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The Right Way to Rescue a Stray

tank dogsI get this message almost daily, “I found a dog and rescued it, will you take him? If not you, what other rescue group can I take him to?” Hey, it’s great that you picked up a loose dog wanting to help, but there is more to rescuing than simply loading a dog into your car and expecting someone else to happily jump to your aid. But, I am getting ahead of myself… First things first, it’s important to know that not every loose dog is a homeless, unwanted stray. Even if the dog *looks* somehow abused or neglected, you really have no idea. He may be far from home and on the run for some time. He may have had some scraps with other dogs or other animals. Don’t jump to the conclusion that he has been dumped or has escaped use as a bait dog in a fighting ring.

But down to brass tacks… what do you do when you find a loose dog? The answer is pretty simple: you take him to the shelter. I can hear you gasping already – “but the shelter puts animals down!” Well, I will admit that is true, but do you know what else the shelter does? They offer medical attention, food, and a safe place for a dog to crash. They scan for microchips and reunite lost pets with their owners. They adopt out animals to new loving families. Yes, the shelter does all these things (and more) too.

So, the next time you find a loose dog and you truly want to help him, go ahead and load him up in your car… and take him directly to the animal shelter. There they will scan him for a microchip – if he has one, problem solved! If he doesn’t, he will likely be held for at least 72 hours to give an owner a chance to reclaim him. Ask for an intake number when you drop him off and use that time to begin searching for a foster or reaching out to rescues in the event no owner comes forward. I can assure you that others will be much more willing to help and network if you work with the system rather than against it.

**As an added note: please don’t take a dog you have found to your home and let him interact with your own pets. He may appear healthy, but you have no clue if the dog has been vaccinated, what he has been exposed to, or even if he has any dog aggressive issues. It’s better to just be safe, and keep your pets safe!

Murderers? Sadists? This is getting ridiculous…

Dallas-animal-shelter

 

It’s really nothing new – the impassioned masses get wind of a topic that seems so horrific they must speak out against such an obvious wrong. They shake their fists and scream for reform, convinced they have the moral high ground on the issue. But in reality, they don’t have all the facts and certainly don’t have any viable solutions. As well-meaning as they may be, they have fallen victim to the propaganda and hysteria. Generally these pitchfork wielding antagonists loose their zeal for the issue as quickly as they found it and are on to the next controversial injustice of the moment… Unless the issue is traditional open admission (“kill”) animal shelters. Then, it seems, the misinformed rabble pitches a tent, builds a fire, and camps out for the duration. They infiltrate Facebook, blogs, and other webpages looking for any opportunity to call out the “sadistic” ways of traditional shelters. It’s time to set the record straight: animal shelters aren’t the enemy, and their staffs certainly aren’t “murders” or euthanizing animals for fun.

 

“No Kill” Isn’t What You Think

I can already hear those chants of “NO KILL” and “Austin did it!” as I type. Sigh. I don’t know how to break this to you, but “no-kill” doesn’t really mean that no animals are dying at the hands of the shelter, directly or indirectly. “No kill” actually means that the shelter maintains a high live release rate (generally about 90%) for ADOPTABLE animals. The ill, injured, fearful, anxious, elderly, etc will be deemed unadoptable and likely euthanized. The animals who need help the most will slip through the clandestine loophole and never make it out alive.

At least those healthy, well-adjusted, adoptable animals won’t be “murdered” at the shelter!
Well, you’ve got me there. Assuming those animals don’t get sick or develop any behavioral issues that get them switched to the unadoptable list, they will hopefully get adopted and not spend the rest of their lives institutionalized in shelter kennels.

But, think of all those furbabies we will save – I can pick up a stray and take it to the shelter knowing nothing bad will happen!
Nope, so very wrong. “No kill” shelters operate on a closed-door admission policy. That means the shelter is not obligated to take in any animal. If the shelter is full or adoptability is questionable, the animal will not be granted admission. So what will happen to the rejected animals? Well, there are many fates worse than humane euthanasia at a traditional shelter. Abandonment is the kindest of those fates I can think of and hope for.

