As rescuers, we put an incredible amount of time into saving animals. Online, on the phone, in person — it is a 24/7 job. We’re always on call, always willing to drop everything to help a dog or cat if there’s hope. We celebrate the success stories and cry about the failures. We pour our hearts and our lives into these furry little creatures we’ll probably never even meet, helping them to have better lives.
But what about our own lives?
At the most basic level, I’ve started to feel that rescue could be an addiction. Once you’re heavily involved, many of us can’t stop. We talk of “taking a break,” but it never happens. Another dog or cat in need appears, another friend reaches out for our help, another heartbreaking picture appears on Facebook, and we jump back into action. Unable to help ourselves ÔÇª because if we can help, we have to.
That feeling we get when an animal is saved because of our intervention, it’s amazing. It’s like a high. You saved a life. That animal is better off because of you, still on this planet, in the loving home they deserve. You feel full and accomplished, and if you get praise for it, that feeling is even stronger. People see you’re doing these great things, and admire you from afar.
But how much of your life did you give to save that animal’s life? To be sure, I’m not saying rescue is bad. It is not. It is awesome! Without the caring people toiling away for hours on Facebook and networking and in person, so many lives would be lost. Rescuers definitely make a difference.
But we have to watch out for ourselves, too.
Have you blown off a commitment or event because you had to help this animal, or something came up suddenly and an animal needed your help?
How many of you have sat on dates, at family dinners, or in front of the TV with your significant other, oblivious to your surroundings, buried in messages and chats on your phone trying to get a cat or dog out and safe at the 11th hour?
Do you wonder where all your money went, and open your eyes one day and realize you haven’t done anything nice for yourself in a while, because all your extra time and money goes to the animals and your rescue efforts? (Read my articles “I Drove Four Hours to Protest Loews Hotels and Sneak Their Starving Outdoor Cats Food” and “A Cat Rescue Road Trip: 2 Cats, 7 People, 1,400 Miles” to see how far I’ve gone for animals.)
Have you lost sleep or even weekends because of rescue? Are you doing the other things you always loved? Taking care of yourself and enjoying the hobbies you always enjoyed? How much “you” time do you have, without being connected to the computer or phone or out in the trenches?
How many of you struggle with your partners because they want more of your time? You’re “always” doing rescue stuff, they say, but you refuse to give it up or do any less, because it’s what drives you, and you have to, and they should understand.
The rescue family online is a tight one. Most of us know each other in some way. We’re all interconnected and we talk to each other all the time. We network and we are friends. I really do think we truly are friends. We have a strong passion in common, and it brings us together.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? All these friends, all this support. It is, and I’m glad to be part of it. We help each other when we’re in need, and we feel when any of us suffer a loss.
Part of what made me realize what I’m talking about today is a sad thing that happened a few weeks ago. A fellow rescuer took her own life. I’m not sure the circumstances and I wasn’t connected to her, but I found out through mutual friends. So I went to her Facebook page, as we all do when we find out someone passed, and read the messages.
They were all from rescue friends. The kindest words. She must have saved so many animals, worked tirelessly, gave up her nights and weekends and the hobbies she once loved. Driven to share just this one more dog, or beg for help for this one more cat ÔÇª And then somehow life became too much.
I didn’t know this woman, and this is nothing against her, but this is what hit home while reading all the messages: All of them were about her work for animals and how the rescue world has lost a great one.
So why do I think rescue work could be an addiction? Because it puts blinders on us. It becomes the most important thing and we push aside other important things. Our family feels neglected. Our homes may be neglected. Our work might suffer, as we are called away or interrupted from it multiple times a day. We often sit by ourselves, engulfed in something rescue-related, feeling like this is the most important thing in the world, and no one understands how we just have to do this. We love it. We go from success high to success high, always working toward the next one.
We may struggle to keep up appearances in the real world, downplaying how much we do when we talk to friends or co-workers. No one really knows how many hours we spend on this. If they found out, they’d think we were crazy, but we know we’re not, right? Because it’s so worth it.
But is it? At least, do we have to do it so much?
When was the last time you got a pedicure or manicure? A haircut? A massage? Bought something nice for yourself? Took a vacation away from the grid, and enjoyed life for a while ÔÇô- without any rescue work? Or even just had a whole weekend to yourself? How many of you go for walks, go to the gym, or just eat dinner with your family or partner and are completely present for that?
Rescue is important, there’s no doubt. The animals need us. All I’m saying is that we need to take care of ourselves and make sure we have lives outside of this. There are people out there who love us and want to spend time with us.
Animals are amazing, and so is saving them. But so are life experiences and family, friends and loving relationships. Find a balance. Take a break — and really take it. There will always be animals to save, but there is only one of you. Make sure YOU are happy.
Read more by Dorian Wagner: