In order to answer some of the many questions I receive about our Rescue Program, I have decided to share a brief history of the program and the secrets of its success.
In 1964, someone approached me for help in finding a home for his Old English Sheepdog, Charlie. Because I had bred and sold OES, I felt I knew the procedure for finding an appropriate home. Thus was placed my first Rescue dog. Charlie died at the age of seventeen and the owners have adopted their fourth OES from Rescue. Since that first placement, OES have become a status symbol - a situation that led to overbreeding and puppy mills. Because of this "boom", many people bought cute OES on a whim, without sufficient knowledge of what they were getting into. Consequently, many OES ended up in the pounds, humane societies or just turned out of the house.
It became apparent to me that I needed to develop a system for "recycling" unwanted OES. My program became officially accepted as part of the New England Old English Sheepdog Club in 1975. We have grown and improved since then, and now have a successful, nationally recognized adoption program. In October 1994, New England Old English Sheepdog Rescue, Inc. was formed as a separate organization in order to better serve Rescue needs. In all, we have placed over nine hundred OES through our program. One year we placed 79. (The phone rings a lot!)
NEOESR, Inc. consists of officers, Board members, and dedicated members many of whom volunteer their hearts and homes. We maintain a computerized filing system (by dog's name and year of adoption, former owner, and new owner) which is kept at the secretary's home. In the file we keep all pertinent information about the adoption, such as notes of the interview with the former as well as the new owners, all medical records, pedigree, phone numbers, addresses, and date of placement. The Board meets occasionally, but most of the work is done over the telephone.
When an owner calls because he/she has decided to give up his/her dog, our job of preparing the dog for placement begins. A telephone interview takes place. We learn a lot about a dog just from listening to the reasons why the dog is being given up. Our first question is always, "Why are you giving up of the dog?" Other questions we ask are, "How long would you be willing to keep the dog while we work on placement?" Before the dog is placed, it must be spayed/neutered, up to date on all vaccinations, including Parvo, negative for heartworm, and be groomed and clean. (We all know that a clean fluffy OES is more lovable and will, therefore, be more acceptable.) We hope the person giving up the dog will fulfill these requirements so we can proceed with placement. If the donor cannot commit to all the necessary preparations for placement, he may opt to give us a donation.
Occasionally, someone demands that we take the dog off his hands as soon as possible! In either case, he signs a release form stating that he is giving up all rights to this dog. This release is for the donor's protection as well as the new owner's. Arrangements for an extensive visit usually take place at this point, where notes will be taken by one of our volunteers - with the aid of our printed questionnaire. We will try to discern as much as possible about the dog's background temperament, behavior in the car and home, how he acts with children and other animals. This information is then reported to the placement director who makes up a card for the central file. Volunteers are kept up to date on new dogs and available homes by phoning the placement director.
Occasionally, we have to make the tough decision to put a dog down. If we encounter extraordinary medical or temperament problems, we believe in euthanasia rather than passing the problem on to someone else. We do not tolerate biting unless the dog is being hurt. We always have at least two volunteers plus a veterinarian agree before making the decision to put a Rescue dog down.
Our dogs come from private homes, breeders, pounds, and humane societies. Many are given up because of problems with children. Most of the dogs are fostered in member's homes. While there, they are evaluated in the house, temperament tested, groomed and altered. We do not adhere to a firm policy as to length of time for keeping a dog because we have found the time necessary to rehabilitate a dog varies enormously. Finding appropriate homes is a most important part of our program. Education is a must if the placement is going to be successful!
We advertise for adoptive homes in the Sunday paper. We also get referrals from veterinarians, humane societies, NEOESR members, and by word of mouth. In order to find appropriate homes for OES, we offer free extensive interviews with each perspective family. (And I mean the whole family - not just a mother who wants a pet for the kids. If the man of the house is not gung-ho, the placement probably won't work out.) These interviews last several hours, and include a hands-on grooming lesson as well as an accurate description of the reality of owning and OES. We are concerned with the confinement, attitude of children in the home, responsibility of training, grooming and medical care of the dog. In any case, they must pass the "hair everywhere, wet whiskers, dirty feet and bum test"! They are taught that altered males and females can be better off and that they don't "need" to be bred. Neutering does not change the dog's personality, and they do not get fat! We teach that an older housebroken pet past the chewing stage, is a better choice for folks who work all day. We explain that dogs should not run loose and that they need regular grooming and medical attention.
We also hope for a commitment that the dog will not be given up again unless there is no reasonable alternative. Naturally, the best homes are those where there has already been a happy OES for many years. When these people lose their devoted pet, they make an excellent home for one of our Rescue dogs.
When a dog is considered ready to be adopted, the perspective owners are notified by a volunteer, and a meeting takes place. It is nearly always "love at first sight". Armed with feeding instructions and a list of "do's and don'ts", the "new family" embarks (no pun intended) on a life together. A minimum donation of approximately $155 is made to the Rescue treasury, and a release form is signed, relieving NEOESR, Inc. of any liability for the dog's behavior. We retain the right to visit the dog, and we encourage the family to stay in touch with us by phone or letter. (There are usually a few questions during the adjustment period.) The new owner is required to return the dog to the NEOESR, Inc. if the placement does not work out. We keep track of all our Rescue dogs.
Obviously, the success of the program will depend on the volunteers. Ours are concerned, patient, generous, and very willing dog lovers. Each volunteer has his/her own home requirements. For example, a home in which there is an aggressive male cannot accommodate another male, etc. Our volunteers decide on their own how far they wish to extend themselves. Most pay for reasonable phone calls, dog food, travel expenses, etc. NEOESR, Inc. pays veterinary and grooming bills. If any volunteer has a question as to who is responsible for what bills, they call the treasurer or placement director. We exist on a very limited budget, so we accept any donations and gifts offered. Large expenditures are carefully considered by the officers. Fortunately, we have found veterinarians who give us a special rate. Our income is derived from donations. These come from adopters, adoptees, and the general membership. We frequently receive a larger donation than required.
I have spent considerable time in the past 30 years speaking to other breed clubs about setting up adoption programs. I feel that the people who own, breed, or show, hopefully have acquired enough knowledge of their chosen breed to be able to educate others. If each breeder was responsible for all the dogs he has bred and sold, our work would be cut way down. There should be a mandatory rule in a breeder’s "Code of Ethics" that each breeder be responsible for his/her puppies for life. I have personally taken back six and seven year olds of my own breeding (even one ten year old), and placed them successfully in new homes.
People frequently ask me what has made our program so successful. My answer is that we have the ability to remain fluid. We avoid rigid policies. By remaining flexible, we have the cooperation of our volunteers. Each dog and adoptive home is evaluated on an individual basis. While the work is supervised, each volunteer is given a lot of choice as to how he deals with the evaluation of a given dog or adoptive home.
Placing a Rescue dog requires a lot of work , but the reward is in knowing we have saved a life or at least afforded an unwanted pet the opportunity for the good life he deserves. Our new owners are aware of how they have helped out an innocent furry creature who has run into some bad luck along the way.