What about rescue organizations? Won’t they be able to take those animals?
“No kill” doesn’t magically reduce the number of homeless animals. Normally, the traditional shelter works with rescues, transferring as many animals at risk of euthanasia as possible to rescues willing and able to care for them until adoption. In a “no kill” scenario, the animals in the shelter are considered “safe”, so rescues will instead be inundated with urgent pleas for animals not admitted to the shelter. Without the initial health evaluations and vetting normally provided in a traditional shelter setting, rescues will not be able to estimate financial obligations for care. Responsible rescues will tighten the reigns, taking in fewer animals and avoiding those with possibly expensive vet needs altogether (like the injured or elderly who need rescue most). They will be extremely cautious to only bite off what they can chew in effort to simply stay afloat.

These realities are just the tip of the iceberg. I strongly encourage everyone to truly explore the rippling effects of a adopting a “no kill” policy and the impact on Animal Services and the community as a whole. Frustrated with ACO response times and code enforcement now? Boy, you are going to LOVE the nonexistent assistance to come!

 

Actively Part of the Solution… or Part of the Problem

Shelters aren’t to blame for the aggregation of homeless animals or the current euthanasia rates. Holding them responsible shows a real lack of understanding of what animal services work is like in the trenches. To call shelter vets and staff “murderers” or “sadists” displays a true ignorance of the commitment and undertaking involved. It’s offensive not only to the shelter workers, but also to everyone involved in animal rescue/advocacy working together for real change at the most basic levels where the problem actually starts.

Look to the root cause of euthanasia rates in shelters. The criticism and anger should be directed to the general public. Take a hard look at yourself and those around you to see where the problem really lies — it’s not just the breeders, the owners oblivious to the necessity of spay/neuter, or the irresponsible/uneducated handlers. It’s also anyone who supports those behaviors and mind-sets by not making an active effort to ensure a positive well being for the animals at the heart of this crusade.

None of us want animals to die, and I would love to see a day where every animal has a home. Until then, we must respond realistically. “No kill” is not the miracle solution it is assumed to be. Animal shelters are at the end of a long chain of actions; so to start with reform at the shelter level and work backward to the sources is simply a losing battle.

The Villalobos Connection

welcome to texas

 

15 dogs loaded into a van for one 8-hour freedom ride from Louisiana to Texas. As we roll down the highway trying to decipher that smell wafting from the back of the van and which kennel it may be coming from, I think about how we got to this point and what it means to me personally.

Let’s see… It all started this past summer. My friend and fellow rescuer, Meredith signed on to volunteer for a week at the Villalobos Rescue Center (VRC) in New Orleans. You may be familiar with VRC as the featured rescue of the show Pit Bulls and Parolees on Animal Planet. Meredith is a native of Louisiana and a huge pit bull lover, so this was right up her alley! She spent the week at VRC working with their numerous rescued pits and ‘swamp dogs’, while also learning the ins and outs of the operation. It was quite a humbling and moving experience for her, and when she returned home to Dallas she approached me about also getting involved. We worked up a plan with our own rescue, DFW Rescue Me, to have the VRC crew bring over a few dogs from their facility and get them into our program during our adoption drive at the State Fair of Texas. It went so well that before the fair was over those dogs had been adopted and we even brought over a few more!

Meredith was insistent that I, too, visit VRC to see where these dogs were coming from and why this was such an important partnership. So in November, I and another friend and rescuer, Kristan, traveled to New Orleans with Meredith to visit VRC. I must admit at this point I was not a loyal viewer of the TV show. I knew of it and had seen a few clips here and there, but to be honest, I live this rescue stuff every day and had no real desire to watch it while I tried to get in some down time. Needless to say, I was absolutely unprepared for what we encountered. Even avid viewers of the show will never understand the sheer magnitude of this operation.

