A dog's best friend
By Carole Townsend
Five to seven million dogs and cats arrive at animal shelters in the United States each year, and about half of these animals are being surrendered by their owners.
Reasons for surrendering a family pet range from moving to a new home, to death and divorce, to the inability to deal with a pet’s behavior issues.
Add to that staggering statistic the fact that thousands of dogs and cats, even livestock animals, enter shelters because they have been removed from an abusive situation. Facilities are over-populated, and the sad result of that over-population is that thousands of animals – tens of thousands of them - are euthanized every year.
“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its people treat its animals,” according to Indian philosopher and teacher Mahatma Gandhi. If that statement is accurate, our nation has some work to do.
In the shadow of this dark cloud of the plight of so many frightened, abandoned and abused animals shines a light of hope, and that light is the heart of an animal rescuer. Whether a dog or cat is plucked from a shelter and almost certain death (unless the shelter is a no-kill facility) by an individual or a national rescue organization is of no consequence to the animal. What matters is that the rescued animal will receive medical attention, care, love and hopefully, a “forever” home in which to live out its days without fear, pain or starvation.
Jan and Bruce Gaynor
Norcross residents Jan and Bruce Gaynor volunteer for the national organization called Pointer Rescue, Inc. A Pointer is a working dog, bred for several hundred years to "point" birds and small game such as rabbits. They are versatile field dogs and make wonderful family pets.
“There are a lot of Pointers here in this area,” Jan said, adding that the abundance of these working dogs can be attributed to the popularity of hunting in Georgia and the Southeast. “They can get lost in a hunt, so a lot are found as strays. Too, if they do not perform as the hunter expects, they are often simply abandoned. They are seen as tools, not pets.”
Careful not to criticize all hunters in the treatment of their dogs, Jan said that many treat their hunting dogs with love. “Some even let their dogs sleep in the bed with them. It just depends,” she said.
The Gaynors own three Pointers. Their middle dog is a rescue. With a hunter for about a year, living on a plantation, she was surrendered to an Alabama shelter. “She was there seven months before Pointer Rescue even found out about her. She was pulled from the shelter, then adopted by an older couple who surrendered her back after just three weeks. They said she was too damaged.
“When I went to get her, she crawled under the car, she was so scared. We took her to our home, and she absolutely loved my husband. Within three days, he said, “We’re keeping her.”
“I laughed, because he always said we had a two-dog limit,” Jan said. “She had definitely been handled roughly. Even now, she is still afraid of certain situations, but she is comfortable in our home and with our other dogs.”
“It is important to understand a breed before you ever get a dog and bring it into your home. Pointers are working dogs. Our rescued girl does agility training, because she would go nuts without that outlet. But that is what Pointers are supposed to do, and we know that.”
Being a rescue volunteer, no matter the breed, is an expensive and time-consuming commitment. Often, volunteers use their own money and resources to do what is best for a dog. According to Jan, the most pressing needs of Pointer Rescue are, of course, monetary donations, but volunteers and transporters are also desperately needed. Transporters are volunteers who get a dog from Point A to Point B, when the animal has been rescued or placed into its new home.
Right: Colleen Lazenby and Ruby
Snellville resident Colleen Lazenby is another dog lover who donates her time and resources to the rescue of a much-misunderstood breed, Pit Bulls. An individual rescuer not affiliated with a large rescue organization, Lazenby got started 4 years ago. “I fell in love with a puppy that followed me home one day. I tried to find the owner, with no luck.” Lazenby began to read about the breed when she felt sure that the lucky puppy would be hers to keep. “What I read was terrible. Much of what’s out there on the Internet and in the media is awful, and sadly inaccurate. There was a lot about aggression and fighting” she said.
After acquiring a mandatory license from the Department of Agriculture, Lazenby began to pull Pit Bulls from shelters, caring for them, and finding loving homes for them. “This breed is incredibly loving and loyal to their owners, so it stands to reason that, if an owner trains a dog to fight, that dog will fight to show its obedience and loyalty. She added, “They do not, in fact, have locking jaws. They are powerful, but their jaws do not lock, as many claim.”
Part of the problem with the sensationalized perpetuation of the claims that Pit Bulls are aggressive fighting machines is, of course, the humans who handle them. “Some people are simply too lazy to work, so they breed these animals just for the money. Pit Bull puppies can bring a thousand dollars each, sometimes more, Too often, these unscrupulous breeders sell puppies to buyers whom they know will use the dogs for fighting. “It’s a shame,” Lazenby said. “I wish people would give Pit Bulls a chance. Once you have a Pit Bull, you have a friend for life, through thick and thin.”
Lazenby’s favorite rescue story is about two dogs that she lovingly refers to as “the boys.” The home in which they lived burned down, and frightened, the dogs ran away. They had been roaming the area about 5 miles from their home when she and husband Woody caught them, just in the nick of time. “Three cop cars and animal control were on the scene. We were able to get the dogs before they did, and we took them home.” Unfortunately, neither dog was micro-chipped. Jan and Woody tried to find out who had owned the dogs, with no luck.
