The Invisible Animals

The photo of Zuzu we received from her former owner
This is Zuzu, originally adopted about 3 years ago from a large, well funded local (Twin Cities, MN) rescue that does a lot of importing of out of state animals for adoption here.So far so good; except, a few months after her adoption, Zuzu was struggling in her adoptive home and the new owner called and emailed the rescue for help - and never heard back. Nothing - not one word.

You wouldn't think small, adorable, white, young dogs like Zuzu with nothing apparently "wrong" with them would have ANY problem finding a home and keeping that home. But you would be mistaken.

Zuzu this spring at Home for Life
So, the owner soldiered on, doing her best - with the help of a trainer, a behaviorist and even working with a veterinarian who prescribed medication. Zuzu's owner worked hard, and everyone tried their best, including Zuzu. But as the owner described it, she had to be ever vigilant with Zuzu around neighbors, visitors, repairmen - this was a dog who feared strangers, and lacked confidence in unfamiliar situations. The last straw was when the owner lost focus momentarily when a neighbor stopped by, and Zuzu nipped the houseguest on the ankle. At this point Zuzu's owner - more than two years post adoption, was exhausted and just not able to cope anymore - managing Zuzu was taking huge amounts of energy and time. Once again she went back to Zuzu's rescue - because that’s what the adoption contract called for, and what adopters are supposed to do if their rescues don’t work out. THIS time she got a call back but the rescue declined to help and have Zuzu's return to them. No doubt, assuming that she was not going to be super easy to re-adopt out, they claimed they had no fosters available and therefore no opening for them to take Zuzu back into their organization - although they continued to bring truckloads of animals up from out of state each week. Zuzu was the third dog from this rescue that Home for Life was asked to help in the space of four months after the adoptions failed, the organization would not take the dogs back and in two instances, told the adopter to put the dog to sleep. Zuzu is now at Home for Life and for that reason, she eluded that fate, and because she is with us, her story is known and her photos seen.

We call dogs and cats like Zuzu the invisible animals, and they are legion in rescue. They are like refugees who have lost their home, but who stand a slim to none chance of being “rescued” and landing anywhere to have safety and a new beginning. What happens to the dogs and cats like Zuzu, who have reached their expiration date, who have been recycled thru rescue, been "rehabilitated" yet lose their home, their appeal - and are rejected from organizations and shelters focused on adoption? What do you think happens to most of them? Turned in to animal controls or shelters for euthanasia or quietly put down in veterinarian offices - yet they have been counted in the "Saved" columns by their rescues who adopted them out. But were they ever truly safe?

It's not our intent to single out one organization out for blame or attack but to shine a light on a widespread phenomena in animal welfare which leaves scores of cats and dogs adrift with their lives at risk in the name of “rescue” . As a care for life sanctuary, standing at the end of the funnel, so to speak, when animals can’t find a new home but shouldn’t be put down, we hear about cases that may escape the notice of the average animal lover with a passing acquaintance with “rescue”. Because the truth is, everywhere animals are being “rescued” but not truly saved, and there is a difference.

Jasmine's intake photo from the humane society
Consider another recent case - Jasmine. A flame point Siamese mix, age 3, she was turned in to the humane society by the adult daughter when her elderly mother passed away. Jasmine’s owner had died in February 2017 and the daughter had cared for the cat until late August. She turned her in because Jasmine, a shy cat who was good about her litter box habits, and basically a sweet girl, missed her former owner, was timid and resistant to getting to know the other animals of the household. She had been kept separated from them and according to the daughter had not adjusted well. At the humane society, Jasmine was very shy and afraid and pressed herself to the back of her cage. Because she was not social, the humane society placed her on the rescue request list: this is a list of animals deemed unable to be placed thru the humane society shelters who are then offered to rescue partners. The goal is that rather than having to euthanize these animals, independent rescues approved by the humane society can take on these cases. The hope is that in a different setting such as a foster home, out of the shelter environment, the animals might come around and have a chance to ultimately find an adopter.
Here is Jasmine’s photo and information received by rescues from the humane society:

Breed: Siamese mix
Sex: Female
Age 3 years
Weight (pounds) 9.8 pounds.
Sterilization Status: Spayed
Declawed (felines) N/A

Reason not placeable in shelter setting:

Medical: Per surrender: overall very healthy cat, brought her regularly to the vet clinic. Cat has been spayed and is microchipped. The only thing the surrender did note was in the past two weeks Jasmine has been itching her neck raw. She has a few patches of hair loss behind her left ear and under the left side of her chin.

