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Rescue Dogs: an alternative

While most people are looking for that cute little puppy that they can watch grow and develop and whom they can help shape the adult dog it will grow up and become, there is a small segment of people who may find owning a rescue dog more fulfilling. Hopefully after reading this article some may decide that a rescue dog is right for them.

Most purebred dog clubs have some sort of rescue service. This is where they will take possession of an unwanted dog of that particular breed and try to re-house the dog in a suitable home. There are a variety of reasons that a dog may need to be rescued or rehomed. A couple is divorcing and neither is either willing or able to continue looking after the dog. Sometimes the dog has health or temperament issues with which the owner is unwilling or unable to cope. The owners are no longer able to deal with the dog for reasons such as a new baby in the home or the dog has become destructive. Sometimes the owner is elderly or ill and unable to care for the dog. Or worse the owner has died. Sometimes the owner needs to make a move and is unable to bring the dog along such as moving into a retirement or nursing home or an apartment. It may be that the dog was completely unsuitable for the particular home and other times it just isn't wanted any more. Some dogs have been abused or neglected. In Cavaliers in the United States there is a rescue service that is trying to buy the dogs from auctions to save them from a lifetime of abuse in puppy mills.

On average the dogs will be adults, with the common ages between 4-6 years or 8-9 years in the UK and 6-8 years in the US. Puppies will be rarely available. They will all have different levels of training depending upon the homes they came from. Some will have come from loving homes that were just not able to keep them any longer and they will be housebroken and trained to some manners. Some may have come from neglected and abusive homes where no one ever bothered to spend any time training them or caring from them. These dogs may have no or little housebreaking, possibly having adjustment problems, requiring patience and love to make them into suitable pets.

Health, in some of these dogs, can be an issue as well depending upon where they have been rescued from. Linda Kornhi, the Rescue Chair for CKCSC US, states that many of the dogs they see have to contend with breed specific health issues such as MVD, patella problems, eye problems, epilepsy and autoimmune problems. She also states that temperament problems can be seen more commonly in rescue Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

Some rescue dogs depending upon the breed will have temperament problems ranging from fearful behaviour, aggression, anxiety problems, destructive tendencies which is often the reason that the original owners weren't willing to keep them in the first place. Many of these problems can be overcome, with careful management and patience, but must be considered prior to taking any rescue dog on as there is no point placing the dog into another home that won't work out.

Generally these dogs are placed in foster homes first to try to assess any health and temperament problems and hopefully work them through, prior to placement in their permanent homes. They would also usually be spayed and neutered prior to being rehomed.

If you are interested in applying to own a rescue dog expect to be vetted by the club's rescue representative. Generally speaking an application form will have to be filled out and then a home visit will be made. References may be required and checked. They will want to be very sure that a perspective owner is suitable for a rescue dog and its needs. Their main concern is to find a permanent, stable and loving home for their charge.

Linda Flynn, a rescue co-ordinator for the Humberside Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club in England gives some insight into the process of what is looked for in a possible rescue home.

"All perspective adopters have to fill out an application form (this together with our info sheet can be downloaded from our website Humberside CKCS Club on If we think we may have a suitable dog already we then make arrangements for a home check. We look for a nice well balanced family who are able to give the dog the love and attention he/she requires. Someone must be at home a majority of the day. If there are children in the household we like to meet them. I don't like putting dogs with children too young. We like to know where the dog is intended to be kept and where it will sleep.

No outside kennels are considered suitable. The garden must be totally secure and an inspection is made. If any repairs or alterations are needed, they are pointed out at this time and the people are told that they will not be able to have a dog until the required repairs/alterations have been made and another home visit would have to be arranged to inspect that work has been carried out. Once the home is approved and when we have a dog we feel maybe suitable we then contact perspective adopters, tell them as much about the dog that we possibly can, if there are any health problems or behaviour problems and give them the opportunity to say whether they feel this dog could be for them, we then take the dog that we feel may be suitable to that particular family to meet them, making them aware that if for any reason we do not think the dog will settle or for any other reason we will not consider leaving that particular dog.

I then insist if there are children in the household that they be present, I like to see the inital reaction between the dog and children and how the children respond to the dog. Also at this point we give the adopters the chance to say if they think this dog also suits their needs. If everything is satisfactory we will leave the dog with its new family, but keep in close contact over the next couple of weeks, incase of any problems arising. I always tell folks that it doesn't matter how silly they feel their questions are please not to hesitate to ask and assure them that I am for whatever reason I am only a phone call away. Once we feel that everything is okay, we leave them to get on with their lives, but do keep in contact every few months until I am satisfied that the dog is in his new home for life then I keep intouch just twice a year, usually informing them of rescue events taking place etc, but it is a good excuse to see how they are.

I like to furnish all perspective adopters with as much info I can, together with their application form I send them an info sheet, which tells them a little about the dogs we have in and what is expected of them as perspective adopters. They are made aware at this stage, that the dogs are not to live outside in kennels, be tied up, let roam streets unattended, be used for breeding or stud and that ownership always remains with us and if whatever reason they are unable to keep any rescue it must be returned to us. Upon adoption an adoption contract is signed by them. We keep the original and they the duplicate. I have also compiled an A4 info booklet that I leave with those homes that have never had a Cavalier before."

Most clubs will charge a small sum for rescue dogs to help offset the costs of such things as spaying and neutering or any other health needs that must be attended to prior to the dog being re-homed. Fees tend to be on a sliding scale. More for younger dogs and less for an older dog. Ownership of the dog is either retained by the clubs or held in co-ownership. This allows for the dog's return to the club should the new home be unable to keep the dog for any reason. This will be stipulated in a contract that each hopeful new owner is required to sign.

If you decide that you are ready to contemplate a rescue dog and would like more information contact the National Club of the breed you are interested in and they will be able to direct you to the nearest representative.

Linda Kornhi, CKCSC US Rescue Chair, states: be willing to be flexible in your requirements. The more specific that you are about the dog you want, i.e. sex, age, when you want it, etc. the harder it will be to match you with a dog.

Also prior to making a decision to get any dog, whether puppy or rescue, please make sure that your chosen breed is really suitable for you and your lifestyle. In fact, please take the time to decide if a dog will really suit you and your family at all. Many dogs end up requiring rescue due to impulse buying. Your decision to buy a dog impacts not only on you and your family but on the dog who is also a living, breathing creature and deserves more than ending up neglected and unwanted because you didn't really have the time for them in the first place.

Finally for those of you that own a purebred dog or love a certain breed please consider making a donation to a breed rescue service which will enable the Clubs to continue their worthy work.

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