As I began pondering the subject for this month’s philanthropy column, I kept coming back to one that, so to speak, is very close to home. In fact, not just close to home, but in my home. In my family.
This past January, I lost my beloved dog, Maddie. We had discussed getting a small non-shedding dog, but when I saw Maddie at the dog rescue in Virginia, it was certain I wasn’t leaving that day without that large, shedding dog. She was beautiful. Brown with the bluest eyes you’d ever seen. She was a bit cranky, especially so as she aged. But she was the best and loyally, lovingly by my side 10 years to the day that I had to said goodbye. We hiked. We fished. We traveled. We lived. We loved. And I held her as she left.
She battled cancer for the past year of her life. With extraordinary and coordinated care between her primary doc and her oncologist, she did so valiantly and was happy and fully herself until just a few days before her death. Yes, she was the best.
I own up-front that I am an “adopt, don’t shop” adherent – for me, a companion dog needn’t be a purebred anything. I imply no judgment against those for whom that certain breeder or canine pedigree is held in the highest esteem. Zero. But for me, I’ve both been involved in philanthropy long enough to see the wonder of organizations devoted to saving animals and my own personal life experience taught me that though I saved Maddie that day, she saved me for a decade. And she was a husky mix. Yes, a mutt.
Maddie was at a rural shelter, Rappahannock Animal Welfare League, about an hour and a half outside Washington, D.C. and close to my weekend home in the Shenandoah Valley. I found her online (petfinder.com) and decided to go for a visit to meet her. In addition to meeting Maddie that day, I became a long-time supporter of that local rescue. They brought me great personal joy and happiness, and I also know they’ve done the same for thousands of others. Further, these rescue organizations cannot do their work solely on the basis of the minimal adoption fees that are commonplace with most of them. They only exist because of additional supports from donors.
Another dictum I’ve acquired over the years is, that when possible, give locally. It’s not to say that national or international organizations don’t have a place on the bigger picture issues - they do - but people ultimately live locally, in communities, and there are so many options to support the welfare of animals in the communities where we live.
A simple Internet search will typically yield plenty of local rescue and pet adoption options. You can also use Petfinder.com, which is a bit like a matchmaking service between the pet parent and potential pet. Even in the smallest of locales, there are typically several animal rescue organizations that can be considered for either those looking to adopt or those seeking to support such organizations as a volunteer or with monetary support.
The variety of rescues out there is also voluminous. If you love a specific breed, but buying from a breeder is not your inclination, there are breed-specific rescues. I once was interested in Maine Coon cats and sure enough, there are specific rescues for them. And Labradors. And exotic birds. And so many others. But even your local general shelter can have a large variety of adoptable pets. A few years ago, I adopted a rescue parakeet for my dad from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.
The coronavirus pandemic has also significantly impacted animal welfare organizations. Donors, especially foundation and corporate donors, flocked to giving to basic human needs over the past year and half - and it was needed. For their part, animal shelters first experienced a boon when the pandemic set in. After all, if you are going to be home for who-knows-how-long, why not enjoy the companionship of a new pet to help ease the isolation and help while away the hours.
However, as the pandemic drags into a second year, many animal shelters find they are beyond capacity. Individuals whose incomes have been decimated or who have lost their homes by the economic fallout of the virus find they can no longer care for their pets.
Whether you seek to find a new addition to your family or want to financially support organizations recusing animals, there is no better time than the present.
For my part, in late summer and as part of my own healing in losing Maddie, I began volunteering at a small local shelter, Dew Paws Rescue, that needed help walking their rescue dogs until they found their forever homes. Within two days, I had taken to a sweet pit bull mix named Mason. The kennel environment is a challenge for many dogs and this was true of Mason. He was bonkers. But I noticed after walking him away from the kennel that he calmed down and was smart and curious. I was convinced: Mason needed a foster home and an environment away from the kennel if he was ever going to be successfully adopted. And so, I soon became a foster dad.
We are now a month in and, well, meet Mason Smith, the newest member of the pack. He’s helped me heal and like Maddie, reminds me that the act of rescuing is a two-way proposition. And finally, I retain the firm recognition that without the amazing work of animal rescue organizations, my life would be less than it is and that these two amazing creatures that so enrich my life daily, may not even have survived were it not for the good works of these organizations.
As a moral society, we, moving in it as moral actors, have a duty toward our fellow creatures. As Pope Francis has so powerfully stated it, “Our indifference or cruelty toward fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings.”