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From 26 January 2003 Issue

Getting involved in rescue on a local level
The Active Activist
By Michelle Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com 

Do dogs and cats deserve the same rights as do the whales, wolves and elephants? Some in the animal rights community would have you believe that they do not. But as one of the keynote speakers said during the Animal Rights 2002 conference, letís not forget about the dogs and cats in shelters around town. They have rights too. And what better way to get active than to help out with your local rescue groups?

First, just accept that there is going to be an enormous chasm between your philosophy and that of the people at the shelter or rescue group. They are probably outraged at the local news about an animal cruelty case and express it with vehemence and passion over their Kentucky Fried Chicken lunch. Get over it and try to concentrate on the things you have in common. (But be sure to make faces at the people actually eating and hold your nose in disgust while gingerly reaching across the table to give them the latest PeTA offering about how the C in KFC stands for Cruelty!)

Think of it this way -- taking a shelter dog for a walk or to the local PetsMart on a Saturday afternoon so that he can get adopted is a rewarding experience for you and a life-altering experience for a lonely canine or feline who is counting down the days until someone comes along and places a big black X on their cage card. Helping out at your local shelter by walking dogs is one way to get active. There are so many more.

Fundraisers - offer to organize a fundraiser for your local shelter or rescue group. Donít just call them with great ideas for fundraisers (we really hate when people do that), but actually put one on for them. Itís fun and easy and will bring you into contact with lots of other animal people so that you can form alliances and build support groups. That way, when you have the Great American Meat Out in your home town, you will already have a mailing list! (More on the Great American Meat out in this column next month). A fundraiser can be anything from throwing a party and charging a fee to organizing a rummage sale, bake sale or car wash. The money raised could be earmarked for spay/neuter efforts, humane education or a fund for animals needing medical care. Press releases are a cinch to write and send out and get the media involved. Go to www.peta.org or www.hsus.org and look at their press releases to see how they are written.

Breed Rescue - Find the local breed rescue groups in your state and offer to help with fostering, transport or adoption. Breed rescue groups are usually comprised of dog breeders so you need to steel yourself for the inevitable differences of opinion; but again, concentrate on the common ground. We like breed rescue groups because it keeps people out of pet stores and that helps cut down on the puppy mill profits. We like that idea a lot! Some people want certain breeds and no matter how much we educate people as to the value and wonder of mixed-breed dogs, only a purebred will do. We donít want to send them to breeders and we certainly donít want to send them to petstores and the purebred dogs in shelters (about 33% of all the shelter dogs) usually have insurmountable problems because they came from a puppy mill in the first place. Breed rescue is a viable alternative and one that we can all live with. Do you have an affinity for Afghans? A passion for poodles or canít live another day without a Bichon Frise? There is someone nearby who likes them too and wants to help them find homes. If you are the local ďanimal loverĒ and people are always asking you where they can get a specific breed, it would be helpful if you know ahead of time who in your community is working with Breed Rescue. And there are national organizations that need your help too.

A year ago I started helping to transport Siamese cats from shelters to foster homes or adoptive homes. Some Siamese cats needed to make their way from Florida to Virginia or places west. Not wanting to trust these little beauties to an airline (for good reason), a group called Siamese Rescue out of Virginia started a little effort called the Meezer Express (Siameeezers). They recruited foster homes all over the country and now have a great little effort going on to help Siamese cats find new homes. The older ones that are so much harder to place go to Meezer Geezer homes. I also foster for Siamese Rescue and my first foster cat, Tristan, found a loving home with one of my in-laws who is properly spoiling him! I have made lots of wonderful friends through my efforts to help Siamese cats in memory of my sweet, sweet Sable, a lovely Siamese that I adopted from a shelter in Germany and who lived for over twenty years. (For information or to volunteer to help Siamese Rescue go to www.SiameseRescue.org). If you want to get involved with one of the canine breed rescue groups, just use the keyword for your special breed to find one that does rescue.

Foster/Transport - Some rescue groups, especially the ones that have no facility, are in need of volunteers to help get animals to the vet, the groomer or from the shelter or pound to a foster home. There is a group in my town called the Animal Rescue Force that raised money to buy themselves an R.V. Now, they pick up the animals that are scheduled for euthanasia at the county pound and they bring them to shopping centers around the county where they try to adopt them out to good homes. There is an application and references are checked and a donation is required. The animals not adopted usually go home with a volunteer for a week for a second chance. If you have an extra bedroom or can accommodate another critter for a short time, consider offering your services as a foster parent.

Neonatal care - The jury is still out on whether it is a good idea to attempt to raise puppies and kittens who become orphaned. Some vets feel that because they lack their parents they cannot become well socialized and suffer from immune disorders. My own cat was orphaned at two days old when his mom was killed by a dog. But I raised him with KMR (kitten milk replacement) and he survived. Now, at age five, he is THE CAT FROM HELL and suffers from a variety of expensive and painful autoimmune disorders. I probably wonít do THAT again. But if you believe in giving all living things a second chance and that the vets are not always right, you may want to offer your services as a neonatal caregiver. Call your local shelter and let them know you are willing to take in a puppy or kitten and feed him or her for about eight weeks until he or she is healthy enough to be put up for adoption. If you are really adventurous, get connected with a local wildlife rehabilitator and help out with injured or orphaned wild animals too. There is not much controversy over their care because they are not supposed to be socialized anyway.

Education - If you like to speak out for animals you may want to offer your services as a public speaker, humane educator or newsletter writer for your local rescue group. A lot of humane societies or rescue groups are always looking for people to help with website services. If you have some animal-related expertise -- share! This could be as simple as visiting the PeTA website and ordering a free copy of the Share the World video and asking teachers if you can show it during after-school programs or even during study periods.

Wildlife Rehabilitation - The world is full of people who STILL believe that if you touch a baby bird you will get human cooties on it and the mom wonít raise it. Newsflash! Birds cannot smell! Not very well at least. If you have a wildlife rehabber nearby and like to walk on the wild side, go volunteer to educate the public about wildlife issues, stay on top of pending wildlife legislation and help out in the clinic or driving the van once in a while. Be sure that you are helping an actual sanctuary and not a roadside zoo or entertainment enterprise (but if you do get involved with one of those accidentally, PeTA will be happy to hook you up with a video camera and be your new best friend!)

Get active! Thereís so much work to be done and the rewards are endless. I get e-mails and phone calls from people all the time who complain that they feel lonely because all they do is send money to the big nationals but they never get to actually DO anything. This column is dedicated to all of you lonely people out there that want to help animals. You can do it. We can help.

Go on to Macy's Reply To My Little Experiment By Kimberly Locke
Return to 26 January 2003 Issue
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