Confessions Of A Cat Rescuer #3 - I Can Not Turn Back Now
I confess: I can not turn back now. I’m too involved. I’ve seen too much and I know too much to ever be blissfully ignorant again. I am a cat rescuer, animal advocate, and social activist, and I will be until The Lord calls me home. My calling and my identity have become one and the same. Whatever the cost, I must see this thing through to the end. It is not just my mission; it is the purpose to which I was born.
Some people think I’m crazy. They call me the crazy cat man whose life is out of balance. I can see why they think this way. Why would a sane person share their home with thirty-plus cats? Who in their right mind would spend over $400 a month on cat supplies, especially when they have cancer and are unemployed? How can anyone justify a $3000 vet bill? And who could ever possibly believe that they could take on the animal control system and make a real difference? Does anyone really think that people like me are rational at all?
I do. I believe in my calling, and so do thousands of other rescuers out there. But for those of you who have no idea what it’s like to be a rescuer, you may think that we are all crazy too. So, in this article, I want to take you inside the world of a rescuer. Perhaps, if you can see what we see, if you can know what we know, you will realize that we are not crazy. Disturbed, yes, but not crazy. There is a difference, and I will explain the difference below.
First of all, just what is a rescuer? A rescuer is a person who has chosen to dedicate his or her life to saving others, be it animals or people. A real rescuer does not just see this choice as a profession, a hobby, or a cause. Such things are separate and distinct from the person. People can embrace a profession, a hobby or a cause. Just as easily, people can stop practicing, or even change, their profession, hobby or cause. Not so for a rescuer. Rescue is a calling, and a rescuer is his or her calling. It is not just what we do, it is who we are. We are only rescuers as long as we are rescuing.
The world of a rescuer revolves around the calling. Few things in life are more important than the calling, and even those more important things must accommodate the calling. Job, spouse or significant other, finances, home life, and time demands are all affected by the call. A rescuer must rescue, because that is who he or she is, and the rest of the world has to accept it or walk away.
Needless to say, many rescuers have trouble with relationships. Marriages end, significant others walk away, friends vanish, and the rescuer becomes more isolated. At best the rescuer finds a troubled and strained balance between the call and the humans in the rescuer’s life. The rescuer’s activities are tolerated, but never completely accepted by the other humans in the rescuer’s life. This makes the rescuer and the rescuer’s calling the proverbial elephants in the room that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about, and that everyone except the rescuer wishes would go away.
Rescuers also face the danger of being swallowed up by the call, cutting themselves off from all other humans to carry out their mission alone. Neither the rescuer or the rescued benefit from this arrangement, because no rescuer should ever work alone. The emotional, physical, financial, and other demands of rescue are difficult, and a rescuer who walks alone can easily succumb to a variety of illnesses - physical and mental.
It is sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between an animal rescuer and a hoarder, or from someone who is just in rescue work for themselves. Yes, there are people out there who get addicted to the “rescue high,” the great feeling you get when you save an animal or person from a bad situation. Hoarders live for the rescue high and do not see the harm they are causing to themselves and to the animals in their possession.
Other people get into rescue as a hobby, a cause, and a profession, either for personal pleasure, to make themselves feel better, to accomplish a short-term goal, or for the cash. These people are not true rescuers. True rescuers put their animals first. They do not care about money or personal prestige. And they are certainly not concerned about feeling good. They know firsthand the pains and pitfalls of the rescue calling.
What am I trying to get you to see here?
First, if you are thinking about becoming a rescuer, think twice. The cost of the call is great. You will be at odds with, and may even lose, your family and friends. You will become a social oddity. Your financial security, your reputation and your standing in your neighborhood will be impacted by your choice.
Why is it this way? It is this way because, unlike most people who spend the majority of their time, money, and resources on pleasing themselves, rescuers spend the majority of their time, money, and resources on the animals they are called to save. The idea of giving one’s life and resources for others is counter-cultural. It makes those who live a self-centered life feel uncomfortable. It awakens the conscience and exposes the social evils that most people never want to see. Rescuers shake people up, so people chose to marginalize them, calling them crazy and odd so that they can cling to the concept of their self-centered life as “normal.”
Second, if you think that rescuers are supported by the national humane societies and by a vast network of animal lovers with deep pockets who are always ready to lend a hand, you are sadly mistaken. You need to know right up front that the national humane societies - The Humane Society of the United States, The ASPCA, and PETA - do not even fund local humane groups, and they certainly do not fund real rescuers.