Behavioral: Jasmine does not get along with resident pets. Jasmine belonged to surrender’s mother. Mother died February 2017, surrender has been taking care of cat since then. Jasmine has been staying in a bedroom since the cat came to live with her. Jasmine does not like resident cat and is afraid of the dogs. Surrender thinks she would do best as an only pet. Jasmine is afraid to be out of her room even when all of the animals are locked in another room. Has never had any litter box issues, did nip mother when she was done being pet, and has nipped at surrender before when she is done getting attention. Bites did not break skin. Otherwise very sweet girl, likes to be petted but will let you know when she is done, not a fan of being picked up.

Medical: Bright, alert, responsive. Body condition score 6/9. Oral: mild-moderate dental tartar and gingivitis throughout, 2 2-4 mm pink growths by teeth 206/7. Ears look fairly clean. Hair loss with wounds from scratching next to and below left ear. Remainder of physical exam unremarkable. Staff not been able to monitor if wounds are better or worse since intake due to behavior.

In Jasmine’s case however, none of the over 300 rescue partners of this humane society “tagged” Jasmine to claim her by the deadline. Maybe all the rescues thought, a three-year old Siamese mix would be claimed by someone. Everyone thought someone else would be able to help her. But when her date to be claimed by a rescue came and went, Jasmine, a three-year old, shy, pretty Siamese mix, was euthanized. Alone, afraid, her owner gone, Jasmine’s photo and case would not otherwise be known except for our sharing it here. Like so many cats and dogs, she is one of the invisible animals who lose their lives each year in the rescue system. As Kristin Auerbach wrote in an article that appeared in  The Huffington Post, "Stories of healthy cats and dogs whose lives are ended in shelters are rarely told. Animal shelter leaders worry about public criticism and internal organizational conflict. Virtually every one of the estimated three million pets dying in shelters are invisible to the public. No one ever knows their names or faces.”1

The prevailing view in animal welfare fueled by advocacy organizations like Maddie’s Fund is that all animals are adoptable. By effective publicity bringing animals previously thought difficult to place to the attention of potential pet owners, it should be possible to place every animal. Dramatic cases are held out by shelters and rescues as indicative that they can really “#savethemall” and suggest that had Jasmine been the beneficiary of publicity and marketing or more of those , she too might have been able to find a home that was a perfect fit. If she had not been invisible she might have been saved.

Smokey, left, and River with their former owner
The case of two senior dogs who came to Home for Life in 2013 illustrates the limits of marketing and publicity, and creating drama around animals in need. It turns out public relations and drama won’t necessarily save animals from being or becoming invisible in the rescue world as it currently exists. River and Smokey were two dogs who were hardly invisible at the time their touching story went viral But after they were swept up by a rescue, placed in a foster home, kicked out of the foster home, ending up in a boarding kennel, they and their plight had been forgotten, and they were on the verge of being quietly put down, no one the wiser, but for a volunteer with the rescue who alerted Home for Life to their sad and desperate situation.

In the spring of 2013, you may have remembered reading about two special senior dogs, one blind and one deaf, whose owner had lost his home after his wife died. He desperately wanted to find a new home for his boys, one that would keep the two dogs together. Their owner described how he acquired both dogs when they were just puppies: “Smokey's mother was picked up by animal control when she was pregnant, so he was born into the "system." He came into my life when he was three months old. He turned blind about two years ago, but it hasn't stopped him from being a lovable guy. River was found floating down the Mississippi river, as a puppy. Hence, his name. They are both getting older, but are a great couple of dogs, and I so want to give them the opportunity to live out the rest of their days, together."

Smokey, left, with River in the lead at Home for Life
River and Smokey had been together since they were puppies. Now both age 11, the two big guys had become each other’s eyes and ears and relied on each other to navigate the world. Smokey, a collie/Doberman/Shepard mix, lost his sight about 2 years ago while River lost his hearing about the same time. Together since they were just about 3 months old, the dogs had forged a bond and were inseparable, depending upon one another to face the world: Smokey ears for River and River eyes for Smokey. Their story touched the hearts of dog lovers around the country, as their story went viral, and their owner desperately looked for a safe landing for his dogs before he lost his house.

