Rescuers share tips and experiences

By: Staff  Date: 01/12/2012 Category: | Rescue |

In this column, we'll meet some active rescue volunteers, examine some of the factors that've helped make their work effective and get a few suggestions for new volunteers just starting out.

Janet White explains how she began: "I am really quite new to rescue. I've been at it now for about 3.5 years. I started out by helping Denver Samoyed Rescue, then was appointed to a rescue committee for the Samoyed Club of America. Now I'm the National Rescue Coordinator for SCA."

Janet recommends that because rescue work can snowball on you, new rescuers should start small. "Set a limit on the types of dogs you'll take (age, estimated cost of bringing them back to health, number you can help in a certain length of time, how much money you will spend per dog). It's always easier to expand than to cut back. Setting limits is hard to do when you start and are ready to try and help as many dogs as possible, but it will help to keep things from getting too overwhelming."

Janet stresses the need to keep rescue work in perspective and remember that it's not the only priority in life. "I wouldn't be doing so much if it weren't for the support and help I get from my husband," she says. "Doing rescue is never worth sacrificing anything as precious as a good marriage. I've been working hard at keeping rescue and the rest of my life in balance. A tough thing to do at times, but for those starting out, I recommend that they set hours or some type of limit. I generally spend 3-4 hours a day on rescue stuff, and even though there are days that take more time, I try to keep it in perspective. I find I don't get as stressed or burned out doing it that way." Janet also reserves weekends for non-rescue and family activities.

Madeline Seymour, a rescue foster home for Australian Shepherds in California, echoes the need to have the support of your family: "Make sure the whole family is in agreement. This is a family commitment and sometimes will last a lifetime. Make sure your family is willing to commit the funds and time necessary to do a good job. Be sure all in the family are ready for the emotional times that will always be there in rescue. Rescue can be expensive and will effect the budget in your home because most of the time you won't be reimbursed for expenses until the dog is adopted. Many times recreational plans will be changed for that adoptive call or the animal in trouble."

Along with family matters, a volunteer's employment can become an issue. "You never know when your rescue dog will need something special and from my experience it always happens when you're on your way to work," Madeline explains. "Find out from your employer if it's acceptable to receive calls at work for rescue. And of course there is always that phone call in the morning that you won't want to say 'I'm on my way out the door, can I please call you back after I return home from work?' because that special animal in need may not be there when you get home from work."

Communication with other rescue volunteers is essential, Madeline says. "Become part of a networking rescue group, whether it is an all breed group or a specific breed. I have found this very important for behavior problems, training problems, the depressed times, the happy times, and companionship for those late night phone calls. Assess your animal expertise (i.e. trainer, medical, behavioral, etc.). This always helps the group you become a part of as they will be able to refer the best rescue for your expertise."

Dixie Davis, a Pekingese rescuer from Texas, agrees: "The odds are you are going to bite off more than you can handle at one time or another. Please remember that you aren't in this alone. There are many of us out here in rescue and we'll help if you ask us."

Scott Cook, rescue committee chair for the North Florida Great Pyrenees Club, believes it's important to fully understand the breed you want to rescue. "I feel that to properly organize a breed rescue organization, you must be intelligent about the breed. Temperament assessments are a very important faction of Pyr rescue, as well as health assessments." Scott recommends that volunteers approach their quest for knowledge as if they were going to become serious breeders. He suggests finding mentors, seasoned veterans willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Scott also recommends not only knowing one's breed but becoming familiar with all aspects of the canine. He reads at least one dog-related book a week and has found the internet to be a valuable canine research resource. "You must be able to discern the difference between a crossbred animal and a purebred," Scott believes, "primarily due to temperament differences. This drives the need to understand clearly not only the Pyr, but the other guarding breeds as well."

Sanya Dunn who rescues terriers mentions a concern that's very similar to those faced by responsible breeders: "Plan on placements falling through and be prepared to take back rescue dogs. Know that they can come back at any time and the timing is never good, so always keep space available for returned dogs. A rescue friend of mine was asked to take a dog back after seven years of placement - it can happen with the best of homes. When you rescue a dog, you have a responsibility to remain committed to him for his lifetime even though he's not physically with you."

Joan Dunsire, a member of the Chow Chow Club Inc.'s Welfare Committee, elaborates on issues of personal responsibility especially when a dog's rescue and placement doesn't go as expected. Joan says that many kind hearted people take in needy dogs not fully understanding the long term ramifications. "It is simply not advisable to 'rescue' a dog without first considering what your role in its rescue is going to be," she explains. "Once you take on the job, the dog is primarily your responsibility, its housing, its feeding, care and medical bills are primarily your concern. It's easy to feel all warm and fuzzy because you picked up a dog for rescue if you can terminate the rescue relationship any time it becomes inconvenient. It's a whole different story when the dog has to be considered as a possible permanent resident or becomes your responsibility to euthanize should there be insurmountable problems."

Karin Schneider, Pug Rescue of Central New York, emphasizes the need for rescue groups to set up their structure and policies first before jumping heavily into the rescue arena. "We want to present ourselves as a serious and professional group that people can count on and we don't ever want to be in a position to disappoint them, so if that means dealing with a lot of organizational issues first, then it will be worth it in the long run."

Karen also offers advice on keeping a rescue group working smoothly together: "To prevent misunderstandings when working with a group situation, good communication is key. It is important to spell everything out beforehand so people who join the rescue group know what their responsibilities will be and what they are getting into."

Betsy Sommers of the Golden Retriever rescue group GRROWLS-NY reminds us that there is an intangible element to rescue work that is every bit as important as organization and communication. "To some extent, rescue is a conscious decision, a choice about what to do with spare time, but to a large extent it is a 'calling', something you feel compelled to do and wind up doing despite knowing that it is taking over your life! I think we all know that there are a lot of good committee people and organization people who still don't have the calling to be rescue people."

Involved in both Golden Retriever and Scottish Terrier rescue in Illinois, Beryl Gersch sums up the aspects of a good rescue group: "A reputable rescue is one with a track record, a set of policies and procedures and a solid screening system for potential adoptive families including a contract to return the dog in the event of an unforseeable circumstance. All dogs whenever possible are neutered (sometimes a medical condition may preclude immediate surgery). Most of all a reputable rescue is dependable. They show up when they say they will show up and do what they say they will do."

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All Authors Of This Article: | Vicki DeGruy |
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