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The Art of Rescue

By: Gary Wynn Kelly

Many persons participating in the rescue, fostering and placement of dogs are assumed to know the basic philosophy of Rescue, and the process in philosophical terms simply, because they engage in the mechanical activities of doing the work. This, too often, is not so, as most persons began doing rescue by emulating the activities of Rescue, rather than engaging in the development of an understanding of “why Rescue?”

Rescue organizations should not assume that persons from the public automatically “know” about Rescue, and what it does, or should do–even when such persons may have procured a companion from a Rescue organization. These persons may be especially focused on the fact that their own companion was “saved” by Rescue.

It has been our experience that most persons in the public calling to have us “save my dog”, are of the belief that Rescue saves dogs from being killed by heartless organizations with bureaucratic persons and policies who would rather kill dogs all day long than understand the emotional conflicts of an owner rationalizing the surrendering of a companion. These people, as many in the public, believe we are, or have been, touched by some religious experience that endows us with a sense of mission to save animals, like a missionary saving souls. The truth is that responsible Rescue does not save individual animals. Responsible Rescue must have a focus on the breed, rather than on any individual animal. Saving animals is fine, but it is not the appropriate mission for Rescue. Organizations or individuals with a focus on saving individual animals should not be affiliated with Rescue as the difference in focus can compromise the mission of Rescue. Thus, it becomes imperative to have a regular discourse on the focus and philosophy of Rescue to ensure that all involved are in concert with the definitions of the mission.

In the evaluation process for the rescue of any dog, the evaluator must maintain an objective focus on whether the candidate dog displays the characteristics of the breed that the organization wishes to promote. The evaluator must keep in mind that each dog placed becomes an ambassador to the public advertising both the Rescue organization, and the breed to which it may be perceived to belong.

In subsequent paragraphs, the philosophy of the Arctic Dog Rescue and Training Center (ADRTC), is outlined in terms of the evolving practice of Rescue, ADRTC style. Other organizations will have their own styles, and perhaps some variation in philosophy.

At ADRTC, we wish to represent the best points of the breed, and select those dogs for rescue that exemplify why we believe northern dogs are great companions for families. In selecting a dog, we keep this in mind each time. We ask ourselves: Does this dog represent what we want people to learn and experience in owning a northern breed dog?

Thus, we first ask ourselves if the dog physically is identifiable as a northern breed dog. Will it be perceived by the public as being of a northern breed, and can we represent it fairly as having the characteristics of the northern breed to which we ascribe it?

Does the candidate dog evidence the behavior of the northern breeds, and can we reliably counsel a family in behavioral aspects of this dog based on the behavior we see?

Does the dog have the behaviors and/or the appearance we wish to have the adopting public, and other persons who will come to know this dog, to know and identify with the breed and our organization?

Are there negative behaviors that will create a negative impression on the part of the public about the breed or our organization? Can they be resolved with existing resources while in foster care? And, most importantly, can we, as evaluators accept the responsibility for doing so?

We always try to have the adopting family in mind when evaluating a dog. Who is going to adopt this dog? Is it very likely, somewhat likely unlikely, or very unlikely, that we will find an adopting family in 1-3 months? If the answer is unlikely, or very unlikely, then the dog should be passed on as a candidate for rescue by ADRTC.

While there are no hard criteria for rescuing a dog, there are some general guidelines that might be followed to do effective rescue. One might say the problem of rescue is a problem of “fuzzy” logic.

The following criteria have been gained from experience we at ADRTC have had in the rescue of northern breed dogs:

1. Females are generally preferred over males by the adopting public.
2. Smaller dogs generally adopt more readily than larger dogs.
3. Younger dogs are far more valued than older dogs.
4. Forget about all of the above, if the dog is cat tolerant.
5. With each year beyond 1 year, add an additional asset:
obedience, house broken, leash trained, good looking, gets along great with other dogs, children, or has some off leash potential.
6. Subtract away an asset for every major liability, and consider some liabilities to be fatal for an adoption, such as: Fence jumping as a fatal asset. Escape artists in general are a problem, as are problem diggers, destructive chewers, or excessively noisy dogs.

