Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dog rescue groups: the good and the bad

Today's post throws me off my blogging schedule (yes, I can tell you at least a week in advance what I plan to write about) but I feel it's necessary and an important story from my recent history. I got a voicemail today that reminded me that I've never written about dog adoption, or, more specifically, two rescue groups I'd recommend and one I'd recommend you avoid.

So, here are the key details for today's post, and if you'd like to read more, continue below the lists:

Two dog rescue groups with which we had excellent experiences:
1) A Forever Home -- this is where we adopted Maxwell on June 5, 2007. He was exactly four months old and the last of his litter to get adopted. We went in wanting to adopt an eight-week-old puppy, but Maxwell's enthusiastic nature (ahem, understatement) and brown paws won us over.

A Forever Home wins the award for most thorough background checks. They spent a lot of time interviewing us, and they even conducted a home visit the week leading up to our adoption. They also followed up with us post-adoption, too. Grade: A+!

Matt's first meeting with Maxwell at A Forever Home adoption event

2) Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation -- this is where we adopted Doc on May 4, 2009 (yes, yesterday marked one full year we've spent with Doc, and we designated it his "birthday"). As we were walking up to the PetSmart where the adoption event was taking place, Matt went inside the store to use the restroom, and I had reminded him, "Don't fall in love with the first dog you meet!" Then, literally 10 seconds later, I met Doc and totally fell for him. Granted, we'd spent many months prior to this meeting other dogs that didn't work out, so it's not like adopting Doc took no effort.

Lost Dog was not as awesome as A Forever Home, mostly because they seemed more in a rush to get their dogs out the door. We met Doc and adopted him on the same day, whereas with A Forever Home there was a required waiting period, which is probably a good thing so potential adoptive families can really think it over. All in all, though, we dealt with honest and helpful people, and we got the type of dog we were looking for. Grade: B+!

Doc's first night at home

One rescue group I would not recommend:
K-9 Lifesavers -- this is where we adopted Shelby on August 31, 2008. Oh wait, you say you have never heard of our dog Shelby? That's because she was hardly our dog. We had her for 36 hours. And this is why I recommend avoiding this rescue organization. Grade: F.

Shelby's first night (of two total) spent in our house

Why am I writing about this today?

Because today I got this voicemail, "Hello, this is [so-and-so] from [so-and-so]. We're calling about Shelby...[my heart skips a beat -- did someone find her???]....we're wondering if she's still lost so we can update our records."

Thank you for the call. Yes, Shelby is still lost, very much so.

Shelby is this shy, most likely abused dog who was about a year old when we adopted her. She weighed about 45 pounds and had beautifully colored fur.

Here's what happened: on the first day of the school year last year, Matt and I took Shelby and Maxwell on a big walk. It was also a big success...she finally went to the bathroom outside. Victory! Then, an hour later, we needed to go to the grocery store, so we open our front door, and out she runs, never to return again.

The following ensues:
  • Matt runs after her
  • I run after Matt
  • I get Maxwell on his leash and run around, hoping she'll approach another dog
  • I get Maxwell in the car with me and drive around
  • I then realize this is not working, so I go home while Matt is still running around and call the K-9 Lifesavers people from whom we adopted this dog. When I try to say [between sobs], "She ran away," they say, "Again???" Turns out the dog had a history of running away, a history that was not revealed to us during the adoption process, and a key detail that, had it been mentioned, could have saved us some heartache. Rather than using our front door to exit the house, we could have simply gone through our garage, checked that the garage was clear before opening the garage door to the outside.
  • We print about 500 posters and put them in plastic sleeves. I think about the negative environmental impact this will likely have, but proceed anyway because I am determined to find this dog.
  • We make a Craigslist ad every day (yes, I realize Craigslist doesn't like that, but we did it anyway).
  • We call, email and visit every animal shelter within about 100 miles. Everyone has our number and our poster. Everyone is on the lookout. We contact them multiple times each. We visit their websites multiple times a day for the latest dog updates.
  • We spend about 2-3 hours every day walking and driving anywhere this dog could have possibly run. We do this for a solid three months until it's too dark and too cold and hope is virtually lost.
  • We field lots of calls from well-meaning dog lovers who want to help and think they have a lead. None materialize, though we go to the site of every single potential sighting and comb the area.
  • Neighborhood children ask how they can help find our dog. Everyone knows about this dog that hardly anyone even had the chance to meet.
  • The rescue organization hires a dog tracker. It winds up being unsuccessful after a three-hour and six-mile jaunt through the woods. The organization says it will pay the bill when it decides to hire the dog tracker. Then when it's time to pay the [incredibly expensive] bill, they try to get us to pay it. We decline. [Side note: that dog tracker charges so much money that it better be able to do more than just track should be my accountant/lawyer/doctor/maid/travel agent.]
  • In mid-October I get a call from a woman who saw my number on a flier, asked me if I had put up more than one flier (yes, thank you), asked if I had contacted local animal shelters (yes, thank you), and asked if I had looked on lost animal websites (yes, thank you). Then she literally yelled at me, saying that I was not doing enough to find this animal and that there's probably some sicko out there conducting tests on Shelby in some basement lab while I sit on my butt. I can't believe the bizarro universe I'm currently living in.

No, we never got Shelby back. Am I upset at the rescue organization that Shelby ran away? No. I am upset that they possessed crucial information that they failed to reveal. I am also upset with how they displayed some dishonest practices during this process, such as agreeing to pay for a service they hired and then trying to get us to pay their bill.

From this experience, we learned the importance of researching not only the dogs you plan to adopt, but also the rescue organizations from which you to plan to adopt. We took a risk on a new rescue group, and it caused us a sad number of months.

To end on a happy note, though, we are thrilled that we have Doc in our lives, a dog we would never have met if Shelby had not run away on that fateful day. Yesterday Max and Doc celebrated Doc's year with our family with a seasonally appropriate snowman cookie.


  1. Aw, I love the pictures of baby Maxwell and Matt's first kiss. If only we knew then extent of his kisses! Also the picture at the end, what a goof, he has no shame!

    I'm happy that Doc has been so perfect for you guys too. It is amazing what fortune comes from heartache and loss.

  2. Great story and important warning. Rescue groups vary wildly in their experience and professionalism, as well as their motives. Some want to just "save dogs," regardless of the human fallout and some are truly interested in the human/animal relationship. As a sidenote, you were lucky you "qualified" for Doc. Some of these groups are so fanatical about their requirements that if you have ever had a dog run away, be hit by a car, or turned one in to a shelter (even for aggression), you are immediately on the DNA (Do Not Adopt) list, which they proceed to circulate to as many other rescuers as possible. Rescue draws the best of people and the worst, and it's unfortunate that most people do not check them out before getting involved. It can be a very painful experience. You ran into one of the whack-jobs with the anonymous phone caller. She is, unfortunately, one of a large, self-stroking group that does nothing to promote rescue as a source of pets. But I'm on a tangent. I meant to say; This is the first time I have visited your blog and I love it! Thanks!