Articles written by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels and one work of non-fiction. She lives in Toronto, Ontario with her first pet — and the love of her life — her adopted morkie, Shadow. Nomi now devotes all of her time volunteering her writing skills to animal rescue organizations both in Canada and the USA.

THE MANY WHYS OF RESCUE

Why adopt a rescue pup or dog? Why not buy one from an ad on the internet or
from a pet store? Why not buy one from a breeder? There are many reasons — all of
them humane.

The growth of the internet has spurred the growth of ads selling pets. But it also
provides anonymity to a more insidious growth: that of puppy mills and backyard
breeders. It helps them avoid accountability when they sell unhealthy or mistreated
pets to unsuspecting, over-eager buyers. And it confirms the axiom: “buyer beware.”

Each time a dog is bought from an ad on the internet, a homeless dog is left without a
home.

Many pet stores rely on both puppy mills and backyard breeders. Like the internet,
they rely on impulse buying. A child ogles a playful puppy through a pane of glass,
and that old song, “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” begins. Few parents
can refuse the insistent “please!” of their child.

Each time a puppy is bought from a pet store, a surrendered dog languishes in a
shelter.

It may seem safe to buy a puppy from a breeder. But there are no laws regulating
who can and cannot breed. There are no inspections of their facilities. Even a
certificate from a recognized kennel club means only that the breeder has “agreed”
to its code of ethics. A piece of paper is simply that: a piece of paper.

Each time a dog is bought from a breeder, an abandoned dog moves closer to death
in a pound.

Why, then, adopt a rescue dog?

There are thousands of healthy, happy and balanced dogs available from hundreds
of rescue organizations across the country. Contrary to popular belief, they include
purebreds as well as cross-breeds and mixed breeds. And for those intent on a
specific breed, there are rescue groups specializing in just one breed.

Adopting a rescue dog is saving that dog’s life. Rescue organizations are usually the
last refuge for abandoned and abused dogs, surrendered and senior dogs. They’re
often a dog’s only escape from a puppy mill, shelter or pound. These rescued dogs
are placed in loving foster homes, where they’re socialized with people and other
animals.

They’re spayed or neutered, updated on all vaccinations and micro chipped. They
receive whatever veterinary care they need, and are either trained or re-trained
before they’re deemed ready to be put up for adoption. And everything is included in
the rescue’s modest adoption fee.

It’s said that saving a dog makes that dog doubly grateful. By extension, then, anyone
who saves a dog will be doubly blessed.

What better reasons could there be to adopt?

ANIMAL SHELTER AND ANIMAL RESCUE: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

There are two major difference between shelters and rescue groups. Shelters are
usually run and funded by local governments. Rescue groups are funded mainly
by donations and staffed by unpaid volunteers. While some shelters place animals
in foster homes, many are housed on site in kennels. Some rescue groups have
their own facilities, but the majority of them rely on a network of temporary foster
homes.

A municipal shelter is a facility that houses stray, surrendered and abandoned
animals. Shelters are classified as “high kill”, “low kill” and “no kill.” A “no kill”
shelter is usually a private organization whose policy is to not euthanize animals
(a) who are deemed adoptable or (b) due to a lack of space. They will, however,
euthanize terminally ill animals or those considered dangerous. Despite the labels,
however, no shelter is, in reality, a “no kill” shelter.

Why? Because all shelters are faced with the same insurmountable problem:

overcrowding. Overcrowding due to irresponsible pet owners, overbreeding,
animals neither neutered or spayed, and hoarding. Millions of innocent dogs and
cats are euthanized in shelters every year across North America due to chronic
overcrowding, and a shortage of both foster homes and permanent homes.

Shelters often work closely with rescue groups because of their ability to house those
animals considered “pet worthy” in one of their temporary foster homes before
adopting them out. And, just as often, many rescue groups will scour shelters, local
and distant, for animals to pull and take into their care.

Rescue groups are, themselves, dedicated to taking in the abandoned and the
abused, the surrendered and the stray. Some rescues are devoted entirely to sick
and senior animals. While most rescues accept all breeds (of dog), others are breed
specific.

