Fallen “rescue angels” & online enablers erode the whole concept of “rescue”
There are no heroes or heroines in animal rescue. The success stories tend to be people who manage to foster, rehabilitate to whatever extent is necessary, and responsibly rehome one or two dogs or cats at a time, over and over through many years, while coping with all of life’s other responsibilities, including work, children, aging parents, paying bills and maintaining premises.
Most successful rescuers find ways of integrating those responsibilities, making animal rescue an educational family project, one or two extra dogs and cats beyond longtime household pets at a time. Even the longtime household pets become helpers in training and socialization.
Too many “rescuers” need rescuing from themselves
Yet over and over, as we browse through rescue community social media postings, we see hordes of people, hundreds and even thousands of them, throwing praise and money at clearly dysfunctional rescuers who in no way follow the prescription for success.
These are self-professed “super-rescuers” who take on far more animals than they can handle, do their “rescue work” in isolation from all but one or two also obsessed enablers, disregard health, safety, and financial accountability standards, fail in family and employment relationships, are perpetually in economic distress, are chronically both self-deceptive and manipulative of others, and tend to develop substance abuse issues.
Ultimately, inevitably, such “rescuers” need rescuing from themselves. But since society has few if any effective mechanisms for rescuing rescuers from themselves, the usual outcome is animals in need of re-rescuing––if they survive having been “rescued” in the first place, usually these days from shelters where they were fed, exercised, and––unless they were hostile bully breeds, and/or severely debilitated, and/or deranged, were at little immediate risk of euthanasia.
Beware of “virtue signaling”
“Rescue angels” following what should by now be clearly beaten paths to disaster are undeserving of public praise and donations, which typically become diverted into supporting the lifestyle of the “rescue angels,” including drug and alcohol abuse, while the “rescued” animals are increasingly neglected.
One surefire warning that a “rescue angel” needs to stop or be stopped is excessive “virtue signaling” in response to any words of caution from anyone else.
Watch out, for instance, if a “rescue angel” begins complaining through social media that the director of a shelter from which the “rescue angel” has already “pulled” many animals has suddenly become “needle-happy,” wanting to kill animals instead of releasing them to “rescues,” or just wants to keep every adoptable animal for the shelter to rehome, or is only releasing animals to the director’s favorites.
What such allegations often mean is that the shelter director has recognized that the “rescue angel,” and sometimes her enablers as well, have already taken in more animals than they can safely handle, and is trying to gently apply the brakes before law enforcement has to swear out search warrants in response to neighbors’ complaints about the stench of death.
Shelters relinquish responsibility to achieve “no kill” status
Far too often these days, animal shelters––including humane societies, animal control agencies, and “rescues” large enough to have dedicated facilities and regular volunteer help––appear to have stopped doing due diligence in screening adoption partners and ensuring safe placement of dogs and cats.
Often the underlying problem is public and political pressure to achieve the increasingly unrealistic 90% “live release” rate that is unrealistically touted as the standard for being “no kill.”
In the real world, “no kill” means simply not killing healthy and behaviorally sound animals from lack of space.
If only 50% of the animals a shelter receives are healthy and behaviorally sound, as in some regions is usually the case now, with shelter intakes a fraction of what they were one and two human generations ago, maintaining a 90% “live release” rate means that 80% of the unhealthy and unsound animals the shelter receives are being pushed out the door to someone, usually “rescue angels.”
“Rescue angels” often lack skills & resources equal to the work they are asked to do
“Rescue angels” are then expected to be able to do the extensive rehabilitation and training that the shelters lack the resources to do. But the “rescue angels,” though usually claiming expertise that they do not actually possess, tend to have even fewer resources, less accountability, and less supervision.
Knowing this, shelters less and less follow up what becomes of the dogs and cats they release to “rescue angels.” Shelter directors relinquish responsibility for problematic dogs and cats as rapidly as possible, ideally without traceability back to themselves.
It is small wonder, under the present circumstances, that time and again, week after week, ANIMALS 24-7 becomes aware of “rescue hoarding” cases in which “rescue angels” have “pulled” huge numbers of animals from shelters whose directors profess surprise and shock when remains are found in cages, in heaps, in fire pits, and in shallow graves.
“Rescue angels” found dead among neglected animals
Sometimes the “rescue angels” are found dead, usually long dead, among the animals.
