I Believe In Dog Rescue

I believe in rescue. When boiled down to its very essence, it is a simple act of kindness, the taking of a dog from a shelter, where he or she would face euthanasia, or an abusive or neglectful situation and providing that dog with a second chance.

Dog rescue takes many forms, from the simple to the complex; from the individual or family that walks into a shelter to adopt an animal; to the charitable organization that takes dogs en mass from shelters, transporting them to other areas and adopting them to loving homes; to the law enforcement entities that raid puppy mills and dog fighting rings.

I first found dog rescue amid tragedy. My beloved dog, Siska, had a stroke and died unexpectedly. She was only six years old. I had two dogs at the time and my remaining dog, Sianne, was grieving the loss of her friend. Sianne would search the home looking for her friend who had passed on. It was heartbreaking. I was devastated for myself and for Sianne.

Although I did not believe that I was ready to adopt another dog, I thought that it might help Sianne if I had another dog in the home. So instead of looking for a dog to adopt, I investigated fostering a dog. I thought fostering, caring for a dog temporarily until a forever home is found, would allow both me and Sianne to heal until we were both ready for a new family member. I applied to foster a fluffy Great Pyrenees puppy. The rescue organization checked my references, interviewed me and did a home check, to make sure I was a suitable candidate for fostering. Sianne and I were approved to foster and immediately “failed.” I adopted her and she became Athena, a permanent member of the family.

Though I was no longer fostering, I sought other ways to help, partly out of guilt for my “foster failure” but also because I was drawn to the mission – saving dogs from shelters and other difficult situations and providing them with second chance at life. What started out as a temporary measure to ease the pain of loss, became a life-long mission and passion. Seven years later, I am still involved in dog rescue. Although I firmly believe that Athena specifically and dog rescue in general rescued me; it was not until recently that I formed my true belief in the act of rescue.

Just last year, June came into my life and tested my belief in rescue. June was the product of a dog-fighting ring. Through the hard work of the state authorities and some other caring people involved in dog rescue, June was liberated from her life as a breeding dog. June had scars from being beaten with chains and had her teeth filed down so that she could not defend herself from her abusers or other dogs. She came into dog rescue, emotionally shut down and scared of everything. After ten months of training and thousands of dollars spent, a veterinary behaviorist informed me that while most dogs can be rehabilitated, June could not. After only one short year living in a dog-fighting ring, June had been so physically and emotionally abused that she could no longer form any attachments to dogs or humans and could not experience joy in life. I was advised that the most humane course of action would be to put her down and end her suffering.

I broke down. In rescue, you come to understand that every dog cannot be saved. There aren’t enough resources to take each and every dog out of the thousands of shelters around the country. And not every dog can be taken or saved from puppy mills or dog-fighting rings. But, once a dog is rescued, be it from a shelter or dog-fighting ring or puppy mill, there is an unspoken feeling or belief that with training, effort and love the dog can have a second chance at life and find a home with a loving family or at least find peace at a sanctuary. In that sense people believe that we can “save them all.” In fact many places use “save them all” as their slogan. I was devastated to think that this was not possible and I could not save June.

After some thought, I realized that I did save June and I did provide June with that second chance. Without rescue, June would still be cowering at the other end of the chain. Though rescue did not provide June with a chance at a life in a home, June was saved from the dog-fighting ring and did get a chance to have a dignified end. Rescue provided June with that end. In rescue, “save them all,” as a concept, is more than a home or a spot at a sanctuary. Sometimes “saving” a dog is providing dignity and a peaceful end. And sometimes that has to be enough. I believe in rescue and that we can save them all.


One of the dogs I met during my trip to Pickens County Animal Control was Charlie. Although his beginnings were sad, his amazing resilience humbles me and shows me that the work of rescue is always worthwhile and truly makes a difference in the lives rescue (mine included).

