Like any field, there are different degrees of expertise. Some are novices, some have some experience but a lot to learn, and some are God’s gift to rescue and seem to have learned and done everything under the sun.
I consider myself in the middle–I have quite a bit of experience, but still have a long way to go. And that’s okay because I love learning and trying new things. But some rescuers who I meet or see their posts on Facebook or in emails have a lot to learn. I am not judging these people or thinking that they are stupid–they are just novices.
The problem with getting others involved in the rescue community is that there isn’t an orientation course that you can take when you start. Some step in the water very slowly at first and some just dive right in. It’s not like starting a new job where one day you’re unemployed and the next day you’re starting work. It’s more gradual. Their animal rescue education is at the mercy of whoever takes that person under his or her wing, and sometimes that can be dangerous if the new rescuer gets into the wrong hands.
Since the orientation course doesn’t exist (yet! you never know what I might do next!), I’d like to provide a few principles of rescue that I believe are beneficial for every rescuer to know right off the bat. This will jump start a new rescuer’s education into our community and hopefully help retain him or her as they get started.
- A new rescuer should know what Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is.
“Breed specific legislation is exactly what sounds like…regulation of your right to own or, in many cases, not own a dog based solely on the breed or “type” of dog, not your responsibility as an owner.” –Pit Bull Rescue Central This usually applies to pit bull type dogs (which is extremely vague) and many other “vicious” breeds. To me, it is the epitome of stupidity that legislators can sometimes exude. Animal rescuers do not like BSL.
- A new rescuer should know the importance of positive reinforcement training (a.k.a. clicker training).
“Clicker training” is an animal training method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior and rewarding it.
Desirable behavior is usually marked by using a “clicker,” a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct “click” sound which tells the animal exactly when they’re doing the right thing. This clear form of communication, combined with positive reinforcement, is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is physically and mentally capable of doing. –Karen Pryor
In all the animal psychology books that I’ve read over the past few years, positive reinforcement training wins out hands down over negative punishment training (e.g. Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer). Studies have shown the adverse effects of punishment-based training, including increased aggression and distrust of people. Animal rescuers should know that positive reinforcement training wins out! No prong or shock or choke collars here. No “being the pack leader” junk, either.
- A new rescuer should know dog and
cat body language and stressor/calming signals. “Dogs are very expressive animals. They communicate when they’re feeling happy, sad, nervous, fearful and angry, and they use their faces and bodies to convey much of this information. Dog body language is an elaborate and sophisticated system of nonverbal communication that, fortunately, we can learn to recognize and interpret. Once you learn how to “read” a dog’s postures and signals, you’ll better understand his feelings and motivations and be better able to predict what he’s likely to do. These skills will enable you to interact with dogs with greater enjoyment and safety.”–WebMD and WebMD cat body language
Knowing what to look for will help you understand what a newly rescued dog or cat needs and can be especially when executing introductions to dogs, cats, and people. Animal rescuers should know how to best communicate with the animals they are trying to save.
- A new rescuer should know why The No Kill Revolution is important and how we can make communities No Kill. “If every animal shelter in the United States embraced the No Kill philosophy and the programs and services that make it possible, we would save nearly four million dogs and cats who are scheduled to die in shelters this year, and the year after that. It is not an impossible dream.” –No Kill Advocacy Center, Nathan Winograd Shelter killing in many communities is an epidemic, but it doesn’t have to be like that forever. We need to reject the status quo. Wanna know how? Buy one of Nathan Winograd’s books or visit his website to obtain free information on The No Kill Equation Toolkit. Animal rescuers are trying to make No Kill a dream come true.
- A new rescuer should know about the importance of fostering and how to encourage others to do it.
“While it can be very challenging, knowing that you saved an animal from euthanasia and helped it find its forever home will give you endless joy.”
If foster-based rescues and foster homes did not exist, millions more animals would die each year, and a fostering program also happens to be part of the No Kill Equation. Foster an animal yourself or come up with a good answer to encourage others to do it when you hear the words, “Oh, but it would be too hard to give them up! I would get too attached!” Yes, that is a real concern, but not a good excuse to not do it. Adopting out a foster does not mean that you didn’t love that dog or cat and were able to give him up easily, it means that you love the foster animal so much that you are willing to give it to a loving home so you can save another. Animal rescuers believe in the saving power of fostering.
- A new rescuer should know where the dogs sold in pet stores and online are coming from–puppy mills.
“Puppy mills exist for only one purpose – to make money. In a puppy mill, there may be as many as 30 different breeds and up to 800 or more breeding dogs. Every female is pregnant with every heat, including their first heat at 6 – 10 months old when they themselves are still a puppy. The puppies receive little to no medical attention, are not socialized with people, are almost always taken from their mothers too young, and often start their lives out in the world sick and scared. There is absolutely no regard to the health and well-being of the breeding dogs and when they can no longer produce puppies, the majority of them are killed.”–
National Mill Dog Rescue
Puppy mills, commercial breeding, dog auctions–they are all horrific practices and are not actually illegal in a lot of states. The breeding dogs rescued from there are always in terrible physical and mental condition. Most of them have never been outside of cages, and it can take years to rehabilitate one. Animal rescuers want to crack down on commercial breeding operations.
Obviously, there a lot more things to learn than what I’ve just posted, but it’s a good start for our orientation. Please share this with others who are thinking about getting involved in animal rescue!
In another lesson, we can discuss issues that plague and sometimes divide the rescue community.