Sunday’s at the Rescue : The Beat Goes On

So fellow travelers, one small downside to the extended trips we take to the Left Coast each summer is I miss all the action for a couple of weeks at the local dog rescue where I volunteer.


‘Cuse me, are my people here yet?

Going into my sixth year of volunteering (I started seven years ago back in November 2010, but took a year off to attend to important family responsibilities) it does not take long to get back into the swing of things no matter how long I am gone. So bright and early this Saturday, I headed off to help welcome sixty new furry arrivals seeking homes. When I pulled into the parking lot just after 7:30am the big truck was already in position, ramp down ready for the our transport team to get the dogs out and settled in.

adoptersline.jpgThanks to the dedication of a hardworking staff and a solid core of trained volunteers, Helping Hounds Dog Rescue has become a well organized operation. Transport shifts are hectic. Cooperation and flexibility are essential. There’s a lot to get done before doors open to the crowd of potential adopters who line up well before Noon.

Adopters waiting for doors to open.

Before the transport dogs are brought in, all the dogs currently on site have to be fed and walked, crates cleaned, water replenished and laundry started.  Thanks to the “Morning Marauders” weekend team this happens with good humored, coffee and donut fueled efficiency so by the time the Transport Team shifts into gear the new dogs will have the full attention of everyone on hand.

By the time the dogs arrive here, they’ve been through a lot. Whatever the circumstances (strays, puppy mill raids or owner surrenders) which find them in held in high kill shelters, its a terrifying experience for any animal. The lucky ones are “pulled” by rescue organizations in Texas and Alabama, given vet care including spay/neuter and sent to foster homes to wait for an available opening on the transports headed to other states.  When a slot opens up, the dogs are loaded onto the transports often traveling several days (yes they are fed and walked and cared for along the way) to reach their new home state. So by the time we meet them coming off the truck, they are understandably a bit stressed and disoriented.


Some of them bound down the ramp, thrilled to explore this funny smelling new place. Others have to be coaxed or carried to the stations where they have their arrival photos taken and are fitted for collars with official HHDR tags. It’s not uncommon for us to end the shift a bit damp but we all agree it’s worth wearing a little eau de pee in exchange for a gentle lick on your ear as you comfort a trembling little chi-mix or shy puppy. A good breakfast, a few walks and extra buddy time for any dog in need of comfort does wonders to soothe nerves and settle fears.  Most are ready to meet potential adopters by the time the doors open and people start streaming in.


Pups resting before the doors open to the public

At that point I usually switch roles to answering the phones, freeing up the staff to focus on processing adoptions. Other volunteers act as tour guides showing people around and answering questions, bringing dogs out to meet interested adopters or at any moment assisting when a call goes out for a “crate cleanup in the puppy room.” Staff approved volunteer team members assist with “meet and greets” a required process of introducing a family’s established dog(s) to the dog they are considering for adoption. Transport Saturdays are crazy busy, people can wait over an hour to finalize their paperwork and go home with their new companions. A few grumble, but I’ve never heard anyone say it wasn’t worth the wait once they’re walking out the door with their new companion.




One nice benefit of working the phones is I get to see a lot of the dogs go home. I always have several favorites in each new pack, dogs who touch my heart for one reason or another.  My heart fills with joy as I pull their “Going Home” bags made by their foster families, then watch their new families eagerly pick extra toys or treats from our donation shelves, tucking them in with the things sent up from the families who so graciously gave them a place to rest and then let them go to make room for the next foster. To give love and let it go takes some resilience, I know, I’ve been on that side of the rescue process. Its the ability to focus on keeping space open for the next dog which makes sending them on their way ever so slightly easier. There’s no shortage of dogs needing homes so fosters know there’s will soon be a new furry guest to love.

One new addition to our transports are the Kelly Dogs, whose transports have been sponsored by a fund started in memory of Kelly Wilson, an avid HHDR volunteer who died in a tragic accident. Kelly’s enthusiasm on transport days even on the coldest, wettest of days was contagious. She and her new husband had just adopted a puppy from Texas just before she died; her family and friends wanted to help make more adoptions like that possible. Many people don’t realize there are substantial costs involved in pulling dogs out of high kill shelters and getting them to areas where the demand for adoptions is higher than the supply of available dogs (*see notation below.)

Kelly’s fund makes sure her love for these dogs lives on.

Kelly Dogs : DaVinci, Wynken, Marco, Blynken & Frida getting ready for their official photo

By the time my shift is done I’ve fully embraced the expression “dog tired” yet as tired as I am, when I leave at the end of a shift to head home and walk our own rescue girl (herself an HHDR alumni) I leave knowing I have done something to make a difference. That’s a feeling which refuels my spirit and I am grateful for the opportunity to  live it.

Walk gently on the path my friends and remember kindness matters.