Why? Because no one was doing any follow-up beyond taking the words of the “rescue angels” and whatever online reputation they might have established at face value.
Even when conditions at a “rescue” have been verified once, re-verification often has not been done in years. In one “rescue hoarding” case that ANIMALS 24-7 recently investigated, other rescues continued to recommend and vouch for a failed “rescue” more than 15 years after anyone last inspected the premises. Worse, the “rescue” continued to accept healthy animals referred there by other “rescuers” even after hundreds of other animals already lay dead in their cages.
Animal rescue in one word has become a disaster. The original intent and mission of the “no kill movement,” which ANIMALS 24-7 helped to launch 30 years ago, long ago drifted from trying to rehome every physically and psychologically safe and healthy animal into trying to conform to the so-called “no kill equation,” morphing into “save them all,” even if the outcome amounts to “neglect them all” if animals cannot be easily––and profitably––rehomed.
Watching the progress of “rescue” today is much like watching a train wreck. The runaway “no-kill” train long ago careened down the steep grade to hell, with no brakes, no conductor, not even Casey Jones at the throttle, yet packed to standing room only with animals who are helpless even to hang on.
“Animal rescue,” has become an attractive nuisance, rife with scammers and thieves, sociopaths, psychopaths, and expert manipulaters who have finely tuned the art of wresting donations from John Q. and Jane Public by pulling at their heartstrings, reciting the shibboleths they want to hear, truthful or not.
“Rescue angels” replace “Crazy Cat Lady”
John Q. and Jane Public remain almost as gullible and ill-informed about the realities of dog and cat overpopulation as ever. The myth that “Crazy Cat Lady” can “save them all” has become the myth that “rescue angels” can, a myth that “rescue angels” themselves succumb to by taking in every dog or cat they come under pressure to accept.
Public knowledge of the complex multi-faceted subject of animal rescue is unfortunately still as limited as when Walt Disney Inc. made Lady & The Tramp in 1955.
We ourselves create and enable the so called “monsters” in animal rescue.
We at ANIMALS 24-7 can indict ourselves on this account, along with many others, because it was our reporting, decades ago, that helped to make nationally and even internationally lauded gurus of some of the people who introduced and popularized many of the most misguided concepts in “rescue.”
But we did warn of the pitfalls
But we at ANIMALS 24-7 can at least recall that we did try to warn the “rescue” world right from the very beginning against enabling animal hoarding, rehoming dangerous dogs, making common cause with breeders and promoters of dangerous dogs, and expecting “rescue angels” with limited resources and less actual know-how to rehabilitate unlimited numbers of animals for whom well-funded shelters could do nothing.
Unfortunately, the unrealistic expectations created by the very phrase “no kill” quickly gave even the most dysfunctional “rescue angels” a false sense of identity as saviors.
The “rescue angel” who “pulls” dangerous dogs, especially pit bulls, puts them in tutus, and lies about their behavior and history to get them into homes at any risk is lauded for her compassion, regardless of how many other animals and humans the “pitties” and other “babies” go on to dismember alive.
Social media cheerleaders
The more animals a “rescue angel” takes on, even beyond her capabilities, the greater her status online, even if most or all of the animals are suffering in filth and neglect, or are beyond further suffering, in advanced decomposition.
Any who try to speak out against false “rescue angels,” especially voices of experience, are immediately shouted down with a barrage of insults from social media cheerleaders who have been taught to denounce anyone who warns about a dangerous dog as a “hater,” and to accuse anyone who sees that a “rescue angel” has taken on too many animals of wanting to go back to “high kill” days that hardly anyone in “rescue” today is old enough to personally remember, when decompression chambers and gas chambers were routinely used to kill upward of 90% of impounded animals, and shelters cumulatively received seven times as many dogs and cats as at any time in the present century.
Dressing wolves in sheep’s clothing
While reporting about the horrific Heidi Lueders, Dawn Pennington, Tiffany & Steven Woodington, Corinne DiLorenzo, and “Rooster” Featherington “rescue hoarding” cases in recent days, ANIMALS 24-7 experienced a microcosm of all the above in our own community.
The subject was the large female canine whom ANIMALS 24-7 described on January 30, 2022 in “Wolf dog is doing well” at large, but “For how long?” community wonders.
For another four months the suspected wolf dog, identified as such by both the former owner from whom she escaped, and initially by her feeder, whose weight was estimated at 90 to 110 pounds, continued to roam at large. The former owner had long since moved away.
