People who don’t do animal rescue often have a hard time understanding those of us who spend long hours and sleepless nights working to help animals. We don’t make money. In fact, we usually spend most of the money we have. We don’t get lots of attention and on the rare occasion when the media does turn up, they frequently lump us all into the same category; crazy animal right activists. We usually spend more time with the animals than we do with other people. We get bitten, kicked, scratched, slimed, trampled, etc. We see things that would cause a normal person to have a nervous breakdown; slaughterhouses, abuse, cruelty, and animals with such horrific injuries that it is amazing that they are able to go on living. It takes a strong stomach, nerves of steel, and an unbreakable heart.
You don’t do this for headlines. You don’t do it to become famous and have people follow you. You do it to help the animals because they cannot help themselves. They cannot even ask for help. You do to give a voice to those who suffer in silence. They trust us with their lives and too many people abuse and betray that trust.
If they come to you broken and injured, you heal them. Some injuries are physical but others are mental. An abused animal may take a very long time to trust anyone. Those that have been severely abused may never trust anyone again. It is much harder to save one that has learned to hate people. It can be done but it takes a great deal of time and infinite patience. If they refuse to trust you, treating their injuries becomes much more difficult. They don’t understand that you’re trying to help them and they will fight you every step of the way. If you’re able to save them and keep them alive, that is the happy ending. Seeing them them able to have a life is the reward and they are grateful in ways that cannot be explained to anyone who has not been through it. If you have saved an animal’s life, they will do things for you that they would not do for anyone else.
Recovery may take months or even years. Hours spent nursing the animal back to health with veterinary care, physical therapy, food, shelter, and anything else that they need to help them heal. Some of them may fully recover and be able to start over again. Depending on their injuries, others may recover enough to enjoy retirement but they are never the same. They are left with scars or permanent damage that prevents them from jumping, running, or doing what they did before they were hurt. You try to find something else that they can do even if it’s something as simple as being a companion for another horse.
Animals may need continued help from their rescuers and in some cases, from their own kind. They can help each other in ways that we could never help them. If a person is blind, they may be helped by a guide dog. First the dog has to be trained to help the person and then the blind person learns how to handle the dog. So how do you help guide a blind horse? Another horse answered that question for me. While I was trying to figure out what to do, Amigo solved the problem by staying next to Sylvester, the blind horse. He guided him through the pasture. He protected him from the bigger horses. They became inseparable. Amigo knew Sylvester couldn’t see so he became his eyes and Sylvester followed him. Blind faith. He did what he needed to do. No questions asked. No training required.
There are some wounds that cannot be healed. That is the darker side of rescue. You spend time healing one injury and another one develops in the mean time. When the first one has healed, the second one emerges. Sometimes you cannot save their lives. The best you can offer them is a peaceful death. Humane euthanasia instead of a slaughterhouse. If they are in terrible pain with no hope of recovery, the only thing you can do is help them cross the Rainbow Bridge. Instead of giving them a new life, you settle for ending their suffering. It is bittersweet and heartbreaking but you let them go. Your heart shatters into a thousand pieces and you swear to yourself that you will never do another rescue again. The pain seems too great but the moment you see another animal that needs help you will do everything all over again.
You want to save all of them but no one can do it. There are so many and they are everywhere. The best way to help them is for rescuers to join together and network. Everyone does what they can. Some people work with the animals. Others donate money or provide supplies. You can volunteer your time. You can share their stories and network for them. Everyone can do something. However, certain things are NOT helpful…
Rescue wars are pointless and counter-productive. Once the mudslinging begins, everyone looks bad and it takes attention away from the animals. If you don’t want to work with a certain person, then you shouldn’t. If you don’t want to work with a particular group, leave and find another or work on your own. There is no room for big egos in rescue. Glory seekers need not apply.