When people think of volunteering at an animal rescue they often think of cuddling puppies, kittens, and loving them through their brokenness. Taking dogs on walks, and cleaning litterboxes. The typical tasks that most rescues will limit volunteer work too. This is mostly because we don't want their hearts to break like ours.
Most hearts can't take the daily torment of waking up and walking to check on an animal you have been working so hard to save, to find that they have passed. Most can't handle the weekly middle of the night calls from fosters frantic that their foster is very ill, and listening to their cry's as they hold their little foster as they pass. Or the first thing in the morning call from the emergency vet that the animal you spent thousands on didn't survive, and your left wondering if you made the right choice. What about the other animals you could have saved with that money? Did they not deserve a chance to?
Growing up on a farm; I quickly learned of life and death. That hard things happened and there often wasn't enough money in the world to solve every issue. When I fostered for the first time, a kitten I had bottle fed from 10 days old became very sick, but the rescue wouldn't hospitalize her. I couldn't understand why, but the rescue knew that chances were slim of her making it. My parents were furious and ended up paying for the bill to have her hospitalized. She passed away in the early morning. $900 later and a heartbroken teenager, I got my first tough lesson in rescue.
Today, I have a close relationship with that rescue and often go to them for advice and support. They have been major supporters of us, and it has been so amazing to have that relationship with someone who has been in rescue for over 30 years. I asked her how she decides to hospitalize animals and when to care for them at home. She taught me that if an animal has a 70% chance of making it, she will pursue advanced care for the animal. Even then, sometimes that 70% chance doesn't make it, but she rest easy that she gave the animal every chance it needed. This is the policy I have recently tried to work with. When I first started, I gave every animal a chance, spending thousands on vet bills even when the case was hopeless. This put our small rescue at risk of not being able to pay our bills and feed our pets. When our bank account was near zero and the animals were all almost out of food, I knew that I had to change something.
While I do give every animal a chance, deciding when to pursue those extraordinary measures has become a hard conversation with staff and our trusted vet partners. It's hard to not get jaded, I will say. There are periods of time when I don't want to try at all because I couldn't handle the heartbreak when
the animal we worked hard to save doesn't make it.
This post isn't to make rescue sound like a horrible field. Because it isn't. It is an amazing career where you get to help complete families, you get to watch miracles happen every day, and you of course get to cuddle lots of animals. But I think it is important for the community to know what it's like for us rescue workers behind the scenes. Mental health is a huge issue in this field because often rescue workers like me get depressed, we feel hopeless, because at the end of the day there will always be animals suffering.
I will say, that the light that keeps me going is my faith in Jesus Christ. My understanding that this is not how it was supposed to be, this was not God's design. I have faith and hope that one day God will restore his kingdom on earth and there will be no more suffering, human or animal kind.
But what about till then? What about now? Has God forgotten about his little creatures in the meantime? I'd like to argue no. He created me. He created you and your heart to help his creatures. And he leads his animals to us. And we get to play a little part in that animals life and make it a slice of heaven. That is how I know God has not forgotten about them.
I have a reoccurring vision when ever we have an animal pass away. One that brings tears to my eyes every time. And that is when I pass away, I will find myself in a field in Heaven, and in this field I'll see Lexie (my childhood dog) running towards me. And just behind her will be all the little critters I tried so desperately to save, but couldn't. And in that moment I feel peace. As their little broken bodies are now whole. What a beautiful image.
I want to encourage you readers to visit a local animal shelter. But I don't want you to go and ask what the animals need. I want you to see what the people behind the scenes need. Maybe it's just a hug. Or maybe it's a surprise coffee; as one of the workers was up till 12am the night before trying to save newborn kittens. Who knows. But without our fearless shelter staff; we couldn't save the animals we do. They are heroes.