Last week I wrote about my personal encounter with wildlife traders, taking the wildlife bird from their hands and delivering it to one of the wildlife refuge centers for rehabilitation, treatment, and release back to the wild.
While handing over the bird and chatting to the folks at the wildlife center, I was thinking how this one rescued bird affected their activities, operations and budgets. Just like all wildlife rescue centers, no doubt, they are busy, understaffed, underpaid and overworked.
Their efforts are further compounded by the familiar reality of all rescue organisations – both companion animals and wildlife. Due to limitations of space, all rescue centers must be careful in their selection process of rescues they accept from the public. In cases of wildlife centers, their priority would naturally go to the endangered species and given the space and staff limitation, prioritisation of species brought in is often necessary – should these centers have a chance to survive long term and be successful in their mission.
Likewise, it is not surprising that at Animal Mama Center we are often faced with similar limitations of space, budget and staffing. While we do accept individual rescues brought to us by members of the public and do provide medical treatment and help to all animals as necessary, the grim reality is constantly hovering over us: can we afford to take in yet another animal? Would it be affordable? And will there be enough space?
Given that Animal Mama Center is not donation-dependent charity and is based on the social enterprise model of operations (we do not actively seek donations, but do accept it when offered), we also aim to create a sustainable model of rescue work, encouraging individuals to take a more proactive role in the rescues they bring, such as becoming a temporary foster home, while the animal is healing; or searching for an adoptive home through their own various networks of friends and social media. On our end we offer to provide the individual rescuers with necessary support and guidance on how to go about looking after their new rescues. We also provide the required medical care and advice.
I found that many people who bring homeless animals in need to our center are very open minded, kind and proactive about the animals they are trying to help. Those who cannot take in the animals – tourists, students etc. – often sponsor the rescued animals fully and we sponsor the animal’s stay and adoption. In other words, our Community Action approach works well and we are happy that more and more people are becoming involved in animal welfare work.
There are few things I would like to suggest to avoid when you have a pet or find an animal in need and some immediate alternative solutions on how to go about seeking help. I compiled a short list of most frequent offenders and call it: “Pet Peeves of Animal Rescue Organisations”.
First on the list is the “Entitled” rescuer category. These are the people who see an animal in distress, but do not help directly for one reason or another. Instead, they do call the rescue groups, demanding that immediate action be taken, often without even knowing where the animal is exactly. These callers are not interested to hear or understand that each organisation has its own mission, urgent cases, and limitations. And even when we engage them in discussion about how we can help the animal together, they become offended by our suggestion that they are expected to participate in this rescue in some way. In general they end their calls with the words “isn’t it your job to help street animals?”. Unfortunately, in these cases, more often than not the animal in question gets no help at all. Although, I personally did not experience it myself, I know many rescuers have and it is a very real problem.
Solution: It is important to understand that at this point Cambodia has no formal animal shelters like the ones in the US or Europe. Those organisations that are involved in some form of animals work here are consistently full; there are just way too many homeless, desperate cases and it is impossible to house them all. So, when you find an animal in distress, be kind to it, rescue it, and do seek help, but also be kind and empathic to the rescue workers. Make an effort to create a workable mutually acceptable solution with a rescue agency, and be proactively involved in the life of the animal you have rescued.
The second group is people who call searching to rehome their pet due to different life circumstances. There are a number of genuinely sudden, unexpected and urgent circumstances – health problems, severe allergies, unforeseen financial turmoil or family losses, where pet or pets must be rehomed. It is often a tragedy for both the pet and the owner.
Solution: In this case the part of the solution must be pre-emptive: before anything happens and to avoid tragedies, have a list of people to contact or actions to take if you ever find yourself in a difficult situation where the rehoming your pet is inevitable. If something does happen, you have a network ready to help you. If you have not prepared, still do not despair, make a poster, reach out to the community and your friends and contacts. I have seen many successful re-homings achieved this way.
The third category is owners with no real attachment or affection for the animal, although some of them claim the contrary. I am pretty sure all rescue organisations get calls and emails such as this: “I am moving to a new apartment next week and they don’t allow pets, can you take it”. Obviously, this is simply unacceptable on any level. No rescue agency is a dumping ground for inconvenient pets. But more so, if you have taken the responsibility for a pet, you must take it seriously enough to consider that your future will include change of residence at some point.
Solution: Luckily, the Cambodian real estate market is booming with plenty of beautiful spaces available for pet owners. So moving to a pet-free living space is a conscious choice that does not consider best interests of the pet. Choose with kindness.
In the same category are people who want to give up their pet because they “just don’t have time for them anymore”. Again, this is not an excuse nor is it responsible to turn to a shelter to abandon your pets.
Solution: The Cambodian pet market has grown significantly in the past few years. There are many doggy daycare and boarding services; there are dog walkers who will come to walk and play with your dog. If financially you cannot afford the private services, make a deal with other dog owners: reach out to the pet community, find pet owners who might be willing to take turns walking both of your dogs in return of you taking theirs, when you have time. If you have a cat, it is even easier: if you are not home often and worry that your cat is alone – get him/her a kitten companion. This is perfect solution to all cat owners, even if you have a small apartment.
In short, be a decent human being and just do not give up your pet for such banal reasons. Be responsible and respectful to yourself, to the life that depends on you. And think creatively too – surely you will not be re-homing your human child should you move to a nicer house.
Then of course there is all famous “pet of the expat” dilemma. Most of expats will move away to another country at one point in their life. Those with pets should think about the potential move way ahead, consider the potential destinations and what’s involved in relocating your pet. I have already written extensively about pet travel, how to prepare for it, avoiding high costs and needless anxiety.
Solution: The key is to start your research early and plan it well. Get quotations from many agencies and service providers, talk to other expats with pets and get clear guidelines. Most pet travel processes are not pricy or complicated as you may think.
All in all, remember leaving your pet at the shelters is not a solution. It is abandonment with uncertain end. The adoption rates in Cambodia are not high, but the amount of animals who need forever homes certainly is. While each case is different and this is how we approach them, rescue organisations and rescuers would be overjoyed to work with you if you are have proactive approach to your problem and seeking a solution that has the best interest of the animal at heart.
But also treat the life of the animal as a life worth living: the most recent and horrifying email we have received is someone who wanted to euthanise their young healthy cat because of their relocation. When we spoke in more detail about alternatives, such as re-homing, the owners insisted on euthanasia because it would make them “feel better losing the cat than something bad happening to it”. Solution?
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311