Using their network of loving, experienced foster homes (rescue groups are always
in desperate need of more foster homes), animals are placed – whether for days,
weeks or months. During that time, they receive medical treatment if needed;
they are spayed and neutered if intact; they are socialized, trained or retrained as
required, until they are deemed ready to be put up for adoption.

All of the care and services provided by rescue groups are barely covered by
the nominal adoption fees they charge. And most groups use similar adoption
procedures, including: completing an application, checking a veterinary reference,
conducting a phone interview and a home visit. Then, if all goes well, another
deserving animal moves into another forever home.

In a perfect world, all companion animals would thrive in safe and loving homes.

None would be abused, neglected or abandoned. There would be no strays,
wandering lost, hungry and afraid in the streets, There would be no teeming pounds
no overcrowded shelters, no need for rescue groups. But because it’s NOT a perfect
world, the effort to educate and reform, to change minds and perceptions, and, most
importantly, to save as many innocent lives as possible, goes on.

THE DANGERS OF DOG BREED LABELING

For generations, the pit bull’s affectionate nickname was the “nanny dog.” Today,
the pit bull is the dog most likely to be shot by the police. For generations, families
wanting a loving, dependable and protective babysitter for their children chose a
pit bull. Today, the pit bull is considered by many to be the most dangerous and
ferocious of dogs. For generations, the pit bull was known for its gentleness, loyalty
and reliability. Today, the pit bull is the prime target of so-called Breed Specific
Legislation.

What has changed yesterday’s beloved family pet into today’s object of hatred and
fear? Perception.

While “pit-bull type” dogs are the ones most commonly labeled “dangerous”,
many other breeds have been labeled dangerous as well, including: the Alaskan
Malamute, American Bulldog, Boxer, Cane Corso, Chow Chow, Dalmatian,
Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard,
Siberian Husky, and Wolf Hybrid.

Why then, is the pit bull being so strategically targeted? Is it because their ancestral
roots lay in fighting, when breeding for aggression was considered essential? Is it
because some of today’s unscrupulous breeders have selectively perpetuated these
aggressive traits for their own nefarious purposes? Is it because they have become
the stereotypical “poster pets” for fighting dogs, mistreated dogs, abandoned dogs?

Is it because too many mixed-breed dogs look like and are mistaken for actual pit
bulls?

Sadly, choose any or all of the above, and you would be right.

What about the responsible breeders who breed pit bulls with good temperaments?

What about the mixed-breed dog with that “certain look” which has absolutely no
bearing on its real personality? Once again. Perception. The foundation of which
is built on half-truths, anecdotal accounts, word-of-mouth and hastily, if faultily,
drawn conclusions.

Perhaps the most telling of all is the assumption that “pit bull type” dogs are, in
fact, actual pit bulls. Studies have shown that people who report either witnessing
a dog attack or having been attacked themselves could NOT positively identify the
dog as an actual pit bull. The truth is that any breed or mixed breed of dog can be
aggressive. Labeling a breed as dangerous can be just as dangerous as the label
itself. All too often, it gives people a false sense of security around other, supposedly,
safe breeds. Everyone should, instead, be educated about responsible dog ownership
and proper bite prevention measures.

In most shelters across North America, the majority of dogs are mixed breeds of
unknown parentage. Nonetheless, it’s commonplace for the staff to GUESS at a
dog’s breed based solely on appearance. Guessing at a breed is — again — as
dangerous as labeling a breed dangerous. Why? Because of its serious implications.

Because it impacts the welfare of hundreds of thousands of dogs in regards to the
law, landlords, insurance companies and service providers. It even affects the
policies and adoption practices of humane societies and the animal shelters
themselves.

Animal experts and behaviorists have cautioned for years that neither visual
identification nor DNA test results can accurately predict a dog’s future behavior.

For that, they conclude, “we must look at the individual dog.”

But by then, for far too many, it is far too late.

AN INFORMED DOG OWNER IS A DOG’S BEST FRIEND

Being an informed dog owner means being a dog’s best friend. Being uninformed can mean
a life of misery, even death for MAN’S best friend.