*HHFB_IMG_1471630236490DR works with several rescue groups in Texas and Alabama to bring dogs up here where very eager families are seeking to adopt. The process is not without concerns. There is always the question of how this impacts local dogs in need of homes. I addressed this aspect in a post from a few years back.  The issue of finding a solution to the over population of certain breeds in local shelters is not a problem any community can adopt its way out of.  Education of the general public and cohesive communication between rescue organizations is essential. Our area is fortunate to have groups working towards a brighter future for breeds, I for one am blessed to have in our own family. Photo : Zeus and Coffee, our daughter and son-in-law’s rescue pitbulls. 

Editorial Note: Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs.  It is named for Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home. If you like this piece, you can search the blog for other posts with that title.

Sunday’s at the Rescue: Scarlet

So fellow travelers, I was at the rescue one afternoon a few weeks ago when it happened again.

That magical experience of watching a “gotcha” moment unfold.

With several new dogs transferred in from local shelters and the St Patrick’s Parade committee putting the final touches on the float for Saturday’s Parade, Friday afternoon was busy, even though this is not a transport weekend. I went to help with the afternoon feeding walks and chores. While I was there, several dogs went home with their new families, including adorable little pittie Jackson


Jackson is a local pup who came to HHDR  through our transfer program with the city’s shelter. He was found tied up in a garage with his harness embedded in his skin. *sigh*  human beings can be idiots. Jackson is a spunky fellow, fully recovered, just as sweet and loving as can be. I am not surprised he was adopted so quickly.

Jackson is the kind of dog who reminds me to focus on compassion, so willing to forgive and trust us humans again inspite of the cruelty they’ve endured. You cannot be involved in any kind of rescue work for long without a strong set of coping skills or you burn out faster than a match in a snowstorm. This holds true for “rescue” work with humans too as I’ve learned from my job at the local high school. Anger is a draining emotion to hold and it does nothing to stop the cycle of abuse. It’s a challenge to feel compassion for abusers and I admit most of the time the best I can do is a benign shroud of sadness for those who are in so much pain they are driven to inflict it on others. When I hold a trembling, terrified dog I often think if someone, maybe just one person had done the same for an abuser it would have made a difference.

Pretty little Scarlet was one of those frightened souls.  She arrived two weeks ago on a transport from Alabama and she took a while to stop shaking and come out of her shell. Her profile said she had been “found one day at a shelter,” which likely means she had simply been abandoned. Her foster family said she was very shy yet responded to calm quiet interaction. The experience of the long transport trip can set a shy dog back a bit too, so it takes a special adopter to see the potential in these dogs.

Scarlet’s special people came in yesterday afternoon, a soft spoken young couple looking for a quiet dog they could have in their apartment.  The young woman spoke earnestly with me while her husband was finalizing their application at the front desk. She explained, almost apologetically that they had to be careful of the breed mix not from personal preference but because their landlord had a list of prohibited breeds (*sigh again*  BSL : Breed Specific Legislation and its ignorant offspring of breed specific policies is flawed and misguided concept. However, that’s a topic for another post.)

 “We would take a pit mix if we could. We know so many of them need homes,” she told me. I assured her we understood and that was why the staff always speaks with landlords before giving a green light to an application.

As we talked, one of the volunteers walked by with Scarlet in her arms.  The young woman had seen Scarlet in her crate, but said she was curled up on her bed in the back and didn’t come towards the door.  Now, held gently in the arms of a volunteer she knew, Scarlet didn’t cringe when this young woman spoke to her.  In fact, I noticed her adorable ears perked right up.  I held my breath when, after asking for permission the young woman slowly and gradually reached over to gently touch Scarlet.

Scarlet did not shake or turn away. The woman’s husband joined us to happily inform his wife their application had been processed and they could start the process of selecting a dog.

“Oh, honey this is Scarlet.” she told him.  There was no mistaking the longing and love in her voice. She had not stopped gently petting the little dog, still resting in the arms of our volunteer. “She’s very shy but she’s so sweet!”

He leaned in ever so slightly, without reaching for her and spoke calmly “Hello, Scarlet.” Again, our shy girl did not flinch.  In fact she turned her head towards the young man and looked right at him, so he extended his hand, let her sniff.  My heart skipped a beat.

I asked if they would like to take her outside for a little walk. Usually prospective adopters take the dogs outside with some help from a volunteer to get to know the dogs a bit better.

“Wont she be too cold outside?”

It was as if the young woman instinctively knew Scarlet was not a fan of the vast cold outdoors. “Can we hold her for a bit?”  I held my breath again as the volunteer gently bundled our shy girl into the young man’s arms.

Scarlet sighed and settled right in. For a few minutes time stood still, the noise of dogs coming and going faded, the clatter of bowls being washed sounded like chimes marking the moment, that moment when three souls wound themselves together into one family.


Scarlet’s arrival photo on transport day.  Happy life sweet girl.


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editorial Note: Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs.  It is named for Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home. If you like this piece, you can search the blog for other posts with that title.

Sunday’s at the Rescue : Transport Day

So fellow travelers, the past two weekends have featured Transport Days at the local dog rescue where I volunteer.

The calm before the (well-0rganized) chaos 

Whenever I write about transports I know there will be questions regarding this aspect of the operations at Helping Hounds and I always welcome the chance to help people understand the whys and hows of rescue work. Most of those are covered in this previous post.

