Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Reality of Rescue

I am a volunteer for Heart of Texas Lab Rescue. I am the editor of the newsletter, and obviously, the HOTLR blogger. I have also fostered. You might see me at some community rescue events, usually showing off one of my own adopted HOTLR dogs, or you might find me at the vet clinic helping out with some new dogs just brought into the program. Occasionally, you might see me at a Meet 'n Greet.

I have discovered that volunteering for a rescue group is very rewarding. I remember thinking long and hard before I sent in my volunteer application, because I wanted to make sure I was really committed to the cause before I spent a good deal of my spare time working for it. Once I made the decision to push the "Enter" key, there was no turning back.

I am here to tell you that volunteering for Heart of Texas Lab Rescue has changed my life. First and foremost, I have met some amazing people that live and breath Labradors. These people are truly dedicated to rescuing and rehoming as many of these wonderful creatures as they can. I have learned so much about animal rescue and the blood, sweat and tears it takes to make a rescue work.

And then there are the dogs
.....how many of these beautiful resilient dogs I have had the pleasure to meet, I cannot tell you. I want to take all of them home and have tried. I welcomed two of the most precious canine souls around into my home thanks to HOTLR, not to mention the sweet dogs that I happily fostered. I also visit animal shelters on occasion and have the honor of helping to choose the dogs that come into the program.

At this moment, HOTLR currently has around 20 dogs in our program. That's actually a lower number for us because we just had a massively successful Meet 'n Greet a few weekends ago where 5 lucky Labs got chosen by their forever families.

We are constantly bombarded with requests via email, Facebook, phone calls, etc. about dogs that need help. Most dogs come and go in a relatively short period of time from our program depending on medical or training issues that need to first be addressed before they meet families. However, currently, there are 3 dogs in our program we've had for over a year. Ruth is another one of our "long-timers" although she's been with us just 5 months. There were no medical issues with Ruth, she did not need much training. We don't know why she is still with us unless it is her age. But at nearly 9 years of age, she is, in my opinion, as sweet as a hot fudge sundae on a warm summer day and would make a perfect addition to any family. She is happy girl whose only wish in life is to be loved. She continues to patiently wait to be chosen by a loving family. (Please read Ruth's story on our Labs Available for Adoption page. She is one sweet girl that you will never regret giving a home, I promise. )

The reality is that for HOTLR to continue to exist, we have to take in dogs that are adoptable. The 3 dogs that we've had for over year are theoretically holding up space for approximately 36 other dogs that may have been rescued (if you consider 1 healthy dog per month for 12 months times 3 spots) if those dogs were not here. The money we take in for adoption fees helps us to maintain operations, mainly treating dogs for their medical problems and paying our bill at the kennel each month for those dogs that we do not have available foster families. That means that we sometimes have to leave dogs behind at shelters that are as deserving as the other dogs that we choose, so that we can be sure there are enough available dogs in the program that will easily adopt. Sounds cold-hearted, right? But it is reality. We have limited funds, limited foster families and limited space. So, yes, sometimes we have to leave an old, blind, deaf, heartworm positive dog behind because in the long run, we know that the opportunity for him to adopt is quite small, and the amount of time that we will have him keeps us from giving his space to other more easily adoptable dogs.

Believe me, as a person who has to look into his eyes, put him back into the cage, and leave him behind.....it really, really stinks. As a veterinary technician, a rescue volunteer, and a proud owner of a 13 year old Lab, every cell in my body screams for me to turn back, but I have to move forward to the next dog we can help.
Some people may not understand why we do not take "mixed breed" dogs. This one is also a "toughy" that can leave you teary-eyed at a shelter. When you walk aisle after aisle of beautiful, deserving dogs and look into those pleading eyes, it can be heartbreaking. Heart of Texas Lab Rescue has been around for 12 years. We have a certain reputation in the community as well as certain expectations that we seriously strive to meet. When someone comes to HOTLR for a Lab....that's what we try to give them. It's what we know best. That goofy energetic, fun-loving, people-oriented crowd pleaser that makes the Labrador Retriever the most popular dog in the United States. That's what we hope each family that comes to HOTLR gets. It's not that we try to discriminate against other breeds, it's just we know how Labs are supposed to behave. We know what to expect from them. Once they become mixed with other dog breeds, it's harder to predict their tendencies and behaviors, because we are not experts on those other breeds. To try to illustrate this point, it would be like going to buy a Ford at a Toyota dealership. Toyota knows Toyota, but they don't know Fords...

Lastly, the issue of strays comes up. When someone contacts us about a dog they have found, the very best thing they can do is take pictures. (A headshot and a side body shot work best.) Then, take the dog to their local shelter. Ask the shelter to notify us and also email us to let us know where the dog is and send us the pictures. The complicated Texas property laws keep us from simply picking up dogs that are found on the street and taking them into the program. They have to be legally released from their current ownership and that's most easily done by having the shelters transfer ownership to HOTLR after the dog spends the required amount of time in the shelter for the legal transfer of ownership to occur. Can you imagine how heart wrenching it would be if a dog has been placed in a family, but had not been legally transferred to HOTLR, and then we had to remove the dog from the adoptive family and give it back to its rightful owner? Not a situation we'd ever want to face.

