Hope for Paws Animal Rescue, based in Los Angeles,1 followed up on a call alerting them to a homeless poodle that had been hit by a car. They found her—dirty, matted, and terrified—sitting by herself on the street, her back pressed against a concrete wall. The rescuers approached slowly, not wanting to frighten her further, unsure of how she would react.
Although clearly scared and uncomfortable with their presence, the dog didn’t try to run, but allowed the rescuer to stroke her gently and slip a leash around her neck. Eventually the rescue worker was able to lift the little white poodle and hold her tightly to her chest, softly speaking words of comfort.
Many animals that have been abused and neglected often respond with abject fear and sometimes aggression toward those trying to help them, but this little female—that the rescuers later named Layla—brought her rescuer to tears when she lifted her head and began gently licking her face.
“I think she likes you,” her partner said.
Rescuing Layla, however, was the easy part. Doctors at the local animal hospital found that Layla had serious intestinal damage and was in critical condition. She was hospitalized, and struggled to survive.
Foster parents for Layla were found and visited her daily, hoping they could lift her spirits. It worked! Layla gradually grew stronger and in time was healthy enough to go home with her foster family.
Today Layla is a happy, playful dog living in a caring home and getting the love and attention she needs to grow and thrive.
While the rescue workers admit they gave Layla the chance she needed to get better, “it was her foster parents,” they say, “that gave her the reason to get better.”2
About 6.5 million dogs and cats enter animal shelters in the U.S. every year.3 Although this is a staggering number of unwanted animals, it’s on the decrease—down from 7.2 million in 2011.4 This encouraging trend is a result of aggressive marketing to raise awareness of the importance of spaying and neutering, more stray animals being successfully returned to their owners (thanks, in part, to microchipping), and more people adopting pets. Sadly, some 1.5 million dogs and cats—most of them healthy—are still euthanized annually.5 The good news, however, is that more than 3 million are adopted.6
“They look at me and they beg with their eyes—and they deserve a chance.”
“Last year we took in a total of 434 cats and adopted out 380 of them,” says Melissa Gurnett, cofounder of Happy Jack Cats,7 a no-kill cat rescue and adoption group in Boise, Idaho. “The number of unwanted cats is huge, and we can’t help them all, but it makes a difference for that ‘one.’ If I can do it for the ‘one,’ that’s all I focus on at that point. Then I go on to the next one. There’s a cumulative result from that.
“They deserve a chance,” she adds. “They look at me and they beg with their eyes—and they deserve a chance.”
In existence since 2015, Happy Jack Cats is an organized network of foster homes, where volunteers care for kittens and cats until “forever homes” are found for them. Funding comes from grants, donations, and adoption fees.
Gurnett doesn’t allow just anyone to adopt the cats, however. Applicants must fill out forms, provide references, allow home visits, and pay a fee.
“People don’t treat right what they don’t value,” she says. “If they’re not willing to let us make sure that the cat is going to a good home or to pay that nominal fee, knowing that we’re losing money anyway [on what it costs to care for the cat], they’re not going to value it. They’re not going to take care of it.”
Gurnett added that spaying and neutering pets impacts the growing population of unwanted cats and dogs significantly. “There has to be social change,” she says, “including low-cost spay and neuter clinics that are accessible to everyone.”Gurnett isn’t alone in her passion to save unwanted animals. Animal rescue groups abound. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the largest animal protection organization in the U.S., advocates not only for cats and dogs but for all animals that are victims of cruelty, dealing with issues such as factory farming, seal slaughter, horse cruelty, animal fighting, and wildlife trade.8 Local humane societies have been established in countless cities and towns across the nation. There is also the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA),9 Farm Sanctuary,10 and Best Friends Animal Society,11 to name only a few—as well as rescue organizations for dolphins, elephants, birds, reptiles, and countless other animal groups.
Why do these people do it?
Because animals “have no say in their own fate, and it’s up to us to speak and act on their behalf,” says HSUS president Wayne Pacelle in his book The Bond.
“We all have our own ideas about how to make the world a better place. . . . Some are called to serve the poor, bringing food, shelter, medicine, and opportunity where the need is greatest. There are men and women devoted especially to the welfare of children, protecting them from violence and exploitation and finding homes for the orphans. Many dedicate themselves to preventing or curing disease, while others labor to protect the environment from pollution or careless development. And by the millions, men and women in America and beyond have set their hearts and minds to the work of preventing cruelty and alleviating the suffering of animals. . . . It is for each of us to act and to give as our conscience asks, and in that pluralism of concerns, everybody is covered.”12
The most frequently cited Bible text regarding God’s care for animals is Matthew 10:29, in which Jesus says that even though sparrows hold little monetary value to humans, not one of them falls to the ground outside our heavenly Father’s care.
Every creature was created by God, and evidence of His love and care for them and His expectation that we be good stewards of His nonhuman creatures abounds in His Word.13 Animals have intelligence and emotions, feel pain and experience joy. Only in recent years has science begun revealing what Ellen White noted more than a century ago: that the effect of cruelty to animals on both those who inflict and behold it is the destruction of “the tenderness with which we should regard these creatures of God! The intelligence displayed by many dumb animals approaches so closely to human intelligence that it is a mystery.”14
Jesus left heaven and came down to this world in human form to rescue us from this sinful planet. He found us vulnerable, diseased, injured—as was Layla—and gently spoke words of comfort and hope. He held us in His great arms of love and revealed the true character of God. Some of us may react with fear and perhaps even aggression, but when we see the concern and love in His eyes and consider the unfathomable gift He has given us in laying down His life that we may be with Him in heaven forever, fully restored to perfect health—how can we not respond with love and boundless gratitude?
And how can we not extend that love to all others, even His nonhuman creatures, and do all we can to rescue them as well?
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.