Facing the Reality of Rescue
This year I will not only be blogging about my photo sessions, I will also have guest bloggers. Not many will have anything to do with photography, but all will be animal related.This guest blogger is Ellen Felsenthal, the founder of New Moon Farm in Arlington. This article was originally written for WASART which is Washington State Animal Response Team.
Facing the Reality of Rescue
by Ellen FelsenthalI think a bit of background will help you all understand where I am coming from. I have been involved in animal rescue for over 25 years. It started with cats and dogs, shifted to horses, and now is focused mainly on goats and sheep. I have worked with rescue on many levels: from large-scale, formal organizations to small, local shelters, from individuals who work independently to assisting Animal Control agencies with large-scale seizures. Since creating New Moon Farm in 1998, I have worked with over 1500 rescued animals. Not all of them have made it. One of the hardest parts of running a rescue is knowing when to let go. Over the years it has become very clear to me that we can’t save them all. Though of course every life matters, for some, humane euthanasia is the right decision. When I first started on this path, I would fight determinedly for every single life. I would spare no expense: of money, of time, of emotional pain. And I don’t think I always made the right decisions. There are times when saying goodbye is the right choice - for the animal and for the caretaker. With so many animals needing help, I have learned to focus my energies on those that have a chance at a high quality of life; those that can recover, and truly enjoy a life with people who love and care for them. That means that sometimes, in acting for the animal’s highest good, I make choices that others don’t understand. Choices that may seem cold-hearted, or too pragmatic. For me, these choices are anything but cold-hearted –they are rational decisions made with deep compassion.I believe strongly that when an animal is in chronic pain, that can’t be controlled with medication or supplements, it is time to say goodbye. Sure, they might still wag their tails when they see me – they still love me. Sure, they might still eat with gusto – they are still working to keep their bodies going. Sure, they might sometimes have a twinkle in their eye, when they are not dulled with pain. But when I step back, and try to remove my own emotions from the equation, and evaluate their overall quality of life, it becomes clear. I want them to have a peaceful end, before the pain is unbearable, before they are scared and worried; a quiet death, surrounded by compassion and respect. Before a horse falls in a pasture and can’t get up, and spends the day terrified and panicking, waiting for someone to come home and find him. Before a goat has another seizure in the pasture, and is down in the rain all day, waiting for someone to notice her. Before a dog can’t get up to go out, and has to deal with the humiliation of urinating in the house.I also believe that humane euthanasia is often the best option for an animal that can never be content and happy living with people. In our world, animals have to interact with people. For those that are terrified of people, or irreparably aggressive towards people (even after time and training), I believe that letting them go is the right choice. These animals will never be truly content, and they are occupying a space in a (usually) overcrowded shelter, which could be used by an animal with a good chance at finding a home. At my farm, we have several animals that are “sanctuary residents,” because they are too antisocial to ever find a home. We have the facility and ability to still care for them, but many shelters don’t have this option. I say let them go. Make space for those with a chance, who are not miserable, and a liability. I know that many will think this is harsh, callous. But it is the reality of this work. We, as caretakers, have to make the hard decisions. I have learned to listen to the animals. To pay careful attention to any changes in their behavior; I watch how they interact with the herd, how they interact with people, how they move, the expression in their eyes. Almost always, the animal lets me know when they are ready to let go. I believe that humane euthanasia is one of the greatest gifts we can offer a suffering animal, and it is a great honor to help an animal pass on. It is never an easy choice, and I mourn every death. I celebrate the rescues, the rehabilitations, the adoptions; I cry for the losses. I accept that this is part of the responsibility I have taken on; to always do what is best for the animal, no matter how much it hurts.