My Personal Rescue Commandments

(a profession of faith)

These are the rules that have guided my own practice of Rescue. To me these represent an ideal that can be approached if the Rescue group or individual has sufficient resources of humanpower, especially foster homes, and of finance in relationship to the number and frequency of the dogs needing to be rescued and the availability of adoptive homes.
Where the resources are too limited in relation to the caseload and the "flow" of dogs through the "pipeline", then some compromise may be unavoidable. If you don't like the compromises that are being made in your local rescue group (or any other rescue group) , before you criticise or condemn, first ask yourself what could you do to contribute to expanding resources so these compromises don't have to be made !
This article (manifesto ? profession of faith ? mission statement ?) is written for the Bouvier, but it would apply to any dog rescuer person (or other species rescue person). Use whatever is helpful to you : I include some variations on each theme that may be appropriate for your situation.

My Personal Rescue Commandments

by Pam Green, © 2003

1. "If in doubt, bail it out !"

I don't care if the dog is a genuine bone fido purebred Bouvier or not, ugly or pretty, cropped and docked or natural. If it is "Bouvish" , I will do my best to rescue it.

I don't care if it is a "real" Bouv or a "pretender." If it looks pretty much like it is or may be a Bouv or a Bouv mix, seems to have Bouvish personality, and impresses me as a placeable dog , I will bail it out of the Pound (or accept it as a stray or owner surrender) and will try my best to foster and place it. Except in the rare instances where a dog is surrendered with registration papers, there is no way anyone can be absolutely certain that it is 100% Bouvier anyway. I've seen some pretty ugly or misshapen dogs who were registered Bouvs and I've seen some wonderful looking , very typy, dogs whom anyone would unhesitatingly proclaim to be Bouviers, who actually were known for certain to be 0% Bouv, ie were crosses of other breeds . (And of course I have picked up some shaggy apparent Bouvs who later proved to be other breeds (usually Giant Schnauzer) and if I had the oppertunity to turn them over to their own breed's Rescue, I usually did so as that would give the dog a better oppertunity at placement. But once I take in a dog , I am responsible for seeing that case through to a proper conclusion.)

I don't care if the dog is a "good looking" or "typy" Bouv or an ugly one. The dog still wants to live and there are plenty of adopters who are wise enough to value a dog for personality and behavior rather than for looks. I don't care if it has natural ears or natural tail, rather than cosmetically altered ones (ie cropped ears, docked tail), and the vast majority of adopters don't care either or even prefer the natural version as more expressive and cuter.

Now you may be wondering why I impose even the limit that the dog be "Bouvish", ie a Bouv, Bouv cross, or a Bouv "pretender". Why not rescue any nice appealing dog I see at the Pound? Why not try to save all of them? Well mostly it has to do with knowing that I am not infinite in capacity and capability. It's a matter of obeying the principle of "don't bite off more than you can chew." Some other rescue people may have greater ability or capacity and some have less. We all have to respect our own abilities and our own limitations , which may expand or contract over time and with experience or change of circumstance. Yes, you can exceed your limitations to a modest degree and for a while, but if you keep doing it and doing more and more of it, you will "burn out" and become useless to the cause of dog rescue. For me limiting my practice to the class of the "Bouvish" works in terms of the caseload being one I can handle (as part of a club effort --- I absolutely couldn't do it alone !). It works in terms of my really knowing this breed rather well and so being able to train , rehabilitate, and evaluate the dogs, to screen (evaluate) and educate potential adopters and to matchmake good adopters with compatible dogs, and thus be able to make placements that have a very high probablility of working out so the dog will be a treasured member of the family. And of course as my reputation has grown as a Bouvier rescuer , people seeking Bouvier to adopt have sought me out. I say "people who want to buy a Chevy don't go to the Dodge dealership". Currently there are national, and often local, Rescue groups for just about every breed I ever heard of and some that I never heard of. So to me the breed-oriented (or groups of related breeds or similar purposed breeds) rescue concept makes sense, especially if the breed groups are willing to take obvious crosses of their breeds. It's hard enough to get people working together (and putting aqside personal differences and animosities) when they are united by loyalty to a particular breed or particular type of dog. There are groups for the mixed breed dogs and unclassifiable dogs too. I admire the multi-breed or all breed or mixed breed rescuers immensely as they have taken on the very hardest task in terms of numbers and evaluation and matchmaking tasks.

