The many facets of rescue, and the joys of transport

Since I’m not doing anything else worthwhile in the field of employment right now, I try to do as much work as I can in dog rescue. I like dogs, generally speaking, and in fact, I generally like most dogs better than some people. Dogs can’t really speak up for themselves and I think that they deserve to have as many people going to bat for them as possible. And there are a surprising number of dogs and companion animals that need rescue.

For example, over 12,000 animals were euthanized at the Young-Williams Animal Center here in Knoxville, TN during 2007. That’s a lot of companion animals who didn’t find their way back home, or into a new home. On the other hand, my sister Mary was having difficulty in adopting a dog from her local shelter back in St. Clair, MI, because there were so few stray animals that the shelter had a WAITING LIST of people who wanted to adopt. Talk about the difference between ‘night and day’. Mary adopted her newest little boy, Dudley, from the Young-Williams Animal Center back in August, when she and her son and daughter were visiting. Here’s Dudders:

Dudley Knoxville, now of St. Clair, MI

I’m here to tell you that this darling little guy really fell into a bed of roses in my sister’s house. He’s very loved and indulged (but NOT spoiled, never spoiled!) and thank goodness for that, but what about all the other animals who aren’t lucky enough to find their forever home with someone who will care for them so well?

And why are there so many unwanted animals here? The general attitude toward companion animals is very different here than it is in my home state. Many people seem to view their pets not so much as living, sentient beings as possessions. There are many ‘backyard breeders’ and puppy mill owners who get a male dog and a female dog of a particular variety, and then they put “Part A” together with “Part B” and end up with a litter of (badly-bred) purebred puppies, which they then turn around and sell. Just try to explain to someone like this that it’s unethical to exploit a companion animal so shamelessly for profit, without caring for the animal and at least offering medical care and love in exchange for its reproductive capabilities, and you’ll be greeted with a blank stare and “Well, it’s JUST a DOG” as an explanation or rationalization.

And much of the problem also lies in unintentional litters, resulting when people don’t want to spend money to alter their dog–or don’t bother to do so. Many people in this part of the country don’t seem to understand the importance of spaying and neutering their pets, and then accidentally end up with a litter of little animals for which they need to find homes.

I talked with a woman a few weeks ago who had never been a pet parent before. She and her husband had gotten a male dog as a companion for their female dog. They didn’t realize that even though they’re supposed to be brother and sister that they could (and WOULD) still get together and make puppies. They ended up with a litter of EIGHT. Then they weaned the puppies at FIVE WEEKS OF AGE and proceeded to sell them off because they didn’t want to be inconvenienced by the puppies over the holidays. This presents a number of different problems, the biggest of which is that the puppies, lacking the guidance of their mother and interaction with their littermates, are missing out on VITAL, ESSENTIAL lessons on being a happy, well-balanced dog. In order for puppies to grow into calm, self-assured and mannerly dogs, they need to be around their mother and siblings so that the mother can discipline them, and so that they can learn from playing with their siblings that biting HURTS and that they shouldn’t do it to other dogs and people, among other basics truths.

Separate a puppy from its family too soon and you end up with a fearful, potentially fear-aggressive dog that will require tremendous training and conditioning to become a good canine citizen. Those lessons taught by Mommy and littermates are vital to the healthy and timely development of the puppies’ personalities, and as long as the puppies can stick around long enough to learn them, their training needs are cut by more than half.

These people didn’t realize that they were potentially harming all these puppies psychologically. They were just concerned with getting rid of them as soon as possible. The woman did say that she was worried that someone would get the pups and start a mini-puppy mill and that she didn’t want her puppies to be used for breeding, but she didn’t do anything to PREVENT that from happening.

So just from this one situation there are eight puppies out there who may potentially act out as a result of lack of socialization during their development, sold to people who don’t have any experience with dogs and who won’t be able to deal with the behavioral problems…who may eventually turn around and take their “rotten, mean, snappy” dogs to the shelter, or turn them over to a rescue for someone else to deal with. And that’s only eight puppies so far–what if those puppies grow up and, unspayed/neutered, start unwanted families of their own? More dogs for rescues to try to help.

