\I am tired. I am emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted. I promised I would go easier on myself after last month of working until I was bed ridden. Turns out the flu and strep were in cahoots to get me off my feet for two seconds. It worked, for those two seconds.
I received a call from my Uncle down in Florida shortly after my week of sickly hell. He, after a few cocktails in, talked to me for 30 minutes on self care. He told me that I needed to take two days a week for myself in order to not get burnt out. In his exact words,”Alex, I mean it. Two days a week of not saving an animal. If you go to the park and see a puppy, you can look at it, but you can’t touch it. Don’t save anything for two days a week”. I nodded over the phone and told him that he was right. I continued to agree as I finished off my December Calendar packed to the brim with shelter overnight shifts, twelve hour surgery days, and sterilization clinics on the weekends; leaving myself with two off days the whole month. Two days a week, two days a month; close enough, right?
This is no new information for any fellow rescuer. In fact, I can almost guarantee they are reading that last paragraph with a smile on their face, as they know damn well that there are no off days in rescue. I can even bet that most of these rescue warriors are reading this at 2:00am, as they reply to seventeen messages about dogs desperately in need, who will die without their help; all while intermittently nodding off as they sit on their couch with upwards of eight foster dogs seeking their attention that no one else could take.
These are my people.
As I, myself, sit on my bathroom floor after an eleven hour work day with a parvo puppy in my lap, I can’t help but let the tears flow down my face onto the little ones cheek below me. He was saved by one of those rescue warriors this past weekend on the Indian Reservation. He, along with two of his litter mates were spotted on the side of the road close to where we were running our spay and neuter clinic. They were scooped up and taken back to the shelter we were working out of. The male of the litter, the boy now in my arms, was by far the most ill. He was vomiting with severe hemorrhagic diarrhea, and a quick parvo test confirmed my suspicions; without our help, he wouldn’t have made it through the night. My wheels were spinning, and I knew there was something I could do. Before I could even begin to go over my next two weeks of twelve hour days, I was offering to treat him at my home. Flash forward five days, and here I sit.
As I lean against my bathroom wall, with this weak puppy in my arms, I’m forcibly pulled to think of what his fate would have been without his rescue warriors. I can’t help but think that he, too, knows what it would have been as well. From the second he laid his head on a warm bed, he had to have known that the cold, dirt ground of his previous life was not the one he was supposed to end with.
I continue to try and push out the images of his littermate that didn’t make it because we couldn’t get to her in time. I’m tortured of the image of her alone and scared with no warm lap to sleep on as she passed. The images start flooding in full force. First, the visual I’ll never break from my mind of a foster mom with a failing puppy in her arms, and the pained, tearful gaze as I told her that her puppy was distemper positive with progressive neurologic symptoms. Then, the grossing task of cleaning the large open wound around the neck of a sweet puppy, whose owner kept chained for so long outside, that the metal had started to imbed into its skin. Or, a similar female dog, that my rescue heroes had cut from heavy metal chain under a solitary tree in the desert, only to find out during her spay that she had a large infection in her uterus, and a septic pregnancy that would have killed her within days. Only by chance and badass, brave humans was her life saved. The hardest of all, was leaving behind a fearful dog that stole my heart. If you know me, you know it’s the “Caution Sign” mutts that have me wrapped around their paw within minutes of our meeting. Having to look into the eyes of a dog that is so scared that no one can come near, and come to terms with the fact that sometimes you have to leave some behind, is never easy. To try and clean out his small cage with a metal roofing floor that shifted every time he took a step, and stuff him with the best of foods while you are there, as you aren’t sure when he will be fed next…is heart wrenching.
My least favorite saying that anyone could ever mouth is,”You can’t save them all”. Well, you can bet your ass I’m going to try.
That is all we really do, try; and most of the time, succeed. But it is so difficult not to get stuck on the ones you had to leave behind, the ones you couldn’t save, even as you have a miracle pup lying peacefully in your arms because you tried.
Endless cheers to the rescuers who continue to be my heroes day in and day out. From the transport drivers that spend days on end bringing animals on their freedom ride to a new life, to the Veterinary professional who falls in love with the broken mostly because they know that they are their last shot. From the rescue owner who is pulling from their own, very shallow pockets to fund a surgery for a dog that would have been euthanized without their intervention, to the unsung heroes that spend hours and hours cleaning up and caring for shelter animals so that they have even a hint of comfort in a new place. From the foster parents who have lost an entire litter of kittens due to Panleukopenia, yet still get their house ready to save more lives, to the boots on the ground rescuers that are pulling dogs from hoarding cases and puppy mills to bring them to rescues for a better life. To all the fellow warriors that have a constant, heartbreaking love affair with animal rescue…
Working in rescue, your heart is in a constant state of being broken down and rebuilt, sometimes even in one sitting. There is always work to be done, always more lives to save, always more mistakes to correct. There is no beaming, bright light at the end of a very long tunnel. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating, and if you sit too long thinking about what you’ve seen you won’t keep going; but you have to. Because with every life saved, you know in your soul that that one life was completely worth the days of struggle. I guess that’s why they say rescue is an addiction. Once you have felt the high of seeing a life saved through your direct efforts, any heartbreak is worth it ten times over.