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When Rescuer Needs Rescuing
Diane Eldrup arrested for deaths of 20 dogs
Julia with Sasha, a young adult German Shepherd she pulled from the LA/SPCA of New Orleans and fostered in 2002.

A broken family. Foreclosed property. Twenty dead dogs. When I first read the story of Diane Eldrup and her suburban Chicago rescue, Muddy Paws, I cried. Her husband had finally received court permission to enter their property after a year-long absence only to find that his estranged wife and their 8-year-old son were living among decaying animal corpses and 5 to 10 tons of fecal matter. Jail is where Eldrup is likely headed, but it’s not what she needs.

Rescuing animals can be addictive. When I co-founded New Orleans German Shepherd Rescue in the early 2000s, my intentions were noble yet naive. Despite knowing next to nothing about dogs, much less humane work, I was going to save every single healthy German Shepherd Dog that came through the doors of the Louisiana SPCA. Soon, I was getting desperate calls and emails from shelters and volunteers throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and elsewhere. These dogs needed a hero; I could become that person.

Well-intentioned animal lovers and friends fueled the “high” I would get from helping each dog. They praised me, claiming that I was such a good person for doing this. They rewarded me with donations of food, toys and money. They said they could never do what I did. I was a hero in their eyes, too.

If you weren't with me, then I had no time for you. In fact, if you told me I couldn't save a particular dog, I worked even harder to prove you wrong. More phone calls, more emails, more adoption events, more transports, more of my own time and money. It was never enough.

Rescue became a way of life. My 9 to 5 job got in the way of my real, meaningful work. It wasn’t unusual for me to take extra time on my lunch hour and spend it at the shelter in my suit and heels. I took photos to post on the rescue website, introduced dogs to prospective adopters, and checked to see which dogs had limited time. These animals needed me. The shelter staff began to ask me to help them find homes for their favorites because I seemed to have a knack for it. I was addicted to feeling needed and the power of changing lives.

When I got into a heated argument with a friend about how rescue should be important to everyone, she told me I was “self-righteous.” It gave me pause, but at the moment, I was so emotionally wound up that I angrily stomped out of her house and didn’t talk to her for awhile. Why should I? She clearly was incapable of caring as much as I did.

Over the years, I became increasingly isolated from family and friends. My parents lived far away and I remember being on the phone with my mom and hearing her ask if everything was okay. No, everything is not okay! There are thousands of beautiful, loving animals dying needlessly in shelters every day!

She gently interrupted me and tried again. Are you okay? I abruptly changed the subject.

Finally, my husband said enough. We’re broke. We have our own zoo of four rescued dogs and three cats to care for. There is a constant merry-go-round of foster dogs in this tiny house on a city lot. You’re stressed out. You’re not happy. You’re never here. He said all of this in a diplomatic way that got through to me. He was—and still is—a strong, sensitive man who yes, loves animals, but loves me more.

The intervention worked. I quit the rescue group cold turkey. The shelter staff were dismayed but said they understood. One rescue volunteer sent me flowers at work, pleading with me to come back. Another rescuer called and left a sobbing message asking if I could help with just this one dog this one time.

For me, rescue is a drug. I can’t say no. I didn’t call her back.

To all the rescuers out there who are struggling on their own, there is no point in trying to save every single animal if you hurt yourself and the people you love in the process. Get the help you need before something tragic happens. Delegate to volunteers, see a counselor, learn to say no, spend money on something you need for a change. You have value as a person whether you rescue animals or not.

And to those unique individuals who are able to balance life, people and rescue, thank you. Perhaps one day, people will recognize that their irresponsibility toward animals doesn’t just lead to neglect, suffering, pet overpopulation, and euthanasia of healthy, young animals. It also hurts people and can destroy human lives. 

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Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

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Submitted by Anonymous | January 8 2011 |

Did this lady and her son eat? I see no reason why she couldn't feed the poor animals, this lady was off her rocker and had previous complaints and operated without a license.. So sad for these animals in her care..

