BOOKS: Rescue Matters
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2010:
How to find, foster and rehome companion animals
by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D.
Alpine Publications (38262 Linman Road, Crawford, CO 81415), 2009.
166 pages, paperback. $14.95.
Sheila Boneham recognizes that animal rescue is central to
the volunteers involved. They give up evenings to transport unwanted
animals from shelters to foster homes. Huge chunks of their weekends
are spent at adoption events. They may skip a holiday dinner to pick
up a stray dog who has been hit by a car. Hearts get broken along
the way too, when favorite animals don’t survive.
Rescuing animals can be rewarding, but it can also be
challenging and dangerous. And it’s not for everyone. There is a
lot more than plucking a stray dog from an animal shelter or saving a
cat from a band of hoodlums. Be prepared for hard work.
From her own rescue experience, Boneham emphasizes that
groups have to organize, be professional, and raise money. Tending
to details like record-keeping takes time from animal care, but it
must be done. Only strong, cohesive and organized groups grow into
fulfilling their mission.
Each group needs a mission statement. Older groups who
already have a mission statement may need to review it, and amend it
to accommodate changes–for example, transitioning from shelterless
rescue to operating a shelter, or from working as an auxiliary to a
local shelter to working with several shelters, or standing alone.
A mission statement succinctly explains who you are, what you do,
and who you represent.
A mission statement is a legally required part of
incorporation, and incorporation is an essential part of operating
on any basis except as a sole proprietorship small business, managed
for profit. Nonprofit incorporation is a far more appropriate
structure for animal rescue. If incorporated as a charity under IRS
Section 501(c)(3), an organization may issue receipts for tax-exempt
contributions. Nonprofit incorporation also gives you legal standing
to open a bank account in the name of your organization, acquire a
telephone number in the name of the organization, rent a post office
box on behalf of the organization, and obtain nonprofit mailing
permits, which will be needed once your organization begins building
a donor base. Most grant-giving foundations require applicants to
provide proof of having both state and federal nonprofit status.
The organizational issues need to be taken care of before
beginning actual animal rescue. Merely accepting animals from the
public may become legally complicated. Some people “surrender”
animals who are not theirs to begin with. Some conceal significant
issues, such as bite history.
Boneham outlines the surrender process nicely. Never take an
owner-surrendered animal, she emphasizies, without a signed
agreement. Always have an attorney review your agreement before using
it. Rescue groups typically operate on threadbare budgets. One
lawsuit can ruin years of good work. Organizations can be destroyed
by legal fees even in cases that they nominally win in court.
Handling animals can be complicated, or can be easy,
depending on whatever physical and psychologic issues each animal
has. Boneham offers practical suggestions on dealing with dogs who
are out of control and those who just need special care because they
are afraid. No matter how eager you are to help, she advises,
avoid approaching animals who snarl, hiss, or growl.
But Boneham omits some tips which might be lifesavers for
anyone working in animal care, either as a fulltime professional or
as a volunteer. First, never get between fighting animals, as this
can result in an instinctive redirected attack –from both
directions. Instead, separate the combatants by pushing something
between them. A chair will work and is usually handy, but something
they cannot see through, such as a sofa cushion or even an upended
table is better.
In extreme emergencies a fire extinguisher may be used.
Actually spraying the fighting animals will help to some extent, and
creating a slippery foam barrier between them often helps even more.
Keep records, Bonham emphasizes, because you may need them
later, no matter how simple a situation appears to be at the time.
Always check incoming animals for identification, especially
microchips. Some animals may be lost or stolen, regardless of
whatever history they are said to have, and can be returned to their
Rescues survive almost entirely on the generosity of
volunteers. Boneham says don’t turn potential volunteers away, even
if they can’t foster animals. A prudent leader will put all willing
hands to work helping with transport, fundraising, publicity, and
Happy endings keep rescues going. Saying no, however, is a
sign of a responsible rescue. A potential adopter who says the dog
will be chained outdoors, for example, should be turned down.
Other tough decisions concern euthanasia. Sometimes a dog or cat may
be unadoptable due to illness or behavior. The rescue must consider
liability in bite cases. A dangerous dog or cat should not be
available for adoption. Not only can someone be hurt, but the
consequences of an animal injuring someone can include losing the
entire organization and the opportunity to help other animals. No
one wants to euthanize dogs or cats, but the occasional need for
euthanasia is a harsh reality in the rescue world.
Creative fundraising is critical to a rescue’s survival.
Small volunteer groups cannot scrape by on adoption fees alone–and
the adoption fee that an animal may bring is often well below the
actual cost of rehabilitating and finding a home for the animal.
Additional funds must be found. Boneham offers creative and clever
ways to bring in money.
Burned out, fizzled, finished. How many volunteers quit
rescue because they have had enough? Saving dogs and cats tugs at
one’s emotions because the volume of needy animals never seems to
ease up. For every shelter dog and cat who is saved, on average,
one is euthanized. Sometimes rescuers just can’t deal with any more
pet loss, ignorant owners, or hideous abuse and neglect cases.
Boneham suggests ways to keep one’s sanity while continuing to rescue.
Rescue Matters compliments the fine work already done by many
rescue groups. Boneham understands their day-to-day struggles. Her
advice, given from experience, is well considered.
–Debra J. White