Reuse, recycle, rescue: Rescue means experience, specialization, and knowledge

Reuse, recycle, rescue: Rescue means experience, specialization, and knowledge

By: Vicki DeGruy  Date: 04/30/1998 Category: | Canine Issues |

For many of us, becoming involved in rescue wasn't something we planned. Someone who knew we bred dogs knew someone who wanted to be rid of one and called to see if we'd be interested in it. What began as an innocent effort to help a dog find a new home snowballed. Word travels fast and before long, lots of people were calling to see if we'd be interested in their dogs, too! I don't know who should get credit as the first organized purebred dog rescue but the early ones were on the scene well over twenty years ago. It wasn't until the last ten years that rescue took off in earnest among fanciers with activities supported by many national and regional breed clubs.

With humane societies already firmly established as a source for pets and capable of handling adoptions in volume, why is there even a need for rescue organizations?

The various breeds of dogs were each created to serve a specific purpose, consequently each breed has a different personality, displays different behaviors and has different needs in training, grooming and care. No breed is perfect for everyone and some breeds are suitable only for a few. For maximum satisfaction in dog ownership (not only for the owner but the dog as well), the chosen breed must match the owner's abilities and expectations. Choosing the wrong breed usually results in a homeless dog later on - "he got too big," "he sheds too much," "she's too hyper," etc. Responsible breeders have always been aware of this and spend hours screening prospective buyers of their puppies, turning away those who would do better with another type of dog.

Animal shelters do screen adoption prospects for basic suitability to care for a pet but their high intake levels and need to place many dogs within a short period of time doesn't allow them the luxury of matching individual owners to individual dogs. It's impossible for any one person to be an expert on every breed and as I pointed out in my last column, few shelter employees have extensive backgrounds in professional dog care and handling outside of their involvement with the shelter. While they usually know the basics about the most popular breeds, few are well-versed with the pro's and con's of living with breeds beyond their own personal experience and make poor consultants. This can result in as much of a chance for an adopter to make a bad breed choice from a shelter as in selecting a puppy from a petstore.

Lack of experience in individual breeds also makes it hard for shelter employees to accurately assess the temperament of some purebreds. What's normal for one isn't normal for all. A minor behavior aberration in a Cocker Spaniel could be dangerous in a Great Dane. This lack of experience has also resulted in misunderstandings of character in certain breeds, misunderstandings that can lead to unnecessary euthanasia for dogs that are simply displaying appropriate behavior for their particular breed.

Rescue's strong suit is its specialization, its experience and knowledge of individual breeds. Longtime fanciers are more in tune with their chosen breeds than just about anyone, trainers, veterinarians and behaviorists included. Evaluating both adopters and dogs with a practiced eye, they know what is and isn't typical for their breeds, what dogs make good adoption candidates and what sort of human personality fits them best. This skill is what creates successful adoptions that will last the lifetime of the dog.

Rescue's smaller size, most often working directly out of the rescue volunteer's home, also allows a personal relationship between volunteer and dog. This is essential not only for temperament evaluation but to correct behavior problems that may have led to the dog's abandonment in the first place. Many dogs surrendered to shelters are adolescents with behavior problems and little or no training. Lack of training is usually what created the behavior problems in the first place and without a short course in basic manners that most shelters don't have time or staff to provide, there's a high risk of adoption failure.

Many people who visit shelters in search of a pet are browsing without a definite idea what they're looking for in a dog beyond a certain size or age. Many purebreds are adopted on impulse just as they're impulsively purchased from pet stores. At the other extreme, many eligible shelter purebreds are turned down by adopters because they know nothing about the breed, have been misled by stereotypes or are unable to find accurate answers to their questions about the breed's personality. People specifically looking for purebred dogs seldom visit shelters first. They seek out breeders and breed clubs. Rescue services are closely associated with both resulting in greater publicity for available dogs, a higher percentage of qualified adopter contacts and more specialized information resources for both pre and post adoption support.

Rescue services can and should be a working partner with animal shelters. I don't know of any shelter that has more adopters than dogs and space is always at a premium. Many shelters and pounds can only give pets a few days to find new homes before they must be destroyed to make room for new incoming animals. By taking purebreds into their foster care, rescues perform a valuable service for shelters by freeing up space that can be used to give other dogs a better chance at adoption. Since some shelters report that as many as 30-40 percent of their adoptable populations are purebred, the assistance of rescue groups should be quite welcome indeed!

Over the last 10 years, there has been an increase in cooperation between rescues and animal shelters, but many shelters are still reluctant to utililize their services and in some cases, refuse to accept their help at all. We'll examine the reasons behind that in my next column.

About The Author

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Vicki DeGruy -

Member/Volunteer/Partner/Article Writer of the National Animal Interest Alliance.

All Authors Of This Article: | Vicki DeGruy |
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