VRC gates

We arrived at the main facility and VRC crew members Earl and Sui met us at the gate to give us the grand tour. We learned that this facility only holds a portion of their dogs as VRC houses over 400 dogs in kennels in multiple warehouses spread across the area with new dogs arriving daily. As you can imagine, the cost to care for these dogs day in and day out is astronomical. Sadly, most of these dogs will never be adopted but instead live out their lives at VRC. I inquired as to how this could happen, where did all these dogs come from? The answer was simple: Katrina. When the great storm hit, many dogs were separated from owners or simply left behind. The vast majority of these dogs were never spayed/neutered and left to procreate, compounding the situation. Strays are readily available for the taking and spay/neuter education is nonexistent, making adoption numbers drastically low across the area. While VRC may have a huge fan base nationwide through their TV show, they still only adopt out an average of about 60 dogs a year. Yes, per YEAR. It was in that moment, as I stood among the rows and rows of kennels, that I truly understood why we were here and the impact that our group could have.

vrc rideAfter we returned home to Dallas from VRC, months passed but that trip stuck with me and I thought about those dogs often. Then in February of this year, VRC reached out to us once again. They had a litter of 11 newborn lab mix puppies; puppies we all knew would grow up and live out their lives at VRC if we didn’t step up to help.  Meredith, Kristan, and I again joined forces and made the trip to New Orleans to pick up these dogs to bring them home to Dallas where we knew we could find them fabulous forever homes. In addition to the freedom ride11 puppies, we also chose 4 adult ‘swamp dogs’ of various mixed breeds to bring into our program as well – for a total of 15 dogs! Hey, in Dallas we go BIG, right?

Now, you may be asking, ‘Don’t you have enough dogs in Dallas to focus on rather than going outside of your own backyard?’ Well, yes, but… Dallas has a great rescue base with many groups working hard to save animals all over the Metroplex. New Orleans doesn’t have that, and it is heartbreaking to know that these healthy and highly adoptable dogs will never see a home, but instead live their entire lives in a kennel. The simple fact is that our group, DFWRM, can do for these dogs what VRC can’t — get these dogs adopted. DFWRM adopts out over 400 dogs a year versus VRC’s 60 adoptions per year. This is not to slight VRC in any way as they do amazing work; we just have very different resources. Also keep in mind that all the dogs coming to us are healthy, have been fully vetted, and already spayed/neutered with VRC picking up that tab (with the exception of the very young puppies). This means that our group won’t have to cover those expenses and we can put the adoption fees we gain to good use helping more of our own hometown dogs.

As rescuers we all want to make a difference, and sometimes that means stepping outside of the box to make the biggest impact possible. While the DFW area will always be our main focus, it is humbling and inspiring to know that our group kicks major butt and we can extend our hand to other rescues from time to time. These 15 dogs may not seem like much, but we hope that even our simplest efforts spill over to create a greater effect. Be it local or afar, the old adage holds true even in rescue — when you throw a rock into a pond, the ripples go on and on.

 

**If you are interested in adopting a dog from or donating to DFW Rescue Me, visit the DFWRM website or our Facebook page.

What is Irresponsible Rescue? Meet Begley

There has been much turmoil among the Dallas rescue community lately; a lot of talk about “irresponsible rescuing”. It’s hard to look past the idea of saving as many lives as possible to see just what the ramifications of over-ambitious rescues really are. Begley’s story is one of such a rescue. The story of what can happen when there is no plan. When good intentions simply aren’t enough. I have wanted to share Begley’s story for quite some time, but have held off as many of the players in this tale are still very involved in the rescue community and active with the Dallas area shelter. However, keeping silent about this only benefits those at fault. It is my hope that many independent and budding rescuers will take note and re-evaluate their practices after leaBegleyrning what damage can be done.

Begley’s story begins 3 years ago as he and his 2 siblings ended up at the local shelter. They were all only 3 months old, eager and playful puppies just starting out in life. These adorable puppies tugged at the heart-strings of one Dallas rescue volunteer. She couldn’t let their lives end this way, and although she had no plan and no foster, she scooped them up and freed them from shelter life. Or did she? With no foster lined up, this rescuer took Begley and his 2 siblings to a partnering boarding facility. Everyone loves puppies, right? Certainly a foster or adopter would be found shortly. But no foster or adopter ever materialized. Perhaps the rescue got caught up in the next save, and the next, and the next, and so on. Or maybe these puppies just fell through the cracks due to poor communication. Whatever the reason, Begley and his siblings spent the next year in that kennel without the interaction and guidance they needed to thrive. Those once happy puppies withdrew, becoming more and more unsettled and reactive as the months went by. Finally, the inevitable happened – one of Begley’s siblings bit an employee of the boarding facility. As a result of either lacking communication or poor rescue management, the boarding facility owner took Begley and his siblings back to the shelter. That’s right – once again these dogs found themselves at the same Dallas shelter where they started. The biter was quickly deemed to be aggressive and was euthanized. Begley and his remaining sibling would be next. Fortunately, another rescue stepped up in the nick of time. DFW Rescue Me had a plan in place to deal with this situation, and Begley and his remaining sibling were immediately placed into experienced foster homes.

