How To Save A Life

5th Nov, 2019

Written by LB Storme 

The saying goes: “If you see something, do something.” But what if you’d like to do something… but you don’t know how? Where do you turn for help? Are animal shelters an absolute no-no, and why do many people hesitate to report abuse?

Animal lover and rescuer LB Storme shares some pointers learned from years of experience, trial and error…

Shelter myths

I’ve found a pattern revealed through stories shared by fellow animal lovers: many people have archaic ideas of what animal shelters are like.

Movies, television and even cartoons paint animal shelters as places where animals are sent to die. But this isn’t the case at all. Take it from the infinite number of animals that are rescued around the world regularly. I’m sure everyone knows someone with an adopted animal from a shelter. So why do people still find it hard to report abuse, or rescue an animal needing a home?

From an early age, we’re exposed to an idea that animals that land in “the pound” end up being taken from the safety of their homes to a depressing shelter where their stories ultimately end in them being trapped in cages, or approaching an impending doom, or death. Even fun box-office animated films paint a gruesome picture. No wonder people seem to think it’s better to let an animal suffer abuse or neglect than report the crime for fear that they’ll be dragged to what they think is a terrible place where they’ll be killed!

No animal needs to end up in a cage or dead, but they deserve the chance to be rescued, healed, rehabilitated and rehomed. People need to realise that there are options and that a shelter is one of those options. Every animal’s story deserves a happy ending. So, I felt a need to spread the positive word of shelters and examples of how you too can save a life. 

Unexpected kindness

We found a stray puppy, way too young to be separated from its mother. He was so tiny, so helpless, and needed the right nutrition; we took him to the vet for a check-up and advice, which we followed to the letter, and took him home until we could find him a good home.

No pets were allowed where we lived, so we decided to speak to the landlord, explain the situation, and reassure them that it was temporary. The result? They made an exception to the rule. 

People are generally kinder and more understanding than we sometimes give them the opportunity to prove to be. (It’s also important to stick to what you’ve promised.)

Social media savvy

When he was ready for a home, we took to social media. The posts spread like wildfire; they were reposted or shared from our accounts to contacts’ accounts to those people’s contacts… It spread from feed to feed and circulated. Eventually, someone we knew responded and was happy to take in this pup – best of all, we could still visit him.

Take some great photos, understand your rescue animals’ needs and preferences, and network them far and wide. Ask people to share your posts – and don’t forget to update them when the animal is adopted. (Remember to do home checks and follow responsible procedures.)

Never underestimate the power of social media used responsibly.

Try anything, no matter how crazy it seems

Our second story was a little more complicated. We found a kitten in our garden – a tiny, beautiful little thing. But she was terrified of everything and continually hid or ran away as soon as we stopped stroking her, caressing her, making her feel loved.

We tried to care for her, not knowing what had caused such fear, but she disappeared… only to find her way back to us a week or two later. Why and how this kitten returned to us, we have no idea, but we decided to try again. This time we closed all exits, confining her to one room. She loved being caressed, but the second we stopped, she tried to flee. This time, with no way to escape, she hid in such small spaces that we were unable to get into and under everything. We had to find a way to assure her that she was safe.

Tired of trying to get her out of unreachable corners, I did something insane: I started meowing, mimicking her, and she suddenly went from “self-defence mode” to “curious mode”. I meowed again and she meowed back. I continued mimicking her; every meow brought her closer and closer to me. Eventually, she came close enough so that we didn’t have to traumatise her by picking her up like we were trying to “capture” her. This time we could pick her up without causing trembling and fear. From then on, we managed to keep her calm.

If at first you don’t succeed

In the case of the stray kitten, we quickly found her a home because she was so cute. However, the first one wasn’t the right fit for her. We’d taken her to her new home, explained that she was afraid of everything and how to keep her calm (minus the meowing part!). Later that same day, the person realised that they couldn’t cope with a feral kitten.

We kept looking for a home, but now this person became part of the team in trying to place her in a suitable home. Eventually, she was adopted by someone living on a farm. At first, I feared her fleeing into the wide-open spaces on a farm – too many ways for her to get lost or flee – but the woman explained that she had a cat of her own and that being in the presence of another of her kind would probably be good for her.