I’ve served in many roles during the years I have been a volunteer. Joining the Transport Team allows me to serve in a way that fits into my life right now. Knowing the transport dates helps me block out dates in advance so my schedule for that weekend can accommodate any last minutes changes which may (and often do) occur.  Since I drive a 35 mile round trip to get to the rescue, it’s more effective for me to put in longer hours several times a month rather than shorter shifts once or twice a week. Transport weekends are intensely busy, extra help is always needed to keep things running well.

Transports are timed to arrive during hours when the rescue is not open to the public. This gives us a chance to get the new dogs welcomed and somewhat settled in before the long line of potential adopters begins to stream through the front doors.



Each dog is greeted by a volunteer as they come off the transport trailer.



Some dogs are eager to check out their new surroundings

I think I smell that place they call “home!”



others are more cautious,


Ziggy leaning into Alan for a little extra assurance

That’s an understandable reaction given what most of them have been through just to get here. Calm, crazy or cautious, every dog gets reassuring attention from the minute they arrive.


Each dog receives a martingale collar with a Helping Hounds tag and after a quick relief walk, they head inside for a meal


Yum these folks sure know how to feed us pups!


Then it’s another round or two of walks (the stress of travel can upset some tummies, so frequent potty breaks are part of the arrival routine.) Some of the volunteer team walk dogs, others stay inside to clean crates, change bedding and refresh water buckets. Dogs who need a little freshening up are given quick baths. One of my favorite tasks is sitting with a trembling pup, wrapped in a towel and waiting for that moment when they relax enough to give a first little kiss.

When the doors open to the public at noon prospective adopters are greeted by guides who walk them through the rooms, answering questions and helping them interact with dogs they may be interested in. Watching the heart connections form between the dogs and their adopters is a truly magical experience.  I never tire of seeing the “gotcha” moment click into place.


This is a photo from 2014 and while its not a great shot it is my favorite photo I have ever taken at the rescue.  I watched this young couple fall in love with Kimbo a local “pit mix,” as they waited for a different dog to arrive on a transport which had been delayed. Lucky Kimbo did indeed go home with them that day and the dog they had originally selected from the transport list went home with another family.  Two perfect matches.

For some dogs, that moment takes a little longer


My buddy Buddy, who has been waiting as patiently as a young fellow can for a family of his own. He’s one of the local transfers brought over from the city shelter, part of the rescue’s efforts to help reduce the over population of bully breed (aka “pit bull”) mixes in our local shelters.

and when it happens it is that much sweeter, because while they wait we all fall a little more in love with those dogs every day. The day their adoption photos post on the rescue’s page there is a steady stream of “happy tears” comments.


Our amazing photographer Carolin posts an album of the dogs arriving.  The photos soon have a string of comments from their original fosters and rescue sponsors who anxiously follow their journey North to find permanent homes. What selfless and compassionate people they are to take in these dogs for a few weeks as they recover from their spay/neuter surgeries. The personality profiles the fosters send are tremendously helpful in creating a better understanding of each dog’s temperment, because the dog’s behavior in the rescue kennels vs a foster home is often quite different. Many of the families also pack up “going home” bags with favorite toys, treats, blankets and letters which bring tears to everyone’s eyes when the new parents share them with us.


In the days following transports, we all check the daily posts to see who went home. Occasionally a first placement does not work out quite right. It happens less often now because the staff works so hard to make the right match for both adopters and dogs. Besides even dogs that come back don’t stay long.

So many dogs, so many stories each one a life saved.

Actually two lives saved, because each successful adoption makes room for other dogs in need, a kind of domino effect of openings down the line: an open kennel at our rescue, a spare bed in a foster home and one more sweet soul pulled from a kill shelter in time.

Like I said, so many dogs, so many stories. It would easily become overwhelming so I make a conscious choice to focus on the hope of the work we do. I am but one human doing what I can do and hope is what keeps me going.

Photo courtesy of Carolin Booth Murphy

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editorial Note:  Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs.  It is named for Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home.



Sunday’s at the Rescue: the Kiss

So fellow travelers, I spent some quality time with my rescue friends, both the 2 and 4 legged variety, yesterday.


Our volunteer photo ninja, Caroline Booth Murphy has an eye for capturing the heart and soul of the dogs, as well as the great team of humans who work with them.

This haiku came from a comment she shared with me about a special moment, one I myself have been blessed to experience.

Quick lick simple kiss
Shy soul reaching out past fear
Cherished gift of trust

Although Caroline’s moment came with a different pup, this shot she took of a staff member and a newly arrived rescue dog captures it perfectly

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editorial Note: Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs. It is named for Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home.

Sunday’s at the Rescue: the revolving door

So fellow travelers,  it has been an unusually long stretch for me to be away from my volunteer dog walking.


Freckles asking me “Hey Crazy Dog Lady where have ya been?”


