Why my pets are not rescued animals

You will never hear me referring to my dog Ace as a “rescue.”

I don’t see him that way. I don’t see any of my pets that way. I see them as “adopted.”

I understand many of you view your own animals as rescues, and that’s OK. It’s just not a word that sits well with me because it dwells on a dog’s past rather than the present. If you know dogs, then you know they have an incredible ability to move on and live in the moment. We humans do not always have that same gift.

For example, a man called me last week to see if I would be able to walk his two Lab mixes while he and his family went on vacation.

I’d have the neighbor kid do it, but my dogs are rescues, he said. You know how rescues are. They need someone with experience.

No, I didn’t know that’s how “rescues” are, but of course I didn’t say that.

It seems to me this term “rescue” is used as a bit of an excuse for our dogs’ inappropriate behaviors at times.

I truly do not think of my dog as a “rescue,” so I’ve never used that label as an excuse for his behavior – and he misbehaves plenty.

My dog Ace

When Ace was a year old, I was the first person to take him for a walk, and he was terrible – pulling and choking himself on his chain collar.

I remember a man walked by us at Gooseberry Park with a smaller dog, and Ace was very much out of control.

“Yikes” was all the man said. Not because my dog was aggressive, but because he was pulling so hard.

I felt bad about my dog’s poor manners.

So, I worked on it, and Ace and I progressed quickly – thanks to a dog backpack, a gentle Leader and a prong collar. He passed his Canine Good Citizen test six months later, a test where the dog must successfully do things like ignore an approaching dog and keep to himself in a crowd.

[quote_right]”My dog is a lot of things, but my dog is not rescued.”[/quote_right]So, my dog is a “good citizen.” A role model. A friend.

My dog is a lot of things, but my dog is not rescued.

Labeling him that way would be unfair. His life was not that difficult before I had him, just different.

Many people assume that because my dog is black and “mixed” he must also be “rescued.” He’s not.

“Bless you,” a woman said to me at a community dog event. All I’d said was that Ace was a “Lab mix.”

Sure, some of us have literally rescued animals. We’ve pulled them from the streets or from high-kill shelters.

I picked up three cats from the pound, marched them right from their cages to my car and took them home. This was when cats had a 50/50 shot of making it out of that pound alive. There are few feelings as great as saving an animal in that way.

But when I think of those cats today, I don’t think of them as “rescued.”

Ninja, Nikita and Rita are all living lavish lives with friends and family of mine now. Never missing a meal. Lounging around on beds. Running the house, I’m sure of it.

Dwelling on “rescued” does not seem appropriate or accurate.

My own cat Beamer was adopted from a humane society, and he is by no means a “rescue” either.

The Beams

He survived winter nights outside in Moorhead, Minn., by hunkering down in window wells or by whoring himself out to the neighborhood cat lady.

He did not have to be outside; it is what he wanted.

Beamer had a boneyard under the deck where he drug most of his “kills.” He came inside when he wanted to, on his terms. Then left.

Today Beamer is kept indoors, and he remains a lover, a hunter, a fighter and a snuggler.

He has scuffed-up ears and a scar by his eye.

Adopted? Yes.

Rescued? Not a chance.

Do you consider your animals “rescued” animals?

*Photo of Ace taken by Tawna W.

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24 thoughts on “Why my pets are not rescued animals”

  1. I couldn’t help but giggle at “whoring himself out to the neighborhood cat lady.”

    How I wish “rescued” were a valid excuse for bad behavior. I would use it on Bruce. But he is just an asshole.

    I agree with you 100% about dogs living in the now, and not dwelling in the past.

  2. I don’t use it as an excuse for their (mis)behavior (although rescued dogs do often have legitimate backgrounds of abuse, neglect, poor socialization and bad genetics), but yes, I do consider both of my dogs rescues. Ruby was pulled from death row in a dismal shelter and Boca faced a lifetime in a shelter in the Bahamas (at best) after being taken off the streets sick and starving. Certainly we focus on the now, and it just makes us all that much more grateful.

  3. Oh, I like this post. We were told that our Baxter was surrendered to a high-kill shelter, and when his number was up, the rescue organization we adopted him from pulled him out. However, they rescued him. We adopted him. He’s our dog. Plain and simple.

  4. The three of us dogs are all adopted from our breeders, so no questions there. The two cats were rescued by someone and taken to the Humane Society where we adopted them. To us rescue means we went out and found an animal that was in trouble and needed a home, but either way, it doesn’t matter to us. We are all adopted, all from another mother, and all living as a happy mixed family.

  5. It might be just me, but I say my dog is a rescue because he is, well, horrible. I guess I do it to deflect blame…code for “not my fault he wasn’t socialized”…and he’s been my sweet dog for three years. When just with me and my family, he is a bundle of love and wonderful, outside that small circle of people he loves…horrible. I have no idea how to help him, so…I excuse him as a rescue. He is a Pomeranian…so thankfully I can control him by picking him up. Taking him for a walk is a nightmare I live every day…because he LOVES walks, but every person, dog, or leaf can send him to batshit crazy in a split second. I am aware this is my fault. I love this ridiculous fellow to distraction..but I don’t know how to make him less crazy… so…I say he is a rescue. 🙁

  6. I hadn’t actually thought of mixing up the words bought, adopted, and rescued until someone pointed it out on a forum the other week. Since then I’ve been trying to use the better fitting term. I think I got into the habit of saying rescue so often because of all the rescue organizations that are around.. It just sounds so normal for some reason. But I do agree that adopted fits better. Even if I ‘rescued’ my dog from a fire I would then have to ‘adopt’ her later. Ok so now I’m being too literal.

