Can Cat Rescue Become an Addiction?

As rescuers, we put a lot of time into saving animals. On the Internet, on the phone, and in person — it’s a 24/7 job. We’re always on call and always willing to drop everything to rush out and help a dog or cat if there’s any hope. We celebrate success stories and mourn failures. We pour our hearts and our lives into these pets we’ll probably never even meet — just so they have a chance at a better life.

But what about our own lives?

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At the most basic level, I’ve started to feel that rescue could be an addiction. Once you’re heavily involved, many of us can’t stop. We talk of “taking a break,” but it never happens. Another dog or cat in need appears, another friend reaches out for our help, another heartbreaking picture appears on Facebook, and we jump back into action. Unable to help ourselves … because if we can help, we have to.

Sound familiar?

That feeling we get when an animal is saved because of our intervention, it’s amazing. It’s like a high. You saved a life. That animal is better off because of you, still on this planet, in the loving home they deserve. You feel full and accomplished, and if you get praise for it, that feeling is even stronger. People see you’re doing these great things, and admire you from afar.

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But how much of your life did you give to save that animal’s life? To be sure, I’m not saying rescue is bad. It is not. It is awesome! Without the caring people toiling away for hours on Facebook and networking and in person, so many lives would be lost. Rescuers definitely make a difference.

But we have to watch out for ourselves, too.

Have you blown off a commitment or event because you had to help this animal, or something came up suddenly and an animal needed your help?

How many of you have sat on dates, at family dinners, or in front of the TV with your significant other, oblivious to your surroundings, buried in messages and chats on your phone trying to get a cat or dog out and safe at the 11th hour?

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Do you wonder where all your money went, and open your eyes one day and realize you haven’t done anything nice for yourself in a while, because all your extra time and money goes to the animals and your rescue efforts? (Read my articles “I Drove Four Hours to Protest Loews Hotels and Sneak Their Starving Outdoor Cats Food” and “A Cat Rescue Road Trip: 2 Cats, 7 People, 1,400 Miles” to see how far I’ve gone for animals.)

Have you lost sleep or even weekends because of rescue? Are you doing the other things you always loved? Taking care of yourself and enjoying the hobbies you always enjoyed? How much “you” time do you have, without being connected to the computer or phone or out in the trenches?

How many of you struggle with your partners because they want more of your time? You’re “always” doing rescue stuff, they say, but you refuse to give it up or do any less, because it’s what drives you, and you have to, and they should understand.

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The rescue family online is a tight one. Most of us know each other in some way. We’re all interconnected and we talk to each other all the time. We network and we are friends. I really do think we truly are friends. We have a strong passion in common, and it brings us together.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? All these friends, all this support. It is, and I’m glad to be part of it. We help each other when we’re in need, and we feel when any of us suffer a loss.

Part of what made me realize what I’m talking about today is a sad thing that happened a few weeks ago. A fellow rescuer took her own life. I’m not sure the circumstances and I wasn’t connected to her, but I found out through mutual friends.

So I went to her Facebook page, as we all do when we find out someone passed, and read the messages.They were all from rescue friends. The kindest words. She must have saved so many animals, worked tirelessly, gave up her nights and weekends and the hobbies she once loved. Driven to share just this one more dog, or beg for help for this one more cat

… And then somehow life became too much.

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I didn’t know this woman, and this is nothing against her, but this is what hit home while reading all the messages: All of them were about her work for animals and how the rescue world has lost a great one.

So why do I think rescue work could be an addiction? Because it puts blinders on us. It becomes the most important thing and we push aside other important things. Our family feels neglected. Our homes may be neglected. Our work might suffer, as we are called away or interrupted from it multiple times a day. We often sit by ourselves, engulfed in something rescue-related, feeling like this is the most important thing in the world, and no one understands how we just have to do this. We love it. We go from success high to success high, always working toward the next one.

We may struggle to keep up appearances in the real world, downplaying how much we do when we talk to friends or co-workers. No one really knows how many hours we spend on this. If they found out, they’d think we were crazy, but we know we’re not, right? Because it’s so worth it.

But is it? At least, do we have to do it so much?

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When was the last time you got a pedicure or manicure? A haircut? A massage? Bought something nice for yourself? Took a vacation away from the grid, and enjoyed life for a while –- without any rescue work? Or even just had a whole weekend to yourself? How many of you go for walks, go to the gym, or just eat dinner with your family or partner and are completely present for that?

Rescue is important, there’s no doubt. The animals need us. All I’m saying is that we need to take care of ourselves and make sure we have lives outside of this. There are people out there who love us and want to spend time with us.

