Lost in the hubbub over the First Puppy’s privileged origins and his new owner’s subsequent donation to a humane organization is the fact that coveys of committed volunteers have always formed the backbone of the rescue movement. Their labors of love are performed on the “micro” level, far from institutional concerns that can cloud the lifesaving mission. Often impelled by life experiences, rescuers find unanticipated rewards in the work—the redeemed animals provide comfort, joy and deep meaning in the lives of their saviors.
Such is the message of Saved, a compilation of 28 vignettes describing the lives and deeds of a diverse group of these animal “activists” (in the truest sense of the term). We meet Randy Grim and Quentin, a dog who survived the local shelter’s gas chamber and now helps Randy patrol East St. Louis, Mo., looking for strays who might otherwise not be so fortunate. And Lori Sarner, of Palm Springs, Calif., who founded the Pegasus Riding Academy for riders with disabilities, and her horse, Cimmaron.
There are also legal advocates, such as the Virginia couple who lobby their legislature to end the annual shelter killing of 135,000 dogs and cats in that state. Or the late Mary Warner, who, through dogged determination and advocacy, shed light on organized animal theft rings and their trafficking of people’s pets to unscrupulous labs.
Then there’s the tale of Maricopa County, Ariz.’s, controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio, and his program to rehabilitate stray animals, teaching employment skills to inmates in the process. Tough-guy Joe is shown in a photo, clearly smitten, cradling a kitten. Say what you will about his general approach to civil liberties, in this case he appears to be on to a program that is crucially helpful to all concerned.
Saved also contains smaller stories that are no less meaningful. There’s Elton Ackers and the canine PeeWee, who help each other recover from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, and Walt Kuchler finding solace in his formerly abused horse: “I lost my boy to drugs, and my horse saved my life. Animals are God’s gift to us.”
For all the poignancy of its content, the book’s emotional impact is undercut a bit by the author’s journalistic style. There is much good reporting on these pages, but less storytelling. A poem (“A Dog Sits Waiting”) inserted into one of the sketches was much more moving than the worthy tale itself.
The common thread of the book, woven across species, purpose and geography, is that the humans who have reached out to animals in need have found themselves rewarded in great and sustaining measure. They are united by the purity of motive, the guilessness and emotional clarity of the animals they help. And they all find therapy in the connection. As Jane Goodall writes in her foreword: “I well know the healing power of animals … My own life has been enriched by a long succession of rescued dogs. How rewarding they have been.”
There may be inspiration in these stories for folks who have considered helping in this work. Numerous ways to do so are illustrated here; innumerable other possibilities await the energies and particular talents of passionate volunteers. As Saved amply demonstrates, the rewards will be bountiful, and surprising; they far exceed the effort.