Q of the Week: Animal Rescue

But first, a story.

Let’s imagine that there is a dog who was rescued from an animal shelter somewhere in Quebec. Let’s call this dog GP, because he was a Great Pyraneese. Let’s say he was first taken to the shelter because he was found by emergency services at a home where he couldn’t receive the care he needed. Let’s also say that he had a kill order on his head because he had bitten someone. But as anyone who knows anything about dog behaviour will tell you (and I know very little about dog behaviour, but I’m living with two people who know a great deal indeed) this is a normal and natural thing for a dog to do when he is protecting his home from an intruder.

GP came to live here with us for a short time. We found him to be a loveable, happy, playful, and friendly animal. We saw no evidence of the problems of which we had been warned. We were only fostering him, not keeping him, so we had him for only a little more than a week until a new home had been found for him. I got to like him a lot, and at one time my partner and I volunteered to take him ourselves if another home could not be found. Later on, however, at his new home, he bit two other people in the space of a few days, and therefore he was put down.

We who had fostered him for even that short time were very upset when we heard he had bitten a human for a third time. The dog being described to us in the accounts of the biting simply wasn’t anything like the dog we knew and loved who we fostered: the behaviour was very different. That, however, is what fostering a dog often entails. If you agree to foster a rescued dog, you will be opening your home to a truamatised and psychologically damaged animal, who almost certainly has a variety of unpredictable anxieties and fears, and may panic or attack or cower in fear for no obvious reason. The animal may have come from a puppy mill, for instance, and thus have been treated with brutality, contempt, and neglect. But it will almost always give affection in return for affection, and will pull your heartstrings in every way.

So my question is: if you could save an animal’s life by fostering it in your home, until the rescue agencies can find a permanent home for it, would you do so? It can mean falling in love with an animal who is fearful and anxious and hard to predict and hard to handle, and may have to be put down anyway. You would be signing up for frustration and heartbreak and trouble and expense. Would you do it anyway?

“Let the animal shelters and humane societies take care of them”, you might say. But that might not be the way to actually save the animal’s life, nor the way to give it anything like a desirable quality of life. For instance, a few days ago Toronto Police laid criminal charges for animal cruelty on five directors of the Toronto Humane Society. The Toronto Humane Society had a no-kill policy. But the animals kept there were so badly diseased and malnourished that arguably putting them down would have been profoundly merciful. As the CBC report said, the building was “absolutely disease infested”, and “one officer recalled a cat whose skin came off in his hands when the officer lifted the cat up”.

I’ve been informed from reliable sources that other animal shelters which do have kill policies are so overwhelmed with dogs and cats that any animals that arrive there are put down within as little as three days. They simply do not have the funds, the space, the personnel, or the food, to house any more. Moreover, people often drop off their animals there for frivolous reasons: the dog isn’t a puppy anymore, or it barks too much, or is too much “trouble” to look after. We have so many disposable things in our consumer culture as it is: your shirt looses one button so you throw it out and get a new one. Your radio gets scratched and dented so you throw it out and buy a new one. Why now throw out your animals too? A friend described to me how she saw a man came to an animal shelter, dropped off a dog that was tied up in a plastic bag, and left it there, and drove off immediately. It is perhaps because of stories or experiences like these, that some animal rights activists become very militant and misanthropic, prepared to commit acts of civil disobedience, vandalism, and violence in the service of animal rescue.

(Or, while we are throwing out our shirts and radios and dogs, why not throw out people? You have one disagreement or argument with your newly wedded husband or wife, so you get a divorce. But I digress).

If you were to foster a rescued dog or cat in your home, you would almost certainly be saving its life, and also making space in a local shelter for another needy animal. So would you do it?

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17 Responses to Q of the Week: Animal Rescue

  1. solandra says:

    If I didn’t already have too many rescued pets and a child in my little house, yes, I would. I had a horse when I was little and she was from an abusive home. She was strange at first but when she realized we weren’t going to hurt her, she became the sweetest thing ever. I would sleep with her in our pastures and ride her all over the place starting at about 3 years old. Animals can recover from abuse.

  2. morrisidhe says:

    Of course!

    Of course! We have done, and continue to do so (not dogs, cats). One of our cats is from just such an arrangement. He was so malnourished when he arrived that he appeared to be marginally ready to leave his mother (8 weeks) but it turned out that he was six months old. He continues to have medical problems because of his maltreatment as a kitten, but we love him anyway.

