A respected breeder-exhibitor suddenly loses her partner and decides to place a few dogs. It isn’t urgent, but a priority, as she makes some important changes in learning to live alone and care for her dogs single-handedly. A friend who is active in rescue offers to help her find suitable new owners. A few months later, unbeknownst to the breeder, the rescue group comes out with a fundraising calendar that contains photographs of the dogs she placed. The breeder feels angry and embarrassed, insisting she should have been informed. The rescue group responds with equal defiance. The breeder’s long friendship with the rescue volunteer soon ends up in tatters.
Merriam-Webster defines the verb "rescue" as follows: “To free from confinement, danger or evil; to save, deliver; to recover something by force.”
Words matter, and within the context of our sport, the word rescue conjures up strong and emotional images. We typically think of an abusive, irresponsible owner and disgusting living conditions. Time is of the essence, as volunteers mobilize and money is collected through donations. Such dire situations are not to be confused with a dog needing to be rehomed due to a family member’s allergies, a divorce, or a move to an apartment with a no-pets clause. Not every case of rehoming or selling a dog should be cloaked in the drama of rescue, no matter how good it makes the volunteers feel. The breeder above who was suddenly widowed did not require her dogs to be rescued. That term needs to be reserved for bona fide kennel busts and animal cruelty cases, before the rumor mill and social media tarnish a good breeder’s reputation.
We live in an age when many volunteers of all stripes need ongoing validation for the good deeds they perform. In our sport, it expresses itself in the warm and fuzzy terms we often hear used when dogs are discussed. “Adoption” sounds gentle and kind while “sale” might strike some as harsh and crass. Except that rescue organizations do not give dogs away. New owners pay for their dogs and sign contracts to ensure they will take proper care of their new charges. Money changes hands; hence it is a sale.
I’ve been involved in enough breed rescue over the years to know that rescue pushes emotional buttons for many volunteers. There are people who start out wanting to become breeders and later, for various reasons, feel a greater calling to work on behalf of rescue. That is admirable, but it shouldn’t lead to feelings of hostility directed toward all breeders. Here is the delicate balance that must be acknowledged. While pet owners love bringing a rescue into their home, for many breeders there is a stigma attached to rescue; pity for the dogs and repugnance for those who allow their dogs to end up needing rescue. The first question asked when anyone hears of a kennel raid is: “Whose dogs?” And instantly the news is spread on social media. Many rescue zealots greatly resent that stigma.
We judge our elected politicians. We judge our judges outside the show ring. We will naturally keep judging those whose careless breeding practices and neglect add to the dogs that end up in rescue. Let’s just be sure to use the term appropriately, knowing the baggage that “rescue” carries with it. We mustn’t dilute the impact or the urgency of rescue by using it as a synonym for rehoming.
Allan Reznik has been an Afghan Hound fancier since the early 1970s and also owns and exhibits Tibetan Spaniels. He is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster who has served as editor-in-chief of several national dog publications. He appears regularly on radio and TV discussing all aspects of responsible animal ownership. He is also on the boards of the Afghan Hound Club of America and the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America.