Eventually the feeder appealed to the online “rescue” community, seeking funding to build a fenced kennel and enclosure for the alleged wolf dog. Others took up the cause.
Moved to undisclosed location
Overnight the free-roaming wolf hybrid whom no local shelter, “rescue,” or sanctuary would accept––which was why the kennel and enclosure were to be built––metamorphosed into a purported sixty-pound husky mix who had supposedly been chained for years.
Please note that this canine is female; sixty pounds is at the upper end of the male husky size range, with females running about 20% smaller. Please note also that several people with nationally recognized expertise in huskies, Malamutes, and wolf dogs had already identified the animal repeatedly, from photographs, as a probable low-content wolf dog.
The kennel and enclosure were built, but were only briefly occupied by the animal in question. The feeder, after suggesting that a catch-pole and a sheriff’s deputy would be needed to safely transfer the animal, released her to “rescue” without those precautions.
As a purported husky, the probable wolf dog moved from custody of the initial “rescue angel” to an unidentified foster situation.
Attack in Mount Vernon
Warnings that changing the identity of the probable wolf dog and that rewriting her history to make her adoptable were both dishonest and potentially lethally dangerous to an eventual adoptive family were greeted with perhaps more vituperation than if someone had suggested feeding her a diet of live fawns, bunnies, kittens, and kindergarteners.
All except the kindergartners, incidentally, had probably already been on her menu during her six months of roaming suburban forests and fields.
Meanwhile in Mount Vernon, 30 miles away, a canine described as a husky/Malamute mix wandered into a suburban garage, mauling a four-year-old girl and her grandfather when he came to her aid. The girl was hospitalized. The alleged husky/Malamute mix was impounded and at last report was likely to be euthanized.
Was this the same animal? ANIMALS 24-7 does not know.
But whether or not the same animal was involved, the attack should be a warning to anyone of good sense what can occur when history and genetics are ignored to give a “rescue angel” and her online enablers a feel-good.
Why people become “rescue angels”
` To be remembered is that there are a variety of reasons why people find themselves pulled into animal rescue, or simply blindly dive in.
Some seek to elevate their identities and status in life, seeking praise and enjoying adoring fans who are constantly holding them up on pedestals. Others see what they mistake for easy money and lots of it––which may come for a time, if they are energetic and charismatic fundraisers, but will never be enough to “save them all,” especially if the “rescue angel” keeps taking in more animals to be able to tell more tear-jerking stories in appeals, and even more so if feeding a substance abuse problem is involved.
The commitment these “rescue angels” make is not to the animals they claim to rescue, but rather to themselves, with little or no oversight by anyone.
Calling people who rescue animals “heroes” and “heroines” is killing animals
Did you believe that the horrific events in Bully Breed Rescue founder Heidi Leuders’ case, in which five pit bulls starved to death in cages in her bedroom, were unique?
Or that maybe the curious case of Steffen Baldwin could not happen all over again?
Or imagine that even as Leuders was acquitted by a Connecticut judge for her repugnant neglect and abuse of dogs in her care, that something much worse was being done to six times as many animals by yet another acclaimed “rescue angel” in South Carolina?
Put the brakes on heralding people who rescue animals as “heroes” and “heroines.” This does not help the animals any, and is in fact is killing them.
Teamwork, accountability, transparency, honesty
Trust must be earned, not with words, but with verifiable deeds. Animal rescue is not a one-man, one-woman job, and no one individual doing it should be held up as a saint or an angel.
Successful rescuers practice teamwork, accountability, transparency, and honesty, and do not burn themselves out by taking on too many animals with too little help.
The most successful rescuers have lives beyond rescue. Family, friends, hobbies, and sports enhance their ability to introduce (or re-introduce) animals to normal lives in normal human households.
Successful rescuers do not re-immerse animals into the crowding and chaos of the shelters from which the dogs and cats supposedly were rescued, let alone subject the animals to filth, dehydration, starvation, and miserably painful deaths, while the “rescue angels” responsible strut and preen themselves on social media, or simply trip out on drugs and alcohol.
ANIMALS 24-7 has seen and documented the rise and fall of many animal “rescue angels,” both male and female, over many years, keeping files on many thousands of individual cases.
Those who deny the realities and magnitude of the “rescue hoarding” phenomenon are themselves part of the problem.