For years, there has been an alarming number of abandoned, surrendered, and euthanized
pets in this country. The reasons for this tragic phenomenon are many, and none of them
are a mystery. But the greatest contributing factor is the failure of too many potential dog
owners to educate themselves fully BEFORE they become pet parents.

The educated ones would know to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the breed they’re
considering, including the breed’s physical description and personality; trainability and
exercise requirements; health issues, and general care and grooming.

They would know there’s no such thing as TOO much information. The more informed
they are, the more informed their decision will be.

They would know to choose a breed that fits in with their particular lifestyle, needs
and expectations. Examples? No high-shedding dogs in a home of allergy sufferers. No
hyperactive, high-energy dogs in a small apartment. No dogs that can’t get along with cats
or other family pets. No dogs in need of constant companionship if no one is home during
They would know that, whatever the breed, raising a dog from puppyhood is, like raising a
child, a fulltime responsibility.

They would know that puppies must be housetrained promptly and socialized early in
order for them to develop into well-behaved and friendly dogs with good bite inhibition.

They would know to always be consistent, that discipline does NOT mean punishment, and
that love, in and of itself, does NOT conquer all.

They would also know that certified trainers and supervised puppy classes can be of crucial
assistance to them in raising calm and balanced dogs if they can’t manage on their own.

The flipside of this are the UNinformed and the UNeducated. The ones who, ruled by their
hearts and not their heads, choose poorly from the start. The ones who, sadly and all too
frequently, raise dogs that are untrained, ill-mannered and often dangerous.

These are the dogs who, over time, will prove too much for their ill-equipped and
increasingly frustrated owners to handle. These are the dogs who will ultimately be
abandoned in empty lots or left by the side of the road. These are the dogs who will be
desposited in secret outside a local pound or shelter or, if they’re lucky, surrendered in
person to a rescue organization.

These are the dogs who will be adopted – and probably returned – by unsuspecting people
intent on doing the right thing by not buying one from a pet store or an unscrupulous
breeder. These are the dogs who, more than likely, will be euthanized due to overcrowding
or because of their own people-biting or dog-aggressive behaviors.

These are the unfortunate innocents who will pay with their lives for their owners’
unfortunate ignorance. Thereby perpetuating an all-too-familiar and vicious cycle. And
the only way to break this cycle is to turn every potential pet parent into an educated pet parent.

Ignorance never was, nor ever will be, an acceptable excuse.

PUPPY PROOFING IS NOT JUST FOR PUPPIES

A puppy-proofed home is a pet-safe home whatever the age of your new dog. Before that
first front paw crosses your threshold for the first time, your home must be a health zone
not a hazard zone. Be especially attentive to the sensibilities of former puppy mill dogs or
“outside” dogs. They may never have walked on wooden floors, carpets or tiles, or been
exposed to so many new and unfamiliar sights before.

Begin the process of pet-proofing by walking through your home, room by room,
searching methodically for things a dog might climb, knock over or pull down, and either
secure, remove or store them. Keep all trash cans behind closed and latched doors and
wastebaskets (covered if possible) out of sight. Ensure that all heating/air vents have
covers. Snap specially designed, plastic caps over electrical outlets. Tie electrical cords
together and tuck them out of reach.

Install child-proof latches to keep inquisitive paws from prying open cabinet doors in
kitchens and bathrooms, and always keep the toilet lids closed. In bedrooms, keep all
medications, lotions and cosmetics off accessible surfaces such as bedside tables. Store
collections – from buttons, bottle caps and coins to matchboxes, marbles and potpourri –
on high shelves, while keeping breakables on low surfaces to an absolute minimum.

Most chemicals are hazardous to dogs and should be replaced, wherever possible, with
natural, non-toxic products. A partial list of toxic chemicals includes: antifreeze, bleach,
drain cleaner, household cleaners and detergents, glue, nail polish and polish remover,
paint, varnish and sealants, pesticides and rat poison.

Many indoor plants, however pretty, can prove poisonous to a dog. Since dogs are, by
nature, explorers – not to mention lickers and chewers – protecting them from harm is
essential. A partial list of such indoor plants includes: aloe, amaryllis, asparagus fern,
azalea and rhododendron, chrysanthemum, corn plant, cyclamen, Dieffenbachia, elephant
ear, jade plant, kalanchoe, lilies, peace lily, philodendron, pothos, Sago palm, schefflera and yew.

