1997 NAIA Rescue Symposium

1997 NAIA Rescue Symposium

By: Patti Strand  Date: 12/31/1997 Category: | Canine Issues |

For several years, purebred dog fanciers have operated rescue programs for dogs that need new homes. Generally, the rescues are breed-specific, although some do cover several breeds that have small numbers of dogs needing help. The best of these organizations operate as private shelters: they make sure the dogs are healthy and are spayed or neutered before adoption, screen potential adopters, use contracts, and follow-up on each dog that comes through their programs.

Since 1995, the National Animal Interest Alliance has celebrated rescuers in an annual meeting. This year's symposium was held January 25-26 in La Jolla, California, and was co-sponsored by The Iams Company.

Speakers ranged from Gary Patronek VMD, PhD, a veterinarian who studies shelter populations, and Ian Dunbar, a world-renowned animal behaviorist, to Barbara Pietrangelo, president of the All Breed Rescue Alliance on the east coast and Vicki DeGruy, national chairman of Chow Chow rescue.

Patronek opened the conference with an overview of the reasons why dogs are relinquished to shelters. A former shelter director now working at the Tufts University Veterinary School Center for Animals and Public Policy, he compiles statistics about dog ownership so that programs can be devised to keep dogs in their homes and to bring about successful adoptions.

Patronek's work puts the lie to animal rights claims that breeders cause shelter populations and pet euthanasias to soar simply by producing puppies. He reported on a study done at an Indiana shelter when he worked on his graduate degree at Purdue University, a study that interviewed owners who surrendered their dogs to the shelter. The study found that dogs that do not visit a veterinarian at least once a year and dogs that have had no obedience training are at the highest risk for relinquishment, for their owners had little or no access to help when problems cropped up.

Many owners who gave up their pets reported that the animal did not meet expectations, needed more care than expected, or developed behavior problems. Many surrendered pets had originally been adopted or acquired free; dogs that cost more than $100 were at reduced risk of being dumped.

Patronek concluded that intervention is needed to help people make better pet selections and to keep the pets they have.

Next on the podium was Virginia Anderson, a representative of the National Animal Control Association. Anderson asked the rescuers to look at shelters as partners, not adversaries, in the quest to save as many dogs as possible. She talked about private, public, and combination shelters. Animal control is generally dependent on taxes or license fees or both, she said, and must follow state and local ordinances. Training of personnel often gets left out of the budget. She urged rescuers to work with shelters to ease the tension that often occurs between the two groups.

Vicki DeGruy talked about shelter-rescue partnerships from the rescue perspective. She urged rescuers to do whatever is necessary to build good relationships with the shelters they cover: return telephone calls, pick up dogs when promised, don't complain about paying the adoption fee, be professional, and be well-organized.

Many purebred rescuers, including DeGruy and others on the symposium panel, are also dog breeders, a situation that causes problems when rescuing dogs from shelters.

"There's a vivid belief in shelters that dog breeders are a big part of their problem," DeGruy said. "They still have the notion that if we all quit breeding dogs, there'd be no more dogs in shelters."

Saturday afternoon

Many rescued dogs are malnourished, so the afternoon session began with Liesa Rihl Stone DVM of the Iams Company describing nutritional stress management. Iams has a wide variety of foods, including veterinary prescription diets, suitable for various dietary problems.

Nutritional support helps the animal feel better, improves healing of wounds, and improves recovery time from surgery, injury, and illness.

Donna Weaver of the Deep Peninsula Dog Training Club in Palo Alto, California, talked about her club's partnership with the city shelter. Each basic obedience class has a spot for a shelter dog that needs manners before adoption. The dog attends class with a shelter volunteer, and, after adoption, the new owners also get a free session. Everyone benefits; the dog gets a new home, the new family learns how to train the dog, and the shelter volunteers gain experience so they can help more dogs get adopted.

Since rescue is a risky proposition for rescue clubs, foster homes, and adoptive families, Ken Marden, a member of the American Kennel Club Board of Directors, spoke about insurance. AKC offers an insurance program that includes rescue programs to member and licensed clubs. Marden and his wife rescue German Shorthaired Pointers; his club used the insurance when they were sued for accepting dogs from a woman whose husband was in jail. Cost of the insurance is $350 per year for $1 million coverage per occurrence.

The day wrapped up with an inspirational message from Richard Avanzino, president of the San Francisco SPCA.

"You are the heroes of our movement," Avanzino told the rescuers. ""You people are fantastic and you represent a lot of other people out there who are fantastic."

Avanzino talked about his organization's guarantee to find a home for all adoptable and repairable dogs; his volunteer program - 2115 people strong; his disdain for breed bans and dog limits; and his faith that people will ultimately do the right thing.


Many dogs enter shelters and rescue programs because they have no manners. Enter Ian Dunbar, who held center stage for three hours Sunday morning. He entertained the crowd with stories that illustrated his points that education is critical, that it is more important to change a dog's unacceptable behavior than to excuse or explain it, and that lures and rewards are the best training devices. He encouraged rescuers to attend a conference of the American Pet Dog Trainers Association to see and hear the best minds in dog training today.

"All the brains have coalesced in APDT," he said.

Cindy Goodman, an attorney and rescuer of Siberian Huskies and Finnish Spitz, led the afternoon session with a talk on contracts for rescue groups. She encouraged the participants to review their contracts regularly, to make appropriate changes for individual situations, screen foster homes, clearly spell out responsibilities of volunteers and foster families, and make a reasonable effort to find the owner of any stray dog that enters the rescue group.

Rescue can be emotionally as well as legally draining, so Barbara Pietrangelo, ABRA president and rescuer of Weimaraners (and Our Dogs columnist), talked about avoiding burnout. She urged the participants to realize they cannot save every dog and to take time for themselves and their families.

"Don't flail at windmills," she said. "It didn't work for Don Quixote and it won't work for you."

The older dog is usually very hard to place in a new home, so Nancy Campbell, a rescuer of German Short-haired Pointers, presented some tips for finding new homes for the over the hill gang. Older dogs do bond to new families, require less care and training than puppies, and are generally less active, she said, all of which makes them perfect for many homes.

Last speaker of the day and the conference was Bill Hughes, director of inspections and investigations for AKC. Hughes told the rescuers that AKC now suspends breeders for substandard conditions as well as poor record-keeping, an advance that makes it possible to revoke registration privileges of commercial operations that keep dogs in poor condition or dirty kennels. He also said that his staff checks pet stores and makes a random check of breeders who produce seven or more litters in a year.

The NAIA rescue symposium travels the country; the 1998 conference will be in the Midwest. Anyone who would like to be included on the mailing list should write NAIA News, 8461 Denallen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45255 or semd e-mail to rescue98@naiaonline.org.

About The Author

Patti Strand's photo
Patti Strand - NAIA President

Patti is a recognized expert and consultant on contemporary animal issues, most notably responsible dog ownership and the animal rights movement. She often appears on radio and television and her articles on canine issues, animal welfare, public policy and animal rights have appeared in major US news publications and in trade, professional and scientific journals. Patti and her…

All Authors Of This Article: | Patti Strand |
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