And so it was: a couple of days later, to assure us, she sent us a picture of our precious one sitting on the couch, next to their older cat, watching television. The fact that she was on top of something and not hiding underneath anything was a win in my mind.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out at first, but, if you keep trying, success will come.

Responsible rehoming

Finding the right home for an animal is the best feeling. I can’t explain the gratitude felt towards the woman who adopted the kitten and the warmth in our hearts that came from saving another innocent stray. It’s a feeling that can’t be described; a feeling that can only be felt with a similar tale… It’s a feeling I wish to share with everyone.  

Savour the success and use it to inspire further action and others.

Happy Tails Tip! Be a responsible rehomer. Home checks are a must – you don’t want to send an animal into a bad situation. Consider charging an adoption fee that you use for a vet check and vaccinations. Look at animal welfare adoption contracts to establish what they look for and how to ensure that the adopter will take good care of the animal. If you’re unable to do these things, consider surrendering the animal to an organisation that has the capacity to do so, ensuring the happiness and safety of the animal you’ve rescued.   

Seeking out shelters

From experience, I know that most people have old and incorrect ideas of what shelters do and, as such, don’t call on them for help.

Many assume that it’s better not to report animal cruelty or take animals to them as they don’t want the dogs to end up in a cage or dead. But the fact is that, with so many animal welfare options, many of which don’t put animals to sleep, this is no longer the only option. And is it really better to leave them to suffer instead?    

There are many no-kill shelters all over SA which can take in animals and care for them while they try and place them in a new home. Some even have their own inspectors who can investigate animal cruelty and neglect cases. I love that no-kill shelters exist.

We’d like all animals to be rescued and live painlessly, freely and happily, but what if social media and “no-kill” shelters don’t offer you the opportunity to save a life? What if they have to turn you away because they’re full, or the animal doesn’t fit the criteria of the specific organisation (for example, breed-specific organisations)?

If all else fails, the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Animal Anti-Cruelty League (AACL) will not refuse any animal brought to them. And it’s a myth that they “just put all the animals down”. Yes, sometimes this does happen, but in fact the SPCA and AACL will only euthanise an animal if absolutely necessary.

It’s a harsh reality to swallow: some animals are beyond rescue or treatment; sometimes the animals are pouring in with no adoptions getting them out.

Ask yourself: Is it better for an animal to live where its owners abuse it, don’t feed them, don’t take them for walks, keep them chained up, don’t give them enough living space… nowhere near the quality of life they deserve? Is it better for them to suffer mentally and physically for a life that will most likely end in premature death, with families that don’t properly care for them? Is it better to live in suffering, eventually dying a slow, painful, premature death? Or is it better for someone like the SPCA to give them a chance and then, if no one steps up to adopt them, a humane, quicker, painless death instead?  

Happy Tails Tip! All animal welfares are struggling, so if you take in an animal, consider making a financial donation or donate food if you can, and ask your friends to do the same. Offer to help network the animal if needed, and try volunteering at the shelter. Many people take in animals but offer no help – each additional animal needs care and feeding and thus adds an extra burden to the shelter. Doing what you can to assist will go a long way towards helping the shelter to help the animal you rescued and more animals in future.  

Accepting responsibility

I know I’ve given you lots to ponder over. Accepting responsibility isn’t easy. It’s extra work; sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard. Some actions may not end up to be what feels like a beautiful heroic tale.

But isn’t it better to try than just sit idly by and let a defenceless animal suffer? If the end result could be beautiful, wouldn’t you at least want to try?

There’s only so much one human being can do; try teaming up with friends or family (as I did). Make a solid effort; these stories don’t have to end in sadness. Most stories will end with a happier alternative to a hopeless, painful conclusion.

If you’re still reading this, I know you have what it takes to try. Enjoy the luxury in knowing that you – yes, you – are capable, and may know the joy of saving a life. I believe in you. Good luck.

There are many organisations countrywide that could help; investigate your area and find out what’s in your vicinity and check out the Happy Tales list