    You may digress on the subject of disposing of spouses for similar reasons, but unfortunately I have seen it done with children over and over and over again. What you describe here as the challenges for fostering maltreated animals are the same challenges foster parents of children in protective services face.

    I heartily approve of the advocacy for animals. I would also prompt anyone reading this to think about fostering children also.

  3. Anonymous says:


    You are asking for a personal answer not a philosophical answer and in my case the two are different. Having children around, I would not take the animal. Any animal that poses a risk to my child or those she brings home, or my guests, should not be at my home. Therefore, no personally I would not take any animal home that would potentially harm my children or my guests. Having children and seen kids with their eyes bitten by a dog, no I have a clear line on that issue. My kid come first.

    Philosophically, I would hope that a rescue agency would have foster homes that could retrain these creatures with some degree of assurance. Therefore the foster care people have to have training as well, enough to garantee a change in the creature. How would they feel handing over a GP and having that creature bite the eye of a child?

    As for the marriage question, would I trade in a fellow who needed retraining – one hand on my kid or myself and he is out with the garbage. Try me. Done it.

    My priorities are clear. My child is always first.

  4. I take in needy cats instead of tiny cute kitties without too many problems– I have at present an untouchable feral (see photo) who flees but isn’t aggressive and I have had other neurological and limb-impaired cats as well.

    Dogs, being larger and pack animals, are more problematical when unpredictable. I have had neurotic dogs with few problems but fear-biters and extreme guarders (I have had both) can be actually dangerous. No one that I know of has been killed by a cat but when the 95 lb shepherd tries to come through the screen door at a 12-yr-old then action must be taken.

    Likely, your foster dog had triggers from previous trauma. You obviously didn’t trip them but if the subsequent owners did so unknowingly they were undoubtedly quite frightened and may have gone right on triggering. Inexperienced owners? My abused dog triggered on the flat hand rising and it was just up to us to not make that gesture.

    It’s a sad occurrence, but I believe that they get to go back and try again. Death is freedom from pain and fear. Gt Pyr’s have become inexplicably popular recently which will lead to bad breeding and unstable temperament. Feeling your sorrow.

  5. snowcalla says:

    Most of my pets have been adopted from shelters. That doesn’t answer your question. You were asking about fostering, not adopting.

    I seem to be fostering stray cats, although unofficially. (I live in a town) I put food and water out for stray cats every day. In the winter I have a heated bowl for the water so the water isn’t iced up. I have one stray that lives in our area and our house is in his territory. He’s a true feral and has zero interest in humans. Each winter I build him a heated home to live in. It’s cat carrier that I put a tarp over and then pile straw bales around. I have a heated mat on the bottom of the cat carrier. Some people would say that what I do is part of the problem. But how could I not give food and water to hungry animals?

    Our animal shelter is a no kill facility and they try very hard. They have so many cats, though. Some of them have been here for 7 years. The animals are well fed and receive vet care and are let out of their cage for 2 hours each day. But still. 7 years in a cage. I’d rather die.

    Here is what I wrote about my best friend, Zack, that I rescued from a shelter. Some people read it and see how much I did for such an emotionally damaged cat. I look back on Zack and see how much I learned from him at a time when I was emotionally damaged. As fucked up as he was, he never gave up and found enjoyment in life. How could i not do the same?


  6. misslynx says:

    First of all, I’m very sorry to hear what happened to the dog you fostered. Sometimes when an animal has been neglected or abused there are specific triggers that will set them off, which may have been absent in your household but present in someone else’s. I’ve known some rescue dogs that were afraid of men but OK with women, or didn’t like people with beards, or particular colours of clothing, or any number of variables. My dog Kiska used to be afraid of anyone holding anything remotely stick-like, even if it was an old lady walking with a cane or something.

    For me, the decision as to whether to foster an animal would depend on a lot of different things. My emotional impulse is to say yes, of course I would, but in reality, there are some constraints on my ability to do so.

    First, I’d need to have adequate space – right now, I have two cats and a dog in a small one-bedroom apartment. More animals might be pushing it.

    Second, I’d need to be sure I had the time and money to take care of the foster animal properly. I may work at home, but I do work, and am not paying close attention to my pets 24/7. And money is often tight, so I’d need to be sure before taking on another animal, temporarily or permanently, that I had enough to feed them, cover any vet costs, etc. (unless those costs being covered was part of the fostering agreement).

    Third, I have a prior commitment to the animals I already live with, so any fostering arrangement would have to be contingent on the new arrival getting along with them.

