Monday, June 19, 2006

Saviour or sadly misguided?

Is it kind to keep a skinless cat for ten years?
I recently chatted with a woman who, it seemed, had some sort of "animal heroine-rescuer" syndrome. She told me of a stray kitten she picked up many years ago. Apparently it had some sort of autoimmune disease and its skin and fur kept sloughing off. She proudly told of her great dedication in keeping the cat alive for ten years, rubbing cream onto the raw, cracked skin and spending huge amounts of money and energy on various treatments and drugs.
Was that fair? I don't really think so. This lady regaled me of several stories like that - dogs and cats she had "saved" and "nurtured" at great expense, and - seemed to me - questionable quality of life for the animal. She clearly expected praise and respect for this; perhaps that's why she did it. I wonder if she treated the humans in her life with the same extraordinary energy? I got the impression she was a somewhat solitary person. Well, there you are.
Not too long ago a local cat rescue was pleading on TV for some huge sum of money - thousands - for a cat that had been set on fire by some deranged, evil kids.
Nice gesture, sure. But animal rescues operate on a threadbare budget. That one newsworthy cat should be afforded such resources meant that several hundred more were killed at taxpayers' expense in shelters in the city that month. Six grand buys one hell of a lot of kitty litter.
Did the cat really want to spend months in a cage, undergoing skin grafts?
The animal rescuer-heroine syndrome takes other forms, too.
People often assume the pet they get from a shelter or rescue was "abused." "She doesn't like men" they say. "She must have been abused by a man." The implication being, of course, that the rescuer is a worthy, heroic person who selflessly and heroically saved an abused animal. That somehow this is a grander gesture than adopting a well-balanced, happy animal from the pound. Look at the publicity Katrina pets got - they had the Katrina cachet - a designer rescue pet!
(By the way, most fearful animals probably have not been abused, just isolated and not socialised.)
From a purely pragmatic point of view, how much better to adopt a well balanced, friendly dog from a shelter - one that does not need tons of work and rehabilitation. Because, thousands of pets are going to be killed today by humane society employees. Most of them are loving and deserving animals that someone threw away because they became inconvenient - the" good" ones are more deserving, I think.
How much better it would have been if the cat lady had spread her resources around a bit, rather than spend ten years nurturing a cat who surely did not have the most comfortable of lives.


Blogger Kirsten said...

hear hear!!! I totally agree with you...too bad there's so many people out there like that lady, who think they are doing so much good, when you can help sooo much more than just one...I see that alot, as I volunteer at out local humane society...
take care
:)Just me

4:03 PM  
Blogger threecollie said...

Great post. I often read of fund raisers dedicated to saving one terribly damaged animal when the same money could do so much more real good spent more sensibly.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Leigh-Ann said...

Just from a devil's advocate perspective, it's hard for us to know if the animals rescued by the "animal rescuer-heroine" woman did suffer true quality of life issues, or if she embellished her tales a bit to seem even more incredible. We have a Shih-tzu who the city pound vets told us to not adopt, as she had numerous health problems. She does. She takes thyroid pills, pills to prevent bladder stones, prednisone, two types of eye drops, and has numerous food allergies. However, she's extremely happy, and looks quite good. She's energetic, loves people, and people love her. She's cost us thousands and thousands of dollars in veterinary expenses, probably enough for us to look after three small dogs who were healthy, but I don't want three small dogs -- I'm happy with her and I think she's happy with me. I guess my suggestion is just that it's hard to judge from just an overview of details. I also had a parrot who got quite sick and couldn't eat, and the vet suggested she be euthanized. I asked if I could take her home for a weekend to syringe-feed her and he said that was fine, but also assumed she'd die within a day or so. I syringe-fed her for three months, but she lived, and went on to be perfectly normal and healthy.

I don't necessarily look for "special needs" animals, but they sometimes find me. When they do, I'll take on the responsibility if my time and budget will allow it. You can't assume that I would "spread (my) resources" around if I didn't have such expensive pets, because that might not be true (depending on my circumstances, living arrangements, etc.).

