Rescue never ends. It’s rewarding, but draining.

I work with a wonderful woman here in Knoxville named Karen Echternacht. She cares about dogs in general and cocker spaniels in particular that she actually started a rescue group for them. Cocker Companions Rescue is very new, just under one year old. She got it rolling in February, after ‘pulling’ a young cocker spaniel boy from the local shelter for a rescue group in Texas. She was only going to keep Finnagan until transport could be arranged for him to Texas, but while he was staying with her, she discovered that he had some serious behavioral problems, and that she couldn’t just send him on to someone who was less-capable than she of dealing with him.

At the same time, she and her family fell in love with Finnagan, and didn’t want to consign him to euthanasia. So they decided to keep him and work with him to try to condition him past his source-guarding issues, and today he’s Karen’s star pupil.

Did I mention that she’s also a dog trainer? That’s what gives her a leg up when it comes to dealing with the ‘problem children’ of the dog world. It’s hard work, and it takes a lot of optimism and love to see through the dirt, mats, fleas and snarling and find the happy, clean family pet in some of the cockers Karen takes in, but everyone gets a fair shot at learning to be ladies and gentlemen.

The rescue gets dogs from many different places, from owner surrenders to strays from animal shelters all over the region, “free to good home” advertisements…the list goes on (and on, and ON). And the really difficult part of this is that the queue of animals needing help never ends. There is always someone who is in a kill shelter, on the last day of their allowed stay, who will be put down unless someone steps in to adopt him or her, or take them in to rescue. As a new rescue group, Cocker Companions Rescue’s resources are limited. We have few foster homes, and the number of dogs that need help always outnumber them. If we bring a dog in to CCR, it needs either a foster home, or it needs to go in to boarding at a kennel–after it’s thoroughly checked out by a veterinarian to make sure it won’t spread disease or pests to other animals.

Karen is a truly kind, loving woman, who feels deeply for all the animals with whom she comes into contact. She wants to be able to save them all, but she can’t–there’s not enough space or money to do that, as wonderful a goal as it would be. But she feels like she’s letting the rest of them down when she has to say no. To date, Cocker Companions Rescue has saved better than 90 cocker spaniels from being euthanized or abandoned, giving them baths and haircuts and training and veterinary care, whatever they need–and then finding them a loving, caring home for the rest of their happy lives. That’s quite a beautiful scorecard–as long as you don’t compare those lucky dogs to the rest that we didn’t get to in time, or that we had to refuse due to lack of resources.

Oh, and this is all volunteer, btw. Neither Karen nor any of her volunteers (including me) are receiving a paycheck for this vital work. It’s got to be done, though, and we’re all willing to keep trudging along, keeping old towels and leashes in the trunks of our cars in case we find someone fuzzy in need. Our reward is hearing from tickled adoptive parents who enclose photos in their e-mails, of a happy and indulged dog laying on the sofa, or on the bed in the master bedroom, with a Nylabone/knucklebone/silver spoon in their mouth. All these dogs deserve a happy ending, and we work to get it for them all.

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