Submitted by Involved | January 10 2011 |

Unless you are involved in rescue, you cant understand how delicate the balance between doing everything you can to help animals and knowing your limits is. Hoarders, in every case start out as people who are trying to help animals. In most cases, somewhere something in their brain goes wrong and they loose the ability to say no when they have reached their limit, and before they realize it, the situation has gotten so bad that they are overwhelmed and dont know how to ask for help.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 9 2011 |

Thank you for writing this. Self righteousness gets a lot of rescuers in trouble in other ways than you describe, too. They castigate hobby breeders (many of whom are involved with rescue for their own breed), and they ridicule trainers and behavior professionals who understand that the adopting public does not want "project dogs" that cost them a lot of heartache, time, and money and who suggest better evaluation processes for shelter/rescue dogs. They don't get that the more you install those behavior protocols, the more happy adopters you get, and the more they recommend shelters and rescue to their friends. Unfortunately, I have heard the flip side, too. I get clients come to me with puppy mill dogs - why? Because the last dog they got from the shelter was a disaster and they thought the best way was to start with a puppy. Unfortunately, they didn't get the education about how to decide who is, and is not, a responsible breeder. Shelters can help with that education - and they should NOT be afraid of a more knowledgeable consumer. That may mean that some dogs are not saved, but it may also mean that a lot of really great dogs will not die while someone spends valuable resources saving the dogs that are so damaged that they cannot go into homes without a lot of remediation. Northern shelters and rescues that are importing dogs from southern states or Puerto Rico should have behavior evaluators on the other end, and if there are none, they should accept the expense and responsibility of training them! They should also monitor the activities of their staff and volunteers so that people don't fall into the trap of doing too much, or hoarding animals that might be better off humanely euthanized than living under the circumstances that befell the dogs in your article.

Submitted by Rough Collie Girl | January 10 2011 |

YES. SPOT ON. WHY the rescue community is so up in arms about Educating the public is beyond me! I have currently had to make the devestating decision to wash out a rescued Collie whom I adopted with the hopes of training to become my Service Dog. He was 5 1/2 years old when rescued and I have never been able to figure him out. There are certain behaviours I have not been able to train out of him (anxiety, mostly) that makes him worthless for the reason I got him. What makes it worse is that I was told he would be great for Service because of his particular breeding (his breeder actually breeds for Service). BECAUSE of this situation I personally will NEVER do rescue again. EVER.
If I had wanted a pet I would have gotten a pet. Now I'm stuck with a dog that cannot do what I bought him for and which, since I live on disabilty, I cannot afford. What am I to do??

Submitted by Anonymous | January 11 2011 |

First, don't blame rescue because you didn't do your own research. You have a very specific set of needs and very few dogs in general are going to match them. Even purposefully bred "service dogs" have high levels of washing out. The fault here is not with rescue, it's with you. You didn't take the time to properly evaluate the dog, to really see if this dog was going to be a good match for the high demands you were going to place on it. I understand it's always nice to be able to say "I rescued!" BUT one HAS to take into account exactly what they are looking for in a dog. I've seen plenty of great service dogs come out of the shelter and I've seen plenty of great service dogs come from breeders. It boils down to the individual dog.

One failed rescue should not--and does not--invalidate the entire process.

Submitted by GSD Girl | January 11 2011 |

I totally understand your dilemma. I rescued a GSD a few years ago that ended up having some health issues that were undiagnosed at the time we got her. Lucky for us, we were able to get her health issues under control. I too, will never rescue again. To successfully be a rescue "person", one has to be, in my opinion, able to say, "No, this dog is not working out for me and/or my family/situation/needs". I have three young children; I don't think I could ever introduce a dog to our family and then return it to the rescue group -- too many broken hearts, including mine! But I do have a friend who is able to do that. She adopted a Belgian Malinois for the specific purpose of protection sport (Schutzhund). The dog was a sweetheart and would have made a great fam. pet, but didn't have the temperment required for Schutzhund. So, as hard as it was, my friend returned her to the rescue group, who eventually re-homed the dog to a great family. Most rescue groups that I know of actually prefer that you return the dog to them if things aren't working out. Are you able to do that?

Good luck to you:))

Submitted by Anonymous | January 11 2011 |

What does "wash out" mean? It sounds like you should find a no kill shelter for this dog so that it can be someone's pet.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 13 2011 |

there aren't enough no-kill shelters. Ths is a common misconception out in the general public- that the dog will go to a no-kill shelter, or a farm, or an idyllic life somewhere else. No, the dog will probably be euthanized. Especially as an owner surrender. Or sold to research.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 1 2011 |

Do you have the option of returning him to the rescue organization? If so, they may be able to find a new home for him where he will be loved and cherished. Or you can surrender him to a no-kill shelter.

Submitted by Pamela | January 9 2011 |

Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

The best way to provide good lives for dogs is to care for dogs and for humans.

Jon Katz sometimes writes about the rescue movement and how so many people work so hard to save animals from bad situations. He asks where are the movements that move heaven and earth to help people.

They are out there too, but it's easier to find meaning in helping animals--they can't do many things for themselves and they don't have many ways to object to our help. People are much harder to deal with.

I think that might be part of why people can get so much meaning from helping dogs.

