A tragic story came to my attention this other day. A self-proclaimed animal sanctuary had turned out to be anything but for hundreds (some say thousands, over the years!) of cats. This is not the first such case, nor will it be the last, sadly. Situations like these cause a lot of suffering for the animals involved, obviously, for the people who are directly affected by it, and to the people (like myself) who are indirectly affected by it when they have to hear the stories and are too far away to help, for instance.
Another issue here, though, is that it causes endless consternation and trouble for the No Kill movement and for the rescue movement as a whole. There is a myth going around--and I'm not going to provide a link, because all of the posts I've found online are too emotional, and there is a lot of mud-slinging--that "No Kill" is equal to "hoarding" and that animals in No Kill rescues are always kept in cages for life. This is causing a range of legislative reactions, some of which people say would allow more hoarding, and some of which would, in fact, make rescue efforts a nightmare, if not impossible.
What is needed, I feel, is for people to be widely educated on some key issues around animal welfare and animal rescue. Fist and foremost, it is very important for people to understand that animal hoarding and No Kill sheltering are not the same thing! Yes, there are many times, as outlined above, when what has started out as No Kill rescue operations becomes or is exposed as a hoarding situation. This is not the norm, however.
True No Kill rescue involves the use of several techniques to avoid killing healthy animals. These might or might not involve having a facility where animals are kept on site. I know of No Kill organizations that have physical locations with cages and rooms for animals and some that do not have a central location, but depend upon a network of foster homes and businesses where they can host adoption events. I know of some that are simply networks of people who share information and try to put animal owners in touch with rescues. None of the "landed" No Kill organizations that I know of are hoarding situations by any stretch. Perhaps this is because I live in a large, metropolitan area, or perhaps it is simply because I have not discovered the hoarders. (I suspect it is the former--the latter was a joke.)
I consider myself a No Kill rescuer. Once upon a time, I took in animals, thinking that I would rehome them. Unfortunately, I was not good at the "rehoming" part, so when I reached my limit--the maximum number of animals I am able to care for--I stopped taking them in. Now, I stay involved by donating time to other rescues, sharing information and networking, and helping to pass along word of cases that need help. I can regularly be seen forwarding emails, Tweeting, or sharing on Facebook and Google + about animals that need homes or organizations that need help. Several times a year, I donate my art or proceeds from its sale to various animal-related organizations. ...And you can bet that when I catch wind of something awful, I pass information about that along, too! I regularly engage with other rescuers and offer support to people when a situation is taking place far from home.
The difference between someone like myself (for instance) and a hoarder is that the hoarder does not know his or her limits or chooses to ignore them. This individual will become hyper-focused on the animals and will withdraw, rather than engage with anyone, let alone the rescue community. The person will become isolated and may not let anyone onto their property. A major clue to someone who may be a hoarder posing as a rescue is that they will not make efforts to--or even be open to--rehome animals. That person is not a rescue. That person is a hoarder.
It was important for me to write this post, because, like a lot of people, I was taken in by the charming photos, videos, and stories about Caboodle Ranch. I thought it was such a wonderful idea, an open air sanctuary for the kitties. Wow! What a great thing, I thought (as did many other people who just did not know.) When the story broke (I heard about it via an email from PETA) about the horrible conditions there, I felt betrayed and hurt and angry with myself for having been so naive. But was I? No. I wasn't, and I will tell you why. I truly believe there are big rescues out there (by "big," I mean physically large) who are truly doing great things for animals.
My concern is that, with all of the buzz surrounding hoarding cases, "No Kill" will become a bad word (so to speak.) I don't want to see this happen, because No Kill is a good thing--for animals and people alike. I believe in the No Kill Equation, because it is logical, it is smart, and --with good, strong networks in place--it doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, I would venture to guess that if it is implemented well, it could save everyone money.
Here's my bottom line: Use common sense. Spay/neuter your pets. When you adopt/acquire a pet, make a lifetime commitment to that animal. For animal rescuers, please: When there is a "situation," stop the mudslinging and talk to each other. Find common ground. We will save more animals this way.
If my thoughts seem sort of all over the place, or if I ramble, it's because there is just so much to say on this subject. I am open to dialog, so don't hesitate to chime in!
Thanks for reading.