When Your Rescue Lets You Down it’s hard. It’s heartbreaking. And you are left feeling unappreciated. Here’s how to prevent it, and if it happens to you, how to turn it around.
Whoooooooo boy. I have been sitting on this one, y’all. Since February 26, to be exact. It’s one of those things where I just could not decide if it was right to speak up or right to shut up.
Those that know me even just a little know that it’s really not in my nature to shut up. About much of anything. But this has just been WEIGHING on me.
I was waiting to see if I’d feel differently, and I was waiting for some perspective. Two months have passed and I still feel like I need to put all these words out there, because I DO think that for my people interested in adopting a dog through a rescue group, or volunteering for a rescue group, you should know how to know if it’s a good one.
It’s no secret that I am a self-proclaimed crazy dog lady. I wrote a post in 2016 called What it Means to Foster, effectively explaining my love for quirky shelter dogs that someone else decided not to love. If you follow me on Instagram you know I post as many photos of dogs as I do food, and we all know that my best friend is a 65 pound pitbull named Sawyer.
I could go on a big long tirade about why you should adopt and never shop, but you really can’t say it any better than my friend Julie and this post about Why You Should Adopt a Rescue Dog Instead of Buying From a Breeder. She also has Shortbread Toffee Bars over there, y’all. It’s definitely worth a look.
So let’s back up and talk about how I got involved in a rescue, why it’s weighing on me, and what I hope you can learn from my heartache.
If you love dogs and spend any time on Facebook, I am sure you have seen a post with someone pleading for help with a dog in a shelter or a dog that needs to be re-homed. It was in that way that we ended up with our first foster dog.
I’ve saved many dogs in my time, but I’d never saved a dog with the help of a rescue or anything so official. So we filled out the application, complete with a home visit and vet records for all our current dogs, they brought us a crate, some food, and left us to do our thing.
Fostering is AMAZING, you guys. It’s rewarding and wonderful and I could go on forever about dogs dogs dogs. But if you are going to foster for a rescue, you need support.
What Support Looks Like
Support from a good rescue means they get you all the things you need. It means you have a crate and a leash. It means they provide you with dog food if you need it. It means your foster dog gets all their vetting, monthly flea/tick and heartworm prevention in a timely fashion. It means that if your foster dog is sick, as many that have been ignored and neglected for years are, they receive prompt medical attention.
Support also means that if you feel are in over your head, there is help available to you. Help could come in the form of a supportive conversation, helpful tips and tricks, training, and sometimes if your foster dog isn’t a great fit, support may mean finding a new foster.
As a foster you are also a volunteer. You are volunteering to keep your foster dog safe, help them heal and feel loved, and get ready for their forever homes WITH THE SUPPORT OF THE RESCUE.
The rescue is ultimately responsible for all the dogs in their care.
Getting MORE Involved
After just a couple of months, the rescue that I started fostering for asked me to join the board. For more than a year I volunteered my time to not only foster dogs in my home (which I still do), but also BE that support.
I answered emergency messages and phone calls. Managed a million annoying emails from all the people in the world trying to surrender their dogs. I set up our website. I managed our Facebook page. I helped plan events and attended as many as I could manage. I donated A LOT of my own money, and helped to raise a lot more.
Vetting is $$$$$, y’all.
Speaking of vetting, I managed all the vet records. When another board member fell behind on her tasks, I picked up her slack and started scheduling all the appointments. If you have ever tried to keep track of appointments for 50 dogs in 50 locations you will know why I add bourbon to all the desserts.
I stayed active with my local shelter and had my hands on MOST of the dogs in our rescue’s care. I worked transport and shuffled a lot of doggies to the vet.
Rescue is A LOT OF WORK. But I loved it.
On December 14, 2016, our rescue welcomed Goliath – a 5 year old, 100 pound German Shepherd who tested well with other dogs at the shelter, and came with $400 in sponsorship money.
I wish I had more photos of Goliath. His foster mom never provided us with any – this guy really never had a lot of hope in being effectively marketed for adoption (the internet is visual, man. That’s why I photograph so much food). But! That didn’t seem to matter because 6 days after welcoming Goliath into her home, his foster mom decided to keep him forever.
Goliath’s foster mom also offered to cover his heartworm treatment (which is ????), which meant that the money donated towards his care could be used for another dog in need.
See, Goliath’s foster mom also runs another non-profit organization. They helped to change a law prohibiting tethered dogs in the town where they live. They also help to build fences for dogs that have spent a life on a chain. So basic vetting and heartworm treatment is a thing that her organization has covered in this way before.