Submitted by RubyB | June 5 2013 |

I myself do not put much stock in anything Jon Katz says.

I read his first dog book. Once his dogs are no longer useful to him, they seem to disappear.

Jon Katz wrote Running to the Mountain in 1990 before he started writing dog books. The picture of Katz that emerges from that book and his subsequent books is that of a very narcissistic man.

He bought a cabin that his family could not afford just His wife did not want to buy it (as a professor, she was the actual bread winner). His wife felt they should use the money to put their daughter through college. Katz bought it anyway. I think they are divorced now.

In Running for the Mountain, Katz describes his two labrador retrievers. He had them euthanized in the early stages of hip dysplasia (one of them was barely symptomatic)--he says that he knew they would not want to suffer through the disease. Have raised 7 dogs now through old age, I can say without equivocation, that dogs, unlike some authors I could name, do not feel sorry for themselves. None of the 7, despite abusive starts in life, took it out on anyone else once they healed from their PTSD symptoms. They kept enjoying life for years longer than the veterinarian said they would. All I had to do was basic medical management, along with making sure every day each dog participated in something they loved to do. I learned canine massage from Michael Fox, DVM's book, Healing Touch for Dogs: The Proven Massage Program. I spent time at least once a week just sitting with my dog, using meditation techniques to calm the chatter in my mind. During that sitting, I just felt with my dog. When I am calm and open, it is amazing how much information gets communicated from dog to human. As a health care professional, animal rescue helped me cope with the inevitable treatment failures that come when one works with high-risk, complex patients. k I worked very hard for my patients, but it was harder to make sure everything came out okay when there were so many things wrong in the first place. Dogs, not having other agendas, always responded to my efforts and gave me the kind of positive feedback and energy that I could then take to the hospital and pass on to my human patients.

What is clear is that he had just gotten a young Border Collie and wanted to spend all his time with the Border Collie. That Border Collie was Orson, whom he later euthanized for aggression.

I would have some respect for Jon Katz if he ever examined his own behavior in a meaningful way. Instead, he whines and expects us all to feel sorry for him. I don't feel sorry for Jon Katz; I feel sorry for his family and his dogs.

As for his criticizing dog rescuers because they are not helping people? What has Jon Katz done for people other than buy a second home with money his wife made to put their daughter through college?

Submitted by Elizabeth Janson | January 9 2011 |

This could not have been more well said. I have traveled the path of trying to rescue as many animals as possible. Thank you for sharing this!

Submitted by Jay | January 10 2011 |

I greatly appreciate your honesty, I too have traveled that road to a lesser degree. I involve myself at a lower level with rescue. I still do some transports and donate to rescue groups, my focus is on helping to support spay and neuter organizations.
I also have taken on a dog that needs a lot of training and care, thus I am able to make my time count and not leave out my own pets, three dogs and three cats.

Submitted by Carolyn | January 10 2011 |

Thanks for your honest, compelling story.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 10 2011 |

We are watching one of our volunteers going through this. It is difficult. She is wound-up so tightly that it seems like no one can get through to her. In the end, I think she has made some really bad decisions about animal adoptions in order to remain a "hero"

Submitted by Anonymous | January 10 2011 |

Thank you for sharing your story. It made me cry as I went thru a very similar situation. I too, am in recovery....Your story helps me stay that way. I have dogs of my own that need me too :-)

Submitted by Linda Kowal | January 10 2011 |

How horribly sad. I also work in rescue and know that it can become overwhelming. Sadly, there are limits in every calling and it usually takes an emotional crisis to understand this. For some unfortunate individuals the understanding never comes and the situation ends in tragedy.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 11 2011 |

Thank you for writing this story. I am a rescuer and I have had to say no. No because my own animals deserve my time and care. No because my wonderful husband has limits that I must respect. He has been very understanding and kind.

I have been rescuing since I was three years old. It has only been the last 30 years that I have had the space and the time.

Balance is key for a healthy life,many people have not been happy with my decision to make my priority my own rescue dogs, cats, etc..........
and my other interests. We love hearing great things about ourselves, being heroes, saving the animals. Help people to see that they can help to, that is such an important lesson I have learned. Allow people to take responsibility for finding their animal a home or placing their animal in a rescue or euthanizing them. Some times that is the kindest thing you can do. Quality of life is very important for all living things. Thanks again for this article.
I still rescue but not enough for some

Submitted by MMiller | January 11 2011 |

Boy did this ever hit home! After dedicating, and totally engulfing my life to rescue work for 10+ years, I too had to leave cold turkey in 2009. I successfully ran on my own the German Shepherd Rescue and Adoption of Central Indiana. The work is relentless and tiring..above all never-ending. There will never be enough of you to go around and there is always someone wanting more. I had no more to give. To be mentally and physically sound again I had to make the choice to walk away. I too could not say no. I rescued over 1000 dogs in my rescue career. Im proud of that. Problem was I did the job so well that there was no need for others to help this breed in the capacity that I was able to handle. I did it to myself because I could not say no...Knowing your limitations and sticking to it is hard. But you have to do it to stay sane and to be fair to the dog that you are attempting to rescue.

