Monday, January 14, 2013

Dog rescuers are a breed off the leash

Dog rescuers are a breed off the leash

Published on Sunday January 13, 2013


ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR Mari-Anne McCleary at home with Miles, a golden retriever/shepherd; Lily, English pointer; and rescue dog Jack Sparrow, a spaniel/papillon, January 11, 2013.
Marco Chown Oved
Staff Reporter

You don’t have to ring the bell at the McCleary residence in Port Credit because the small army of pets inside announces the arrival of any visitor before they reach the door.
The McCleary’s have five furry pets but from time to time add one more to their brood. They’re dog foster parents who take in unwanted dogs, rescued from being put down at a shelter.
“You have no idea what you’re getting into when you foster,” said Carl McCleary as he stooped to pet Jack Sparrow, an energetic, if a bit emaciated Spaniel-Papillon mix they got a week ago.
They’re a small cog in the sprawling dog rescue community, which has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks after dog rescuer Rita Mueller was charged with strangling a dog to death.
Operating on the shadowy edges of the official animal welfare system, the unregulated network of dog rescues take the overflow from overwhelmed shelters across the continent. They drive hours to rescue doomed dogs, pay hundreds in veterinary bills and search far and wide to find permanent homes, giving the dogs a second lease on life.

While their devotion undoubtedly saves many lives, it can also go terribly wrong. Rescues are torn between a duty to save innocent animals and a responsibility not to get in over their heads.
“There are a lot of people who have these huge hearts and they start off doing it the right way, and they get that email with that sad puppy picture … and it’s like ‘where can I put that one? I can do just one more,’ ” said Kim Knapp, who runs Friendly Giant Dog Rescue in the Ottawa area. “And the next thing you know you’ve got 30-plus dogs on your property.”

These hoarders are doing the wrong things for the right reasons, Knapp said, loving their dogs to the point of doing them harm.
Packs of underfed dogs have been found in barns or staked to the ground, where they were fed carcasses every few days, said the 20 year veteran of the community. These free-for-alls can lead to dog fights and disease, and can bankrupt a rescue, she said.
Rescues have banded together into an unofficial support network that has become essential to the public shelters inundated with strays.

“Sadly there are too many homeless pets to be able to do the work alone,” said Alison Cross, spokesperson for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA). “We often work with reputable rescues to find animals new homes.”
“The pet industry definitely has gaps (in regulation),” said Toronto Animal Services spokesperson Mary Lou Leiher. “Shelters, humane societies and animal services do rely on dog rescues. There’s no question about that.”
The fact that there is no government oversight in dog rescue attracts unscrupulous dog brokers who smell a profit.

“For all the wonderful, good-hearted people in rescue, there are lots of bad people too,” said Susan Barrett, who runs NC Shelter Rescue in Clemmons, North Carolina. Because few people neuter and spay their dogs in parts of the U.S., there is a massive overpopulation problem, she says. This attracts unscrupulous brokers who get dogs at no charge from shelters in North Carolina, Florida and California and sell them for profit in Canada, she said.

“You can back up a truck to any shelter in North Carolina and they’ll help pack ’em in the back for ya,” she said.

Lax border controls mean brokers only need to show a vaccination certificate to get into Canada, where the dogs are posted online as rescues, and adopters are asked to pay for non-existent veterinary bills, said Marion Hewko, who runs Safe At Last Dog Rescue in Chilliwack and Kelowna, B.C. Known as “bad rescues” in the community, some go so far as to fundraise on internet sites for fictitious rescue costs and pocket the proceeds, she said.

Yet because there is no official oversight, rescues are left to police themselves.
It’s a process Rob Goddard has spent the last five years trying to formalize through the Helping Homeless Pets network of dog rescues. With 52 rescues registered mostly in the GTA, Goddard estimates that they’ve rescued 10-12,000 dogs since 2007.

“We wanted to make sure rescuers were rescuing ethically,” he said.
The self-appointed governing body of the community developed a four-page code of ethics their rescues must follow to assure potential adopters that they’re not getting a bad apple. Each dog’s life and medical history is compiled; it’s given a checkup, vaccinations and a behaviour evaluation.
Goddard hopes that his organization can provide an element of legitimacy and accountability. But bringing in government oversight would be going too far, he says, because it would remove the volunteer spirit that drives those involved.

Not everyone in the community agrees, however. Knapp held an online discussion last week about introducing government regulation and was surprised at how many people were interested. After a few high-profile cases of bad rescues, she said, there’s an appetite to become more official.
In the meantime, each rescued dog is one less sent to be put down. The McCleary’s first rescue, a chocolate lab named Jonah, had terrible medical issues and had to be operated on to remove an eye.
Several years later, while on a walk in a leash-free park, a one-eyed Lab approached.
“I didn’t recognize him at first,” said Mari-Anne McCleary, “but the dogs sure did. They bee-lined straight over to him. Who would have thought? That old dog was still around.”
With files from Rachel Mendleson


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