This story should end here on a happy note, but no, for Begley it continues. DFWRM understood that this would not be an easy rehabilitation or a quick adoption. As rescuers we not only have a responsibility to the animals we save, but also to the public at large and their general safety. Begley would need time, patience, and guidance to acclimate and adjust. But love can save them all, right? Unfortunately that is far from the truth. Begley didn’t thrive immediately in his foster home. His once playful puppy spirit was broken and he shut down. While he enjoyed the company of the other dogs in the home, he was terrified of any and all human interaction. He paced and whined and flattened himself in the nearest corner in an attempt to be invisible.

For over 2 years now Begley has remained in foster care. I am his second foster mom – only because his first realized that while she made remarkable strides with him, she had taken his progress as far as she could. Even after all of this time has passed and we have worked diligently to rehabilitate Begley, we know that he is likely still not adoptable. Begley is a wonderful dog under the right conditions, but heartbreakingly he often falls victim to that cage of fear in his mind. His relapses are sporadic and he shuts down at the first twinge of stress with the slightest change to his routine or when out of his normal element. His fear is so irrational and paralyzing that I honestly can’t predict his behavior in any situation. I cannot in good conscience set him up for failure with an inexperienced handler/adopter.  There is no doubt in my mind that Begley could (and should) have grown into a “normal” dog if he wasn’t forgotten and mishandled in his original rescue. He is a perfect example of irresponsible rescue and should never have been forced to develop this nervous, fearful, and unstable disposition.

In a rush of emotions to save them all and figure out a plan later, Begley’s story is far too common. Responsible rescue is not just about covering expenses, it’s about the overall well-being of the dogs we attempt to save. We must focus our efforts on what we can realistically accomplish. By diving into every body of water, it is the dogs who ultimately suffer.

I said “no Nike”…

Dear Sporting Goods Store Sales Associate,

Why did you have to push it? I appreciated your quick greeting and offer to help me find what I was looking for. I tried to politely say, “i am not interested in Nike for personal reasons,” and move on to the same merchandise of another brand, but that wasn’t enough for you. You had to push Nike, showing me how well made it is and all the features. How Nike is in such high demand and customers just like me can’t get enough (which I have to question since the shelves were overflowing). You just kept pushing and asking until I was forced to say it… “they support Michael Vick.” I tried to mumble it at first because I didn’t want to have this conversation with you, but you asked again why I was opposed, more loudly this time. “NIKE ENDORSES MICHAEL VICK!” And there it was: that look. I know it well. The look that says, “Oh God, not another crazy, vegan, PETA supporting, dog-lover.” Actually, you are very wrong about the vegan and PETA part – perhaps that makes me a hypocrite, but that is another conversation for another time.

What followed was awkward for us both, as it always is. The back-pedaling attempts about how you love dogs and your sudden need to show me pictures of your own little Fifi. The weird explanation and defensiveness of Vick about how he has served his time and learned his lesson. Your off handed comment to downplay: “Those were pits, right? Pits are scary.” As if those dogs would have fought themselves without Vick’s hand in it. That’s probably what offended me most. I am ashamed of myself for not having the spirit or the patience to explain it to you. I should have told you about the pit I personally know who came from Vick’s ring. I should have told you about the other abused and neglected pits who we have adopted out to families – families with children even, gasp! Instead I simply walked away with a heavy heart, reminded just how rampant breed discrimination and stereotyping is. I knew my words wouldn’t change your mind. You would nod politely, but you would still cling to the same stereotype and cross the street quickly when approached by someone walking with a pit. The only way you will know what loving, goofy, and loyal animals pit bulls are is for you to personally give them a chance. And I feel sorry for you because you never will.

