Rescuer Rescue Thine Self

I’ve spent a lot of my life around rescuers of various sorts. I’ve even been one myself. Rescuers come in many shapes and forms. Some of my own rescues involved thinking I could change partners who were either mentally ill or had drug problems. I didn’t.  I even had one very cliched drug addict boyfriend who  did actually threaten to overdose if I left him. Luckily, I’ve always been a rather sane rescuer. So, I left him. He didn’t overdose.

I’ve intervened on behalf of many female friends in abusive relationships (sometimes with themselves) and rescued them, whether they wanted me to or not. Mark my words. That doesn’t always go well. I’ve rescued friends who have lived in countries that ban abortion on religious grounds and helped them get to where they needed to be to get the abortion taken care of.  I’ve rescued friends from physical attack and I’ve rescued friends who were being bullied. I’ve rescued many friends from fashion disasters as well.

My life has been a series of rescues and I suppose part of that is because I had to rescue myself as a young person. So, I thought I was quite good at it, and, to a certain extent, I was. My first real accomplishment as an adult was to set up a non profit that helped pets belonging to homeless people and I’m glad to say that organisation still exists to this day, some 25 odd years later.

Pets. Yes, I’ve had a few. My mother, AKA ‘French Mimi’, tells me stories of all of the random animals I ‘rescued’ as a child and kept in places like the bathtub. I suspect that most of them, such as the couple of dozen toads I had, didn’t need rescuing.  I also learned that keeping a little lizard in a box and trying to feed it dead flies is not rescuing, it’s murdering. My poor cat, Portnoy, had a few awful rescues made by me.

The first time I remember ‘rescuing’ Portnoy was when I thought he needed a house. I must have been about five years old. I sincerely believed that it was awful that the poor cat had no home to call his own. Dog’s get houses. Even then, I knew it was all ‘location, location, location’. I decided that a perfect location would be between the screen exterior door and the inner glass door. He spent the night there.

On another occasion, when I was a little bit older, after watching a TV documentary about cavers, I thought that he might need some safety equipment on his expeditions behind the walls and into the gap above the ceiling.  It’s a bit like caving. Isn’t it? Cavers tie ropes around themselves so that they can find their way back in the dark. So, of course, I tied kite string around Portnoy’s neck. Instead of helping him find his way back in the dark, I nearly strangled him to death after he wrapped himself around a wooden joist in the ceiling. My parents had to pull up all the floorboards in the loft to save him after locating him by following his strangled, croaking plaintive wails. So, it sort led to his rescue. Ahem.

This is me and Portnoy

Rescuing people and animals is something that many are drawn to for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it stems from genuine compassion. Sometimes it stems from a need to control others. Sometimes it stems from a lack of control in one’s own life. Sometimes it stems from a need to be congratulated. Sometimes it’s natural instinct. Sometimes it’s maternal or paternal. Sometimes it’s just being a busy body.  Sometimes it stems from a desire to be a hero, or even a super hero. The one thing that I have learned about rescuing in my life though is that unless you are mentally healthy and capable of rescuing responsibly, your involvement and your desire to rescue, may not be constructive, welcome or helpful.  Poor Portnoy would tell you this were he still alive.

Whenever you fly, there is always an instructional lecture on safety. One of the most important parts is about the oxygen masks. It tells you that before you try to help anyone else with their mask, make sure your own is properly fitted. That’s because you’re not much use helping someone else with their mask if you are unconscious. Same with saving someone who is drowning. Do not attempt if you can’t swim. These seem like such common sense, but so many people who are wholly physically and mentally unfit to be rescuing anyone, much less themselves, are out there calling themselves ‘rescuers’.

One of the areas where this happens most is in animal welfare and that’s mainly because animals don’t have a choice when it comes to being rescued- like Portnoy. Fortunately, there are many sensible, rational, sane and thoughtful people involved in animal welfare. They are the people who look at the bigger picture and whose priority is finding solutions to the problems. Of course, most of them are involved in the front line too and that’s what motivates them. They take in animals, save them from cruelty and neglect, find them great homes and go out on crazy missions all over the world to help other sane and rational people who are doing the same thing but with fewer resources.