(I probably should also add that from time to time I have succumbed to the tempation of an appealing whiskery face, a dog I could not bear to leave behind to be killed. My very worst ever case was one of these : a dog I ultimately put down as an ongoing danger (see rule 3) and yet continue to wonder if someone else could have gotten a better result with him. Also one of my most enjoyable cases, "Chris" who became a cherished member of my family, also was one of those "not even remotely a Bouv" cases. So for me such dogs have been "the best of rescue , the worst of rescue, the season of hope and the season of dispair."

2. "I will kill no dog before its time."

I will rescue dogs regardless of their age (old) or apparent condition of health (sick or injured). Whatever remains of their life is precious to them.

I will rescue dogs who may appear to be elderly. Yes, it does take more time to find an adopter, but those who do adopt such dogs are usually thrilled with them. They tend to be very well behaved and very grateful for all affection and comfort offered to them. These old dogs have "earned" their place in the world : if they were not well behaved , they would probably have been dumped years ago. There must be a very special place in Hell for anyone who willingly abandons an old friend. (Besides , I'm getting on in years myself.) I've got a separate article on the wonderfulness of adopting an older dog.

I will rescue dogs who appear to be sick or injured and I will get them the best veterinary care that I can. In most cases dogs who are ill or injured can be restored to decent health and good quality of life if a sufficiently skilled vet is available, if the foster home can give the needed at-home care, and if the money can be found to pay for vetting. In rare cases, when the dog is in catastrophic condition or terminally ill and its suffering cannot be ameliorated sufficiently for comfortable enjoyable life, then it becomes my duty to provide the Sacrament of Euthanasia, and this is usually rather painful for me (see rule 5). In rare cases where the dog is terminally ill but still comfortable or can be made comfortable, I may have the priviledge of providing hospice care until the time comes for euthanasia, and this is a privilege both rewarding and painful (see rule 5).

Interestingly, some of the most serious ill dogs I have ever cared for appeared perfectly normal at intake and the illness erupted after intake. That includes two who seemd healthy at intake but were actually secretly ill in horrible ways that ultimately required euthanasia. Likewise some of the dogs that appeared to be in horrible health at intake, some of whom were actually close to death at that time, recovered fully and went on to live several years more with adopters who treasured them.

As noted above, the ability to provide serious levels of vet care depends partly on availability of funds. Those Rescue efforts that simply don't have the financial means to spend as much on one seriously ill or injured dog as they would spend on five healthy ones don't have the luxury of trying to save such high need dogs (especially those with poor hopes of sucessful outcome) , and they have to be realistic about this. Sometimes that means euthanizing the dog and sometimes it means making a campaign in local newspapers and radio and on the Internet (by e-mail lists) to raise the needed funds.

One has to be able to rely on a knowledgable and compassionate vet or vets to tell you what hope there is for a sucessful treatment and what quality of life is likely to result from treatment. The prospects for a good outcome have to be balanced against whatever suffering the dog will be enduring during treatment and also can have great impact on whether the dog will be adoptable afterwards. I am lucky to have the resources of one of the world's truly great Vet Schools (U.C. Davis) to turn to for help in these matters.

3. "I will kill no dog before its crime."

I will rescue dogs whose behavior appears to be bad, so long as I feel I can work with the dog without unacceptable danger to myself or to others. But I must evaluate these dogs carefully before placement.

I will rescue dogs whose behavior at the Pound or Shelter is such that they appear to have major behavior problems, because I have good hope to rehabilitate the dog so that he becomes adoptable. I feel every dog deserves one second chance if I am able to give that chance safely, ie safely for me personally and safely for the ultimate adopter and the public who may have close encounters with the dog.

Sometime the behavior is the result of the stress of the incarceration situation or to a bad situation in the former home. In many such cases the problem cures itself when the dog is in a foster home where it has good packleadership , training, and excercise. In other cases , the foster home may have to do some kind of "behavior modification" proceedure. The more you know about behavior and remedial protocols, the better hope you have of sucess. I've learned a lot "flying by the seat of my pants" and I've learned a lot from reading in the behavior literature and attending veterinary seminars.

I should note that some dogs who come in with what seem to be major problems will straighten out easily, and some dogs who come in with no apparent problems will prove to have really severe problems.

Where the behavior is NOT one which has significant potential for danger to humans or to other pets, even if the behavior cannot be changed, it is sometimes possible to find an adopter for whom this behavior is acceptable or can be managed. For dogs who cannot be trusted with other pets, usually a home can be found where the dog will be the only pet or where theer are no other pets of the kind this dog is not OK with (eg often that means no cats; some Bouvier will never be OK with a cat). Often it takes longer to find the right home, because the adopter has to be realistic and have the knowledge and self-discipline to manage the situation. In all cases it is absolutely essential to be totally honnest about all problems that the foster home has discovered.