Seemingly harmless “people” food can potentially be lethal to dogs. A partial list of these
includes: alcohol, avocado, chocolate, caffeinated items, fruit pits and seeds, grapes and
raisins, macadamia nuts and onions.

Although prevention is the key to your new dog’s well-being, accidents can and do happen.

The truly protective pet parents are prepared pet parents and know to keep a list of vital
numbers handy:

• Veterinarian

• 24-hour veterinary emergency clinic

• ASPCA Poison Control: 888-426-4435

• Pet Poison Helpline: 800-213-6680

Hopefully, these are numbers you’ll never use. And as long as you remain vigilant, both
you and your new best friend can rest, assured.

ACT RESPONSIBLY: SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR PETS

Imagine a community without strays roaming alone and hungry in the streets.

Imagine a community without high-kill pounds and low-kill shelters.

Imagine a community with enough loving homes for all of its dogs.

Imagine a community where every pet owner took personal responsibility for
creating just such a community.

Imagine a solution as simple as the words “spay” and “neuter.”

Then imagine putting those same two words into practice.

Spaying (removing the ovaries and uterus of a female dog) and neutering (removing
the testicles of a male dog) are simple procedures which seldom require so much as an
overnight stay in a veterinary clinic.

FACT: Half of all litters are unplanned.

Why? Because pet owners don’t realize their puppies can have puppies of their own.
Spaying and neutering their dogs before the age of 6 months can help break this cycle.

FACT: Since sterilized dogs can no longer reproduce, fewer unwanted litters of
puppies will end up either homeless or in shelters.

FACT: Female dogs who have gone through their first heat are 16 times more likely
to develop the animal form of breast cancer than those spayed BEFORE their first heat.

FACT: Early spaying is their best protection against such conditions as pyometritis,
a potentially fatal bacterial infection of the uterus, as well as ovarian and uterine cancers.

FACT: Intact females can become aggressive when they’re in heat, posing a risk to
other animals and small children.

FACT: Early neutering of male dogs not only prevents unwanted litters, it also
protects them against testicular cancer.

FACT: Early neutering helps curb many undesirable behavioral problems.
If left intact, male dogs tend to mark their territory by spraying strong-smelling
urine everywhere. In their desperation to mate, they will bolt from houses, jump or dig
under fences, or escape during walks. Free to roam, they risk being hit by cars, fighting
with other males, contracting communicable diseases, and even being stolen.

FACT: Neutering does NOT alter their “manliness” because dogs have no concept
of their sexual identity, nor does it alter their personalities.

Every year in this country, tens of thousands of dogs are euthanized through no
fault of their own.

Why?

Because they are unwanted strays, the tragic, yet avoidable result of overbreeding
and overpopulation.

Why?

Because there are simply not enough shelters to house them or enough available
homes to either foster or adopt them.

Why?

Because there are still too many people who are unaware of the FACTS. And
because there are still too many dog owners who are unwilling to spay or neuter their
family pets.

Isn’t it time to act responsibly and take responsibility?

Imagine if everyone did.

MICROCHIPPING IS A MUST

Millions of dogs go missing each year. Unfortunately, very few of them are ever reunited
with their owners. Many of them become and remain strays. Others are taken to pounds or
shelters, where they are either adopted out to new homes or, all too often, euthanized. Now
protective pet parents, no longer content with relying on collars and tags alone, have begun
microchipping their dogs.

It’s a simple and safe procedure. A veterinarian injects a microchip designed especially
for animals — the size of a grain of rice — beneath the surface of a dog’s skin between
the shoulder blades. Similar to a routine shot, it takes only a few seconds and most dogs
don’t even seem to feel the implantation. Unlike other forms of identification, a microchip
is permanent and, with no internal energy source, will last the life of the dog. Once it’s
implanted, the dog must immediately be registered with the microchip company (usually
for a one-time fee), thus storing his unique, alpha-numeric code in the company’s database.

