Every time I see an ASPCA ad on television for an abused dog or cat about to be put to sleep, I start to cry. Sometimes I get upset enough that I shut the TV off. I don’t want to look at their faces–even though I know I should face their reality.
I suppose I empathize too strongly with animals who have been abandoned because I understand abandonment all too well, having had a mother who disappeared repeatedly throughout my childhood. I want to rescue anyone I can from such an end, be it child or dog or cat. Even a parakeet would pull at my heartstrings. And dogs, after all, are like children to me.
There are many “rescues” across the U.S., for breeds of all sorts, or mixed breeds, or breeds all mixed together under one roof. Many are independent, and many of the all-breed clubs, including my own, sponsor and run rescues. These are places where discarded dogs are taken into foster homes, trained, and taught to love and trust again. Then they are relocated in what everyone hopes will be a forever home.
I began by donating money to many of them, but eventually I found financial involvement didn’t suffice. I knew I could not foster a rescue dog, as I always want to keep every dog that comes into my household. Already having three Dals, for us to adopt another would be asking for trouble. I found my solution on the Facebook page of Save the Dalmatians and Other Canines Rescue, Inc.
Now, I write the dog’s descriptions, which I call “biographies,” that go onto the rescue’s website, http.www.savethedals.org, for the animals available for adoption. We hope potential new owners will read my efforts and come pay a visit. I try my very best to catch the unique personality of all the dogs. To make them sparkle.
Sometimes I am asked how I can be a breeder, when so many abandoned dogs are put to death in kill shelters every day. I have no answer to this question–for them, or for myself. I am like Pinocchio, listening to Jiminy Cricket, who advises him “to let conscience be your guide.” I love to breed these beautiful spotted dogs with their exuberant natures and I wouldn’t want to see Dalmatians cease to be. And yet…
So, I guess you could say I’ve got my toe dipped in both worlds: the mystery a rescue dog brings with his uncertain past, with his wounds and needs, haunted by a terrible situation not of his own making, who nevertheless offers us the joy of giving him his second chance; as well as in the safer bet of a dog who comes from the sort of breeder who studies the health and temperament of her male and female dogs before putting them together, who gives her pups the important socialization they need, and who then carefully interviews candidates for new homes to make sure the match is a good one. Both kinds of dogs make wonderful companions.
Of course, the purebred Dals (and there are many) at Save the Dals and similar rescues come from somewhere–maybe originally from a breeder’s home where the initial placement didn’t work out and the owner decided to sell the dog on Craigslist, where a surprising number end up. Or dumped him along the highway as an easy way to get rid of him. Or deserted him at the vet’s because the bill was too high. Or, maybe he came from a puppy mill or pet store, where once again, things “just didn’t work out”–which is the mantra of everyone involved in rescue.
All the breeders I know try to recover their pups and dogs from places like Craigslist or a rescue, and then find new homes for them on their own. It is an absolute breach of contract to take an animal you bought from a breeder and place it in a new home by yourself. A breeder has right of first refusal, and routinely takes his dogs back. This is his ethical obligation to the life he created–a form of rescue in and of itself.
But really, in the end, there are unwanted dogs put to sleep every day. And because that makes me cry, I write biographies, send money and say prayers for every single one that winds up in a bad place, even as I raise my pups with love. Rescues around the country need help. So, donate, volunteer–make those ads on television a thing of the past. Lao Tzu said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Empathy and making a contribution in some way, somewhere, to some sort of cause, is one of our responsibilities as humans who just happen to sit at the top of the food chain.