Submitted by DMoore | January 12 2011 |

We sure miss you but I hope you are doing well now.

Submitted by lovefurbabies | January 11 2011 |

Julia,
What you have failed to recognize is that, there were cans and bags of unopened, perfectly good dog food sitting right next to the cages where those poor animals ultimately succumbed to starvation.
Also, her son was subjected to this "house of horrors."
Maybe I am the one that needs help, because I think Diane should be treated the same she treated those 19 animals and that is to be put in a cage and starve to death, or be locked in a cage and shoved in a coat closet to die like she did to two puppies, or die of asphyxiation like another dog that tried escaping its cage and accidentally hung itself, or another dog that was attacked by other dogs that were loose, killed, and then eaten.
For some reason I have no compassion for anyone that treats poor defenseless animals that are truly dependent on us like that. None.
I understand you can empathize with this woman, but you really shouldn't, she has gone to the dark side and made that decision all on her own.

Submitted by Bay Ridge Rescue | January 30 2011 |

I could not agree more with you! She deserves to be punished, made miserable and feel what those poor animals felt. Thank God her child is away from her. This is too sad and she should have gotten help... it is not anyone's fault but her own. Those animals suffered and she should feel their pain!

Submitted by Anonymous | January 11 2011 |

How timely this article is for me! I just came home from my volunteer dog walking shift at one of our local shelters. Just about every time I work there, I fall in love with a dog and want to bring her/him home. I can totally relate to the urge to want to rescue more dogs. Our two dogs are rescues, and all of our dogs before them were rescues. I wouldn't adopt a dog any other way. They have all been wonderful dogs. But . . . I have to accept that we are a two-dog home. When we had three, it was just too much. It was hard to make sure each one got all the time, care and special attention it needed. When our beloved 12 year old passed away last fall, my husband and I agreed that we would have no more dogs than adults in the house, so, that means two. Everything is so much more calm and manageable. When my heartstrings are being pulled and I am tempted to try to break our agreement, I remind myself that my job as a volunteer is to help the dogs in the shelter get adopted. By helping to socialize them, I'm helping them find good people to love them. Amazing! I'm not the only one out there who would love and take care of these guys!

Submitted by Dave | January 11 2011 |

I think that the most important message missing from this post, and from the comments in most part, is the value of having a solid and balanced organization behind you as a rescuer. Rescuing animals can be highly emotional, and in my experience the vast majority of rescuers are operating from a very strong passion. Combine that passion with the fact that millions of companion animals are euthanized every year, and you can get into trouble quickly. Or slowly.

Even throwing in with a rescue organization cannot guarantee balance and moderation. If you want to do the most good, find a 501(c)3 registered rescue, read their guidelines and principles, and interview the board of directors. If they don't have these things, they might not be balanced, might not be in control, might not be safe. A good and professional rescue organization limits the burden their fosters can take on, and actively tracks and manages their animals, fosters, and volunteers.

Be balanced. Use your heart AND your mind. Understand that you can only rescue so many animals safely. Keep yourself sane so you can rescue as many as is possible and safe.

Submitted by RubyB | June 5 2013 |

Dave, your comment is wonderful. Spot on and well-expressed. Thank you!

Submitted by Patricia | January 13 2011 |

I don't agree with the post that there aren't enough no-kill shelters. These rescue groups ARE your no-kill shelters. It is irresponsible to think that every animal can be saved (or even should be saved). Sometimes, the most humane thing to do is to euthanize.

I volunteered for our local animal shelter for a few years. I was appalled at the number of volunteers that kept taking dogs/cats home in an effort to "save" them. I was frustrated that the shelter allowed these do-gooders to continually take more and more animals home - knowing that they already had a house full of animals. I was incensed that the shelters pawned off their dogs to various self-described rescue groups without a background check or even a periodic check on the current conditions. Their goals were being met - animals were not being put down which kept the public outcry at bay.

I could no longer volunteer my time at the shelter around these volunteers so I chose to only foster dogs. My motto was "one at a time". To date, I have fostered 18 dogs and kept only one of those fosters. The remaining 17 found good homes. I will continue to foster - but only one at a time; that foster dog deserves my undivided attention.

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