Meanwhile you have the other ones. These are the people who forgot to put on their oxygen masks. You can often identify them as they’ll take every opportunity to say how much they ‘hate people’. Yes. People. People, generally. Not horrible people or cruel people or even boring people (I hate them). They just hate people. There are other signs and at least one of them is ironically more helpful to animals than the other. Some of the ‘I hate people’ brigade spend all of their time on social media, proclaiming their said hatred while also demanding that ‘people’ (all of whom they claim to hate) must ‘do something’ about some poor animal that needs rescuing. They are the most helpful, or rather, the least harmful. On the other hand, you have the ones that are actually ‘doing something’ while having no real skills, knowledge or resources. These are the ones who you may eventually see on TLC’s series on hoarders as reality TV rescuers have to wear hazmat suits due to the fleas.

While sensible people in animal welfare have an aim to empty shelters by focusing on educating people to sterlise their pets and behave responsibly, ‘rescuers’ spend all their time, energy and resources ensuring that there will be a never ending supply of places for unwanted animals to go, no matter how poor the outcome is for those animals. The worst of these ‘rescuers’ are those who spend thousands of dollars bringing in large numbers of dogs and puppies from other countries, most often because rescue organisations in their own countries prefer not to involve themselves with those who are rescuing without an oxygen mask.

The countries targeted by this type of rescuer are full of people that they ‘hate’. Don’t get me wrong, they already ‘hate people’ without prejudice, but they hate foreign people just a little bit more because foreign people, apparently, don’t love animals as much as they do.  So their logic is to create an industry which provides an open conduit for the export of surplus dogs into their country, which interestingly enough, is already killing tens upon tens of thousands of their own dogs, which are surplus to requirement.  See, this is what happens when you don’t get enough oxygen to your brain.

The money they spend on each dog to export it to their self perceived much better country could have saved the lives of possibly hundreds of dogs if it had gone towards sterlisiation. The problem with that course of action is that it does not come with photos of dog from foreign country that can be shared on social media and the back slapping adulation that follows. Mention to these people that they could do so much more good by supporting local, grass roots organisations in the country from which these dogs originate and they will remind you how much they hate ‘people’. The aim of every person who claims to love animals should be to see the end of dogs requiring sheltering and it seems rather obvious that the way to achieve that would be by funding education and sterilisation programmes, but that isn’t quite so fun. Oh, and it involves those ‘people’. Especially foreign ones.

Now, I know that some will point out that every animal’s life saved is of value to that individual animal and that needs to be taken into account. In fact, my dogs are people in my mind and heart, so I wholeheartedly agree. The thing is that many of these imported and ‘rescued’ dogs do not end up being saved. Some end up back in shelters when the people who adopted them can’t cope with their undomesticated behaviour. Some have early and painful deaths due to early malnutrition and disease. Some end up in multiple homes and fosters, most of whom are not equipped to provide them with the quality of life they deserve. At what point do rescuers try to stem the flow? At what point do rescuers accept that there are worse things than death? At what point do those, who have their oxygen masks on,  start demanding that rescuers have the knowledge, skills and resources to actually do what they are claiming to do?

Difficult questions. Questions that people, who don’t hate people, ask.


2 thoughts on “Rescuer Rescue Thine Self

  1. Love this more-than-common-sense common sense piece, and see mine self therein. So thank you heartily for that.
    Aged 6 I set up a hospital for abandoned dolls. At least they didn’t suffer! Then I had a grand total of 6 guinea pigs who all died at the same time due to inbreeding. .. though at that age I had no real idea what that means. Also ‘rescued’ too many people for the wrong reasons over the years.. but now finding a balance. Think a key thing is to understand that it is about offering help not giving help, thereby leaving control in the hands of the other.
    On animal welfare side: having met someone who brought dogs back from India to france when long-standing rescue centre shut down,I do believe there are exceptions… these dogs had become friends and there was no way they could have been put down. Several were rehomed successfully and all the others are living the life of Riley in rescuers home who has 10 dogs. The bottom line is not always relevent when it’s about love and friendship.


    • Hi Jenny,

      Wanting to pick up every broken bird is something I feel that many empathetic people do until they learn, as you say, balance. There is nothing wrong at all with saving dogs that desperately need help if you have the resources to do so properly, even from another country. My concern is that there are so many people involved in ‘rescuing’ animals, not just from other countries but even from their own, who really need to rescue themselves first. Rescuing should be about the rescuee but so very often it’s all about the rescuer and in many cases it becomes almost an addiction, especially where those people seem to have an emotional vacuum in their lives. If you want to help others, that’s a fantastic thing indeed, but make sure you are mentally and physically capable of doing so and have the resources and support to ensure that your rescue doesn’t require rescuing by someone else.


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