Long-Term and Unadoptable Animals
Rescues and rescuers have many difficult decisions to make on a nearly daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Every time we get a call about taking in another animal our minds automatically go through a checklist of questions. Do we have the funding in place to provide all necessary and appropriate care? If not, can we rely on our donor base to provide emergency funding? If not, do we have enough personal funds to cover expenses? Do we have an open foster? Do we have adoptions pending on current animals that would free up a spot in a foster home? Do we have a foster home that is experienced enough to deal with this particular animal’s needs? The list goes on and on but by far the most difficult question is ‘should we euthanize’.
Most of the questions we ask ourselves fit neatly into our mental flowchart – if not A, then B. The ultimate question of euthanasia, in cases when it’s not medically necessary, is by far the most difficult for those of us who got into rescue for the right reasons. No kill rescues and shelters will eventually find themselves caring for animals that will be in rescue for a very long time or forever. Should we euthanize to make room for other animals? Some say yes, some say no. The answer depends on one’s belief system.
Those who euthanize say they do so in order to help others. In other words, sacrifice a few with the hope of saving many as there is a finite amount of space, time and available resources. The no kill side of the equation believes that animals shouldn’t be given a death sentence just because others may not see ‘value’ in them or because they made need extensive care and rehab or may have behavioral issues. Unfortunately, once the decision is made to become a no kill organization several things are going to happen. First, when we hit our space limit, we will no longer be able to take in additional animals. Second, we seem to become invisible to donors. Third, we constantly have to defend our no kill position and must somehow convince others that our sanctuary animals are not our personal pets. Let’s look at each of these issues.
Finding foster homes for small breed dogs and puppies is quite easy. People love snuggling with cute, little fuzzy dogs. Who doesn’t smile and laugh while watching the antics of a young puppy (not to mention the addictive nature of puppy breath)? Finding fosters for adult dogs is more difficult especially if the dog is a so-called ‘bully’ breed. Foster homes for seniors and hospice animals can sometimes be found. Long-term fosters for animals with special needs – physical or emotional – are quite rare especially for dogs with emotional problems such as aggression toward other animals. Before your brain tries to convince you that all aggressive dogs should be killed, let’s take a look at Lilly who is one of our sanctuary dogs.
Lilly was born in rescue and grew up with her siblings and my personal dogs. She’s never been abused or harmed. Her mother and siblings were and are happy, outgoing dogs who are thriving in their adoptive homes. Lilly has always been a bit slow in every way. It took a year to house train her. Her reaction time to following basic commands is so slow that she was evaluated by our vet a couple of times to make sure that she wasn’t completely deaf. In addition to being very slow to learn she is highly reactive to other dogs with the exception of those she grew up with. She lunges, barks, snarls and generally wants to cause harm to others. She is however completely safe around people of all ages. From the time she started going to Meet and Greet/Adoption events at the young age of 10 weeks through her second birthday her reaction toward other dogs got worse. Although she made some progress during the many private sessions with a professional trainer, she will never be comfortable around other dogs. Allowing the adoption of dog like Lilly would be unethical. Very few people are equipped to deal with such a dog and fewer would want such a dog. If she was a Chihuahua we would have options but 80 pound dogs present an obviously bigger challenge. We had a decision to make – either kill her or accept that she wasn’t going to leave the rescue. We chose to keep her alive and are now facing the repercussions of that decision.
Disappearing Donors and Resources
On the evening of April 16, 2016 Lilly injured her right stifle (knee) playing in the yard. After months of taking a very conservative approach to healing (absolute strict confinement) Lilly did not improve much. The decision was made to have her undergo surgery which took place last week Tuesday at Advanced Veterinary Care Group in Canton. When the appointment was first scheduled they were informed that Lilly was a sanctuary dog at our rescue due to her behavior around other dogs. We were told that we would be given a rescue discount. When the bill was paid, I realized that the cost exceeded the high end of the estimate by several hundred dollars. When I first questioned this, I was given reasons such as ‘maybe she needed a larger implant’ etc. Since my focus was on getting Lilly back in familiar surroundings as quickly as possible to reduce her stress level, I didn’t fully review the invoice until later that evening. It was then that I noticed that we were NOT given the rescue discount.
The ‘reason’ for not receiving the discount is as follows from Dr. Elmer:
Thank you for writing. Many people represent themselves as "rescues" or "sanctuaries". It is at our discretion based on our own criteria as to whether we would like to offer a discount on services provided through our facility. In this instance Lilly is non-adopatable and is therefore not being rescued. She is owned and does not meet with our criteria of helping you to place dogs in a new home after the rescue has paid for medical services. We appreciate your attempts to clarify why she did not qualify for a rescue discount and at this point we also decline to provide future services for Animal Advocates of Michigan.