I hope this clears up some of the mystery surrounding why some dogs make it into our program and others do not. We try the best we can to meet the expectations placed on us by the community while at the same time helping as many deserving Labs as we can. So when you volunteer for a rescue group that rescues the most popular breed in the US, the reality is that some Labs get left behind. That is the heartbreaking reality of rescue. So, I try to focus on the many Labs we've saved, and the many that will come in the future. It's hard, but we won't give up and the fight goes on. We are dedicated to placing as many Labs as we can into loving forever homes and giving these dogs the second chance they so deserve. We know we couldn't save as many Labs as we do without our volunteers and supporters, so thank you for helping us do what we can.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Year's Resolutions for Your Lab. It's Not Too Late!!

So, I realize I am chiming in a bit late here, but hey as they say, "Better late than never." Besides, it's been nearly a month since you made your New Year's Resolutions, so just think of this as a handy little check in to see how you are measuring up.

Well, maybe you've decided to punt your resolutions, but how about making a few for your dog??? Do you know that if you Google "New Year's Resolutions for Your Pets" that pages and pages of articles and suggestions come up??? Well, I've combed through many of these wonderful ideas and have come up with what I think is the All Around Best Labrador New Year's Resolutions of 2011 Even If It's A Bit Late List. So here goes:

1) Exercise - I saw a t-shirt once that said, "Life is short, play with your dog." No better advice can be followed. This one will actually do you and your Lab a lot of good. We all know the health implications of a dog that is overweight. But in case you've forgotten, let me remind you. Overweight dogs exhibit arthritis and other orthopedic issues, increased chances of diabetes and cancers, and respiratory and heart problems. This all means more frequent visits to the vet, more drugs and supplements prescribed for your dog and more dollars out of your wallet. And the one thing that should scare you the most about an overweight dog....a shortened life span. If you think your dog is overweight, schedule a visit to your vet, decide on a proper nutrition program and implement a vet recommended exercise program. This is the single most important thing you can do for your dog in 2011!!

2) Good Nutrition - Does your dogs haircoat look scruffy? Are you tired of picking up mounds and mounds of pooh from the backyard? Does it seem that every time you turn around, your dog is out of food? Then maybe it's time to look into a change of diet. Not only will your dog benefit from a healthier diet, you may find you actually save money by buying higher priced food. Sound crazy? Well, the high quality foods typically require you to feed less to maintain the same weight in your pet. That's because cheaper foods have an abundance of fillers and other added ingredients in them to help keep the cost of the food down. With higher quality ingredients, your dog doesn't need as much to get the calories he/she needs. So now for a little math, less food in, means less pooh out....Make sense? Your veterinarian can recommend a good food for your dog, or stop in to your local pet store. They have a variety of different foods you can choose from and knowledgeable staff that can help you pick the one that is best for you.

3) Health Check-Up - So, you can meet resolutions one and two with just a simple visit to the vet. Your vet can evaluate your pet's weight and recommend a good diet for your pet. In the meantime, you can also have the rest of your dog checked out. Talk to your vet about your lifestyle and the vaccines that are necessary for your dog. Have your vet determine whether your dog is showing signs of arthritis or if there is an underlying orthopedic issue going on. Lots of "old dog" problems can be resolved with daily dose of an anti-inflammatory allowing your senior dog to stay active and feel better.

Also, take the time to listen to what your vet has to say about your pet's teeth. If you'd never been to the dentist, I am quite sure that your teeth would need a good scrubbing. Just remember that the tartar and bacteria that collect in your pet's mouth is swallowed each time he eats and drinks. Over time, this bacteria can start to affect your dog's other organs as well. Also, broken teeth can cause abscesses that may make your dog very sick, not to mention the pain of a broken tooth can be excruciating.

Also, a good idea for Labs over the age of 5 is an across the board blood panel. This can alert you and your vet to problems with your dog before they become life threatening. Diseases like hypothyroidism and diabetes can be easily treated once they are identified.

Yes, I am aware that what I am suggesting is expensive. So think about setting up a savings account where you put a little money away each month in preparation for your dogs annual check up. I promise you, it will be money well spent.

4) Training - Make this year the year that you get rid of the one (or two) bad behaviors that keep you from having the World's Most Perfect Labrador. Check into a group training class or have a personal trainer come out and help your train those bad habits out of your dog. Then practice, practice, practice!! Once you can profess to all you know that you have "the truly perfect dog", it'll be worth all the money and practice.

And hey, if you already have the Truly Perfect Labrador, maybe it's time to show him off. Look into training him to become a therapy dog. There are also community programs for elementary schools, hospitals and elder care facilities. Now, we're talking about a win-win-win...you, your dog and the community!!

5) Love and Attention - here's an easy one that won't be hard to maintain at all....Make time for your dog. I don't mean brushing her while you watch American Idol, or petting her with one hand while you text your best friend with the other. I mean take her for a walk, get outside and throw the ball. Try to do this for 20 minutes every day. Spend a lazy Sunday morning having a love-in with your dog. Put on some relaxing music, lay down on the floor and rub your dog from head to toe. Don't use this time to trim her nails or clean her ears. Spend this time just petting and rubbing and touching and talking and loving her without interruption.

So, here is 5 to start. Choose one or two and make a real effort to stick with it. It's amazing how doing things for your dog can lift your spirits. It takes so little to make them happy, so start resolutin' for your dog today!!