Changes in schedules as well as being down to just one vehicle for the foreseeable future has been challenging. The round trip drive adds almost an hour to the time I am there but I have always felt it is well worth the extra time and gas. When I am away,  I miss my time at the rescue, as much for the human friends I have made as for the wiggling butts and appreciative kisses from the dogs.

It worked out I could drop my daughter off at work and head across town for several hours this afternoon. I knew help would be needed.  A large transport came in on Friday (read about the transport program here) and being a holiday weekend, many volunteers have other plans. In addition, many of the staff and regulars will be walking with some of the dogs in a Memorial Day parade on Monday. Lots of potential adopters come in on transport weekends so in addition to walking dogs, volunteers are needed to show people around and help them visit with dogs they are interested in.


Pretty Ms Julie: her stunning green eyes and sweet nature nabbed her a family less than an hour after we walked.


In the past weeks I have been reflecting a lot on the “revolving door” issue of rescue work.

Volunteers start out bright eyed and full of hope fueled by ambitious energy. They burn out quickly without a healthy balance of practical perspective and compassion. Without compassion for abusers and irresponsible breeders or owners, rescue workers become overwhelmed by anger and frustration.  It’s an essential lesson I learned by personal experience so I know now to step back when I feel a need to regain perspective.

There is a never ending flow of animals, a flow which will not be reduced no matter how many are re-homed by rescues like Helping Hound Dog Rescue until the causal issues of abuse, over-breeding and irresponsible ownership are addressed. I don’t have answers but I know of several organizations which are working hard to find solutions. Their efforts fuel my hope and I am grateful to support them as best I can.

In the meantime I was happy to get back to doing the rounds with the latest residents at HHDR. I walked a dozen dogs, showed several visitors around and washed a stack of food bowls. Then just before heading home I gave myself the luxury of taking out my current favorite resident, an enthusiastic German Shepard mix whose resemblance to previous dogs of ours struck me the minute me met.



Ricky has a habit of greeting visitors with a vertical leap that brings his nose just to the top of his six foot pen. It’s a display of energy which guarantees it will take a bit longer for him to find a new family. He is however wicked smart and quite eager to please, so I have no problem getting him to sit while I clip on a leash and open the door to his pen. It might take a few tries, but he is quick to understand “out” isn’t going to happen if he’s jumping. He is developing good leash manners and responds quickly to correction (damn those distracting squirrels).  Oh and his joy of bagging a stick knows no bounds.


“I got one!”

After burning off some energy, he’s quite happy to sit with me and watch the coming and goings around us. I admit having him rest his head on my shoulder as I sat on the curb next to him brought back some very sweet memories of our succession of German Shepard mixes, Tomo, Shadow and Sox.  While our girl Delilah packs a big personality into her little twenty pound body, I do miss having a big dog at home. I usually fill that void with foster dogs but our travel itinerary puts fostering on hold until after summer.  So I count on the ever changing line-up of walking buddies at the rescue to fill that need for now. Of course I am always glad to see them celebrate their “gotcha” day no matter if a heart string or two “twangs” when they go.  I know there will be new buddies to love every time I walk through those doors.


Cyber gives Floyd a back rub while hanging out on the “cuddle couch.”

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editorial Note:  Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs.  It is named for Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home.


Sunday’s at the Rescue: The Hometown Pack

So fellow travelers, time to pay a visit to the rescue.



I am often asked why the dog rescue where I volunteer brings dogs in on transport when “so many local dogs” need homes. It took a few years for Helping Hounds to establish strong, working relationships with local shelters and other rescues.  The rescue community can at times become polarized. It takes unique leadership to create a functional network; tentative outreach is easily fractured by misunderstanding. Like any young organization, a new rescue will stumble if it tries to run before learning to walk. HHDR had it’s share of setbacks in the early years. The turning point came a little over two years ago, when new leadership and an experienced director took full charge of operations. Once they established functional systems for intake, health care, adoption applications and basic training needs for both volunteers and dogs the staff knew they had the foundation to create a stable outreach program. When space was available they began to regularly take in dogs from local shelters willing to network with them.

HHDR placed over 1,200 dogs into new homes in 2014, an impressive number for a small, independent, donation driven, volunteer fueled rescue. While a growing number of local dogs are in that number, transport dogs make up the majority of adoptions.  Every dog pulled from high kill shelters and transported to our area saves two lives.  The dogs brought to HHDR immediately make room for other dogs in a shelter somewhere else.

Dogs selected for transport are breeds in high demand ie: small to medium size dogs or popular breeds of larger dogs like labs and retrievers.  Those are the types of dogs first chosen to be adopted out of local shelters.  HHDR rarely transports in adult “bully breed” dogs, since they know there are plenty they can bring in from local shelters.

When the network pulls together, which I am proud to say happens with increasing frequency, it makes an impact. Listen to this statement from Helping Hounds Director Kathy Gilmour:

“We know the hard work being done by those on the front lines of animal rescue and they have our respect and support. We know the heartbreak of saving a life from abuse and neglect, taking a dog off the streets and saving him from starvation and the risks of injury or death only to have to hold them and tell them you are sorry your best wasn’t good enough, no one came for you but we need the kennel for the next one we just saved.