Sincerely,

That Crazy Dog PIT Lover Who Just Wanted Adidas

Sorry, folks. He’s “rescue only.”

Great post from my rescue bud over at Six Days at the Fair. Ask Carrollton to rethink their “rescue only” pit policy…

six days at the fair

First things first, I’ve got to hand out credit where it’s due. Big applause to Emily Mathis from the Dallas Observer for writing a very nice article about Dallas Animal Services. I should have posted an update on my response to her original blog post two weeks ago, but I’m saying it now: Emily rose to the occasion, toured DAS, and she is a Dallas journalist who is part of the solution. No doubt her words helped get dogs adopted.

Now…

Groot

This is Groot. I guess there’s a cool, comic book nerd working up at Carrollton Animal Adoption Center. Heh.

Today I found myself in the lobby of Carrollton’s Animal Control to pick up a cat for transport and decided to check out the facility’s dogs while I waited. Duh. It’s a decent place — clean, friendly staff, every dog had an elevated bed space, and pups were being…

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What you didn’t know about rescue (but really need to)

Fabulous post that deserves to be shared far and wide!

Dog Hair & Bourbon

IMG_1803 As a sort of follow-up to last week’s post that got a lot of people all hot n’ bothered, I figured I would stir up some discussion on what exactly is the purpose of rescue. This post applies to most dog rescues; I fully understand that there are indeed rescue groups who do take it upon themselves to fill the niches provided below. Those groups are few and far between, however.

Dog owners tend to have a lot of misconceptions about rescue groups and animal control, and what their job is in society. Spoiler alert: it’s not to fix your problems.

1. We’re not rehabilitators

So you got a dog, and now that dog is causing you trouble. It’s snapping at company, herding/nipping your kids, tearing up the house, whatever… The likely reason is that you didn’t train it right, didn’t do your research, got a dog from a…

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What to Expect When You’re Adopting

adoptWith the overpopulation in shelters around the country and the high rates of euthanization, adopting a dog through a rescue group is a great choice. But how does it work and where do you start? Let’s break it down…

Do your research.  First things first, think about what kind of dog you want and how the dog will fit into your life. Are you the athletic type who needs a good jogging partner? Or maybe a laid back cuddle buddy is more your speed. Also think about your living situation and how a new dog will fit into your lifestyle. If you live in an apartment, check with the property for any breed or weight restrictions they may have. Keep in mind that the dog will need to be taken out for regular potty breaks and exercise – rain or shine!

Start browsing. The Internet now makes it easier than ever to find dogs of all shapes, sizes, and breeds! If you already have a favorite rescue group in mind, go to their website, check out their upcoming adoption events, and browse the dogs they have available. If not, Petfinder and Adopt a Pet are both excellent websites to try. Both collaborate with different rescues all over the country to create mega adoption databases. Not only can you narrow your search by location, but also by breed, sex, and age.

Reach out. Once you’ve found a dog or even rescue group you are interested in, fill out the application online or use the contact form to get in touch. Don’t be shy! The application is not an adoption contract and the questions are designed to learn more about you to ensure a great fit for the dog and your family. Remember the dogs are generally in foster homes and those foster parents can tell you a lot about the dog’s personality. Don’t get discouraged if the dog you like isn’t the right fit, the rescue will be more than happy to recommend a few more suited to your lifestyle. **Note: most rescues are operated solely by volunteers so you may not receive an immediate reply. I recommend allowing 48 hours for response.

The home visit. After you have filled out the application, most rescues will conduct a home visit. Don’t let this intimidate you or scare you off. The home visit is about interacting with the dog and introducing him to the environment along with any other animals already in it. I’ll let you in on a little secret: rescue volunteers honestly won’t notice the dust on your shelves or the wine stain on your carpet. They just want to make sure your home is safe/secure and you are prepared. Be sure to patch any gaps/holes in your fence and have toys along with collar and leash ready for the dog’s visit. To really shine for the home visit, have a doggie bed or kennel set up! In most cases, this is when you will sign the adoption contract and pay the adoption fee/donation. They will likely hold the contract and fee while the dog spends a few days in your home to ensure the perfect fit before the adoption is filed and finalized.