I'd better add that dogs who are seriously dog aggressive do have a significant potential for injuring humans because, if a dog fight erupts, many humans will impulsively or foolishily stick their body parts into the line of fire and get bitten. So such a dog is adoptable only to the most responsible and vigilant adopter, who can manage the dog so as to avoid potential for fights. That may mean that the dog is muzzled in what would otherwise be risky situations. Some of theses dogs will become much easier to manage if they go through a lot of obediance training in group situations. Note : usually the aggression is restricted to dogs of the same sex; a bitch and a male dog will almost always get along peacefully.

Where the behavior does have significant potential for danger to humans or to other pets, the dog's response to rehabilitation efforts must be evaluated with the utmost care. If the dog remains significantly more dangerous than the ordinary average dog, then I as rescuer and foster person have to accept that this is NOT an adoptable dog. I have to choose either to keep the dog myself (which I am generally NOT willing to do and which I do NOT advise anyone else to feel obligated to do) or I must choose to KILL the dog as the only means of ensureing that he will not hurt anyone. Of course that means that I get hurt emotionally (see rule 5). I've only had to do this twice in all the many years and many dogs.

4. "Gonads must GO !"

I will spay or neuter every dog before placement, excepting only extraordinary circumstances.

(I would have made this the first commandment, but actually getting the dog out of danger comes first both in timeline and in importance; the first 3 rules, which could have been consolidated into one rule, relate to getting the dog out of danger.)

If I were to place a reproductively capable dog or bitch, I would be guarranteeing my own defeat. If just one adopter out of every ten who received an intact dog were to allow an accidental litter, or a deliberate one, to be born , then the chances that I (or some other rescue person) would have to rescue some or most of the litter later on are uncomfortably high. At best such a litter would absorb homes that are needed for dogs already here and homeless. I owe a duty to prevent such litters to myself, to other rescuers, to this particular dog , and to every other dog who needs a home.

There are two potential exceptional situations.

One is the situation of a bitch whose spay status cannot be determined with certainty. I've had cases of middle aged and older bitches who seem to have a midline abdominal scar that is probably a spay scar. However there is (at present in 2003) no absolute way to be sure she is spayed other than by surgery, and no one wants to do an unnescesary surgery. In most such cases the bitch will be in foster care for several months, and if that period extends beyond 6 months the absence of any estrus signs would seem to confirm that she is spayed. My solution in these cases is to place such a bitch only with an adopter I have reason to greatly trust and to write a clause into the adoption contract requiring the adopter to watch vigilantly for signs of estrus and, if such occurs, to spay the bitch as soon as her heat is over, in exchange for which I will give a partial rebate of the adoption fee as soon as I receive the spay certificate. I've only had to do this twice. In the future there may be more equivocal cases, as pediatric spay becomes more common : a skilled surgeon can do this with such a tiny incision that the scar may be totally undetectable. How I wish all vets would tatoo a spade symbol on each bitch's thigh when they do a spay ! (I intend to write an article on this which will be entitled "On Calling a Spayed a Spade.")

The other exceptional situation is that of a dog whose health situation demands that the surgery be postponed for some relatively lengthy time. Ideally the solution is for the dog to remain in foster care until the surgery can be accomplished. So far I have usually been able to do that. The ability to do that depends on having enough foster homes and any additional money needed to support the dog and its illness in foster care for the more extended time. (Same applies to the situation of the bitch with the equivocal scar.) Alternatively if a totally trustworthy adopter is available, able to supply the health care and absolutely trustworthy to get the spay or neuter done when the vet thinks it is safe to do so, then an adoption (with a strongly worded clause in the contract, including the Rescue's right to reposess the dog if the surgery is not done on schedule) can be appropriate. I've done this once for one of my favorite adopters , totally trustworthy, whose own dog had died recently and she desperately wanted to adopt this dog right now (the reason for postponement was obesisty so I knew that the adopter could manage the cure of dieting and excercising the dog down to a normal weight). A futher variation on this theme would be the dog whose health is never going to be good enough to make the surgery really safe, ie the dog who will remain a poor anesthesia candidate. With today's anesthetics and a really skilled anesthesiologist on the case, this should be very rare. Most dogs who cannot be anesthesized are also so severely ill that they aren't going to live long and may need to be euthanized now. But there might be some exceptions. Again the solution would be placement with a totally trustworthy adopter who has no intact dog of opposite sex in the household and whose fences are totally secure.

