Reclaim, Recycle, Rescue: Rescue Advocates and Breed Clubs Cooperate For Effective…

Reclaim, Recycle, Rescue: Rescue Advocates and Breed Clubs Cooperate For Effective Rescue Plans

By: Staff  Date: 01/11/2012 Category: | Rescue |

Each AKC-recognized breed is overseen by a "parent" club, a nationwide collection of fanciers devoted to the breed's betterment and promotion. Parent clubs are responsible for maintaining the standards by which their breeds are judged at AKC shows and encouraging adherence to those standards in the selection of members' breeding stock. Regional breed clubs operate on a local level usually in conjunction with their respective parent clubs.

Just as each breed is unique in personality and function, so are their clubs. They vary in their priorities, activities and political atmosphere. They also vary in their involvement with purebred rescue and how their programs operate. In this column, we'll look at some of the reasons clubs have had success or have failed in their relationships with their rescue volunteers.

Although a few clubs, both national and regional, had rescue programs in place many years before, rescue didn't really become a serious club consideration until the last 10 years. In the early 1990s, the AKC asked each parent club to appoint a "rescue coordinator." Most clubs complied even though many weren't sure just what a rescue coordinator was supposed to do; they developed their job descriptions as they went along. Others began putting together full-fledged rescue programs. At the same time, many regional clubs and privately operated rescue groups began approaching their respective parent breed clubs for sanction and support.

Almost immediately there was controversy, from differences of opinion in such simple matters as what defines a rescued dog and how funding should be applied to more complicated issues of liability. Considering that it can take some clubs years to amend their breed standards or agree on a method of selecting national specialty judges, the level of dispute isn't surprising. Years later, some of these controversies are still raging.

There are some fundamental differences between the missions of breed clubs and rescue volunteers, differences that can be difficult to resolve. While the bylaws of most clubs include the protection of their breed's well-being as one of their purposes, that protection was originally intended to refer to the maintenance of high quality and the preservation of quality for the breeders of tomorrow, not necessarily the well-being of the breed at large. It became necessary to examine their original purpose and adjust to taking a wider view, a step that wasn't comfortable for all members. Since the majority of dogs in need of rescue are considerably substandard in appearance and sometimes breed character as well and often come from dubious sources, it was and still is hard for some members to justify using club resources to promote them to the public as pets.

Probably the most distinctive example of this discomfort involves deaf Dalmatians. The Dalmatian Club of America feels so strongly about the harmfulness of this defect to the breed and the unsuitability of affected dogs as family pets that it recommends they be euthanized rather than placed. Because quite a few rescued Dals are deaf, rescuers in favor of saving them have clashed fiercely with club members in a debate that's not likely to be resolved anytime soon. While most clubs' differences aren't this extreme, almost every one has to decide what defects of health or temperament might make a dog of their breed unsuitable for placement and what to do with it, decisions that don't always set well with everyone.

While it might seem odd that something as simple as the definition of a "rescued" dog would inspire argument, a volatile issue has to do with the purchase of dogs at auction. Throughout the Midwest, it's common for commercial kennels to dispose of unwanted breeding stock at public auction. Buyers are traditionally other commercial kennels and brokers who resell dogs to research facilities. While not frowned upon in the livestock business, auctions are considered abhorrent in the respectable dog fancy. In recent years, several rescue groups (some club sponsored) have purchased dogs at auction to spare them from further exploitation, in some cases, spending considerable sums to do so. The cost in time and money to make these dogs into acceptable pets has been a strain on resources.

The argument over the purchase of dogs to rescue them pits principle against compassion and leaves both sides feeling very uncomfortable. The commercial kennel is the enemy of both but they disagree on how the war should be fought. The anti-purchase side prefers to spend money on prevention - decreasing the market for poorly bred dogs by educating the consumer rather than padding the pockets of the sellers. The pro-purchase supporters understand that wisdom but feel it is morally wrong to do nothing to help the individual dogs regardless of the consequences. An acceptable compromise between the two sides has yet to be reached.

A very touchy issue for clubs and one that has left some reluctant to get involved with rescue at all is that of liability. In this day and age, it's entirely possible for a club to be sued over the actions of a rescue volunteer or a rescued dog. It's imperative for rescuers to understand that when they operate under the umbrella of their club, they are representing the entire club and have a responsibility to protect its assets and reputation. Volunteers must be carefully screened and trained so they understand club policy and how they're expected to carry it out.

Disagreements also arise over funding - what expenses should the club cover, if any, and how is money to be raised? Rescue is not inexpensive and clubs have other bills as well. In some clubs, donors seem to have deep pockets but in others where there's not enough to go around, project committees find themselves competing for funds. Harsh feelings can result when one group feels that another is getting more than its share or is fundraising too aggressively.

Recognition for their efforts can make a big difference in promoting good feelings between clubs and their rescue volunteers. In some clubs, rescuers are considered heroes and given lots of praise. In others, they're all but forgotten and even ignored, leaving them to feel like second class citizens. Lonely rescuers often develop an "us vs. the world" attitude that can be very harmful. By the same token, rescuers need to recognize club members for their help and donations.

I believe regular communication between the membership and the rescue committee is essential for a sound working relationship. Ideally, that communication should take place within the club's publications and meetings. Members want to know what the rescue committee is doing with their money. It's also important for rescue to tell the members exactly what the committee's purposes, goals and limitations are.

In summary, a long lasting, cooperative relationship between a breed club and its rescue committee depends on many things: an understanding of the missions of both parties and a willingness to compromise when they contradict each other, clear definitions of the rescue committees duties, goals and policies and what the club must do to help it carry them out, and recognition of achievements on both sides. Open and constructive communication is necessary to tie it all together.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Vicki DeGruy |
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