And there you have it! See? That’s not so bad. Now all you have to do is love your new companion!  Oh, and be sure to keep in touch with your rescue contact by sending updates and pictures. I can assure you, they will LOVE it.

 

 

Cheers to 3 Great Years!

gh state fair 2013It totally snuck up on me. My rescue group, DFW Rescue Me, just celebrated our 3rd anniversary on January 25th of this year. It’s been 3 years already?! It feels like only yesterday when our founders, Jim and Tammy, told me about the creation of the group. I think my response was something to the effect of, “Hell yeah, I am in!”

Boy, I had no idea what I was getting into. So much has happened over these past 3 years.

I have personally had over 20 fosters and visiting fosters through my home. And 2 foster failures who never left. As a group, we have trekked through water filled ditches and muddy fields searching for lost dogs. We’ve knocked on random doors and crawled through fences in an effort to help abused and neglected pets. We’ve given educational presentations in schools. We’ve walked dogs in the sweltering summer heat and huddled under tents in torrential downpours. We’ve fundraised and rubbed elbows with celebrities. We’ve road-tripped with dogs to their forever homes. We’ve modeled in fashion shows and danced in drag. We’ve survived the State Fair of Texas – THREE TIMES! We’ve rescued over 1300 dogs in these 3 short years.

And of course, there was Justice. This little dog showed us not only the atrocities of man, but also restored our faith in humanity with the outpouring of love from everyone his story touched. He was no one’s dog, but became everyone’s special little guy. Through him we have been able to save so many more dogs from suffering. He will never be forgotten, and we will forever be his voice.

The relationships I have formed through DFW Rescue Me are more than just friendships. We have become a family – a seriously dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. We have celebrated new births and mourned the loss of loved ones, both human and animal alike. We have seen homes created and houses destroyed. We have laughed with each other, cried on each other, embarrassed each other (some of us have embarrassed ourselves… on numerous occasions), screamed at each other, and through it all have supported each other.

I have always heard that you get back what you put in. This couldn’t be further from the truth. With this group and with these dogs, I have gotten back 10 fold what I have put in. I can’t wait to see what the next 3 years (or 30!) hold in store.

 

Photo via Lacey Phillips – DFWRM

Why We Let Them Go

Ugh, Facebook. Where everyone has an opinion and everyone is an expert. Today I came across a post and subsequent comment-fest that really got under my skin. The post was promoting a yellow lab for adoption. The foster mom has a similar lab of her own and a Facebook page devoted to his adventures. The foster dog is often featured on the page, and while many people follow this page and ‘love’ these dogs, still no takers for adoption. That is, until today. When the foster announced the dog had a potential forever home, the masses went wild. And the comments were mainly negative — “How COULD you?”, “He BELONGS with you!”, “NOOOOO!”, etc.

why we let foster dogs go

Former foster Grasshopper, now top dog in forever home

Letting a foster dog go on to his forever home is never easy, but it’s what we signed up for, and comments like this really don’t help with the process. These dogs often come to us ‘broken’ physically or emotionally. We bring them back, let them go, and tomorrow do it all over again.  We all have our limitations; we can only take in and handle so many dogs at one time. For every foster we move out to a permanent home, another can move in to take his place. If I keep them all, there will be no more room for fostering in my home.

I sit in my car and cry after delivering every foster to his new home. It’s not easy to let them go, but it is the right choice. I have 3 dogs of my own plus the fosters I take in. At my house, the foster would be the 4th dog if I kept him… when he could and should have a chance to be someone’s number 1, someone’s everything. We just want to give our foster dogs everything we can’t. That is why we do this.

I am sure you often mean well with your Facebook comments about how the foster dog is so happy and just has to stay in the foster’s home forever, but they aren’t supportive and lead us to question doing the right thing we know we should. Next time, instead of leaving a comment like this that you think is cute and complimentary, tell the foster ‘thank you’ and wish the dog well on his journey. It will mean more to us than you can ever know.

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