Our partnerships offer an alternative. Transferring them leaves that empty kennel standing ready and we could not be more proud to work side by side with our partners and take just a little bit of the burden off their shoulders and bring a little bit of hope to those who can’t find their way out of the system fast enough.”

It accompanies this post on HHDR’s Facebook page:



These are the faces of the latest local intakes from the hometown network connection.  Nine local dogs who came to HHDR  from the facility which takes dogs brought in by city dog control.  Eight of them clearly appear to be what are known as “bully” breeds and regardless of whether they are in fact “pit bull” mixes ( “Pit bull” is not an actual breed, it is a term which refers to several terrier breeds including American, Staffordshire and Bull Terriers) the misconceptions about their breeds will weigh against them in the adoption market.

 “Oh we’re not picky about the kind of dog as long as its not a pit bull,” is one of the most common things potential adopters will say to staff and volunteers. I am tempted to tell them about the many “pitties” we have in our family, but I have learned my words are unlikely to breech their mindset. People can meet the sweetest dog, gentle with their children, playful with other dogs and still ask repeatedly if the staff is “sure this dog is not a pit mix.”  Folks, when it comes to rescue dogs, there is nothing “sure” about breed, no matter what appearances indicate.  You want certainty please find yourselves a reputable breeder.  What we do know for sure is the dogs we have on hand are going to make wonderful companions and deserve to be loved as they are.


Andre, a local sweetheart, who has already found a great new home.

The average time for most dogs as an HHDR resident is less than two weeks.  Notice I said most.  Certain dogs will take longer to find their new families. This is because the staff works on a “best match”  rather than “first pick” model.  Young puppies will not be adopted out to a home where no one is home all day long,  large high energy dogs or nervous small dogs will not go to homes with small children. The staff is particularly careful when adopting out special needs dogs like April pictured in the top right corner of the poster above.

April was found with a collar so deeply embedded it had to be surgically removed. Although the wound around her neck has healed, she can never wear a collar of any kind again.  I’ve had the pleasure of walking April in her jazzy red harness.  She’s a happy, playful girl; you’d never know she was so severely mistreated.

Pearl, the beautiful blue-grey girl in the middle on the left was found living outside, with an untreated eye condition and a misshapen leg which had clearly been broken and left to heal on its own. She has also obviously been very heavily bred. Pearl is not as outgoing as April, but she has responded well to the tender care and kindness of staff and volunteers. While still cautious, she gratefully accepts gentle attention. I sat in her pen the other night as she quietly licked a little peanut butter off my fingers.  Slowly, I moved my other hand to gently rub her head and back.  Eventually she leaned into me, sighing as she let her head rest on my leg. Moments like that are worth ten times the hours I give as a volunteer.

April and Pearl are lucky dogs who have been given a chance at a new life; most city shelters euthanize dogs found in such poor condition, regardless of their temperament.  Those facilities simply do not have access to the resources needed to save those lives.  The transport dogs are lucky too as most of them make it onto the truck just days before their time was up.  Helping Hounds is proud to be a way home for every one of them and I am blessed to have the chance to be a friend along the way.

pearl and friend edit

Local girl Sweet Pearl meeting a new transport friend. Update Sunday May 3rd  Pearl has found herself a big loving family who promise she will be cherished for the rest of her days.

Walk softly on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editorial Note:  Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs.  It is named for Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home.

Sunday’s at the Rescue: Bama

So fellow travelers, Janet Rath, the amazing vet tech at the rescue where I volunteer posted this great shot of Bama, a stunning long legged beauty whom so many of us love to walk and play with.



Bama is a wonderful dog  with two strikes against her.

She’s black

and she’s big.

Imagine the backlash I would create if I said a child was less adoptable because she was black? or big?

In his talk at a fund raiser for the Nor’Wester Readers Canine Assisted Learning Program this past Sunday, author Jon Katz raised some important issues about dog rescue. I’ve been pondering the thoughts his points raised for me for a few days. Something about this shot of beautiful Bama pulled things together.

In a nutshell Bama is a classic example of why I keep giving my time and energy to dog rescue.

She is homeless through no fault of her own.  It is a common myth that dogs end up in shelters because they have behavioral issues. As any professional dog trainer knows a dog’s behavioral issues generally reflect either poor or a lack of training. As Jon was told by a trainer he worked with: “If you want a better dog you have to be a better human.”  It is also a fact that behavioral issues are way down on the list of reasons dogs end up in shelters.

She’s smart and has responded well to training. Even the best behaved dog will need extra support when they come into the shelter system because kennel life is stressful. This is especially true for dogs who find themselves in a shelter after living in a home because they have been “surrendered.”

She’s affectionate.  It’s another common myth that shelter dogs are a bigger bite risk than dogs acquired from breeders.  Yes, knowledgeable, responsible professional breeders can and do breed for temperament, whether that is the kid friendly affability of a lab or the razor sharp focus of a working border collie.  Still, even well bred dogs can, will and do bite if scared, attacked or seriously hurt. Being an independent non-profit operation, our rescue has the advantage of being able to choose which dogs are brought into our kennels.  This is why Helping Hounds is considered a rescue not a shelter.

