Guest column: Helping all dogs through breed rescue by Gina Spadafori
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1993:
Some nights the telephone never stops ringing for
The local humane society is holding a dog and
hopes we will pick her up soon––like today. A rescuer who
works with a different breed has pulled a Sheltie from a
municipal shelter two counties away––when can we pick
him up? A veterinarian is calling in hopes we can help a
middle-aged dog left for euthanasia when the family
moved. Two people want to dump their dogs tonight, and
we have no place to put them.
“If you don’t come get this dog right now,” hisses
one caller, “it’s dead. And I’m going to tell everyone what
hypocrites you are. Sheltie Rescue my ass.”
Some breeders don’t like it when we point out
their contribution to the overpopulation problem. Some
shelter workers say we skim the cream off the adoptables.
Some activists are critical because we limit our hands-on
animal work to purebred dogs, and one breed at that.
Prospective adopters are sometimes surprised that we
charge for a used dog, even though the money covers the
veterinary bills, nothing more.
We’re used to the carping. This year, my partner
and I will place close to 40 dogs––mostly purebred, mostly
Shelties––in responsible new homes. The dogs we work
with are brought into our homes, vaccinated, tested for
worms, put on heartworm preventive, and neutered prior
to placement. We take them young and old, sick and
healthy. Most, but not all, are eventually placed. Since
we started, we’ve taken two dogs, one cancerous and
ancient, the other vicious, to be euthanized. We cried all
the way home.
Despite the criticism, despite the sadness, we
keep picking up the telephone. And we don’t let the chal-
lenges go unanswered.
When show breeders say the purebreds in rescue
programs come from puppy mills and casual breeders, we
pull out the papers. We’ve had former show dogs and ani-
mals with some of the best pedigrees in the land come
through our program––although such animals are certainly
not the majority. Most of the dogs we see have nice tem-
peraments and what show breeders would call reasonable
conformation. They seem to be mostly the result of casual
breeding by people who thought it would be fun––and
maybe profitable––to breed their dogs. These people often
bought their dogs from show breeders, but didn’t follow
through on neutering agreements.
When shelter workers say we pull only the best
for rescue, our best response is time. They need to see us
foster the old and sick of our breed, as well as the flashy
young dogs. They need time to realize that the best res-
cuers, the people I work with, are fanatic about the homes
our dogs go to, and are quite willing to help an occasional
random-bred when time and space allow.
When activists say our efforts are flawed because
we usually don’t work with random-breds, we wonder how
many dogs they save in a year. Shelties are generally small
and non-aggressive, a must in my small house, with its
small pack of permanent canines. Other breeds aren’t so
easy to handle. One of the rescuers I respect most works
with Dobermans, to the tune of 200 a year, neutered and
placed in responsible homes. This is a contribution, no
matter what others say.
The adopters we work with are educated to the
true value of companion animals, a view that transcends
the monetary outlook they started with. The application
process takes two weeks to a month, and includes refer-
ence checks and a home visit. By the time a family adopts
one of our dogs, they’ve read 10 pages of literature and
have been steered toward hundreds of pages more. If
someone is not appropriate for the breed, or for a dog of
any kind, he or she is counseled about a more appropriate
companion animal, if one exists. Our happy endings are
the result of damned hard work––and we haven’t yet had an
A purist might say, and many of them have, that
if there weren’t purebreds, people would adopt random-
breds from shelters: that if there weren’t purebreds, there
would be no puppy mills. My outlook is more pragmatic.
Some people will always want purebreds, and will find
them in puppy mills and back yards if better options aren’t
offered. My partner and I, like other breed-rescue volun-
teers, offer a better option.
The work we do helps all dogs. Our fostering
system saves the ones we pull and leaves more room and
time at the shelter for the others. We serve as the nagging
conscience of the show-breeding community, letting them
know that a few pretty ribbons aren’t worth a homeless dog.
We educate people who want puppies to the possibilities of
adult dogs, and increase the knowledge even of the people
we turn down. And for my partner and I, rescue attacks
the piece of the overpopulation problem we can handle
without burning ourselves out.
I’ve heard some people argue that purebreds are
no more deserving of saving than any other animal in the
shelter. I’d argue that they’re no less deserving.
In my house, the telephone will keep ringing for
[Gina Spadafori, a mild-mannered editor for a great met –
ropolitan newspaper, often writes about animal issues.
She is currently working to place two Shelties and a basset-
Lab cross who was “too special” to leave at the pound.]