats for me to foster, I know I couldn't just rescue one and that I'd be in mental shambles for months after so I don't go.

Beth meanwhile has the emotional stability to go in and only bring out those she can manage, this deserves applause.

As for Beth's financial situation, yes we would all like to be in the position of not having to work but we should focus on the fact that Beth is doing what all ppl with extra time and money should do, something for the benefit of others. She isn't starring on the Housewives of TO spending money on designer gowns and jewels. She instead is driving around to shelters, vet clinics and PetSmarts and saving lives. Not to mention keeping all of us in the rescue loop and giving us something interesting to read!

So Bravo Beth, keep calm and rescue on!

Anonymous said...

It's all well and good for Anonymous to say that you should have asked the person who was asking you for money if there was anything you could do to help (and for other rescues to do the same, thus helping out this rescue in need) but I trust your judgement about this. I know you would *never* turn down a request for help if you could make a difference. The problem with hoarders is, you can clear out their clutter but the minute you turn your back, they'll start hoarding all over again. Unless she gets professional help of the mental variety, this will not change.

That said, I do worry about the cats in her 'care'. Have the appropriate authorities been notified about her? It sounds like there is some serious animal suffering/neglect going on and although no one likes to blow the whistle, but surely a situation like this warrants that?

As for the comments about Beth's privileged life *and* then adding some links so we could all read about the concept of privilege, well...personally I found that quite insulting.

Beth *could* have a cushy life with holidays and boozy lunches, instead, she spends over 40 hours a week rescuing cats from terrible conditions, drives around in a car filled with cat carriers that may or may not have cat pee/poo/barf in them, worries about the ones she had to leave behind (because she is a *responsible* rescuer) and does probably a million other things that would make other people run screaming for the hills. All this and that still isn't enough for some people apparently...

I totally agree with Connie's comment... She said it a lot better than I have, I think.

Cindy, Bertie, Sammy, Malley, Batman and Garth

Anonymous said...

Wow that really got the juices flowing! Last month I took a few days and read your blog from 2008 forward. Beth you came across as level headed, responsible and passionate about cat rescue. Actions speak louder than words. You walk the walk from what I can see just exactly as your post described providing the highest standard of care to every animal you take into your rescue. How lucky our community is to have you to protect animals so often neglected and discarded. Part of being a responsible adult is setting limits and sticking to them. A shame the other rescuer (who clearly started from the same love of cats) lacks the ability control the impulse to take in just one more. Cannot help but wonder if anyone will step up for those kitties without a voice and let the authorities set the limits this woman clearly cannot. Those who know about the situation and do nothing enable the behavior. Sure glad I don't know her...

Harpurr's Mom

Marisa said...

First of all, I'd just like to say that I have been reading this blog since its inception and have great respect for Beth and what she has accomplished with her rescue. I really do enjoy reading each post and especially watching the "Rescue Day" videos!! :-)

However, as someone who volunteers with the rescue and knows the person to whom I believe Beth is referring I must speak up in this woman's and this rescue's defense. This woman, much like Beth, gives her all for animals working tirelessly not only to help cats but dogs, turtles, raccoons...even hedgehogs! She's the lady who'll be at your door at Midnight trying to help you catch some feral cats in danger or talking you through syringe feeding of a sick cat at 2:00 in the morning.

She will spend hours on the phone helping people to solve problems with their own animals so they don't become part of the system. She never turns her back on people and has always reached out to fellow rescuers to extend a helping hand. This, despite having a lot of criticism directed her way on a regular basis. I can't imagine it's an easy life and a weaker and less committed person would have been sunk long ago.

I think Beth's comments about irresponsible rescuing and hoarding are entirely valid but I just can't support these accusations against this particular rescue. Are there a lot of cats? Yes, there are. But I have visited the shelter and these cats are contented, well-cared for and, often, much healthier than cats whom I have visited at people's individual homes.

This woman drives about 6 hours a day three times a week (or more if need be) to ensure the cats are receiving necessary medical attention at top-notch vets (not just settling for her local shysters).

And it must be noted that this rescue takes ferals, Feleuk positive cats, FIV+ cats, senior cats - many of the cats passed over by other rescues. So, yes, veterinary bills do mount up quickly. But, most of the time, the rescue's donors are able to sustain the day-to-day expenses.

Even with all the recent rescues from the high-kill shelter, very few cats had to go to the vet so money was in the bank to cover the expected URI treatments, etc. But yes, one of the rescued cats did incur some unexpectedly high expenses. Hence the recent plea.