She is appreciative of every minute of time and attention she is given.  Unlike many of the humans I deal with on a daily basis,  (individuals whom I am being paid good taxpayer dollars to assist) the dogs at the rescue are always happy to see me.  Even the ones who come in so scared they need to be enticed out of their crates at first are soon wagging their tails and willing to walk or at least snuggle on the couch within a few days.  These dogs take in everything I have to offer, every single time I show up.

She is safe now. If Helping Hounds had not opted to take Bama granting her a slot on the North bound transport last month, she would no longer be walking this earth with those long graceful legs.  Her boundless spirit and energy would have been extinguished simply because her “time was up.”  That “time” can be a brief as a week or as long as a month and when that time comes, the dog is killed regardless of temperament, health or age.

Which is why adopting a shelter dog is often referred to as “rescue,”  to address one observation Jon made in his talk. It is I think worth noting the families who send in updates almost always refer to their dogs as “adopted,”  after all the contract says “adoption.”  The current trend of using the term rescue/rescue dog draws attention to the larger social issue of the high kill rate at too many shelters. It’s an issue the word “adoption” demurely sidestepped for decades because no one wanted to admit the high number of animals being killed at shelters.  (The entire “no-kill” concept is a topic requiring it’s own post)

Let me be clear. I am not one of those who believe everyone who wants a dog has a morale obligation to adopt a rescue dog. That’s a point where some of my rescue friends and I part ways and I am fine with that point of departure. I agree with Jon’s thoughtful process of considering all the aspects of how an animal fits into one’s life. There is a valid calling for knowledgeable, responsible professional breeders, none of whom would ever sell their dogs to petstores or to people sight unseen over the internet or through craigslist.

If the rescue community is going to achieve their goals of making a difference in the long term, we do need to address the larger social issues such as spay/neuter, breeder licensing, breed discrimination and the criminal element of systemic abuse. Most rescues, like the operation I am part of have their hands full just trying to find good homes for the many sweet souls who come through their doors.

Souls like sweet sweet Bama.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editorial Note:  Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs.  It is named for  Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home.

As for Miss Bama, we are happy to update our post with the news she was adopted April 3rd  by a wonderful family who are looking forward to running and playing with her for years to come.




Sunday’s at the Rescue: an Angel gets her wings.

So fellow travelers, yesterday was one of those days when the stars aligned to make an impossible schedule suddenly possible. A slight change in the crew schedule for this week’s Drumline competition allowed me to head out to the rescue first thing in the morning to honor the memory of a rescue angel who gained her wings this week.

I met Laura Paradine in November 2010, when my daughter and I attended a volunteer orientation.  Her love for the dogs at the rescue radiated from every inch of her welcoming smile.  In the most difficult periods of chaos that came with the various stages of the rescue’s growth she was often the one person who could give me the words of encouragement I needed to keep going.

lauraP with des

From my years of rescue experience I have learned when faced with the worst cases of suffering, asking “Why?” is often a futile waste of valuable energy.  I have learned instead to ask “How?” and look for the ways I can make a difference. If I  cannot help directly with one situation, I find similar ways to help.  “We do what we can and when we can we do more,” Laura used to say to me.  I wrote those words on the inside of my training binder; they kept me going as we struggled to find ways to organize some kind of volunteer program.

When Laura was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) we were stunned, especially when the condition progressed with merciless speed.  She faced her fate with the same passionate faith and courage we saw so often at the rescue. Her friends rallied, making it possible for her to visit in her wheelchair and later when that was not an option, by bringing dogs to visit her at home. The staff began to notice that dogs who visited with her soon found their homes, even ones who had been waiting a bit longer than usual to be adopted. It happened every time so when she told her friends she felt she was surrounded by Angels, the staff at the rescue began to speak of “Laura’s  Adoption Angel miracles.”

I know I was not alone in spending some evenings in tearful prayer battling the anger that rises when life seems so heartless and unjust. Laura continued to face the inevitable with dignity and courage. When she died earlier this week, the rescue’s Facebook page featured a tribute to her written by our amazing director.  It opens with these moving words:

              “The best kind of people are those that believe in something so passionately they make you believe too. They make you see sunshine where only clouds had been and you become a better person for having known them.  They are the hardest to say good bye to, even when their passing means they are at peace and free from suffering.”

Yesterday the rescue received one of the largest transports to date.  Close to sixty dogs from wiggly little puppies to big shaggy adults were welcomed by eager volunteers as the rest of the morning crew walked the dogs already in house. After quick relief walks, the new dogs ate breakfast, received id collars and after a longer walk, snuggled into crates and pens with fresh bedding and a toy. When the morning shift wrapped up there were a total of eighty-three dogs in house waiting for their new families to come through the doors that would open at noon.

Our Angel Laura is gonna be busy.


