A day in the life of an animal rescuer

Jayda, a former shelter dog waits to be adopted.By: Lisa Deanne Gilman
The Rescue Train, for Pets Best Insurance

As a child I never said, “When I grow up I want to run an animal rescue.” So how did I end up dedicating my adult life to saving dogs and cats from euthanasia, and placing them in loving homes? It started when I visited an L.A. city animal shelter and a shelter worker informed me that a large number of adoptable shelter dogs and cats were euthanized every week because they had too many animals and not enough homes.

I was shocked that in the creative and affluent city of Los Angeles this was their solution to this problem. I remember standing in the loud, overcrowded kennel looking into all the dogs’ scared eyes and my heart just broke. Their faces haunted me and I could just not turn my back. And so my journey began.

After a decade of rescue work and over a thousand adoptions, I can tell you that running an animal rescue is not an easy job. For the staggering number of animals who need help every day it’s often life or death.

Pet overpopulation is a national crisis. The Humane Society of The United States estimates 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters across the country each year. Rescuers know that spaying and neutering is the solution to this crisis; however, getting local communities, city and state governments to agree on how to deal with the issue is difficult. Often times, pet insurance companies will even cover a portion of spaying and neutering in their benefits because they understand the importance.

People often tell me they can’t visit animal shelters because it makes them sad. Animal shelters make rescuers sad, too, but we refuse to let our emotions get in the way of saving lives. We understand we can’t save them all but we can and do make a difference. Alone, rescuers have shed many tears for animals they can’t save. But they get up the next day and get back into the ring as they fight for those creatures who can’t speak for themselves.

The number of lives we can save is dictated by the amount of funds raised. On any given day I can go into the shelter and have the funds to save five animals when 30 are facing euthanasia. How do I pick? In truth, it never gets easier. On The Rescue Train we try to have a diverse group of animals up for adoption. However there are certain animals that you come across that just tug at your heartstrings. Because of their age, breed or a treatable medical condition they will not get adopted by the public without some extra help. Those special cases can often be the most rewarding when they find their way home.

A typical day finds a rescuer going to the animal shelters, taking their rescues to vet appointments, rescuing animals living on the street, recruiting volunteers, answering phone calls and e-mails from people who want to give up their pet or who have found a lost or stray animal. We also educate the public on responsible pet ownership, go to adoption events, hold fundraisers, and visit kennels and foster homes to spend time with the animals in our care. But our favorite part of the job is delivering a dog or cat to its new forever home. There is no greater joy than when an animal who was so close to death gets adopted and becomes an important family member.

Every adoption is a victory and a joy, but there are some that stick out in my mind: PJ the golden retriever mix who was adopted for a little boy whose father had passed away, Liberty the beagle who helped her owner through her breast cancer treatments, and Tony who was labeled a hard to place dog until he was trained to be a companion for a woman in a wheelchair just to name a few.

As rescuers we know that every time we save an animal there is the possibility that this animal can make a profound impact on one person’s life. We dream of a day when our services won’t be needed, where there is a loving home waiting for every dog and cat in the world.

Note: Lisa Deanne Gilman is The Executive Director of The Rescue Train (therescuetrain.org) a Los Angeles based, 501(c)3, nonprofit, no kill dog and cat rescue dedicated to eliminating animal suffering and euthanasia through hands on rescue work, education and awareness.


  • Erin

    Great article, and thanks Lisa for all your amazing work!

  • Jenny Yerrick Martin

    It takes a brave and determined person to do what you do, Lisa. I admire you greatly and thank you for sharing your story.

  • carole

    Thank you so much for bringing light to the rescue world & over population. I worked in an animal shelter for a few years and then turned my talents to rescue efforts instead so I relate with this story in more then one way.

  • Victoria Leitham

    Pointed and poignantly written to give readers a glimpse of what rescuers do, what they feel, and why they keep doing their work despite the issues and challenges, the exhausting and overwhelming work, and the heart-breaking choices they are faced with due to limited funding.

    But more than the words on the page, the reader begins to realize that rescue work is more than saving lives- that adopting a rescue enriches human lives as well…in profound ways. The work of a rescuer is a life-affirming pursuit by giving animals just a chance to live, to breathe, to live in moments of joy and share that with their human best friend.
    Thank you for opening our eyes to your compassionate, warrior heart.

  • Lisa Beaumont

    It’s an honor and a blessing to know such an incredible person as Lisa; a woman with such integrity and strong will who makes many tails wag everyday : ) She rolls up her sleeves, not afraid to get dirty, and walks the walk.
    Thank you so much for your hard work. You are my inspiration.

  • Linda O. Johnston

    Such a wonderful and heart-rending description of animal rescue, Lisa. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Susan H

    You are truly a gift, Lisa. To the animals and to those of us who love them. Even in your sleep-deprived, crazed, rescue event moments, you rock! You are the Train!

  • Georgia Reed

    Lisa – what a beautiful journey – thank you so much for sharing and for writing this blog – I have two rescue cats that are the light of my life, and I cannot imagine coming home and not seeing their precious, furry faces. Thank you for all that you are doing.

  • Doug

    Great job little sister!

  • nazanin.m

    Dear Lisa
    We run an animal shelter in Tehran, Iran, in a country that dogs are known as “unclean” in its religion and dogs have no rights. They are killed everyday by the government…

    We try everyday to improve our shelter and rescue more injured dogs and find them responsible family and secure house. Just want to thank you for everything you do for these great animals and want to tell you that it is hard but we hope, we are strong and every time you find them a family or rescue them from the death.. you understand that it worth and continue to be supportive and protector.

    Wish you the best..

  • if your mom is allergic to dog hair u might want to get a poodle since they dont shed. as far as that goes. if you have a cat that will stand up to a dog then any dog will do. cuz we had a cat that would play with the dogs and just stand there if they started messing with him. somethin happened to that cat and we had to give that dog away but we got a new cat that was real skittish and we got a new dog too and that cat will run from the dog so the dog will chase it . the skittish cat had kittens and the dog killed one oof them. so really the cats just have to stand up to the dog.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *