Getting involved in purebred rescue

It’s an emotional roller-coaster, not a stroll in the park


A walk through any animal shelter is likely to turn up a dog or two of several breeds – dogs that ran away from home, dogs that were abandoned by their owners, dogs that were surrendered by owners who could not keep them, and dogs whose owners no longer wanted to keep them.

These dogs take up space – for a few days at least – until they are adopted or are euthanized to make room for the dogs waiting at the door.

About 25 percent of the dogs received at shelters are purebred, and they are often the first dogs to be adopted. If they are not adopted, they often get a second chance through a rescue group dedicated to saving a particular breed.

Who does rescue?

Organized attempts to rescue purebred dogs from shelters and to find homes for dogs confiscated in cruelty cases began about 15 years ago with hands-ful of breed fanciers spread throughout the country. Today, thousands of people are involved in rescue of virtually every breed, relieving pressure on shelters and giving dogs a second or third chance at family life.

Many people involved in breed rescue started out as breeders, exhibitors, or owners of a dog that caught their fancy and added rescue because they love the breed. Some people started out because they were touched by the plight of a single dog, and some came in the back door when a friend needed help finding a home for a dog.

Development of rescue associations for some breeds took years as national and regional breed clubs slowly recognized the need to care for the breeds they protect and promote. Today, however, almost all breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club have a national rescue coordinator, hundreds of regional clubs assist with rescue efforts; and thousands of breeders, exhibitors, and pet owners do their bit to help unfortunate dogs of the breeds they love.

In addition to those who are associated with breed clubs are the individual rescuers who operate independently of the dog fancy. They may form nonprofit corporations so they can receive tax-deductible donations, or they may be operating without benefit of tax-exemption and depending on the largess of local merchants and individuals, and they, too, save thousands of dogs each year.

Getting involved

Purebred dog rescue is a volunteer job, often filled with as much heartache as joy. There is no paycheck; in fact, the pocketbook is often much slimmer at the end of the year even if the group has a good fundraising program. Rescue is emotionally draining – dogs may enter in poor condition, be difficult to handle, and take time away from family. Well-loved foster dogs leave for new homes, often leaving a void in the house and the heart. And the pressure of dealing with abandoned dogs, unruly dogs, malnourished dogs, sick dogs, and uncaring or ignorant owners weighs heavy on the shoulders.

Clearly, many owners who relinquish dogs to rescues or shelters have legitimate reasons for doing so. Family illness, relocation, allergies, death, divorce, or other crises can force surrender of a beloved pet. Just as clearly, many others whimsically or angrily give a dog up because it does not meet their needs or because they have created a monster by failing to teach basic canine manners.

There’s always room for more foster homes, fund-raisers, dog spotters, dog transporters, kennels, public relations workers, and trainers in rescue. Potential volunteers can get involved by adopting a dog of the breed they’d like to help, keeping in touch with the rescue group for the first year or so, and gradually taking on some responsibilities.

Foster homes provide space for a dog during temperament evaluation and recovery from injury, sterilization surgery, or heartworm treatment. Foster families teach manners to the dog and check his reaction to children, cats, other dogs, men, women, strangers, storms, and anything else that is a potential problem. They also help match the dog to an appropriate family so that a dog that dislikes small children doesn’t go to a home with a toddler and one that is dog aggressive goes to a one-dog family.

Dog spotters are people who check area shelters for dogs of that breed and arrange for a foster home if possible. Dog spotters must develop good relationships with shelter staff and avoid emotional confrontations that are sure to antagonize the employees who hold the fate of the dog in their hands.

Fund-raisers are essential to the operation of a rescue. They do everything from soliciting donations from local merchants to hosting dinners, raffles, auctions, golf outings, and anything else that will put dollars in the coffer. Dog spotting and fund-raising can be done by those who cannot foster dogs.

Transporters are often needed to pick up a dog at a shelter, participate in part of a long-distance rescue or adoption, or take a dog to the vet or groomer.

Kennel space is necessary when foster homes are full or non-existent. Boarding kennel owners may make a run or two available for rescue dogs at reduced or no cost, and breeders may foster a dog or two or offer space to dogs of their breed until a foster home can be located.

Obedience clubs may have experienced trainers to work with rescued dogs, and some clubs save class space for a rescue dog that needs training before he can be adopted.

Public relations workers can contact media to promote the value of adopting an adult purebred dog, can make arrangements for appearances at malls and festivals, and can generate handouts about breed character and care for adopters. They can also line up veterinarians who will give the rescue a reduced rate on services and contact groomers, kennels, and trainers who will do the same.

Beware of burnout

Rescue organizations experience high burnout rates, especially in popular breeds. Several years ago, Barbara Pietrangelo, a breeder and rescuer of Weimaraners in Pennsylvania, put together a set of guidelines to help rescuers avoid burnout. She presented the list and these comments to the rescuers gathered at the 1997 Rescue Symposium of the National Animal Interest Alliance. In a nutshell, she said:

  1. Recognize and accept that you cannot save every animal. “Rescue work is an emotional roller coaster,” she said. There is little or no use in making it worse by giving yourself undeserved guilt trips.”
  2. Stand by your convictions. “Don’t try to second-guess yourself; make your decision and stand by it.”
  3. Use common sense. “If you have no room for just one more dog, don’t take just one more dog.”
  4. Learn to say no. “Don’t allow yourself to be coerced into saying yes to something that you can’t do and do well. That ‘yes’ could be the very one that blows your already well-worn fuses. Say no, accept the responsibility for saying no, and try to find someone else to help. But say no and don’t feel guilty because you did.”
  5. Don’t be judgmental. “Accept people for what they are. I used to hate every person who gave up their dog. I used to hate every breeder who wouldn’t or couldn’t take their dog back. Then I realized that I was wasting so much time brooding and hating that I was giving myself an ulcer. … You can’t change people, you can only change what you have control over.”
  6. Learn to take action. “Put your time and effort to constructive use” by contacting AKC, the media, the USDA, and the state and local agencies in charge of animal care when appropriate and by sweet-talking breeders who won’t take back their own animals.
  7. Ask for help.
  8. Ask for money,
  9. Accept euthanasia in necessary cases. “Providing a humane end to an animal’s life is part of what we do.”
  10. Learn to prioritize. “Make time for your family and friends. Make time for your own animals. Please don’t allow your friends, family, and your own animals to fall by the wayside because of rescue. Keep some time aside to have fun!”
  11. Be patient with callers.
  12. Know when to quit. “The world got along after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The rescue world will get along without you.

You will know when it is time to quit. Some of the signs? Making errors in judgment. Depression. You aren’t feeling as good about rescue as you used to feel. The signs are many and varied.”

Those who follow these guidelines stand a good chance of a successful stint in rescue.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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