Dennis G. Elmer DVM &
Eric R. Larsen DVM, MBA
Advanced Veterinary Care Group
41740 Michigan Ave., Canton, MI 48188
Therefore, Lilly was not recognized by them as a rescue dog and Dr. Elmer denied her for the rescue discount. They will only give a rescue discount toward adoptable dogs. Huh??? Do they think that sanctuary animals are different from adoptable animals? Based upon Dr. Elmer’s response above, he does see sanctuary animals differently than adoptable animals. What other implication could there be? Furthermore, they were told during each of the phone conversations and on the day of the consult/surgery that Lilly is a sanctuary dog yet they didn’t tell me that the rescue discount would be denied. We are not ‘representing ourselves as a rescue’. Animal Advocates of Michigan is a registered 501c3 public charity. A copy of our IRS Determination was given to Advanced Veterinary Care Group. Note that because we questioned the rationale behind Mr. Elmer’s refusal to recognize and accept that Lilly is a sanctuary dog, Animal Advocates of Michigan is no longer welcome at their clinic. We will gladly take our dogs elsewhere.
The point of giving all of this detail is to give other rescues a heads up. If you have sanctuary dogs and are referred to Advanced Veterinary Care Group or any other such place, ask and get in writing a statement that the animal either will or will not receive the rescue discount.
Whether or not Lilly’s surgery is successful won’t be known for several months. In October, we will obtain radiographs to help determine if she’s ready to start the next phase of rehab. Our primary vet and possibly the small animal clinic at Michigan State University will review the radiographs as well as perform follow up exams.
As if the rescue discount issue wasn’t enough to deal with, Lilly was not urinating when I brought her home. I contacted Advanced Veterinary Care Group to ask if this was normal with regard to the medications she was given and also asked how long she could go without urinating before this became a crisis. By the way, this isn’t our first surgery dog. We’ve have plenty of surgery dogs who didn’t have bowel movements for several days after surgery but never one that didn’t urinate and made no attempt to urinate for 36 hours (even though she received IV fluids throughout her overnight stay at the clinic and was drinking normally when she came home). Their response was ‘Not urinating isn’t normal. Maybe she has kidney stones or some other blockage. Call your regular vet’. Again, WHAT?? I already knew this was not normal which is why I called them. Since THEY did the surgery, I expected THEM to be willing and able to answer questions.
Attitude Toward Long-Term and Sanctuary Animals
It makes absolutely no sense that sanctuary animals are seen in a different light as is the apparent belief that supporting them that includes a rescue discount isn’t worthwhile.
Why is it that people seem to find it so easy to walk away from the animals they initially claimed to care about? At the beginning of a rescue endeavor we are told ‘whatever it takes, just get them safe’. Offers of help are numerous and donations are quick to show up – for a few weeks anyway. Then just as quickly, the average donor moves on to the next rescue situation. Here’s a wakeup call – just because an animal is in a safe place doesn’t mean that it no longer needs to be supported. When we took in Lilly, her siblings and mother after a so-called ‘rescue’ abandoned them in a foster home, we were promised a great deal of help that never materialized. Thankfully, some of our reliable donors came through for us that allowed us to treat Lilly’s mother for her myriad infections and Heartworm disease, Max’s destroyed leg, Sweetpea’s Babesia infection and now Lilly’s surgery. Where did everyone else go? That’s right, once a rescue stops taking in more animals, they become invisible. This isn’t an issue experienced by Animal Advocates of Michigan alone.
Every rescue that takes in long-term animals or sanctuary animals faces the exact same problems. Those involved in horse rescue probably experience it more than small animal rescues. Horse rescues are constantly begged to ‘please save the horses from going from slaughter’. The rescues pull the horses from the kill pens knowing that most will cost thousands of dollars to vet and support until and if a forever home is found. What happens next? The rescues struggle to stay afloat while the promises of help disappear and the donors move on to the next feel good rescue. This is exactly what’s happening to Mindy Lovell of Transitions Thoroughbreds in Canada and Allie Conrad of CANTER-Midwest and numerous others.
Defending our No Kill Position
Over and over again we find ourselves having to defend and explain why we don’t kill animals. It’s ridiculous that we have to have this conversation. We value life, even those of the less than perfect. While euthanasia will always be on the table for animals that cannot be kept comfortable or those who are highly aggressive toward humans, we will NEVER euthanize just to make room for a different animal. There are already plenty of rescues that do this. When an animal comes into their rescues, a date is circled on a calendar. Regardless of how well the animal is doing, when the animal hits its arbitrary ‘you’ve had enough time’ date it’s killed. Behavioral problem? Kill it. Requires too much vet work? Kill it. Needs (re)training? Kill it.
In the end, it’s up to YOU whether or not no-kill becomes mainstream or fails. Without funding, fewer and fewer rescues will be willing to take on the responsibility of long-term or lifetime animals. Animal Advocates of Michigan will continue to be closed for intake for the foreseeable future. Although it’s sad that we can’t take in more animals, as I look at our few sanctuary dogs, there isn’t one of them that I would sacrifice to make room for another.