In general, if a dog has bitten anyone, more than in the case of a puppy disciplining a wayward child who should have been more closely supervised, or in instances where an inexperienced owner was bitten as a result of breaking up a dog fight, it is not a candidate for rescue. The liability is too great for Rescue to take on a known biter.

Fence jumpers who clear 6-8 foot fences have no future in rescue. Too few people have the means or willingness to contain one, and such a dog is usually in Rescue for many months, potentially jeopardizing the rescue of another dog(s) who may be killed, because there is no space in a foster home for more fosters. On occasion, it does happen that a fence jumper does come into rescue, because it was not known to be a fence jumper until rescued. Such dogs can be placed, and have been to date, but they do constitute a problem for any Rescue. The Staff of ADRTC has placed a couple, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we did as opportunities for placement are too few, and too often far between.

We try to leave a little room in our estimates for our own individual judgment and errors, and for the unknowns that any dog brings with it. In spite of all, we do know when we evaluate a dog, we have to allow for what we do not know, or can not know, because any dog will be different when not in a shelter, or in the home from which it came.

Sometimes luck is in our favor. We find out that a dog had training already, was house broken, or is cat tolerant. Sometimes it works against us, as when a dog turns out to be a destructive chewer. Thus, one should have a “fudge factor” in the equation for any assessment.

It takes fuzzy logic, intuition, and an avoidance of getting one’s emotions into the decision process. It is essential to focus on the good of the breed, and evaluate each dog in terms of how it will represent the breed and Rescue to the public.

The climate of adoption constantly changes. At some times of year, a great dog will not place no matter how many people seem interested, and at other times, a dog of more dubious character will place immediately. These differences are seldom predictable. The resources of any organization are finite, and must allow for the unpredictability of the adopting public.

The potential foster home must also be an ingredient in the selection of any dog for Rescue, after the dog has passed muster on its own merits. Even a dog that is worthy of Rescue may have to be passed over, if existing resources do not allow for the compatible fostering of the dog. We have had instances where another male or female could not be accommodated into an existing foster home, or the demands of the candidate dog were beyond the foster care resources then available. That the dog is a great candidate is good news, but that alone will not save the dog unless resources of the rescue organization are sufficient to provide high quality foster care–which comes down to an individual commitment and responsibility to each rescue candidate.

Theoretically, almost any dog will place given time. Rescue has limitations in resources and spaces, and the dog may experience emotional trauma in being uprooted after a lengthy stay in foster care. While the focus of Rescue must be on the breed, during the evaluation process for rescue, this must change once the dog has been selected and procured. At that time, the Rescue is a reality, and the foster care process must begin.

The dog must become the focus of concern in the foster care process. Each dog should be prepared as an ambassador for both Rescue and the breed it represents. That preparation must include the resolution of medical issues, and the training essential for the dog to be displayed in public at its best. This goes well beyond simple grooming, and having a dog altered.

Successful, and responsible rescue require that the management process of Rescue take all of these factors into account, and share the philosophy, rationale, and fuzzy logic of the process with all those involved in the rescue process. It is our experience that persons volunteering at all levels are more willing to make commitments when they have a greater understanding of what the organization is actually doing to carry out the mission of rescue, and that the adopting public is impressed and persuaded to participate when the organization is perceived as carrying out responsible rescue.

The author has rescued and placed more than 400 arctic breed dogs, and it is from those experiences that this paper was developed. It was the guide we used at CCNDR.ORG for many years, and we have but modified it slightly since moving to Albuquerque. We found that many people appreciate that we take such great care in selecting a dog for rescue. We hope you will, too.

Please respect the copyright. Contact ADRTC.ORG for permission to reprint this article, or distribute it. We generally grant permission to persons and organizations that wish to do so for no profit, and who agree to not modify or alter this article. We require that appropriate credit to the author, and to ADRTC.ORG be maintained.