It is important to know that a lot of the cats being rescued from the high-kill shelter have already found homes through this woman's extensive connections. She hasn't just plunked them all down in her shelter to gather dust. She is always e-mailing, always on the phone and always connecting with people to ensure she DOESN'T become a hoarder.

Also, this rescue is trying to work at larger issues. Not just band-aid solutions but looking to the bigger questions of why animals are ending up in these high-kill shelters to begin with. How do we get to the root of the problem?

Are there challenges with this rescue? Absolutely. But this woman is aware of these challenges and is actively working to improve on the rescue's shortcomings.

Honestly, I would love for the GTA rescues to have a get-together where all the rescuers could meet and air their grievances face-to-face. Perhaps if each rescuer could answer questions/concerns directly we'd have a more vibrant and positive rescue community here in the GTA rather than suspicion and recriminations. At least people could have an opportunity to respond to potentially damaging accusations or even admit the need for help if they are struggling. And, who knows, the discussions generated could help all the rescues to improve their practices!

When all is said and done I highly respect this particular rescuer and am truly glad she's on the side of the animals. And I can say exactly the same for Beth. Both women may have very differing opinions on how best to operate a rescue but both women are out there saving lives everyday while still keeping the well-being of their charges foremost in their minds and hearts.

House of the Discarded said...

Marisa: Thank you for your comments. :) Since I didn't indicate who the rescuer is, I really can't comment any further in order to give her some privacy. It may not be the same person! :)


Angela said...

I have just read this blog entry with interest, and while I can understand Beth’s views and opinions, I feel a need to defend the entire concept of rescuing, in general, and especially in this context of the “irresponsible rescuer”.

Cat rescuers do not do what they do for personal gain, fame, fortune or anything remotely close to that. Most people who rescue animals for adoption and rehabilitation do so out of the kindness of their hearts, and for the sole purpose of defending those who cannot speak up for themselves. For this very reason alone, it is irresponsible to badmouth and undermine the efforts of fellow rescues, whether it be an opinion rant or a veritable belief that what this other rescue is doing is wrong or contrary to what your particular rescue does.

This particular rescue to which you refer, while it may or may not be the one I have in mind (and the reason I think it may be one and the same is because I received the plea for help with the same particulars), does, in fact, have a lot of rescues. A LOT. The person who runs this rescue is so devoted and dedicated to caring for these discarded animals that she actually moved away from the city, where city bylaws prohibit more than 6 cats in any single family residence, to the country where she could provide care, shelter, and hope for more animals. Does she have too soft a heart? Perhaps. But what has not been mentioned that should be taken into context with what you call “irresponsible rescuing”, is the fact that this rescue takes in animals other rescues often refuse to take.

Many rescues operate by taking in “adoptable” rescues…kittens, purebred cats, anything that is deemed easy to adopt and requiring minimal vet care. These rescues have much lower operating costs. Rescues such as this “irresponsible rescue” save the ones that are left behind, completely on the tenet that no animal should be abandoned merely because of a lack of resources or a need for veterinary care. Of course this rescue understands that there will be vet bills, but cannot and should not be faulted for their altruism. To compare this rescue’s operations to hoarding is just, for a lack of better word, snarky.

This emergency plea for funds is not an ongoing thing. The last time this rescue made a similar plea was in 2004. This is not to say that this rescue, not to say ALL rescues, makes pleas for funds – this is how rescues operate, who have no additional funding other than the goodwill of animal lovers. It is irresponsible and not to mention almost malicious, to undermine the charity of an organization by pointing out only that this rescue is in dire need of funds to continue to do the work they do, without examining WHY they require the resources they do.

I have a great deal of respect for all rescues and animal lovers who try to do the right thing for those who cannot voice their own opinion. I appreciate and am grateful for the work that both Beth and this “irresponsible rescue” do. However, instead of pointing out flaws or saying that you’d rather save your funds for your OWN rescue, let’s try to spread a little love and empathy instead.

House of the Discarded said...

Angela: Although I agree with your "spread the love" theory, I must say that 100+ cats in one home is - in fact - hoarding.

All homeless cats need rescue - the pretty ones, the old ones, the ugly ones and the kittens.

I think it's great when any cat finds a home. I think it's pathetic when a cat is rescued and there isn't enough money to properly take care of the cat. Nothing wrong with asking for donations - nothing at all - but don't rescue the cat if you can't take care of him. Simple.

~*Connie*~ said...

