Thursday, January 26, 2012

Emily Yoffe on Rescue Culture

A must-read. I'm amazed it applies to cat and guinea pig adoption as well. It makes me wonder if most New Yorkers are qualified to "own" the mice that invariably appear in NY apartments, and that seem perfectly capable of keeping on keeping on, even without setting out special feed bowls, providing fresh water, or taking them out for three walks daily.


kei said...

A Shiba Inu named Tofu, haha! It's interesting how many sort of closet-rescue-rejects there are and how they stay quiet until one similar reject (not just any person, of course, but still) talks about their experience. But I also like how the article takes time (at least twice) to point out the unique perspective of the rescuers, even if it's not in detail or with quotes or anecdotes. It's usually the case that you're supposed to picture these poor, sad animals when you think about rescue, but the imagery of devastated children is pretty strong here.

Phoebe said...


I wonder why Yoffe (or her editors) decided not to bring in some quotes from the rescuers themselves. Of all the comments on their behalf (and I will admit I have not read all 1,000+ of the comments!) the most reasonable are making that very point. Is there any system of self-policing within the rescue community?

I also wish Yoffe had gone a bit deeper in terms of how rescue is now not merely the only socially-acceptable way to have acquired a dog (or pet), but the only OK reason for getting one. A good pet owner used to be one who properly attended to the welfare of a pet. It now seems to involve signing up as an activist for pets more generally.

And this isn't a terrible thing. It means people spay/neuter, it means there's stigmatization of puppy mills. And it's reasonable enough for pet-related charities to target pet owners (as when they ask if you want to philanthropically "round up" a purchase at the pet-supply store.)

But where it gets iffy is in the idea that pet ownership is first about the pet and only a distant second about the owner. This becomes apparent when Yoffe expresses the view that the first choice should be a rescue, but failing that, a breeder, because she's taking it as a given that she and her family would either want a particular breed, or would want a breed that isn't a pit bull, which may well be the only breed at the pound. Her concern for which animal she brings into her home is considered selfish in a day and age when dogs are still killed for lack of owners. Her responsibility becomes not to herself and her family and only then, once they own one, their dog. It's primarily, going by what her critics are saying, about dogs in general. Until all dogs have found good homes, Yoffe is not in any position to be particular. But why stop at dogs? Maybe there's a guinea pig in need of saving?

All of this is getting into dare I say a philosophical realm. Are the Rescue Culture advocates also vegetarians, or do they restrict their indignation to affectionate species? And so on. I think the main message, though, is that once there are more than 1,000 comments on something one is looking at, it's time to get back to the dissertation.