Whenever a lost dog appears at a shelter, humane society or veterinary clinic, he/she
will automatically be scanned for a microchip. If there is one, the screen of the handheld
scanner will display that dog’s specific code. A simple call to the recovery database using a
toll-free 800 number enables the code to be traced back to the dog’s owner. But in order for
the system to work efficiently, all owners are cautioned to keep their contact information
up-to-date.

The most complete microchips comply with International Standards Organization (ISO)
Standards. These standards define the structure of the microchip’s information content
and determine the protocol for scanner-microchip communication. They also include the
assignment of a 15-digit numeric identification code to each microchip: 3 digits either for
the code of the country in which the dog was implanted or for the manufacturer’s code; one
digit for the dog’s category (optional); and the remaining 8 or 9 digits for that dog’s unique
ID number.

As with anything else, however, problems can and do arise. Not all shelters, humane
societies and veterinary offices have scanners. Although rare, microchips can fail, and even
universal scanners may not be able to detect every microchip. Accurate detection can also
be hampered if dogs struggle too much while being scanned or if either long, matted hair
or excess fat deposits cover the implantation site. And because there are an ever-increasing
number of pet recovery services, there is, as yet, no single database that links one to the
other.

Since no method of identification is perfect, the best way owners can protect their dogs is
by being responsible owners. By always keeping current identification tags on their dogs,
never allowing them to roam free, and microchipping them for added protection.

Planning a Trip? Hire a Pet Sitter

Are you hesitant about taking a trip, planning a vacation or going on holiday because of
your dog?

Are you stopped by images of leaving your cherished family companion at a boarding
kennel filled with unfamiliar animals and run by well-meaning strangers?

Consider, then, another possibility.Your dog, safe and snug at home, cared for by
someone who’s both qualified and experienced.

Consider a pet sitter.

Pet sitters are paid professionals who will come to your home and spend quality time
with your pet. The best ones are those who not only feed and play with your dog, but hold
certificates in both First Aid and CPR.

Consider the benefits.

Your dog remains at home, with the same diet and daily routine, and receives both
attention and exercise while you’re away.

You can feel more secure knowing that, not only is your pet safe, but your home is too.

Pet sitters can take in your newspapers and mail, water your plants and provide your apartment
or house with that much needed, lived-in look.

To begin the process, ask your veterinarian, trainer or groomer for recommendations. Ask
your friends and neighbors for the names of reliable pet sitters they have used. Interview each
potential candidate over the phone and then in your home. Before making your choice, you must
receive satisfactory answers to the following, vital questions:

* Can the pet sitter provide written proof that he/she is bonded and carries commercial
liability insurance?

* What formal training has the pet sitter received?

* Is a contingency plan in place if an accident or emergency prevents the pet sitter from
fulfilling his/her duties?

* Will the pet sitter provide extra services such as grooming, dog walking or playtime
with other dogs?

* Will the pet sitter give you a written contract listing both the services and the fees?

* If the pet sitter provides live-in services, what are the specific times he/she agrees to be
with your pet? And is all of this detailed in the contract?

* Will the pet sitter give you the phone numbers of clients who have agreed to serve as
references?

If you’re satisfied with the person’s answers and all of the references have checked out,
it’s imperative that your dog first meet and interact with the prospective sitter. Monitor them
closely. Does your dog seem comfortable with the person? Are they a good fit? Are there any
issues that need addressing?

Once your decision has been made and you, yourself, are comfortable, you can begin to
plan that long-delayed vacation: whether for a weekend, a week or longer.

And then:

* Reserve your pet sitter early, especially during the holidays.

* Walk the sitter through your home, pointing out all the essentials needed to make the
agreed-upon routine run smoothly and well.

* Leave a clearly displayed list of emergency contact information, including how to reach
you and your veterinarian.

* Leave pet food and supplies in one place. Buy extra supplies in case you’re away longer
than originally planned.

* Leave a key with a trustworthy neighbor and have the neighbor and pet sitter exchange
phone numbers.

* Show the pet sitter any important safety features, such as fuse boxes, circuit breakers
and security systems.

With everything firmly in place, all you have to do now is leave. Secure in the knowledge
that your precious pet is in good hands and is, after all, a mere phone call away.