5. "If anyone gets hurt, it has to be me."

If someone is going to get hurt physically or emotionally, it has to be me rather than the adopter or a third party.

If a dog's behavior is questionable and potentially dangerous, then I must foster it untill all reasonable doubt has been resolved in favor of the dog being normally safe. Working with the dog may involve risk of getting bitten or otherwise physcially hurt and the more painful risk of emotional grief if I have to put the dog down as being too dangerous to be adopted. But if I adopt out a risky dog , then if an adopter or some third party gets bitten, not only will that dog be put down, but also the whole Rescue movement will suffer in reputation because the story will get told over and over, and in consequence many perfectly adoptable dogs will find that the supply of adopters has shrunk.

If a dog is ill or injured and treatment proves unsucessful, again there is emotional pain in having to give that dog the only mercy within my power. I take some comfort that at least I was able to provide this dog with a period of life in which it was given security and love, and that I gave it the best chance for recovery that I could, and that its passing was peaceful and painless.

6. "Help, encourage, or get the hell out of the way !"

If I don't like the way someone else is doing something, I will try to help them and encourage them if I can; if I can't (or won't) I will at least not make their job any harder.

I will try to discipline myself to help even those I diagree with or dislike because we share the goal of saving dogs' lives. Even when we disagree , we have to (ought to) remember that we are both on the same side. It's easy to help someone you generally agree with but it can be harder to make yourself help with someone who is doing things in a manner you don't agree with or someone whom you dislike personally. Even if the other person refuses the offered help, some change for the better may occur in their attitude. At the least, I will like myself and respect myself more for having tried. Maybe the next attempt will be more successful.

There are many possible ways to help. It's not always easy to see which is the right way and it's not always easy to offer help in a way that the other person can accept.

One way to help is to share resources of knowledge, including by tactfully suggesting a better method of doing things. Suggestions of this sort go over better if the message is along the lines of "I admire the hard work you are doing and the good things you are accomplishing. I have a suggestion of a method that you might find has advantages over the one you hve been using. Can I share that with you?" This goes over so much better than anything that sounds more critical or accusatorial. Unfortunately some people seem to be internally programed to interpret any suggestion as a hostile criticism or a personal attack. Sometimes just being able to suggest that the person look at such and such a book or website to get more ideas that could be helpful to them in their rescue efforts : let the author of the book or site make your point for you.

Other ways to help are the obvious ones. The greatest help may be offering to take over fostering of one dog or to transport a dog to someone who can take over its foster care. Another way is to share your database of potential adopters or those ones who might be a good match for this particular dog. Another great help is a financial contribution, even if you attach some "strings" as to how that money is to be used, specifiying that it be used to do the thing that you object to this rescue person currently not doing (eg for supporting the next Bouv mix that needs rescue, or the next elderly dog , or whatever the situation of disagreement might be). Or it might be a pledge of future financial support in certain situations that you would like to be handled in a better way -- but be sure you can fulfill your pledge !

If I don't want to help or am unable to help, I can at least refrain from making that other rescue person's job even harder than it already is. I can refrain from back-biting or bad-mouthing them. I can refrain from slandering them on the e-mail lists and the Web. And when I hear someone else making accusations, I can at least remind myself that I am only hearing one side of the story , and that the unheard side almost certainly has something to say for itself. Almost no one in Rescue work sets out to be a villain. Almost all are well intentioned , though some may be inexperienced, ignorant, or incompetent -- all of which can be helped by support from the more knowledgeable. ( Everyone starts out inexperienced and ignorant to some degree, though we often conveniently forget this later on.)

If someone is truly doing something gravely wrong and if I have genuine evidence of that wrongdoing, then and only then will I speak out in accusation and if so I will do it to the legal authorities rather than "trial by e-mail" or "trial by internet". I have to have evidence good enough to take to court and good enough to defend myself in court against a defamation suit. for me that means I would need solid evidence that someone is either abusing or neglecting dogs or that they are committing a fraud.

An added note:

When I planned this article , I envisioned only the first 5 rules. Unfortunately some events in the Bouvier Rescue community during this current year (2003) have made me realize that the 6th commandment is nescessary. I would suggest that this 6th rule has broad applications to everyone's life. I'd better also confess that I don't always manage to live up to its highest implementation, but I will keep trying to do so.


site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 7/29/03 revised 7/31/03
return to top of page return to Site Index