    Fourth and most important, I have a 2-year-old son. He doesn’t live with me, but he’s here 2-3 times a week, and I would need to be sure any animal I fostered was not going to harm him. He’s usually pretty good with animals, so I’m not too worried he’d harm the animal, but a big dog with a history of biting? Really not a good choice for my home.

    All that said… If I found myself in a situation where it seemed reasonably feasible to foster an animal, and the animal in question seemed like a good fit for my home (i.e. kid-safe and OK with other pets), then yes, I’d do it happily.

  7. thorn44 says:

    sorry this is long – i volunteer as a dog walker

    2 evenings a week at a local shelter. i also have 4 dogs – 3 rescues. one of my dogs is a bit iffy in temperament but i live by myself and can be proactive about managing his contacts with people. in a more social home he very likely would have bitten someone by now and would have been put to sleep.

    i am also involved with a web based breed rescue – one of my dogs is a foster failure from the rescue. he’s a bit quirky, not in a way that’s threatening to others but might be hard for some folks to understand.

    anyone who reads my LJ, blog etc. knows i am deeply committed to rehabilitating the image of the american pitbull terrier (APBT) and to ending breed specific laws. dangerous animal laws are needed but should be based on behavior, not breed and hold the individual at the non-dog end of the leash accountable.

    that said, not all dogs can be rehabilitated. in early july central mo. humane society took custody of 400 dogs seized in raids on dog fighters. the number quickly increased to 500
    since several dogs were pregnant. of those 500 dogs from a background of neglect and abuse 60% have been cleared to move on to rescues and adoption. this was the result of a fantastic effort by an already hardworking full shelter and staff and by volunteers who used their vacation time and personal funds to travel to mo. and spend a week or two cleaning kennels, walking dogs, doing what had to be done. 160 dogs from these raids have had to be put down either for severe medical issues that couldn’t be resolved with quality of life or to intractable aggression. to me the people involved in this rescue effort are true heros.

    if you only ever buy and read one book about dogs, behavior and training i would strongly recommend ‘the culture clash’ by jean donaldson. there are other good ones but if it’s a case of choosing just one, that’s it. very readable too.

    • boarrider says:

      Re: sorry this is long – i volunteer as a dog walker

      Pit Bulls I Have Met” is also an excellent account on pitties and why they’re so very much worth having as pets. Just sayin’. I smooch my bitty pitty (she was the runt of her litter, and therefore only 30 pounds, with a small, almost labrador-ish head, but those jaws! and that butt!)…

    • boarrider says:

      Re: sorry this is long – i volunteer as a dog walker

      PS – also, yes – not all animals can be rehabilitated. I am ethically against needless euthanasia. I am for needful euthanasia. Heck, if it were me and I couldn’t be rehabilitated, I’d want to be euthanized, myself. While I think no-kill shelters are great as concepts and in theory, and if we had more of them, with proper time, size, staff, and funding, I’d raise the roof to have them be the way America handles its pet overcrowding situation…well…as tough as it is to say, for some animals humane euthanasia is the only solution.

      It makes me weep just thinking about it, because my heart bleeds, but it’s the truth, and I think we need to face that, too.

      • thorn44 says:

        Re: sorry this is long – i volunteer as a dog walker

        at least every dog in the MO500 that had to be euthanized knew for probably the first time in their lives a kind touch and voice, a warm safe place to sleep and enough good food to eat. they are in the summerlands happy and healthy and as judith says can come back and try again. the time magazine site has a beautiful photo spread and video on the mo. dogs. well worth a look.

      • thorn44 says:

        Re: sorry this is long – i volunteer as a dog walker


        the video is great and the photographer that did the dog photo spread is amazingly good at capturing who they are.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Other Ways to Help

    There are many ways you can help animal rescue.

    Here’s a few ideas:

    Please, let us not holler at politicians or throw paint on politicians wives for wearing fur and such, as it makes ME less credible when I walk into City Hall to talk to said politicians.

    Rather you can always volunteer even just one hour a week at the local shelter, walking, bathing, loving and brushing an animal species of your choice (dog, horse, cats etc) this is a great activity for kids and teens.

    If you can’t do that for whatever reason, keep old blankets and towels, animal safe toys, food dishes, collars and leashes, pennies and donate them to your local shelter or rescue. You can find them online or in the phone book. We never have enough beds, enough dishes, enough treats, enough toys and enough money in the food budget here at Misty Acres! Even a ratty old bath towel, or your kids old soccer ball, is welcome.

