At the end of last month, the North Victorian Sled Dog Rescue came to an end.
After rehoming 60 dogs (some prior to formalising their efforts as NVSDR), KA, S&S have decided that they need to focus on their family life, their careers and their own dogs, which they race, show and breed.
Around 20 dogs a year is a massive effort, and there is no doubt that without this incredible work, most of those dogs would have been Put To Sleep. Turning away from those dogs has been a very difficult thing for such dog lovers to do, so why have they done so?
Rescuing a dog is a very difficult process.
**Disclaimer: what follows are my own opinions, and I have never been part of a dog rescue group. Any errors are my own, and not the responsibility of the NVSDR or SHCV Rescue people who've shared their experiences with me.**
Step 1: Locate the dogs. Build up an online profile so people can surrender their dogs to you. Try to connect with local pounds and other rescue groups and build a relationship that ensures people will tell you when a dog you might be interested in comes in. Spend hours hunting through Facebook Groups and Craigslist.
Step 2: Put up with the stupid excuses people give for surrendering dogs. Harden your heart to the horrible condition of the abused animals. View the dog, often in terrible pound conditions. Try to assess the animals objectively, to ensure that you don't take animals whose chance of rehoming is too small. Where appropriate, take the dog into care.
Step 3: Deal with the dog's immediate needs - food? bath? vet care? Many dogs will be filthy and terrified. Some will have injuries and health issues from neglect. Some will be pregnant or have new puppies. Almost all will need to be desexed, wormed and microchipped.
Step 4: Figure out how to pay the vet bills, food bills, buy pet beds, collars, tags, harnesses and leashes, worming and flea treatments.
Step 5: Unless you want to set up your own pound in your own backyard, find appropriate foster families to take the dogs while it waits to get adopted. Foster families must be breed experienced, have appropriate yards and fences, have appropriate family and pet situations, and skills to cope with the dog. Dogs which have been abused or even just neglected in a pound for a long period may need to be resocialised to trust humans, house and/or crate trained, socialised with other dogs, cats or small children, and trained in basic manners.
Step 6: Transport the dog to the foster family.
Step 7: Advertise for adopters. Collect applications and try to screen them for people who may want dogs for inappropriate reasons or who may not cope with the animal or the breed. Try to match the dog's needs to the people - will they be able to take two littermates who've never been separated? Will this dog bond with the other pets in the household? Does the dog have the coping skills to deal with the family's small children/teenagers/work routines? This stage may take many months.
Step 8: Transport dog to the adopting family, appropriate trial period, then transfer ownership and microchip paperwork to the new name. Provide support for the new owners to ensure that the dog isn't returned at the first hiccup or issue.
Step 9: Repeat. Over and over again.
It is no wonder that many people can't maintain the enormous emotional and financial workload of operating a rescue for a long period of time. Or that most rescues rely on a large base of volunteers or committee members to spread the workload around. The process will rarely be smooth, with difficult bureaucrats and rangers at local pounds, dogs getting sick, pregnant or lost while being fostered, and neighbours complaining about too many dogs on the property being just the most recent problems I've heard rescue groups talk about. The stress will inevitably lead to disagreements amongst those people and the worst of those disagreements will be friendship destroying feuds. Even within close relationships, the time spent online dealing with the myriad of details required takes time away from family. The stress of constantly bringing home new dogs and their behavioural issues can break a marriage or hurt a child who wants their parents' attention on themselves.
I have so much respect for the NVSDR folks and the work that they've done over the last few years. They have saved so many dogs, providing them with happy, healthy homes and great quality of life. They have contributed hugely to their local communities by rescuing dogs from pounds, as well as contributing to the other dog clubs and committees, such as those devoted to dog friendly parks. They have more than earned a break from the stresses of rescue - I am sure that they will continue to contribute in various ways in the future, but for now, I hope they can spend important time with their families.
There are still some dogs with NVSDR folks, waiting for their furever homes. Please send a private message through the FB page if you think one of these dogs will suit your lifestyle.