The problem is that Goliath never received his heartworm treatment.
So the rescue effectively took the donations meant for Goliath, used them elsewhere, and Goliath’s needs were not met. Disclaimer: I had no idea this was the case until after what happens next.
It Gets Worse
Goliath wasn’t perfect, y’all. But really who among us is?
It takes time for a dog to settle into their new environment. It’s a pretty steep learning curve to adjust to quiet and sharing, comfort and care, a new routine and love. For most shelter dogs this is a whole new reality. That’s why the Two Week Shutdown when bringing a new dog home is crucial.
Poor buddy didn’t get shutdown, so there were a couple of altercations. First a scuffle with the resident dog. Then he tried to eat a neighbor’s chihuahua (and to be fair there are LOTS OF GREAT DOGS that would love to eat a chihuahua), and during the scuffle in which zero dogs were hurt, a panicky neighbor got scratched.
Panicky neighbor called Animal Control. So Goliath had a mark against him. This was really strike two. I’m not sure if it was before or after this altercation, but around this time, foster mom decided that Goliath would have to go. She would continue to foster, but we would market him for adoption with that one sad photo.
Sometime during the week leading up to Sunday, February 26, Goliath was left unattended with the resident dog. The two dogs knocked over the kitchen trash can, as dogs do, and then got into a pretty serious fight over its contents. The poor pretty female dog of the house suffered the brunt of this and required emergent vet care.
Fights happen. Dogs are not people. And as I type that I think about how stupid it is because damn, people fight ALL THE FREAKING TIME. Anyway, proper shutdown can prevent most of this kind of behavior but not all. It’s the rescue’s job in this instance to provide medical care to all that need it, and then move the dog with the issue.
Moving dogs with issues isn’t easy. It’s a pretty tall task to figure out where to put a 100 pound German Shepherd with prey drive. But the thing about a rescue is that they are held to a higher standard. Remember the part about support? It is the job of the rescue to support the foster, but most importantly to SUPPORT THE DOG.
Goliath’s foster mom was distraught, obviously. I don’t discount that. Her dog was the victim here. The problem is, that the foster mom was ultimately responsible for the circumstances that led to a dog fight happening. People make mistakes – fights happen, and mistakes happen.
What should never happen though is a foster mom actively lobbying for euthanasia.
That’s right. Goliath’s foster mom decided that he should be put to sleep.
Not moved, not rehabbed, not marketed more heavily for a better home, not boarded until a better solution could be found – she just wanted him dead.
So while I was celebrating my son’s 14th birthday and we were watching Lego Batman and eating cake, the other three board members decided to let Goliath’s foster mom have her way. Without my input. Without even letting me say any words in his defense.
They decided to euthanize a healthy, people-friendly dog that they took money for, didn’t treat, didn’t market, and didn’t support.
When Your Rescue Lets You Down
Needless to say, I was devastated to learn all this. I am heartbroken that Goliath was let down over and over again. I can’t believe that the person who should have been advocating for him the hardest (his foster mom) just completely quit in such a morose and final way. I am in total disbelief that the organization I worked SO HARD for and thought so highly of let this happen.
I am FURIOUS that they didn’t let me have a say. If I am anything, I am unabashedly VOCAL. I think that hearing my passionate point-of-view before making such a rash decision might have changed minds and saved Goliath’s life. They could have at least let me try.
Because see, they didn’t just euthanize Goliath. They put him down over the span of a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. I got a message at 3, said I had input but it needed to wait a few hours. I took my son to a movie for his birthday at 4. Before the vet closed at 5 Goliath was dead.
Rescues Are Held to a Higher Standard
The reason there are so many dogs in need is because PEOPLE are irresponsible. But rescues, as a rule, are held to a higher standard. Rescues are supposed to exhaust all options, no matter what. Especially for a people-friendly, loving dog. The ugly truth is though that many rescues are not what they seem.
I learned this the hard way.
I would have never associated myself with a group that makes decisions like this.
I resigned from the board of the rescue on March 11. I also removed all donation links from this site. I tried to think it through carefully but this was too heavy, too hasty, too terrible. And since my resignation I have been frozen, full of upset, hurt, and just plain anger, and I haven’t known what to do.
In truth I was a little afraid to speak out because I worried that they might try to take Judy, my last foster dog through this rescue from me, and Judy still needs a lot – FROM ME – before she’s ready to go to a forever home. What I needed to do here was write, though. I needed to tell you what happened.
I need more than just me to know Goliath’s story. Rest easy, buddy. It was them, not you.