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Rescue organizations (finding the right dog for you, part 1)

Our guests, Don Richardson and Nancy Campanile are volunteers with Golden Gate Labrador Retriever Rescue Inc (also known conversationally as Bay Area Lab Rescue). Their terrific website is worth checking out-- it has photos of the dogs available, links to animal shelters around the Bay Area and beyond, and info about their adoption process.

Some organizations are breed-specific (ie, they work to find homes for one specific breed of dog). Others specialize in small dogs, or large dogs, etc, but don't care if the dog is a particular breed or not. Neither is better than the other-- they are each important, and in order to handle the huge volume of dogs who are homeless each group must place some parameters around their focus.

How to find a rescue group for the breed you're interested in:

  1. Call the Peninsula Humane Society / SPCA and ask them if they have a referral phone number to the "breed rescue contacts for _____(insert the breed of your choice here)____". They keep a notebook of such numbers, and are very happy to provide them. Rescue organizations usually work in close cooperation with animal shelters-- they are all working for the safe and happy placement of dogs in permanent, loving and responsible homes. Keep in mind that the good folks at PHS/SPCA probably won't be able to answer your questions about the rescue people other than to give you their phone number-- so call for the number, and then contact the rescue folks directly to learn about their adoption application process, etc. PHS/SPCA can be reached at 650-340-8200.

  2. Do a search on the internet-- if you were looking for the Akita rescue people in the Bay Area, you might try words like "Bay Area Akita Rescue" or "Golden Gate Akita".

  3. Contact the American Kennel Club and get the contact info for the local club of breeders for whichever breed you are interested in. Most decent breed clubs have an effort devoted to rescuing members of their breed who find themselves homeless.

What to keep in mind as you work with rescue groups:

  1. These people are volunteers who are doing the best they can, so be patient and gently persistent.

  2. Rescue volunteers constantly have to manage their own feelings of disappointment, frustration and anger at people who abandon their dogs, abuse them, or cast them off at the first sign of inconvenience. They have seen the worst side of people,and sometimes they can seem a bit jaded. So don't be the slightest bit put off when they give the tenth degree, asking you many questions about your lifestyle, your history with dog ownership, and even about your financial situation. They have a right to know because they are in charge of making sure the dog goes to a loving, permanent and responsible home. A "forever" home.

  3. Don't take an "I'm the customer" attitude. Adopting animals is a life and death situation for the animal, and the rescue people have the animal's best interest in mind as their top priority. God bless them. So be willing to put up with whatever process they request.

  4. Realize that they don't keep a "regular inventory" of dogs-- so they may have no idea what dogs will be available a week from now. If you're interested in a dog from them, go ahead and start the application process and be prepared to possibly wait a while before meeting adoptable dogs. Rescue groups love to have well qualified potential homes in the wings so when they do get a dog in, they can get it adopted out to a great "forever" home as quickly as possible.

  5. Rescue groups incur costs fostering dogs, taking care of certain medical issues, etc. Expect an adoption fee, and be generous-- throw in a donation of top of it, please. Your generosity may well make the difference between the next dog who comes in with a medical condition being rescued versus being euthanized due to lack of funds for medical help.

  6. Sometimes there are multiple rescue groups serving one kind of breed or mix. They usually don't have the infrastructure to work closely together-- so you may want to contact the different groups, and start the process with each of them, and do let them know that you've contacted their counterparts. Put multiple irons in the fire.

  7. It is extremely rare for rescue groups to get young puppies (8-30 weeks) in their program. They usually deal with adult dogs who are 8 months or older. This is because the common and tragic pattern is for people to buy a puppy and not realize what they're getting in to. The puppy is not trained and supervised adequately, and as soon as it becomes physically full grown (at about 9 months or so) it may now be a 60 pound out-of-control dog who is stuck in the back yard all day. The owners often dump the dog. These dogs are trainable, and have been neglected. Don't ever look for a dog you won't have to train-- every dog deserves an owner who is willing to get themselves educated about how to humanely and effectively train their dog.

    Sometimes the dog has not been neglected, and had to be surrendured due to life circumstances beyond anyone's control. A dear friend of mine had to give up her beautiful yellow lab when her own battle with cancer made it too difficult to care for the dog. She was very sick from the cancer treatments and it broke her heart to give the dog up, but it provided some relief from the worry and guilt she felt in not being able to care for him anymore. (I personally fostered him and he now lives with a wonderful family in Ross).

    The point is that rescue groups should not be viewed a cheap source of purebred puppies. Expect an adult dog and plan to have to train it. You won't be sorry.

  8. While most rescue groups offer a return policy for the first 2 weeks or so if you decide despite all due diligence upfront that the dog is not in fact a good match, please realize that dogs take a good month or so to settle into a new home. Expect some bumps in the road, and be willing to work with them. Transitioning to a new home is extremely stressful to a dog, so ask your rescue volunteers for advice in making it easier. Read the book, "Second Hand Dog" by Carol Lea Benjiman for a good perspective. Go slowly at first, expect to have to supervise a LOT for the first 2 weeks, and set your dog up for success. You can relax the supervision level after the first month or so.

  9. If you have kids, don't involve your kids in the selection process until you have found a dog that you are 99% sure you want to adopt. Meet it and spend time with it without your kids. Don't let them influence your decisions at this stage. Once you found a great dog for you, go back again with the kids and make sure they all get along. Your kids will be thrilled with any dog you bring home, and they don't have the perspective you have that's needed in doing the initial screening. They may get attached to a dog that isn't a great match for your family, and you'll be dealing with their pressure to adopt the wrong dog. You're in charge here, you choose the dog, and introduce it to your kids.

  10. The adults in the family should always expect to bear 100% of the responsibility for walking, feeding, and grooming the dog. Do not get a dog with the intention of expecting your kids to pitch in. You will teach them responsibility and compassion by the example you set. If you do assign dog-related chores to the kids, do not ever consider using "keeping the dog" as the consequence for performing chores. Don't be one of those parents who says "If we get a dog it will have to be your responsibility." You can remove TV priviledges, remove allowance, remove anything BUT the dog. And don't make caring for the dog a point of contention in your family-- if you aren't prepared to take it on yourself, don't take on a dog. At this age, teaching the kids to care for the dog on an invitation basis is more effective-- inviting them to lovingly brush the dog while watching TV, for example. Set an impecible example for your kids about picking up dog poop-- and teach them that it's important to do that out in public if you are ever not there with them when your dog leaves a mess.