The owner contacted Home for Life to help the dogs, but we were at capacity so, we asked him to hang on to them until his house was sold, in the hope we would be able to work them in a few months. But he worried that he was not providing the care and attention the dogs needed given his demanding work schedule and continued to look for a rescue to help his dogs. We assumed that River and Smokey were going to stay with their owner until his house sold. Time marched on, and when we didn't hear back from the owner we lost track of the two dogs when as a result of the publicity their story generated a rescue took them in.

A still from the KARE-11 feature of the 2 dogs in the rescue foster home
The rescue assigned the two brothers to a foster home in Bloomington, Minnesota and attained publicity via many news and internet outlets including KARE 11 news, a major news outlet her in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN. On the feature story that aired on KARE11, the foster pledged that Smokey and River would remain together forever whether that meant they stayed in the foster home or found a new adoptive home.

The next information we heard about them was about four months later, when a supporter contacted us via Home for Life's Facebook to see if we would take the dogs. The supporter volunteered with the local foster based rescue who had taken River and Smokey, and they were looking for a home for the two dogs where they could stay together. It turns out the foster, perhaps initially well meaning, had promised the two dogs could remain together in her home forever, if an adoptive home could not be found to take the pair and best friends. But this pledge could not be fulfilled when the foster home did not work out for Smokey and River. Smokey was alleged by to have chewed some woodwork in the foster home, and then the foster accused the two dogs - who had been comrades and friends for over 11 years - of fighting with one another. She gave the rescue less than 24 hours to remove the dogs from her home. The rescue had no other foster homes available and had no choice but to put the dogs into boarding - in separate kennel runs. Home for Life learned of the two dogs’ latest predicament after the volunteer from the rescue contacted us, recognizing that the dogs were deteriorating in the boarding kennel, losing weight and becoming depressed and despondent. With no foster for them, and no adoption prospects, there was serious discussion at the rescue of euthanizing the dogs. 
They had no future and no opportunity for another foster home let alone for adoption. River was having trouble walking without pain, and there was talk of putting him down. Smokey was physically better off but was lonely and afraid, without his brother in the unfamiliar setting and unable to see.

We decided that the two older dogs deserved to have a safe and peaceful home - together - for their last years, and this time decided not to pass up the second chance to help them. The two dogs came to Home for Life late in the summer of 2013 and were sore from arthritis, and very underweight. At Home for Life, with good care and reunited, the health and happiness of the two friends was restored and River lived until age 14, Smokey until age 15 - good long lives. (See more photos of River and Smiokey and see the blog post:

In recent years, rescues and shelters have now begun to promote animals with special needs for adoption, and there have been some well publicized cases, like that of River and Smokey, of special need animals finding homes. Such celebrated cases create an assumption that rescued animals with less dramatic situations, animals like Jasmine and Zuzu, are - of course - ALSO finding homes, yet, the data shows otherwise.

In the United States, more than four million dogs and still many more cats enter the shelter and rescue system each year. Millions each year do not get out alive; estimates are that up to two million dogs alone are destroyed.2 It seems that there should be plenty of homes available for animals in shelters and rescues. In fact, in the case of dogs, Americans take in nearly eight million new puppies and dogs to their households each year as new pets. However, they are not getting these new pets from shelters or rescues. Though rescue groups have proliferated everywhere including the Twin Cities area where, at last count there were over 300 organizations almost all doing adoptions, animal welfare groups have not found an answer to save the lives of the two million unwanted dogs and many more cats who are killed each year when no one can be found to adopt them. Meanwhile, the pool of available dogs and cats has widened through publicity to include animals previously considered hard to place, such as older animals or those with disabilities or medical conditions. Nonetheless, if animals cannot successfully transition to an adoptive home, then rescues and shelters will not be a lifesaving option, no matter how many organizations there are.

With so many rescue groups, competition among organizations for “resources” has led to a market atmosphere with shelters and rescues as the new pet stores. This approach has seen groups importing dogs and cats from all over the country, as was the case with Zuzu, to meet the demand for the types of animals most likely to be adopted.3