I do agree that a shelter shouldn't waste money on saving animals who are close to "hopeless" if it means denying services to healthy animals. That said, I also understand why they do fundraisers to help save burned cats, tortured dogs, etc. Those fundraising campaigns are the things which compel the average person to donate money. I pull out my checkbook every year and donate to my local shelter, but most people don't. However, if you give them a real heart-tugging story, they might. If an injured animal needs $5000 worth of veterinary care, but helps to raise $20000 in donations, and raises awareness of the shelter, it probably works out to the shelter's advantage in the long run.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Alison said...

Leigh-Ann does make some very good points. Without knowing the whole facts who can say ? On the face of it though I think sometimes living creatures are be 'better off dead'.
I must admit to not having considered the collecting over the required amount scenario going to the general shelter funds. But in the case of an animal which had been burnt alive I cringe to think of the suffering the 'recovery' would entail.
I always think it is sad that we are able to do a kindness to our animals by ending their suffering, but we cannot do the same thing for people we love.
And, as for anybody who could set a cat on fire - well !, may they burn in hell for eternity !

7:26 PM  
Anonymous Leigh-Ann said...

I was thinking about the "Katrina pets" issue after I posted, and I'd bet some people adopted those animals who might not otherwise adopt (just because their animal came with a "good story"). Do I think that shows the best side of human nature? No. But maybe, just maybe, that rescue dog will be so wonderful that the family will consider a shelter adoption the next time they want a new pet (rather than going to a breeder or pet store). I think there can be silver linings beyond the immediate picture, even if the immeidate picture is annoying ;-)

7:35 PM  
Anonymous jan said...

I'm always intrigued by the dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people who want to adopt a "celebrity dog" one who has been mistreated enough to get media attention, and has special needs to continue living. I think good people are often overwhelmed by all the animals who must be euthanized, but when there is a face and definite need, they will open their hearts and wallets. I do believe this is a good thing for the people who give and the shelters who receive the money and the public awareness.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Behind Blue Eyes said...

That's a hard one. I guess in the end it is a personal choice. My mother adopted a stray dog once that she had found at the campground. I didn't like the dog, I thought that for whatever reason, there was something wrong with it. I was afraid of it biting a kid or something. I thought that the dog had no personality or affection, it just kind of hovered in the corner glowering at people menacingly and if you went and tried to pet it, it would practically turn itself inside out trying to get away from you. But each to it's own I guess. I do think that some people make a big production out of how liberal they are as though they are trying to prove how much more enlightened they are. Gets on my nerves too. It's not necessarily what they do, it's how they do sense it somehow.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Carina said...

Well - Leigh-Ann, you do make some great points, I hadn't thought of. All you commenters have, actually!
It's clearly a pretty complicated subject....I admit, I have donated to "special" causes, like the Katrina effort. Mind you I've also donated and volunteered in more mundane ways.
I know that the local paper's weekly "Featured Pet" at the shelter invariably gets adopted, so clearly putting a face and a bit of personality out there helps. I'm sure the shelter chooses very adoptable pets to feature.
Oy. I still think the lady with the skinless cat could have made a wiser decision, though....

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Lori said...

Interesting post and comments. I agree with one commenter who said that it is hard to know about the quality of life of some animals, because they can't tell you. I do have a hard time believing that the skinless cat would have had a good quality of life, but I have never heard of that before, so it is hard for me to be sure. Maybe people are more likely to donate money to the Humane Society if they hear a particularly sad case, like the cat who was set on fire. Whatever works to get them to donate. But would it be worth it to the cat to go through all that? I really don't know. I hate to think of healthy animals being denied care because of so much going to that one cat, but maybe it's money that would not have been donated anyway, if it weren't for that one cat. Whoever set that cat on fire should be locked up forever! I hate hearing about people hurting animals.

Mainly, I think people should get their pets neutered or spayed. When they want a new pet, they should get one from the shelter instead of from a puppy- or kitty-mill supporting pet shop. Cutting down on the number of unwanted animals would help tremendously. Then it wouldn't be as much of a question of who is the most deserving, because there wouldn't be so many unwanted animals to try to take care of.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Arlo Muttrie said...

As a vet, I've come across a lot of these people who see themselves as the great saviors of the the abandoned. While in some cases they may be doing the right thing and in other cases the wrong one, many are self-righteous about what they have done and feel entitled to special treatment, especially from veterinarians. As an adoptive parent, I've never asked my pediatrician for free care. I'd be an ass if I did.

7:18 PM  

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