“Somebody Do Something” – The Armchair Dog Rescuer

Photo by Patrick Danforth| www.clicktozen.com

Photo by Patrick Danforth| www.clicktozen.com

Dog rescue is a dirty business. And I mean that literally. If you haven't been pooped on, haven't come home covered in dog hair, or haven't gone through a range of about 20 emotions in the span of a few hours--you're doing it wrong. It's a passion that can bring you the greatest joy, and can bring you to your knees just as easily.

While I commend anyone who dedicates even a small part of their life to helping dogs in need, today I've got a bone to pick with the people I like to call "armchair dog rescuers." These are the people that are usually the first to cast blame--typically on rescue groups, fellow rescuers, or animal shelter employees--and are the last to take proactive action themselves.

The armchair dog rescuer often adopts the attitude of "somebody do something!" When you're on the front lines of the rescue world, this attitude is incredibly frustrating. Even working alongside all the people who are doing as much as they can, there comes a point when our hands are tied. Without the help of the general public, rescuers and adopters simply can't save every dog facing euthanasia at a shelter.

Animal shelter workers and animal control officers take a verbal beating on a daily basis from people who believe that they are just out to "kill any dog that walks in the door." In the vast majority of cases, this couldn't be further from the truth. The real root of the problem starts with irresponsible pet ownership, especially a lack of spaying and neutering. (Note: This is a problem more specific with the United States than in other areas like the UK, where many pets are unaltered, but are safely contained at all times.)

So instead of being an armchair dog rescuer who tells others to "save all of them" or to "just do something," try some of these alternatives that can truly make a difference in the lives of shelter dogs.

  1. Give time or money to your local open-intake shelter or with a private rescue group. This is one of the biggest steps you can take to helping the dogs in your community. Find a shelter or rescue group near you and find out where you can best fill a need-- from fostering a dog to washing blankets and towels, there's something everyone can do. If you aren't able to volunteer, considering making a monetary donation or donating needed supplies.
  2. Practice responsible pet ownership. Don't just talk the talk--walk the walk! Your pets should be up-to-date on vaccinations, should be wearing a collar and tags at all times, should be microchipped, and should be spayed and neuteredIf you choose not to spay/neuter, please keep your pets safely contained and do not breed unless you're a licensed, responsible breeder.
  3. Educate others about responsible pet ownership. Educating your family and friends about responsible pet ownership is an easy way to help keep dogs out of shelters. If you want to take the next step, join an outreach group in your community that focuses on low cost spay/neuters, or other pet-related causes.
  4. Share dogs in need on social media--the right way. Social media has been instrumental in helping save lives in shelters, so don't think that I'm suggesting that all people who share dogs on social media are armchair dog rescuers. Sharing every single dog in a shelter with the all-caps heading "SOMEONE SAVE HIM!" is only going to deter your followers from really looking at the dogs you show. Find out any information you can about each dog you share, and don't blame the shelter workers or the full rescue groups who cannot help.
  5. If you see a problem, take action. This might be the most important point I'd like to make. If you see an animal in immediate need of help, and you have the means by which to help, please take action. If you see a dog limping on the side of the road, stop to pick him up. If you find a lost dog shivering in the cold, take him in. If you don't do something, theres's no guarantee anyone else will. While it might cause you some inconvenience in the short-term, you may never truly know the scope of the long-term impact your decision to take action could make.

Dog rescue is exhausting, emotional work--but I can guarantee you'll never regret a minute of it.


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Positively Expert: Alex Andes

Alex Andes is the owner and head trainer of Peach on a Leash Dog Training & Behavior Services in Atlanta, GA. She also works for Positively as the Director of Digital Content.


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  • Mattie Parsons

    I said punishment not correction Megan, there is a difference, Punishment has no place when we are teaching anything, child, dog, horse etc. yes it will work but at what cost? It is people like me who take on these animals and teach them that there are humans who will take the trouble to teach them what they want them to do and don't beat them until the animal works it out for themselves. I have had too many of these animals in the past but my latest is the worst I have ever had. If I can teach an animal what I want without a correction I do, I can't remember the last time I had to correct a dog or horse. We have better brains than animals, if I have to correct the animal instead of teaching it what I want I have failed.

  • If you are not sure who to contact, find me and message me no matter where you are at and I will try to get you involved on a grass roots level. It might take a bit for me to get my private messages. Please cut/paste this article as a reference. THANK YOU ALL FOR ALL YOU DO !!! Anything is better than nothing !!

  • Adrienne Clegg, you are awesome!!

  • Natalie Lenka

    A problem can be broken down into those causing the problem and those trying to treat or manage the problem.

    "Evil shelters", "lazy ACOs" etc etc would not NEED to exist if it were not for too many people discarding, disposing of and dumping dogs. Internet rage directed at shelters, shelter staff, rescue groups and people who won't foster or adopt the animals is pointless until we find ways to address the cause. We can't transport, foster or adopt ourselves out of this problem until we address where these animals are coming from.

    There are some of us who would rather die than give up our pets. This is fine. The problem is the disposable pet owner who will impulsively buy or even breed a puppy because it is "cute" then realize it is too much work and discard the animal. banning pet stores and spay and neuter laws are the only way to make it harder for people to get dogs. I hate that it has come to this but it has. It's a complex issue, but the rage directed at people who are actually trying to help is uncalled for. They are not the ones who failed the animal. Minimum wage workers at the local pound didn't discard those animals. Also saying that everyone should take on 10 dogs isn't a solution either. Rescue can easily turn into hoarding with such encouragement whether it's a rescue group or an individual fostering animals.

    Rescue is very hard emotionally. I backed out due to my own severe health issues but be nice to people out there, working hard, and blowing through their own money to save dogs. it's not their responsibility to save every single dog, because they didn't discard them.

    The suggestions above are perfect. There is always a way to help even if it's just intervening in someone's decision to shop at a puppy store. Dropping sheets off at a shelter. Sharing pets. This isn't about crossposting about sharing, it's about the people who straight up get nasty on the threads and yell why isn't anyone helping when they aren't exactly helping themselves. Rescue is also sadly about knowing when to let go which wasn't easy for me when I had 4 dogs and 3 fosters and still felt like I should be doing more. Hopefully humans will learn to love animals enough to value their lives in the future.

  • kbhart

    I do what I can to help out but sometimes all people can do is pray for the animals. Some rescue person said they do not need prayers. I was so angry at her. Everybody and everything can use prayers.

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