Animals are amazing, and so is saving them. But so are life experiences and family, friends and loving relationships. Find a balance. Take a break — and really take it. There will always be animals to save, but there is only one of you. Make sure YOU are happy.

Photo: Cataract rescue kitten by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Dorian Wagner, regular contributor to Catster Magazine.


Tanya Selth
Tanya Selth4 years ago

thanks for this article.

Im a cat rescue foster but I do keep the right balance for myself. One doesnt have to get to the point where things become an addiction. I only foster one cat at a time (but would be willing to foster more if I was more organised but unfortunately right now I arent).

I wish I could help the local feral colony at my shopping centre but unfortunately Im disabled to the point I cant leave my house by myself so that is currently out of the question for me.

The rescue org I foster for has had a bad media rap as the one who runs it doesnt always run it well due to being overwhelmed by too many cats in the rescue network. Sadly they loose cat fosters due to this (which only then would be putting them in a worst situation) and Im getting fed up with it too (I have to ring countless times without call backs, In an emergency with the cat, I know it would be terrible due to the poor communication). I have told myself that I wont be fostering another cat throu this rescue again.

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

If more people chipped in or actually were even a little more responsible to fix their pets then many of us wouldn't feel overwhelmed at times. The worst part is after helping an animal in need---sadly you know you have to let go not knowing what fate awaits that poor sweetie. I especially wish I could rescue all the dogs cats from the ghastly meat trade. Thanks

Deb Ryan
Deb Ryan4 years ago

I agree!

Cheryl Mallon-Bond

Cont~(3) & if you think someone is overwhelmed & doing too much; then why don't you find out what you can do to HELP them become less.burdened!? Buy some food, help feed some colonies, HELP!!!!! them.become less burdened; that's how you help a rescue person have some time & $ to themselves. It takes a village, and many times that 1 person IS the village, & that therein lies the problem.

Cheryl Mallon-Bond

Cont~If more people helped in this way, less of us rescue people would overwhelmed & burnt out. Especially when you take care of Colonies, you cannot just walk away from them. They have depended on you for food, shelter etc. If these POS would stop.dumping their cats at my colonies my life would be a lot better! But if you don't not spay/neuter them & they start reproducing you are back to square one! & it will quickly become like you never did ANYTHING! Rescue people; you know it & I know it!. I reject the authors notion of a "high", I don't get that at all. As a feral cat caretaker & advocate I am regularly harassed, threatened, have my cats houses smashed in, etc. Trust me, here is no "high" in that. We simply NEED more help & less people being irresponsible & dumping their animals on the streets! We become the ones picking up the responsibility for the irresponsible. I DON'T want to have to spend all my time, $, efforts ONLY doing this...but you have to also understand that you cannot abandon what you took responsibility for. I have had many people commit to helping feed these colonies w/ me, than they up & quit! What am I supposed to do?! Now let them starve? Then another person quits....& now you can see how easily 1 person gets beyond over.burdened. HELP! someone to be led burdened, instead of judging them! I never expected to be dumped w/ all this responsibility, it wasn't once like that, it was others who dumped it on me, & if

Cheryl Mallon-Bond

OK, I get what the author is saying here, although I thinking is a little off base. As far as the woman who took her life; you know nothing about other areas of her life & obviously she had issues, or she would be alive now. I am a rescuer, so I am speaking from much experience here; I think the real issue here is that there are not enough people doing this work & so too much responsibility falls on a small percentage of people. I don't think ANYONE in rescue WANTS TO give up things or activities we enjoy, but sometimes that's just the way it is. I sacrifice everyday of my life in order to do what I have to do for the animals
I would rather it not be that way, but it is what it is. I am not going to let my feral cat colonies go hungry, so that means I must find a a way to cut back (sacrifice) in order to make that happen. See the thing is there are 2 kinds of people in this world; the ones that value things, and the ones that value living things. Every single person on this planet has a choice, & every person has the power to end a small amount of misery & suffering each day. It doesn't mean that animal rescue is going .everyone's " thing"; that they physically go out & do, but EVERYONE can help.those efforts by doing other things like buying some food for a rescue person or group, making a donation, fostering, sponsoring medical care for an need, distributing posters of need of homes, holding a garage sale & donating the $

Susan E G Scott
Susan E G Scott4 years ago

Anything no matter how noble done to excess may become addictive. So sad, but true.

Jess No Fwd Plz K.
Jessica K4 years ago

It's hard to think of something noble as rescue as being an addiction, but in many ways it sounds like rescue addiction is a type of workaholism. Certainly anything that is taken to such an extreme to damage physical and mental health must be addressed, and it may be harder when the drug of choice is something that benefits the well-being of others. Thanks.

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad4 years ago


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)