    You can also contact your local shelter about volunteering at fund raising events, or start your own fund raising event, like a car-wash. You can organize a penny drive in your school or community.

    Foster a rescue animal in your home while they search for a forever-home for him.

    You can collect cans of dog & cat food for the shelter along with collecting cans of food for the Food Bank at Open Circles and such.

    When you think an animal in your neighborhood is being abused or neglected, do something. Take pictures of the dog tied out all night in the cold, break windows of cars with dangerously panting dogs in them, keep notes of how many hours an animal is locked out and what the weather is like, call the authorities.

    If you are brave and daring, knock on the door and offer to help out with the care of the animal. Many times it is an older person, or someone working many hours, or a person with health issues who wind up neglecting their pets. Often they are willing to let you take the dog to the groomers for them and so forth, if only you ask.

    If you suspect a person may be brokering pets, or be a puppy mill or irresponsible breeder contact the authorities, even your local Vet.

    Don’t buy dogs from brokers or Pet Stores. Don’t assume that just because a dog is registered he comes from a good breeder, I have seen CKC and ACK breeders treat their dogs as bad as any mill. Go and see for yourself, bring your camera.

    ~ The Anonymous Girlfriend

  9. darach says:


    Foster…probably not, although a good thing.. I get attached to easy. Adopt – yes. My last cat & current one were abandon strays though… 🙂

    I’m not radical like some animal rights activists….But, I sure do “feel” like being that radical sometimes. I mean sometimes I feel like beating an animal abuser to a bloody pulp and pouring salt on the wounds… but I wouldn’t join PETA- that’t too radical for me.

  10. boarrider says:

    I have to be honest, I am not sure I’m cut out to be a foster-family for pets. One, I’m allergic to cats (severely enough that living with one, in a very clean house, gave my chronic sinus infections and pneumonia), so kitties are just right out. Two, I’m mildly allergic to dogs (although with a clean house I can manage it – we have two of our own). So there are the sheer physical health concerns.

    Then, there are the emotional concerns. I am, in all honesty, not sure I have the emotional strength to put into healing an animal’s psycholo-emotional scars and then let it leave my life. I used to be a CNA, and that was the biggest problem I had, actually – dealing with the sad reality that many elderly people face at the end of their lives nearly destroyed me. I’m deeply empathic, caring, and I attach. Big Time. Not sure I could let go that often.

    Finally, child and guest issues. I do not have children (I have dogs! Like children but easier to put into kennels when travelling *wink*), but the majority of my friends do. My dog, Sheldon, is a big softie galut lab/shepherd mix – who barks in fear and has snapped at one of my friend’s toddlers, when she accidentally corners him. So far, so good, as these thigns go, and we’re working on socializing them both, but I’ve seen her turn and flee when his basso profundo bark starts right at the level of her head…and no. That’s as far as I’ll ever get. We can work on one dog’s anxiety with kids, but to have a cycle of animals in and out, each with different triggers? Bad idea, at my house.

    So…while philosophically I am all for fostering as a system, while I help out with pet-shelter fund-raisers, encourge dog parks, and have two rescued mutts snoring in my living room (well, OK, the pittie isn’t snoring, she’s snarling at the pillow that won’t adjust the way she wants it so she can nap)…personally I know that our house is just not cut out to be a good foster house, and I’m not cut out to be a good foster mom.

    • ai731 says:

      …personally I know that our house is just not cut out to be a good foster house, and I’m not cut out to be a good foster mom.

      Ditto. Our pets (1 dog, 2 cats) are/were all rescues, and any future pets we get will also be rescues. But we do not have the temperament to be animal rescue foster parents. It takes a special kind of person, preferably with the right kind of experience and/or training, to deal with a damaged animal and rehabilitate it successfully. We have tremendous respect for people who do it, but we couldn’t.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) works too

    Hi all–I’m a couple of weeks late chiming in here but thought I’d voice another option for feral cats: trap-neuter-release. Given the overcrowding at shelters everyone has mentioned, sometimes trapping cats and having them fixed and then releasing them back where they were–ideally with the knowledge that someone around will be there to leave food and water and keep an eye out for them–can be the best option. That way they can live out their lives–sometimes in stable colonies where they’ll have something of a kitty social life (without the breeding!)–without being caged. Having said that, I live in a very warm climate where cats can get up under houses and such for shelter–up there where the winters are so awful I imagine it would depend on how well they could survive outside over long periods.

    ~Nicole in New Orleans

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