“Then one day, our weekend mailman saw the boys at our house, and he said that he knew where they had lived. We were able to reunite them with their owner,” Colleen said. In the life of a dog rescuer, that is a good day with a happy ending.
Right: Wanda Johnson
Pit Bulls aren’t the only misunderstood breed of dog. German Shepherds also have an inaccurate reputation for being aggressive and intimidating. Wanda Johnson and husband Randy (Lawrenceville’s Chief of Police) regularly see firsthand what that unfortunate reputation means for the breed. “Believe it or not, owners surrender their dog because they say, ‘I didn’t know he was going to get this big.’” German Shepherds are deeply loyal working dogs. What that means is that they live to please their humans, and they are instinctual seekers. They need to “work,” even if that work means finding their favorite ball that their human hides for them. They need to exercise, and like all dogs, they want to be a member of a family, not a back yard ornament.
“Having one of these dogs, or any dog, is a lifetime commitment that the whole family has to make,” Wanda said. “When I hear that someone surrendered a dog because they are moving to an apartment that doesn’t allow dogs, it’s upsetting. Dogs are not toys or conveniences. They are living, loving, loyal beings. A Shepherd is loyal and faithful.”
The Johnsons have pulled German Shepherds from shelters, or otherwise rescued, dogs who have been abused, starved, even shot, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. One such dog, Bianca, was paralyzed as the result of a gunshot wound. The husband and wife team rescued her, secured the medical attention she needed, then swam with her every day until she regained the use of her legs. She was adopted by a family who was won over by her perseverance and joyful personality.
Sandy Edwards is as passionate about rescuing Labrador Retrievers as the Johnsons are German Shepherds. A devoted dog rescuer for more than 20 years, she remembers the day that she became a “foster failure.” I brought home Zoe, a chocolate Lab, and she was the kind of dog that really needed a friend,” Edwards said. “Even the work and play my husband and I could give her when we got home from work weren’t enough. She needed a canine friend.” Enter Dutch, a male yellow Labrador that Sandy hoped would be a good companion for a very busy Zoe.
“We put both dogs in a room together to make sure they got along, and they did,” Sandy remembered. Anyone considering adopting a dog should be sure that the dog blends well not only with other dogs in the home, but of course with any children. Failure to take this important step results in many unnecessary owner surrenders.
Interestingly, the Save a Lab rescue group, one of two with whom Sandy is affiliated, rescues Labradors, fosters them locally, but only adopts the dogs to permanent homes in the northeast United States. “People in that region see dogs as being members of the family, not property or money-makers” as is more common in the South. “They see the importance of spaying and neutering, whereas many southern owners are reluctant to take these measures,” Sandy said. It’s an unfortunate reality in more rural areas; dogs are simply viewed differently in the two regions.
Rescue groups rely almost entirely on volunteers and donations, and even if a dog lover can’t provide a foster home or even adopt a dog, any help is desperately needed and appreciated. “If everyone would only do a little bit, the problem (of overcrowded shelters, strays and abused dogs) would not be nearly as bad as it is,” Wanda said. “Even if you can only take a bag of dog food to a foster home or rescue group, that is a huge help.”
The personal stories of desperation and rescue are too numerous to tell, but if a prospective owner would just do the homework and understand the breed, so many stories of dogs in need of love and homes would end happily rather than tragically. “I believe that, when a dog is rescued from a life of terror, hunger and abuse, he knows it and is so grateful for the second chance. He will repay his human tenfold and be a faithful friend for life.”
The desperate condition of millions of dogs and cats in the U.S., as varied as the stories are, can be traced back to one common denominator: the irresponsibility of humans. Research and education are key when bringing an animal into a family. Spaying and neutering prevent the unmanageable reproduction of animals and explosive burdening of shelters. Until humans take full responsibility for the animals they own, rescue groups and individuals are many animals’ only hope.
These rescue groups and individual heroes can use any type of help that the community can offer, including transporting dogs, walking dogs, volunteering at shelters, donating food or, of course, giving financial assistance. Below are some important links to rescue groups, Facebook pages, and Petfinder.com:
For more information about Pointer Rescue, Inc., and to find out how to help by donating or volunteering, go to www.pointerrescue.org.
For more information about Pit Bull Rescue, visit www.pbrc.net, www.pitbull.rescueshelter.com/Georgia or find a local independent rescuer for volunteer and other information. The Lazenbys provide all medical care and food for the dogs they rescue, so financial donations are greatly appreciated. To help them continue their critical work, visit www.divaspitbullrescue.com.
To assist with Labrador rescue, go to www.facebook.com/NorthStarLabs or www.facebook.com/Save.A.Lab. To assist with German Shepherd rescue, visit (local) www.caninepetrescue.com, or www.gsdrescue.org.
Use to search for the perfect family pet, Some find the idea of going to a shelter to be overwhelming. If so, use www.petfinder.com to find the perfect family pet.