My walking buddy Bruce, watching the transport arrivals.


Walk gently upon the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.




Sunday’s at the Rescue : Making Friends

So fellow travelers, I came across this wonderful painting called  Just The Two of Us by artist Joe Hawthorn. Dogs are frequent characters in his work and naturally, as a volunteer dog walker and rescue dog “mom” those always catch my eye.


Here is what Joe had to say  about Just The Two of Us:

“JUST THE TWO OF US…..As the song goes….”just the two of us against the world”…..There are times in life when we feel we are up against it, perhaps at times our fears are found-less, perhaps not. But it’s in these times we turn to our partners, our soul-mates for support and understanding, to walk through the harder times with.
In my contemporary painting here I have placed two dogs looking out on a scene that they are uncertain of, but as friends they face the future together. ” 

Coming off a few days riding the rough waters of doubt, his words struck a chord and the colorful image hit my retinas with a burst of energy which went straight to my heart, sparking a creative ember into a flame.

I clicked “like” and started typing a comment.  As it grew in length and detail, I realized I had more to say than a simple comment.  So I requested permission to use his artwork in this post and started writing.

Sunday’s at the Rescue is a blog series I have been mulling over since I resumed my regular volunteer shift at Helping Hounds Dog Rescue. “Sunday” is the name of  a young dog that came in around that time. No matter how long I am away from the dogs, I always find myself coming back. It requires careful balance of emotions to continue working in the rescue arena without burning out.  It’s easy to lose perspective, something I wrote about a while back.

One of the many joys I get to experience when volunteering  is watching the dogs who come in form “friendships.” For some it’s the first opportunity for socialization they have had in their young lives, especially the ones rescued from the streets. It also prepares them for becoming part of a family pack, as many of our adopters already have a dog or two at home, quite frequently an alum from HHDR.

When the dogs first arrive at the rescue, they are often scared and disoriented.  Whatever circumstances they are coming from, stray or surrender, local or transport from another area the rescue is an unfamiliar, sometimes chaotic place.  The day a transport comes in we might take in thirty to forty new dogs and have upwards of fifty total with current dogs on hand. There are a lot of hungry mouths to feed, a lot of paws to get walking and plenty of crates to clean, especially if there are several puppies in house. So as Joe says, in times like these it is good to have a friend.

Last month while working one of my usual evening shifts, I had to opportunity to snap some photos of the dogs hanging out in the playroom which doubles as a meet and greet area during adoption hours.  It was bitter cold and sleeting that evening, so outdoor walks were limited to quick trots around the parking lot to get their “business” done and head back inside. Many of the dogs in this group had arrived earlier that weekend.  It was uplifting to see the transformation some of them had made.

Linden Day One


Linden came off transport so scared one of the volunteers sat with him wrapped in a blanket for about an hour until he stopped shaking and settled in. It didn’t take long for him to open up and while still shy, he was always happy to play with his friends.


At first, the dogs don’t interact, some go straight to the door wanting to go back to the safety of their soft warm beds. Others go straight for the toys…..


But soon someone’s tail fires up “Hey there’s other pups in here!”  and there are some tentative greetings


“Say have we met?”

and then suddenly its full on pup party time, a blur of fur and fun.




After that it takes patience to get good shots like this one our vet tech Janet snapped of Bo and Billie  coming to the “self-serve” window looking for treats.



We volunteers fall in love regularly,  we all have our favorites, the ones we cherish walking and sitting on the cuddle couch with, soaking up a little “two of us” time. It’s a feeling outmatched only by the joy of being there the day that dog picks their new family whether it’s a single parent or a whole ready made “pack” with Mom, Dad and both two and four legged kids. Seeing them leap off the couch after the obligatory adoption photo and head out to a new life, tail wagging like crazy, yeah sure, your eyes sting a little from the pull on the heartstrings.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Special thanks to my rescue friends Janet Rath and Carolin Booth Murphy for the use of their photos.

Joe Hawthorn’s art work is posted with permission. He is a fellow member of the CGBF and his colorful, whimsical stories on canvas intrigue me. He also happens to have an affinity for Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach, 1970) and frequently incorporates the winged hero of my teens in his paintings.

Into the Breeze  by Joe Hawthorn













What a Difference a Year Makes- conclusion

So blessed readers the story of my journey as a rescue volunteer continues.  As previously noted, rescue work is a volatile and fractured topic to write about.  Proceed with caution.


No one looks back at the past with unclouded vision. While time often brings insight which helps us understand what has occurred, it also tempers our perception into selective memories.  If a dozen people recounted their story of  the rescue’s beginning years I know, with the exception of a few key details, the versions would vary a great deal.  One reason is at least for the first two years the operations were run with an opaque  style of communication.  At times, the staff and even the board members had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. It was not obvious at first, but became more evident as time went on.

