Humans rescue animals rescue humans
I am not sentimental about animals. I enjoy the affections of cats and like to bird-watch, but I am also aware that it’s a cat-eat-bird world out there. Until I became mostly vegetarian, I enjoyed the usual lineup of meat formerly known as bird or ungulate, and even the occasional rabbit. Especially in Paris.
So, I always felt a little distant from folks whose passion for animals seemed to me to exceed the bounds of rationality—whatever that means. But a couple of experiences this week have given me new appreciation and respect for the dedicated animal-lovers who specialize in rescue.
The first encounter was with Janet Foster of Second Chance Bunnies in Auburn, Calif. Yes, I, former rabbit-stew lover, had decided to adopt a rabbit as a pet. This would be my fourth pet rabbit, so I’m not a complete stranger to this concept. But Janet’s work goes way above and beyond anything I’d ever contemplated in my relationship to the animal world. My daughters and I spent a rainy afternoon in her rabbit sanctuary, learning about the life history and personality traits of each of about 20 rabbits in her care. Janet and her husband, Jerry, rescue rabbits from animal shelters, from owners who can’t care for them, and from breeders with extras on their hands. Many of the rabbits that come into their care are groomed for adoption—they receive medical care and handling to become comfortable as house pets. But many others will remain in the Fosters’ care for life—those that are too sick or unfriendly to pass on to other families. In addition to a very sweet Netherland Dwarf, I gained appreciation for the power of Janet and Jerry’s love of these animals.
A couple of days later, we visited Animal Ark, for the first time in all the decades I’ve lived here. It was one of those beautiful Nevada spring days, just after our recent snow storms, with a cold breeze blowing across the zoo smelled of fresh snow and juniper, and the tiger Shere Kahn paced restlessly, beautifully, across the yard. Animal Ark rescues predatory animals from threatening situations and gives them an environment as close as practical to their natural habitat. On that day, most of them were basking in the sunshine. Each animal’s story, including an explanation of why they could not be released into the wild, illustrates the dedication of Animal Ark’s staff and volunteers to care for these creatures. The story of the 1999 Red Rock fire that swept across the zoo brings this dedication into sharp focus—staff and volunteers literally risked their lives to shelter the animals from the fire as it swept through the compound.
Scientists have demonstrated that humans have a deep, instinctual need to bond with animals, and that those of us with pets often live longer, healthier lives. But the stories of Second Chance Bunnies and Animal Ark starkly illustrate that the converse of this is not always true—animals who bond with humans, or become adapted to human dependency, can suffer from that relationship. Many of the Animal Ark rescues are former, sometimes illegal, pets who bonded enough with humans to be incapable of living independently in the wild. Many of the Foster’s rabbits came from breeders casting aside all but the “perfect” show-worthy offspring. These tales are repeated throughout the animal world, from puppy mills to illegal capture and sale of endangered species. Until the human species learns to respect the gift of animals in our care, we will need more Fosters and Animal Arks to rescue—us.