By Carmela Maraan Fernando
It happens often: A sick, injured, lost, or hungry animal is seen wandering on the streets. Passersby then snap a photo and post it on social media, sometimes accompanied by a request for help, sometimes notifying an official rescue operative, or sometimes with just a descriptive caption that states how the poster feels.
Sadly, this doesn’t work.
While this approach is great for raising awareness, and frankly, getting likes and comments, it often doesn’t go beyond that. Posting and reacting online are NOT equal to taking real action towards helping an animal in need.
The primary rule is, when someone needs your help, grant that help first. You don’t see doctors snapping their photos before attending to their patients, traffic aides posting #/HelpPls with a photo of old people crossing the street, or even your family members taking a selfie before they pass you the salt at dinner, right?
Granted, not every animal in distress is in need of immediate care. But in the event of an accident or dire illness, here are the actual steps you can take.
Feral cats are likely to be fierce because their harsh environment has conditioned them to be on the defensive. They may bite or claw at you if you approach them too abruptly. Occasionally, you may encounter a friendly kitty who will allow you to rescue them, but for your safety, it’s best to assume they’ll put up a fight first.
While they may not be as aggressive as feral cats, stray dogs may still snap at you when they’ve been abused or under severe distress. Again, they’re in fight-or-flight mode so they may revert to attacking when they feel cornered. Because of their size they may also be a little more difficult to transport immediately.
You may also encounter other animals on the street that need immediate attention. They may have wandered from their habitat, or in some cases, they may have been a stolen or missing companion. Even though it appears they may not attack you, if they’re sick, hurt, or starving, they still need to be approached carefully, especially if they can injure or infect you.
In situations like this, if an animal is aggressive, it’s likely they’re scared! So it’s up to you to create a situation where they can feel unthreatened enough so you can rescue them safely.
Pointers when saving a distressed animal
- Assess for urgency – Some cases, such as an accident, a severe illness, a calamity, foul weather, or abandoned newborns, need immediate response. Check for a tag as well; the animal may have wandered away from their family.
- Prep your vehicle – If you have a vehicle, prepare it for transporting the distressed animal. Place old clothes, towels, or blankets inside a large box or carrier.
- Prepare a carrier – If you don’t have a vehicle, make sure you have a carrier, or know someone who can help you transport the animal to safety.
- Recruit a team – In most cases, it’s better to have companions who will assist you in case the animal is difficult to transport.
- Call for backup – In case of severe injury or illness, call emergency animal rescue services so they can perform first aid before bringing the patient to the clinic. NEVER move an injured animal by yourself; it may harm them further and the patient may also attack you out of pain and fear.
Then, execute the actual rescue.
- Approach gently – Move slowly, speak softly, and don’t make prolonged eye contact. Direct eye contact can be intimidating, especially to cats.
- Secure with a blanket – If the animal is willing to be approached, move quickly but calmly, and wrap them in a blanket. This will prevent them from struggling and moving around too much, enough to attack you.
- Trap if necessary – If the animal is aggressive, you can resort to the trap method. One popular tactic is to place food inside a carrier with cameras set up around it. Once the target enters the carrier, you can secure them remotely so you can take the patient to a veterinarian or rescue shelter.
- Don’t retaliate – In cases of extreme aggression, resist the urge to retaliate. Make sure your backup rescue companions also don’t hurt the animal. Step away and wait for the animal to calm down.
- Call the experts – If it happens to be a wild animal or endangered/protected species, call the nearest certified rescue shelter and local authorities.
How about photos and videos?
Taking photos and videos of an animal in crisis is okay for documentation purposes, and if these are directed toward the right audience, such as dedicated rescue groups, animal rights communities, or animal education platforms.
Just keep in mind: If you were in immediate danger, and people around you took photos for social media instead of pitching in first to help you out of your predicament – well, it won’t amount to anything. And, for an injured, sick, or suffering animal, you are their best chance of surviving. The social media clout can come later.