This is a very common scenario when a new organization begins to outgrow it’s founders capacity to manage operations. Progressive directors reach out, delegate and create a support system which can adapt to meet the needs of the growing organization, a choice which requires trust and a willingness to relinquish control.  Easier said than done.  Frequently as organizations become more successful they reach a point where growth is so rapid it becomes overwhelming.  If those in charge cannot adapt to this growth and provide a clear sense of direction,  things spin out of control. Chaos ensues which in turn makes it even more difficult for directors to give up control. When people put their heart into creating something with a genuine desire to make a difference, meet a need and do so with their own resources, one cannot blame them for holding on. It takes faith to step back and let others in and some rescuers are better off keeping their operations small enough to manage individually. I have seen several individually operated rescues succeed because they are small self-contained systems.


I can see now, there were parallels in the scenarios at home and at the rescue.  While our family circumstances were not chaotic there most definitely were power struggles over control issues which impeded progress for a while.  In many ways the time I spent at the rescue was one way I could have a sense of accomplishment.  I would spend hours cleaning crates, chipping away at the mountain of nasty smelling laundry, hauling trash, scrubbing outdoor runs, washing food bowls and mopping floors. Then we’d walk dogs for hours in cold Lake Effect snow bursts, in pouring rain, in wilting humidity,  many evenings  with just a handful of walkers to walk well over forty or fifty dogs.  I would come home exhausted, throw filthy clothes into the laundry (my shelter shoes stayed quarantined in the garage) take an immediate detox shower and collapse in bed. Still, I went to sleep knowing I had made a difference if only for one day.


A key difference in the two situations was I sought outside help at home.  It was met with resistance at first, but became a blessing as the focus began to shift from blame and drama to each individual taking responsibility for communication and healing.  In return I was able to draw clear  boundaries which allowed me to take time at home when needed and allow for my time at the rescue.  My family came to understand the importance of  my work at the rescue as an expression of a genuine compassion necessary for my peace of mind.  It was harder to set that boundary at the rescue, but I stuck to my resolve. I got more support than negative feedback, but the negativity was at times harsh enough to leave me questioning my sanity in staying. Always there were those faces and wagging tails in the crates and pens calling me back.  I promise in good time to share some of their stories here. They deserve to be heard.


The leadership help needed at the rescue just took longer to come into place and only did so after several incongruous attempts. In the meantime, I did my best to keep a flow of volunteers coming in and to provide them with simple training that focused on basic safety guidelines.  Still, I could not be at the rescue to supervise new volunteers all the time, so there were inevitable problems.  I made every effort to learn from those mistakes and improve the training each month. I kept careful records of the rate of intake and retention, trying to find ways to prevent burnout and improve the quality of interactions between the dogs and volunteers.

In the end  what matters is a good fit was found. The board has taken responsibility for all  financial and developmental decisions, setting consistent policies and providing  clear, open communications with the staff and volunteers.  In a little over a year, new leadership has brought the rescue out of disarray and into order. From time to time I encounter someone who had a critical experience during the early years. I encourage them to revisit the rescue and see how progressive change has been. The number of dogs taken in is under careful control, which allows the team to keep the rescue clean and provide good quality care. Dogs arrive off efficient transport programs, often with care bags and foster home “bios” that can help match dogs and potential adopters. The rate of return is much lower and post adoption issues are fewer.  The turn around time from arrival to adoption for the majority of the dogs is only a few weeks.  The rescue reaches out to provide more opportunities to help local dogs in need, an important goal for any successful shelter.


The volunteer program has grown tremendously.  Training is more comprehensive and consists of several sessions. Volunteers have color coded lanyards which correspond to their level of training and experience.  Beginning volunteers walk dogs with easier temperaments, dogs that require a more savvy handler have color coded tags so volunteers know which dogs match their experience and training levels.  Those TLC dogs I wrote about?  the tough love cases?  They get their own team of volunteers and training is provided for both the dogs and their handlers.  Just a few days ago, an announcement was posted indicating the rescue is making the volunteer coordinators job a paid position, thanks to a generous donors funding. The future looks bright.

Even in the best run operations, not everything goes perfectly. There are always voices of criticism. From time to time a dog comes through the rescue which for a variety of reasons can not be adopted. (The concept of no-kill sheltering is vastly misunderstood, I am not going to address it now.)  Its hard on everyone, especially the staff who really put their heart on the line for the tough cases. Until more societal changes occur to address the reasons we even need shelters in the first place,  this work will test the courage and stamina of the most determined crusaders.

 I take full responsibility for the choices I made and blame no one for the consequences.  Things at home have worked out well, there is a sense we are closer for having weathered a few storms. I sense the same is true at the rescue and  I am grateful I was welcomed back after a years distance.  Oh and those faces and wagging tails are as compelling as ever.


Photo Notes: special thanks to Sarah Miraglia and Carolin Booth Murphy for allowing me to use some of their fantastic rescue dog photos. All of the dogs pictured were placed in good homes, through various local rescues.  The brown girl in the top photo is my “granddog” Coffee adopted in Philly. She’s playing with one of our former fosters, whose story I promise to write soon.  The valentines photo is a boy named Bowser who passed away from cancer while living with his foster mom.  It is of some comfort to know he was loved deeply in his final days.