Pet Corner
The Starfish Strategy for Rescuing Animals
By Allen and Linda Anderson



“I try... but I just can’t help all the animals that need to be rescued.”

This is a lament we heard often as we did the research and conducted interviews for our new book about animal rescue. People talked about ways they coped with the dilemma of too great a need and too few resources. One method they frequently mentioned, we came to call “The Starfish Strategy for Rescuing Animals”.

That name is based on a story we read many years ago in The Book of ECK Parables, Volume 3 by Harold Klemp, a prolific author and the spiritual leader of Eckankar. He retold the popular legend and put it into a spiritual context. The tale goes something like this.

A boy walked along a beach that was desolate except for a long row of brownish-orange objects strewn in a path before him as far as the eye could see. The child would stoop to pick up one of the objects and then throw it into the ocean. An old man strolling along the beach stopped to watch the boy. As he neared the child, he realized that the objects the boy scooped from the sand were actually starfish. Gazing toward the horizon, he could see that there were thousands of them, stranded by the incoming tide. He approached the boy and asked what he was doing.

The boy stopped and said that the starfish in his hand would die if he didn’t return it to the sea. To this comment the man asked, “But what does it matter?”
Looking at the creature he held, the boy replied, “It matters to this starfish.”

It was with similar words that volunteers have responded to our questions about how they handled not being able to save the lives of all the animals they encountered while doing rescue work. One person said that although she grieved over animals who didn’t or couldn’t possibly make it through a disaster, she focused on the one animal right in front of her. When she had been instrumental in keeping one animal from starving or suffering, or had delivered a trembling dog or cat into the loving arms of the next volunteer, her heart filled with gratitude and relief. It had mattered to THIS starfish.

The Russian Dog THAT Stole THE Hearts of Our Readers
One Saturday morning we sat in our living room, sipping tea and planning the day’s activities when the telephone rang. On the line was Larisa, a woman from St. Petersburg, Russia. She had been surfing the net and came across our website. She was calling about a dog named Alfa for whom she was seeking safe refuge. Due to language barriers we couldn’t quite understand what she was saying, or why she was so desperate to get Alfa out of the city quickly.

Larisa explained that she had found Alfa on the streets. This sweet dog had an extra strike against her of only having two functioning front legs. Alfa’s back legs were crippled, leaving her unable to walk or run from any predators. Because Larisa has two other rescued dogs who tend to be aggressive with newcomer animals, she couldn’t keep Alfa. Her friends, who also adopt strays, already had their homes full with as many animals as they could save.

She explained that in her city of five million residents there was only one private animal shelter. She had managed to persuade the shelter to take Alfa temporarily but needed to find a way to get the dog to a new home out of the country.

After speaking with Larisa, we decided to put the question to our Angel Animals Story of the Week readers. We asked them to write to us with their suggestions for what organizations or individuals could help Larisa find a new home for Alfa.

We always say to anyone who will listen that animal lovers are the most compassionate people on the planet — to animals and to humans. Little did we know that the Angel Animals’ readers were about to live up to that statement — in spades.

Letters for Larisa poured in, and we forwarded all of them to her. Within a week, she wrote the following letter that we put into our newsletter. Larisa says, “The Angel Animals journal and its editors, Linda and Allen Anderson, told their readers about my request. I received hundreds of letters from all over the world. Some people just expressed their solidarity and thanked me for my help to this homeless and helpless creature. Others sent me the e-mail addresses of organizations, shelters, and people who could help. I had so much information that I really felt lost. So I wrote letters to a lot of addresses.
“The answers came immediately. Alfa could be adopted in the USA, Canada, Austria, Belgium, and France. This French family sent me such a beautiful letter that I understood it was the best place for Alfa to go.

“At the same time, I found on the Internet the American company DOGGON’ WHEELS, which produces wheelchairs for disabled pets. They offered to make such a chair for Alfa as a present. The chair has already been made and now it is being shipped to Alfa’s new home in Paris. To buy a ticket for Alfa to Paris, I collected money from my friends and all those who wanted to help the poor dog.

“Two local television channels will make programs about her the day before the flight. The central channels like the ORT and RTR promised to contact me on Monday. They also want to show the happy end of the story.”

In addition, the producer of a French television program, 30 Million Friends, wrote to Larisa and said, “It’s a great story that shows how we can do beautiful things when we walk together. It’s such a nice proof of solidarity.” She sent a camera crew to the airport to film Alfa’s arrival in Paris for showing to French animal lovers. Three French women with signs met Alfa and her Russian escort at the airport. One of the women was the kind soul who was adopting the dog. She works for the Brigitte Bardot Foundation in France. (Coincidentally, for our new book, we interviewed Brigitte Bardot about her thoughts on animal rescue.)

Why This Starfish Was So Crucial
It was only later, as Larisa and other Russian friends of animals wrote to us, that we were able to piece together why there was such an urgency to get Alfa out of the country. As it turns out, in preparation for the G8 Summit to convene in St. Petersburg, the city had contracted with a company to rid the city of homeless animals.

The company had a very well-deserved reputation of cruelty, using poison and brutal methods that caused immeasurable suffering as they hunted down and killed the animals. The company was in overdrive and even killing animals belonging to people in its haste to rid the city of its “vermin” problem.

This is why Larisa swooped in to get Alfa, a dog who couldn’t possibly hide or run away, off the streets and out of the city. Had anyone known that the dog did not have a home, she would have been destroyed. It is also why all of Larisa’s friends’ homes were filled with animals. They were hurriedly rescuing as many as they could.

Getting local television attention on Alfa and how people around the world had rallied to help this one “starfish” was exactly what Larisa and her friends had needed. They were voices crying in a wilderness until then, trying to get public opinion to condemn what was happening. They had written and called the media repeatedly, but with no success.

Now Alfa’s situation had not only garnered attention in Russia but also in France, and in the agencies that do international animal rescue work. Perhaps a happy ending for Alfa would also lead to shining the spotlight of disapproval on the practice of making a city “clean” by killing all of its homeless animals.

We personally wrote to the national news media covering the G8 Summit. We had been sent photographic proof that these atrocities had occurred. When our letters were met with deafening silence, we figured no one would touch it. Afterall, the news media were guests in Russia. They wouldn’t want to risk losing access to covering the summit by embarrassing the host city of St. Petersburg.

This is a story we wanted to share with you as a reminder that you never know how many or whom you are helping when you lift one stranded starfish out of the sand and return it to safety. Whether you are giving service to life for people or animals, whenever you feel overwhelmed by how great and vast the needs are, focus on the one you can help. Then the next one. And the next.

Allen and Linda Anderson are founders of the Angel Animals Network and authors of New World Library’s two new books, “RESCUED: Saving Animals from Disaster” and “Angel Horses: Divine Messengers of Hope” (the latest in their popular Angel Animals series). Subscribe to the Angel Animals Story of the Week at  And please visit their new website

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