Charlie was found abandoned on the side of the road in rural South Carolina with a broken leg. Pickens County Animal Control was alerted and picked him up and brought him to the Pickens County Animal Control Facility.  As I’ve described, this facility is so severely under-resourced that it is not set up to facilitate adoptions to the public.  Because he was wearing a collar, Charlie was placed on a 10-day stray hold. Luckily for Charlie, and me because I was utterly privileged to meet this amazing dog, DC PAWS Rescue was on site at the end of his 10-day hold period.

When I arrived at the shelter, I met Charlie, whose stray hold period was expiring. We opened the cage to see a miserable and scared dog. We placed a slip lead leash around his neck to see if he would come with us outside of the shelter, but he couldn’t stand on his own. So we helped him up and he limped out of the shelter with us. IMG_0863

Amazingly, once out of the shelter, Charlie was a different dog! He was happy and wagging his tail, even though he could barely stand.  We placed him in our car and headed straight to the vet to determine what was wrong with his leg. Once in the car, Charlie’s transformation was complete, he realized he was being rescued. He was transformed from a scared, depressed dog lacking all hope to a happy and sweet dog who did nothing but give everyone around him kisses.IMG_0885

The vet x-rayed Charlie’s leg and told us that he had a broken leg that had healed incorrectly. Poor Charlie was left for ten long days on a concrete floor, unable to move on his broken leg, to wait for his stray hold to end. IMG_0900

Charlie needed a specialist to repair his leg, so we took him to a surgeon who performed a successful surgery! After the surgery, the surgeon gave us a small plastic bag containing a 22 caliber bullet.  Someone had cruelly shot Charlie and left him to suffer and die at the side of the road. 20150716_170305

Despite this tragic start, Charlie has nothing but love for every person he meets.  This never ceases to amaze me. The ability for animals to go through the experiences that Charlie has and come out on the other side still loving creatures is nothing short of a miracle.

Charlie’s surgery and post-operative care has cost $3,500, so far and we understand that he may need more x-rays. He will still need physical therapy and heartworm treatment that will likely cost and additional $1,500 in treatment and boarding. With all Charlie has been thorough, there is still more he must endure. And through all of it, I have no doubt he will remain the loving dog that I met.

Despite this high cost, DC PAWS, is committed to the animals its rescues, even when faced with serious and expensive medical issues.  This is truly a blessing, for Charlie and so many others.

If you are so moved, Charlie’s YouCaring page is:  http://www.youcaring.com/dc-paws-rescue-401354#.VbabQ8grUmM.email.

This will not only help Charlie, but so many other dogs and cats achieve their dreams being happy and healthy in a forever home.

Pickens County Animal Control

After almost 7 years of rescue experience, countless stories and hundreds of dogs adopted, I had my first visit to the shelter that I support – Pickens County Animal Control.

The experience was both affirming and tragic at the same time. I am not convinced that everyone in rescue should take the time to visit and animal shelter, even if its only one in their own community and not a traditional “high-kill” shelter that most folks think about.

Somewhat fittingly, Pickens County Animal Control is located on the same grounds as the coroner and the prison – that it is not nearly as well funded as either of those institutions. The coroner and prison have large, sturdy facilities, that are presumably appropriate to the functions that they are to serve. IMG_0990IMG_0989The animal control building and facilities on the other hand are converted barns and other rural farming buildings. Like most rural shelters, Pickens is vastly underfunded. Animal control is unfortunately, not a high priority and therefore not afforded the resources of other government programs. Pickens has one animal control supervisor, an administrative assistant and 2 other officers to cover the entire county, which is 512 square miles. Animal control has an impossible task. They must cover the entire county, care for animals – without the benefit of any adoption hours – and hope that a rescue or owner will collect an animal before the facility becomes overwhelmed and an animal’s time is up.

Despite the rustic outside, once inside, the runs – though very small – look remarkably similar to those of other shelters, with concrete floors, hard plastic palates and seven-foot-metal-gate doors. Despite the similarities, what I could not forget is that this is a converted barn. Climate control is vastly limited, along with any other amenities.

