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Confessions of an Animal Rescuer

True tales from a pet devotee

By Judy Sutton Taylor

I’m not Catholic and I’m certainly no saint, but I feel a special bond with Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. For as long as I can remember, stray dogs and cats have come across my path with such regularity that you’d think I was wearing eau de catnip and leaving a trail of kibble behind me.

The reason I find so many strays is probably because I have a penchant for back roads and a keen eye, but I swear it’s not like I go looking for them. You won’t find me wandering around back alleys late at night, for example, making meowing sounds or sitting with a net, waiting for unleashed dogs to cross my path. I see them when I’m out doing the everyday things that everyday people do—biking with my kids in the park, eating lunch at an outdoor café, and worst of all, driving on the highway. It’s gotten to the point where, when friends (and even friends of friends) come across strays, they call me because they figure I’ll know what to do, and maybe even come to help them. And they’re right.

To be sure, I’m an animal person. There are already two dogs and four cats in my family all rescued from various sad situations (not to mention my 4-year-old twin son and daughter), and the long, steady stream of foster pets who have come through the doors of my house as well. To me, the unconditional love of a companion animal is one of the great joys in life. Still, I’m not the type of person you’ll see wearing a saliva-stained Dances with Woofs T-shirt or buying designer collars for my designer kitties (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

But I will try to do something about a pigeon fluttering in the road with a broken wing, a canine abandoned at the dog park, or the scrawny cat keeping a vigil by the garbage can. I can’t come up with any hard and fast reasons why I do what I do, but I can’t think of any reasons not to, either. Being late to dinner with friends, dirtying my car, making an occasional fool of myself—none of these things seem like good enough excuses to turn my back on a living, breathing creature in need of help. In a world where so many things are out of our control, helping an animal in distress is a way that, with a little effort, I can hopefully make a bad situation a little better.

Okay, insert finger in mouth here. I know that may sound all warm and fuzzy, but the truth is there’s not too much that’s sugary sweet about this stuff. I’ve had to climb over and crawl under fences in my best clothes to get animals. My furniture’s been chewed up, my bed’s been peed on, and my own dogs and cats have endured the stress of playing hosts to some not-so-polite houseguests. I’ve spent money on food and vet bills that I really couldn’t spare. I’ve been bitten and scratched by frightened animals, and yelled at and threatened by unsympathetic people. There’s chaos and absurdity at every turn, to say the least: Once, when I was eight months pregnant with my twins, I spent a bitterly cold half hour coaxing a lost Belgian Malinois out from some bushes in a park behind my house, then another hour tracking him down after he jumped the seven-foot-high fence in my backyard. When I found his family and they came to pick him up, they brought along the police, claiming I (waddling around with 35 pounds of added belly weight) had stolen him from their home 50 miles away.

Sometimes the endings are happier—the couple who adopted a Beagle mix I found tearing through a bag of fast food on the side of a six-lane road sends me a Christmas card every year, complete with pictures of the dog dressed like Santa. Other times they’re bittersweet—Mrs. Pearlman, an elderly and severely malnourished cat I found near death, lived a happy, tuna-filled life with our family for a year before she succumbed to cancer. Each time I come across an animal, I never know what the outcome will be, but it doesn’t matter.

I do know that there will always be people around me who roll their eyes and heave a round of here-we-go-again sighs with every story I share. But that doesn’t matter, either. I can stand a little eye-rolling, and I’m even willing to put up with my bed getting peed on (but, really, I’d prefer that didn’t happen), if it means a shot at more dogs-dressed-like-Santa cards at Christmas.

* Judy Sutton Taylor is the Kids editor at Time Out Chicago and is very active in rescue and adoption in Chicagoland. She is also the proud mother of twins and a variety of feline and canine companions.

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