Carol Reiter: Risks, rewards of dog rescue

06/06/2009 2:25 AM

06/11/2009 1:39 AM

Doing dog rescue can break your heart.

For the past 20 years, I have rescued a few dogs. Some came from homes, but most came from our local animal shelter.

It's not always fun rescuing a dog. You have no idea what kind of baggage the dog comes with, and believe me, the rescue dog is always ready to unpack that baggage and share it with you and everyone else.

So why do I keep doing it? I'm not sure. I guess I'm kind of dense. I know that bringing a rescue dog home can be tough. It can be tough on me, my dogs and most of all, on the poor rescue dog. I know that many shelter dogs are at the shelter for reasons that are not their fault, but some do have problems, and when I bring the dog home, those problems become mine.

I had a rescue dog that ate most of the wood off of my bed, another one that spent its day finding a way to get out of the yard, and another dog that was so obsessed with tennis balls that he darn near went into a convulsion trying to get about five of the balls in his mouth at once.

But those dogs turned out OK. The one who ate my bed turned out to be one of the best dogs I've ever owned, and the ball freak is now a drug-sniffing dog at an international airport.

When a rescue dog ends up in a good home, or even ends up spending the rest of its life with me, it feels pretty good. I feel that like the old saying goes, you may not be able to save the world, but you can sure save a little part of it.

But sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes dogs are so broken, so hurt, and so messed up by humans that we just can't help them. Thank goodness that has only happened to me once, and it was a physical defect that did it. An adorable, older Queensland heeler female that was deaf just couldn't acclimate to life off of a chain. I tried for more than a year, and then sadly had to put down the little dog. She was so miserable that death was a relief for her, although it was devastating to me.

But most of the time, thank goodness, rescue dogs work out fine. I admire and encourage people who adopt animals from a shelter or rescue organization, I have all the respect in the world for them. I know how hard it is to bring home a dog that you know nothing about. Many times we are getting a dog that wasn't socialized properly, and has many issues.

I have been in the dog world for a whole bunch of years, and I've met all types of people. Some dog folks are snobs -- if a dog isn't purebred, it's not worth much. I've been on the receiving end of bad manners from people like this, who love to call my dogs 'mutts.'

Although my dogs aren't mutts, it really doesn't bother me to hear that word. I like mutts. And I like rescue dogs. Most rescue dogs are mutts, and many of them are diamonds in the rough.

Many of the dogs that come through our club's obedience classes have come from our local shelter, and are mixed-breed dogs. I've had people ask me what type of dog I thought their dog was, and most of the time I just can't tell.

But who cares? I don't care what breed a dog is, I look at attitude, personality and trainability. Many of those so-called mutts are smart and willing and devoted. I think that most dog owners will agree that those traits are so, so important.

A friend recently told me that he is going to finally get a family dog. He and his family are going to go to their local shelter to look for a dog. He asked me if I would give him some pointers, which I was glad to do.

I'm thrilled about that family getting a shelter dog. If they do their homework, which I know they will, they will end up with a good dog, maybe even a great dog.

So I keep doing rescue work. Maybe not as much now as I once did, but I'm not through yet. Somewhere there is a dog with a whole lot of problems, who is carefully packing his bags with all his problems, and getting ready to eventually come home to me.

I can't wait.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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