Here’s an alarming statistic: An unspayed female dog and her mate, all of their puppies, and all of their puppies’ puppies, will produce 67,000 dogs in only six years if none of them are ever spayed or neutered. PLEASE, people, spay and neuter your companion animals, and leave breeding to the professionals who care about the health and well-being of the animals, and have the knowledge to preserve the integrity of the breed. There are so many animals out there that are in need of rescue, that you shouldn’t have to “make your own.”

And spay/neuter will NOT change your dog’s personality or make them fat. Dogs become fat for the same reasons that PEOPLE become fat: Too much food and too little exercise. In fact, spay/neuter can protect your pet from diseases associated with reproductive organs, like prostate, ovarian and uterine cancers and pyometra. Unlike humans, dogs do NOT need to have a litter of puppies to feel “fulfilled”–they’re fulfilled when YOU, their human, pay attention to them and love and cherish them.

If you’re concerned about cost, there are more than likely many low-cost spay/neuter clinics around you. For instance, at Planned Pet-Hood in Harriman, TN, spay/neuter services start at $25. Cost is determined by the weight and sex of your dog, but whatever type of dog you have, Planned Pet-Hood makes it imminently affordable to have him or her fixed. No excuses. The Young-Williams Animal Center of Knoxville has a whole page devoted to the need for spay/neuter services here and they even offer a FREE spay/neuter program for Knoxville city and Knox County residents, so AGAIN, no excuses.

So we’ve talked about how dogs come to need rescue. How about the ways that they need help? There are so many: A rescued dog most likely needs veterinary care, may need to be groomed and cleaned, and lots of times they also need to be socialized, which is a another word for ‘learning to live companionably among people.’ They also need to find their way to wherever it is that they’re wanted–a place they can call home. For many dogs, that home is sometimes miles away, either with a foster home which can help the dog become more appealing to potential adopters, or with a ‘forever home’ with a new petparent or family.

How do rescued dogs make it to their new homes, which can be thousands of miles away? This can be difficult because dogs don’t drive very well, and lacking opposable thumbs, they don’t have jobs so they can’t have credit cards to buy themselves plane tickets to get there. And regardless how much you may love dogs and want to help them, I’m guessing there are very few people out there willing to drive across the country to pick up their new best friend. That makes this next part pretty awesome: There are people across the country who want to help rescued animals, who voluntarily work together to donate their time, gas money, and chauffeur services to move these dogs (and other animals) around.

Some people, like me, are associated with rescue groups, and they’ve learned about transporting these dogs through their rescue contacts. Others are just caring people who want to help–a couple of weeks ago, I met a wonderful woman who drove a leg in a transport of a senior citizen Brittany spaniel named Snoopy. She read an advert on Craig’s List asking for help transporting Snoopy to his new foster home in Michigan, and she volunteered to drive him one of the legs in his journey from Alabama to Michigan. Seriously! I’m getting ferklempt just thinking about it.

Yesterday I helped with another transport, this one for National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network (NBRAN). I and 28 other people agreed to drive 23 legs from Little Rock, AR to help get three Brittanies to their new foster or adoptive homes in Vermont and New Jersey. Some of these people were co-pilots who helped wrangle the dogs, and let’s don’t forget the dogs’ overnight host, too.

Isn’t that amazing, that so many people agreed to come together and arrange their schedules to move these lucky dogs? Kathy Boje was our coordinator this time, orchestrating all of us into the proper places and times, which is an epic accomplishment in itself. And even though bad weather in the northeast paused this transport in its second day, other arrangements are being made to get these dogs to their new homes by Christmas. Even though I often feel helpless and disheartened by the never-ending need for rescue, all I have to do is think of the wonderful people I’ve met while doing a transport, and their help buoys me up and reminds me that I’m not alone in caring.

If you’d like to help, you can use the amazing connective power of the interwebs to search out rescue groups in your area. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of doing something purely for the benefit of someone else, plus maybe a loving, appreciative lick on the nose. 🙂

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