Sunday, August 23, 2009

on rescue, in the current online climate

I had thought that silence was the better part of valor; I thought it I stayed out of all this ugliness, I wouldn’t sully myself. But this has gone too far, and gotten too ugly. I can’t ignore it any more in good conscience.

Dog rescue, like any community effort, is a phenomenal amount of work and is an uphill battle, every day. This is work that takes dedication, willpower, and a whole lot of heart. I haven’t been working in rescue nearly as long as a lot of folks have, but already I can say this: you have to wake up every day willing to work long, hard hours, struggling to find money, to find space, to rehab animals – it’s truly something you have to feel is your calling. Oh, and after all of that, you have to go work your regular day job, too.

Don’t get me wrong: rescuing an abandoned dog – maybe sick or starving – and seeing it happy and healthy in its new home is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. But it’s a long, hard road there: we all pull late nights, we spend our own money and resources (donations cover most of my vet bills, but everything else – food, supplies, gas, photo copies, boarding, training, you name it – that’s all my own money, and I know I’m hardly the only one who does this). And we try hard – really hard – to do right by every animal, every volunteer, and every adopter.

I am a private rescuer, and I’m not affiliated with any rescue group. Some folks have been very supportive of me. ARNO and Lise McComskey in particular have supported me. I have no “inside” knowledge of ARNO, or any other shelter or rescue. I can only really speak for myself – but I’m sure my comments apply widely to many, many rescuers, and I hope you’ll consider them. I think they apply to ARNO, truly one of the most active groups in the city, too.

My comments being:

I would never, ever knowingly endanger any dog, adopter, or volunteer. To that end, I would never adopt out a dog I had any reason to think would be a danger. Us rescuers love our volunteers, and more than that, we need them. They are truly a top priority. That said, accidents can – and unfortunately, do – happen. I want to be clear that I do not know of any dog bite situations in any shelters or rescues (including ARNO), but I know it’s a concern, and I know it’s the last thing any of us rescue folks want.

I am candid with my adopters. One of all us rescuers’ overreaching goals is to encourage responsible dog ownership, and naturally that starts with responsible dog selection. I would never conceal or distort anything about a dog. That said, everyone can be wrong. Things don’t always turn out like you think they will. We rescuers are fallible like everyone else. Our work involves constant research, information gathering, and a whole lot of very carefully considered educated guessing. I have made mistakes. But God knows I try everything I can to avoid it.

And we are operating with finite – and very limited – resources, but the issues we’re facing are huge. I live in the 9th Ward; it’s my home, and I love it, and I wouldn’t leave it for a lifetime supply of Nutro Dog Food (and I feed my four dogs plus five rescues, so that says a lot). But as I drive to and from Tulane Law School every day, I could probably point out anywhere from three to ten stray dogs. Many of these have been stray for a long time, and are unsocialized and scared. I wish to God ARNO had the resources to take all of them into their feral rehab program; and I wish I had the knowledge to do it on my own. There is a tremendous need, and to be sure, sometimes we make mistakes, like overextending ourselves (I’m currently guilty of that one). But with more help, more money, more volunteers, we could accomplish more. And that’s all we really want.

And so, my point, then: all us rescuers, though sometimes overextended and sometimes unsuccessful, wake up every day with the strength and courage to fight the good fight, to go out there and do battle and to try our damndest to win. When those who are not out doing the same instead have the time and the sadistic desire to snipe us with nasty comments via relatively sketchy websites such as Craigs List, all it does it make it that much harder, that much more of a challenge, for us to do what we do. In the best-case scenario, it makes us more passionate; worst case, distraction over others’ petty nastiness actually gets in the way of our work.

Also, I want to say that if anyone has any well-informed, relevant criticism to levy, I encourage them to do so in a constructive – or at least civil – manner. I know that I am happy to entertain other ways of doing things, personally; so please, if anyone thinks I have made an error, let me know, personally – but also civilly.

We rescuers have the courage and the stamina and the moral fortitude to go out there every day and fight. Those who hide behind anonymous internet ID’s and make hurtful comments either have no facts to back those up, or simply lack the courage and strength to voice them in an appropriate way. I, and the rest of the rescue community, have no use for such people. God knows I’ve lost sleep over it in the past, but I refuse to do so any more. I refuse to let it get in the way of what I do and who I am. And I can only hope that other rescuers do likewise.

Finally, direct nasty, disparaging, unfounded, and truly hurtful remarks against an individual – and not an organization – are not only painful for that individual, but painful for all the rest of us rescuers to read. We’ve been there before, and we know what it’s like; just don’t do it. It’s cowardly, it’s juvenile, and it has no place among intelligent adults with any sense of decency.

By disparaging ARNO (or any rescue or other organization, for that matter) in this uninformed, insensitive way, all you are doing is hurting the mission you claim to support. It’s shameful, it’s hurtful, and it’s purely destructive. Think hard, yall, before you engage in such a senseless activity.

I hope you will understand that I wrote this out of compassion for fellow rescuers, as well as dedication to the cause. Some few out there are hurting all of us, and I can only hope someday you hear something – probably not this, but it was my best effort – just something that makes you realize how destructive, petty, and counterproductive you’re being.

My support goes out, as always, to ARNO and Lise.

Kelly Gaus
Dogs of the 9th Ward

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