I arrived at Pickens on kill day – the day the animals who’s time is up – are put to sleep. Each animal has a varying amount of time. Animals picked up as strays, but lucky enough to have a collar, have 10 days. Animals without collars have 5 days. And animals who are surrendered by their families, have 0 days. Even arriving as early as 9 am, animal control had carried out its grim duty of euthanizing all animals who’s time had run.

Entering the facility, I was confronted with a bevy of empty runs.



I hurt for the empty runs; runs that had been full up to that day. Runs full of unwanted pets that never had the chance for that happily ever after. The only remaining residents were 2 terrified chihuahua mixes, a lab/mastiff and a lab/ newfie. There were about 16 runs, with only 4 remaining residents.

Despite the sadness that I confronted at Pickens Animal Control, there is hope, though admittedly, I am a glass half full gal. There is hope for rescue for the countless animals abandoned and picked up by animal control. Three rescues work with Pickens and although it still isn’t enough, the numbers are growing and the number of animals rescued is also growing. There will be a time when all the dogs and cats abandoned or picked up by animal control find their happy ending. And that keeps me going.

Why I do this

Last night I was posed the question of why I do this. This is a big answer, and probably several posts, for a seemingly small question.

Maybe I should start with why I love being an Adoption Coordinator (AC). It was my first real role in rescue and will always be close to my heart for that reason. As I previously discussed, I entered rescue after the passing of my beloved Siska. I applied to be a foster, but did not serve in that role for some time because I immediately failed as a foster and adopted my foster dog, Hilde – who because Athena.

After adopting Athena I began feeling guilty. I had every intention of helping the rescue and now I was not doing so because I had adopted a puppy and couldn’t foster for some time. I asked if there was some other way for me to assist. It was then that I was introduced to ACing – which is screening and vetting people for adoption. I went through a quick training and there I was an AC, responsible for the welfare of one dog.

It was initially scary. I was responsible for the wellbeing of a dog. I had to talk to people, judge them and determine what was best for the dog and place the dog into a good forever home. Being entirely responsible for this small life and his or her future is, in my view, was and is an enormous responsibility.

For all the negative stories out there about rescue, judgmental folks, fear of failure and poor placements aside, I grew to love the role of being an AC. For each person who may not be right for this or any dog, there are scores of amazing folks looking to adopt a new family member. I love talking to those people about adopting and what we do. I love meeting them when they adopt their new best friend. I love seeing the joy that a new dog brings into their family and their life. And I love getting pictures of these amazing people and their new furry family member lounging on the couch, running in the backyard, playing with their other pets or children, etc.

Each placement, is a life saved, a family made whole and hopefully a great experience for both me and the family I helped to find that perfect dog. I’ve always been a sucker for a happy ending. Being an AC lets me experience countless happy endings and have a hand in each of them.

In the beginning

If someone had told me years ago that I would be writing a blog, I would have fallen over laughing or shivered in terror.

While some may think that I’m an outgoing person, in reality, I’m intensely private. I value my alone time (or at least my alone time with my dogs) and all the things that come from going through life fairly anonymous – at least as much as one can be now.

As a private person, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I have something to say – about an entire topic even. This voice snuck up on me. I began volunteering for dog rescues after the death of my beloved dog Siska. She had a stroke one day and died. I couldn’t breathe. But worse than my own personal pain was watching my other dog, Sianne, search the house for her friend who was no longer with us. I resolved to foster and reached out to a dog rescue. I promptly “failed” as a foster and adopted my foster dog. This failure began my 7 + year love affair with rescue. The mission can be so magnetic I sometimes feel a physical pull drawing me in. It can become all consuming.

Despite our good work and intentions, never have I seen an institution so loved and hated at the same time. Rescue is criticized from the outside and from within. Rescue and rescue organizations are admitedly not perfect. There is always room for improvement. Unlike our charges, we are only human.

And this is where I surprisingly find my voice. I discovered that over the time I have volunteered and gone from a supporting to a more managerial role, I have considered our strengths and weaknesses as entities and as a community. Even more surpisingly it’s something I’d like to discuss – even if no one is listening or reading.