I think it is a sad that people are suggesting it is a particular rescue.. (aka I got the same plea, so I know who you are talking about)

It was not stated for a reason. Sometimes people need to vent about situations, and sometimes a particular situation sparks the flame.

While this post started about a particular situation, I read it more as a general *ARRRGH!!!* that people aren't always responsible when they rescue and as a result the cats suffer and the community suffers. Not only because there are limited funds to go around, but it does not do anything to help the cause. People are loathed to donate money to causes where the funds will not be used wisely, and irresponsible rescues just taint things..

Anonymous said...

Angela, if I took in a cat, fully aware that I wouldn't be able to pay for its needed care, I would be a bad owner.

A rescue needs to be held to the same standards. Or higher, since they're operating with other people's donations.

The rescue in question needs to stop rescuing until all their existing cats' care has been covered, and debts to vets are gone. Then, a buffer account needs to be built. Then controlled rescues, with pauses any time a cat can't be taken to the vet because there's no money to pay for it.

At that point, they'll get nothing but praise.

Angela said...

To Anonymous: I understand where you're coming from, but it's a tough situation because logic dictates that no, you can't save them all, but at the same time, you want to try to do everything you can even if you don't have the resources for it because how can you just walk away?

I understand Beth's frustration at rescues who bite off more than they can chew, and we can fault them for their willingness to try and save every cat notwithstanding that they can't afford it, but at the same time, appealing for help during an emergency situation isn't a horrible thing to do either. If the appeal gets the funds required to help, great, if not...well...should the rescue turn the cat back out on the streets or just euthanize because that's all they can afford? It's such a bad situation and there is no right answer.

I wish to reiterate that I have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for ALL rescues, because they have the same mandate.

Piggles said...

I am so disappointed by this entire thread. Rescue is hard enough, without rescuers turning on each other and making accusations and assumptions based on ... well, what? An appeal for funds? What rescue hasn't done that from time to time? Just because the appeal landed in the inbox of other rescues does not necessarily mean that the original sender "targeted" them - I received the same appeal at least three times, as it was cross-posted by people who, presumably, found it had merit and deserved a wider audience. And anyway, many rescues are happy to help out other groups when they can.

Rescue attracts people from all walks of life, and with all sorts of priorities and motivations. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to rescue, provided the animals are well cared for. Hoarding has nothing to do with numbers, and everything to do with standards of care. Hoarding is a mental illness, and it is very sad to hear one rescuer level this accusation against another. Even if no-one has come out and named the rescue in question, I'm sure most people reading this blog know who it is, and getting coy now about "we may not be talking about the same person" is just disingenuous. If you're going to criticize someone publicly, at least have the courage of your convictions and be prepared to defend your opinion - unlike one contributor here, making nasty accusations under the cloak of anonymity. Better yet, pick up the phone and have a chat with her. Who knows, you may find you have a lot more in common than you expected, and may be able to help each other out from time to time.

When I last checked, there was no danger that we are running out of cats (or any other animals, for that matter) to rescue. There is room for us all. Some rescues take the pretty, adoptable ones, some are willing to take the more "difficult" ones. Some like the flexibility that foster homes offer, some prefer the control of keeping the animals in one place. The thing that unites us is that we care for the animals, care about what happens to them.

Anyone involved in rescue knows that it's often misunderstood by people on the "outside", and I'm sure we all have family, friends, neighbours and/or co-workers who think we are absolutely crazy to devote our time, money, energy and emotional wellbeing to such a cause. That is why it is so sad to read the comments here. We should be united in the common cause, not fighting amongst ourselves over what does and does not constitute responsible rescue. We should not be going on self-indulgent rants against people who are doing a good job, just because they do it differently. At the very least, we should be able to expect respect and support from each other, not a knife in the back from one of our own.

I know the person and the rescue under discussion, and a situation further from hoarding would be hard to find. The cats in her shelter receive all necessary veterinary attention, often far more than most rescues would be prepared or able to provide. She has devoted most of her life to animal welfare and works tirelessly for the cause. This is to the benefit not only of the thousands of animals she has rescued, but in a much wider sense as she's actively involved in trying to change the way things are done, rather than just damage control which, let's face it, is what most rescues are doing.

For myself, I would say I admire anyone actively involved in cat rescue. It is a draining, frustrating and often heartbreaking endeavour, with enough lows to crush the spirit and just enough highs to keep you coming back for more punishment. It's a daily grind of anxiety, stress and damned hard work, no matter how you look at it, so let's not waste time and energy making it more difficult than it has to be.