It makes sense for groups to collaborate and relieve pressure on crowded shelters by sending some of their animals to facilities with more space or rescues with available foster homes. Many groups operate in this spirit. Yet the market force at work in the rescue community has driven some groups to treat animals as commodities in the name of sustaining their operation and attempting to meet the public demand for new pets of sought after breeds or types of animals.4 Success for rescues and shelters in this market model is measured by the “live release” rate. Overemphasis on this single metric has missed the whole point of the real welfare of a dog or cat. Shifting in and out of facilities and foster homes is not the same as being saved. A 100% live release rate does not explain what happened to the animals released from the impound or shelter, nor the ultimate outcome for the dog or cat. For example, statistics from the first quarter of 2016 for Midwestern shelters and rescues, (including the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois) shows that 1500 cats were taken in from other agencies with 1100 transferred to another organization. For dogs, 2000 animals were taken in by reporting shelters and rescues from other agencies, with nearly half those dogs then transferred out to another organization, By the end of the year, 2016, the number transferred, nationwide, approached 400,000 animals.5 The numbers show that animals are being “placed” yet in many cases, placement just means transfer to another organization. Each transition in or out of a shelter or rescue group is counted and tallied as a separate “live release” by each group - the same animal - counted three times!

As far as the live release” rate is concerned, transition to another organization is the same as placement in an adoptive home. In reality, many “placed” animals are merely circulating through a system that emphasizes efficiency, revenue, and turnover, while paying little attention to the individual animal’s long term well being . The human-animal bond, supposedly justifying a companion animal’s worth, has been broken again and again as animals circulate through the adoption system, with dire long term consequences for many dogs and cats. Boxed out of an animal welfare discussion focused on live release is the fate of the 2500 animals euthanized during the first quarter of 2016 according to the Midwestern regional data reported,  and the over 400,000 animals nationwide,who, in 2016, according to the reporting shelters and rescues, were euthanized by these organizations or surrendered by their owners to organizations to be put down.6 As Kristin Auerbach noted in her article for the Huffington Post, their faces will never be seen, nor their stories known.

The belief persists that animals mainly matter as companions for humans. Many people are hard-pressed to imagine an animal could have a fulfilling life outside of a human home. The pressure to move animals through the system together with the fixation on adoption as the single best option for every animal denies many cats and dogs a humane alternative when they are rejected and overlooked for placement. In a system where shelters or rescues measure success according to how many adoptable animals get placed, there has been no solution for the “invisible animals” the cats and dogs who need help but who will not find it because they won’t contribute to the evaluation of performance based on live release metrics. The invisible animals are the natural outgrowth of the market place model predominating in animal welfare currently, and their default predicament reveals the limits of what can be achieved through aggressive adoption efforts and the expanded idea of the “adoptable”.

As the poet Maya Angelou wrote, “the ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go where we are not questioned." We believe that the longing for a place to belong, a home, exists in animals too.    Though the 3rd Door -care for life sanctuaries- could provide a home for at risk animals, we believe that the innovation of sanctuaries has not been widely recognized because that the dogs and cats so in need of this resource have - up to this point - been invisible.

Dr. Atal Gawande wrote in his article “Sharing Slow Ideas,” that the slow acceptance and application of good ideas, (such as 3rd Door® care-for-life sanctuaries), has been the pattern of many important but stalled innovations. These are ideas which attack big problems that are nevertheless invisible to most people.7 In the world of animal welfare, the plight of so many invisible cats and dogs who fail to find homes, has continued to confound those charged with helping them. Home for Life’s innovative 3rd Door, our care for life sanctuary, could make a huge difference for these animals. Yet the 3rd Door solution has been slow to reach widespread acceptance and application.

How can animal welfare possibly hope to "save them all" without an option for dogs and cats like Zuzu and Jasmine and River and Smokey? It is for animals like them that we created Home for Life, the 3rd Door in animal welfare and by telling their stories to ensure  that they will never be invisible again.

1 Kristen Auerbach,”Shelter Hopes One dog’s Tragic Story Will Inspire You to Save Lives”, The Huffington Post, Dec,18,2016(

2 Kim Kavin, The Dog Merchants( New York:Pegasus Press, 2016),140,141


4 For example buying puppies and pregnant dogs of desirable breeds from puppy mill auctions, selectively rescuing dogs of desirable breeds, sizes from impound and shelters

5,6 annual numbers for the Midwest region disclose that gross intake was 155,325, with 45,712 of those as incoming transfers from other organizations.  Of live outcomes reported,13,244 animals are transferred out to other  `
organizations- 1/3 of the number of incoming transfers. 16,194 animals were euthanized by reporting organizations in 2016, representing more than 10% of gross intake. In other words, 20% of  the animals as represented by the gross intake of reporting shelters were either euthanized or shifted to another organizations.

7 Atal Gawande, M.D., “Sharing Slow Ideas,” The New Yorker, July 29, 2013.