Rescuers receive no money from the humane societies. They receive no help from the state or counties where they live. Most rescuers have to work alone or in small groups, paying for all of their rescue activities out of their own pockets. It is a daily struggle to feed, house, and care for the animals. Finding people willing to help support the rescuer’s efforts is nearly impossible because people prefer to give to the big humane organizations, where they are mistakenly led to believe that their gift is going to “help” animals, when in truth very little of their contributions go directly to help the animals. Had they given their money to their local rescuer, ALL of it would most likely go to the care of the animals, because this is what rescuers do - care for the animals.
Rescuers almost always work alone, which I have already said is not good for the rescuer or the animals the rescuer cares for. At best, the rescuer gets connected to a few like-minded rescuers or a small no-kill rescue group. These relationships are tenuous at best, for all rescuers live and work in fear of the government-run animal control system. Rescuers operate somewhat like small rebel groups, each only knowing a few others, so that if one group gets into trouble, the other groups are relatively safe from discovery.
There is a good reason for this secrecy. You need to understand that in order to save the animals, rescuers often have to break the law. Indeed, many rescuers work just outside of the law, flying under the radar of the county animal control officers. They take in more animals than the law allows, sometimes even in violation of their rental leases. They feed feral cats, even though the law forbids it. They can’t keep the animals current on rabies and other legally mandated vaccinations because they can’t raise the money to get it done. They sometimes disguise themselves as “owners” to save an animal that is about to be killed from a county shelter.
Even those rescuers who can keep everything legal live in constant fear that the county animal control system will discover their operation and take their animals away to be killed. Never mind the fact that these brave rescuers are saving the taxpayers money by paying for all the rescue expenses themselves. Never mind the fact that most rescuers have safe, healthy, and happy animals. Never mind the fact that if it were not for the rescuer, the animals he or she saved would have been dead a long time ago. This is a matter of power, and the county has the legal right to take the rescuer’s animals under any circumstances. And yes, it happens. Animals are taken from the safety of the rescuer and taken to county kill shelters where they stand little chance of living.
Now, with all I have said here, you may think that anyone who becomes a rescuer must be crazy, but as I said earlier, rescuers are not crazy, just disturbed. To be crazy is to be out of touch with reality. To be disturbed is to be horrified by reality. Rescuers are not out of touch with reality, they are horrified by it.
Rescuers are horrified that four to six million healthy, adoptable and treatable animals are killed every year in U.S. animal shelters. They are horrified that it is their taxpayer dollars being used to kill these animals. They are horrified that the county-run shelters refuse to embrace proven life-saving programs and prefer to keep killing. They are horrified that society in general really does not care - about the animals or about the killing.
Rescuers are sane people living in a world of insanity, where county-run shelters lie to people and lead them to believe that they can surrender their animals in safety, and then kill them as soon as the person leaves the building. Rescuers live in a crazy world where big humane organizations show televised ads of animals in need, collect millions of dollars, then spend those dollars on pension funds, pet programs, and high profile cases, but refuse to release funds to grass-roots rescuers who are really saving animals. Indeed, the insanity goes further since every major humane society actually endorses the killing of animals! Check out their websites and read their euthanasia policies for yourself.
Who is really crazy here? Is it the rescuer, who sees the evil being done to the animals and decides to fight against it and save as many as possible, or is it society and its animal control system, where animals are killed in shelters and the blame is placed on “irresponsible pet owners” instead of on shelter management and their unwillingness to find other ways? Last time I checked, no one was holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to kill. They kill animals because they choose to kill animals, just as rescuers save animals because they choose to save animals.
So, I submit to you that I am not crazy, just disturbed. I submit to you that it is this heartless society - the people who live for themselves and do not care about anyone or anything else - that is really crazy. And yes, I am deeply, deeply disturbed - disturbed to the point where I choose to live the life of a rescuer. I have seen too much suffering, and I hear the cries of animals in my sleep, and I know that tomorrow some of their voices will be silenced by the deadly fumes of the gas chamber, the plunge of a heart-stick, or the prick of a needle. I know that their bodies will be discarded to make room for more bodies that are coming in. And I know that if I do not do something, even more animals will die.
I also know that I can not turn back now. I am a rescuer, and I will be until the day I die.