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A Day In The Life of a Rescue Coordinator

“Driving away with the dog in the car,” was Sara’s ready response to a query about the most rewarding part of the job as the rescue coordinator for the American Belgian Malinois Club (ABMC)’s Florida area rescue organization. “After all is said and done, all the emails and the arrangements, the phone calls and logistics and fosters homes set up, I get to go pick up a dog. Maybe she is from a shelter, maybe he is from an abusive situation. And once the dog is safe in my car, I breathe a sigh of relief and I get to smile. One more good dog in the rescue system.”

Many breed clubs create a rescue organization to help find homes for dogs that come upon hard times. Sometimes lost or stray, sometimes turned in by owners, almost always bred by irresponsible breeders who aren’t reputable who are unable or unwilling to take the dog back, these dogs find their way into shelters, and may be at risk of euthanasia purely due to lack of space. Rescuing these dogs, sometimes from the absolute brink of death, is the goal. But how does that happen and what are the components of a rescue? Read on to find out!

The Relationships
The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and in rescue, the details are relationships. Rescue coordinators cultivate relationships like farmers cultivate crops, always on the lookout for a new volunteer to help out with one of the many tasks rescue requires.

Relationships begin with the administration and staff at the local shelters and the animal control officer. These people are key, as they are often the first to hear of a dog in a shelter. Volunteers are needed to visit shelters to assess the dogs, first to determine if they really are appropriate for breed rescue, and then to determine what type of foster home might be needed. Developing and maintaining relationships with volunteers who have both the time and the experienced eye for these assessments is an important task for coordinators.

Foster homes are also needed, but once a dog is placed in a foster home. Typically the rescue organization remains involved, continuing to assess the dog, provide for any special needs and address any health issues. While in foster care dogs are often vaccinated, spayed and microchipped. This means creating and maintaining relationships with foster families, veterinarians and quite possibly trainers.

As dogs get ready for adoption, a whole new set of relationships needs tending: reaching out to potential adoptive families through a host of online and face to face methods. Potential adopters can be a nervous bunch, and may need a lot of information and reassurance as they seek to find the right dog for them.

The Challenges
There are no shortage of challenges to breed rescue: the road from shelter to forever home is full of pot holes and switchbacks, often leading to dead ends. While some of the challenges are obvious: too many dogs in rescue and too few volunteers, some of the problems noted by ABMC’s Florida coordinator might not be anticipated.

Good samaritans, seeking to participate in rescue, flood the coordinators’ inboxes with notifications of dogs listed on websites such as Petfinder or Craigslist. Most rescue groups are not able to purchase dogs and simply lack the manpower to chase down every lead. These helpful folks, while well intentioned, create a time and energy drain for coordinators already overloaded.

The ABMC coordinator notes that all the coordinators in her organization have full time jobs, and she admits a little sheepishly, “we all have a lot of dogs.” She talks of burn out and says that most coordinators have at least six dogs of their own, and take in fosters regularly. Sara is currently housing twelve dogs, most of them unable to be adopted due to medical problems. Many of the foster homes that have an established track record teeter on the edge of burn out too, often stretched thin financially and logistically.

Special problems, for example, the use of certain dogs as vanity pets or status symbols further stress the rescue system. After pit bulls were banned in Miami-Dade County, Belgian Malinois became the dog of choice for drug dealers and other criminals. Thus in addition to strays, runaways and owner turn-ins, dogs also enter the rescue system after being confiscated in drug raids or cruelty cases.

The Rewards
“Every time I make the link, and a dog goes to the right forever home, I feel it.” Sara goes on to express, “The bond between humans and dogs is ancient and profound. Each time I help a dog and a person make that connection, I know it’s worth it.”

“I do meet great people all the time, and I get to interact with a lot of beautiful dogs, but the hours are long and they kind of add up. The bottom line for me is that I love helping the dogs and the people get matched up. The stories I get to hear, two, three, sometimes four or five years later, about how magical a dog has been for a family – that’s what makes it all worth it.”

Get Involved
If long hours and no pay sounds just right to you, get involved! Contact your local shelter for starters and consider volunteering right in your own community. As the expression goes, “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

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