  7. The problem with words is that words have different meanings to different people. I tell people Pierson was rescued and Maya was adopted to distinguish between the different ways that I brought them into my life. It never occurred to me to use their history as an excuse.

  8. Interesting…We did literally ‘rescue’ Tino from the streets, nursed him through distemper and he was one of the most loving and calm and well-behaved dogs we’ve had. All of our vets used to say he was an “old soul”. I didn’t consider him a rescue…he was ours. I must admit I am guilty of thinking the ‘rescue’ aspect excuses some bad behavior by Jack and Maggie…must work on that.

  9. I refer to my dog and cat as rescues. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. I also say I adopted them. My cat doesn’t have any behavior problems, but my dog does. I hadn’t planned on getting more pets, but I had to help them and I couldn’t find anyone else to take them, so I took them in. My dog was neglected and not socialized properly by the previous owners. I’ve been doing everything I can to try to undo the lack of socializing and there is a limit to what I can achieve. Just because one dog can be totally turned around and become a Good Canine Citizen, does not mean all dogs can make a full recovery and become well behaved mellow dogs.
    I don’t have the money for some of the things that are recommended to do to socialize your dog. I don’t know anyone else who can help me with socializing my dog…I have a lack of resources and people/friends simply because of my life situation (being chronically ill/disabled, lack of money, neighborhood not so great, no big social circle of friends/family). So, yeah, when I refer to my dog as a rescue, I’m saying to people, cut me some slack. I’m not the one who messed her up. She’s made a LOT of progress and improvements, but things have plateaued and I’m not sure she’ll get any better than she is now. I don’t see her ever passing the Good Canine Citizen test. She’s just too high-strung and skittish. And that’s OK. I love and accept her as she is. My conscience is clear. I expect that she’ll be a lifelong project, and I fully plan on continuing to socialize her, but I don’t think she’ll ever be what she could have been if she’d had proper care as a puppy. Once the brain is formed, that precious window of opportunity is closed.
    Behaviors can be shaped/trained/molded but the base personality/temperament is not changeable in my opinion, from my own personal experience.

    1. It’s me, Jennifer, leaving an update to my post above. My dog recently passed the CGC test! I could hardly believe it. The evaluator was lenient and let a couple of things slide, but other than that my dog pretty much aced the test. The stars and planets were aligned in our favor that day. 🙂
      My dog is still skittish and high strung, I still refer to her as a rescue and I still don’t see it as a bad thing. But I’m just posting this update to let people know that even if you think your dog may never improve his/her behavior…never give up hope. Never give up on training. Perseverance and consistency and positive reinforcement…they bring results.

  10. Very thoughtful. And I have similar discomfort with the over use of the word “rescue.”

    In truth, every dog will have difficulty fitting into our human lives if someone doesn’t work with him or her. It has nothing to do with the dog being a “rescue.”

  11. I like the idea of saying adopted instead of rescued. After reading this, I realize it’s been a long time since I’ve announced they are rescue dogs…mostly because I think I sound pretentious saying so and I don’t want that, awww, poor doggies, you really saved them thing either. I got them as adorable out-going puppies. I always feel lucky that I got to them before someone else did!

    Recently someone asked where I got the dogs. When I told her the shelter, she was shocked that they were so well behaved. I said I’d had them since puppies and she was equally as shocked that you could get puppies from a shelter. Then she said that must be why they were so well behaved. Sheesh…so many back-handed complements in one conversation:/

  12. Funny how you say people use rescue as an excuse for bad behaviour. My adopted dog, Phoebe, is actually a lot better behaved than Chip and we have had Chip since she was 16 weeks old!

    I do say rescue but I think its just a matter of habit at this stage. I did know the previous owners to this dog and I can assure you, I didn’t have to “rescue” anyone!

  13. Wonderful post! I take care not to call the dogs rescued (despite being high-kill shelter dogs). Gosh, I’m even a bit antsy about calling them adopted. I think it’s because so many people stress the “he’s a RESCUE!” “She’s RESCUED!” type thing, like it puts them on a new level or gives them special worthiness status. I think it’s great, yes. Heck, I volunteered in the high kills and nothing turned my stomach more than walking by that freezer. But I’m also not against responsible breeding, and I hate thumbing a nose at those dogs who come from those valid/great places too and the tough low-paid work a responsible breeder does for the breed and dog behavior as a whole. Responsible breeding isn’t something to thumb a nose at – balanced dogs bred for temperament (not looks) keeps dogs out of shelters, as they tend to stay in homes. I just don’t want to do a disservices to those folks. So I tend to go with adopted too.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      So glad you liked the post and that you can relate. Come to think of it, I tend to avoid “adopted” as well. I usually just say I “got” Ace from his previous owner.

  14. Very interesting perspective Lindsay. My dogs and my friends’ dogs are “rescues” and I never thought it meant a whole lot. To me, it was just a minor descriptor.

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  16. I think there is another dimension to “rescued” that this article never mentions. My last dog was a shepherd terrier mix who was wandering in my neighborhood, sick and thin. To give her a job for her energy, we started obedience, then went on to agility training. My dog did train much more slowly than the other dogs we started with, and there were some things a typical dog could tolerate that she would not. Stepping on her leash to keep her in a down totally alarmed her. Doing an exercise where the trainer held her collar for a minute while I ran away (to build enthusiasm) made my dog avoid the trainer for the rest of the classes. She eventually became an agility champion but I had to train very carefully and do things my own way because many of the usual techniques didn’t work well with her. I am glad that many dogs are resilient, but some need some special care when training to bring out their best. So I disagree that a dog’s past is irrelevant. On the other hand, many dogs from tough situations end up doing very well, if their person is able to give them the patience and attention they need. But it can take a long time!

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