Where to Start? (Or, “NEH,” This One’s For You)

About a week or so ago, the local news station here in NH ran a story about rescues from the south.  I was told that it was coming on, but of course I forgot all about it.  I eventually read the transcript of the story and saw some posts here and there about it on Facebook.  I heard that there were some interesting comments on the post on WMUR’s site, but when are there not interesting comments on anything these days?!?  In any event, I finally made it over to the site to read the comments yesterday morning.  And.  Yeah.  I have some thoughts.

ImageBefore I start, since I clearly found a place to start — blog title notwithstanding, I have to say that I don’t pretend to know everything about rescue. Far from it. With my measly 5.5 years in rescue, I’m a newborn in this world. I learn everyday, though it’s a hard-scrabble, hard-fought learning.  There is no boss telling me I’m being sent to take a week long class on this or that topic; no weekly staff meetings with other employees where we discuss our projects, thoughts, and issues.  No mentors in the office down the hall to whom I can run with questions.  NO TIME to spend hours a day researching and reading.  I do read and I do research, but it’s here and there.  I even went to a big conference. Once.  A lot, if not all, of what I have to say is through the blinders of my own experience in rescue with a little sprinkling of knowledge from actually being from the south.  (JANEY, DID YOU KNOW I WAS FROM TEXAS?!?!)

There were some great comments. A lot of folks felt the reporting was rather one-sided and nothing was really said about the thousands of happy adopters out there. One vet got on and talked about how dogs coming up from the south is not the big picture solution, which is something I say just about every day.  Of course it’s not.  Until everyone in our country spays and neuters at the rate we do in NH, and we ALL achieve a no-kill status, then transporting overpopulation from one part of the country to another is only putting a band-aid on the overriding issue.  It’s the solution for those dogs, the ones that were sitting on death row without a chance of getting adopted locally, absolutely.  But it’s not addressing the issue of overpopulation, lack of spaying/neutering in the south, nor the overriding attitude towards animals in some parts of our country.  I guess I look at it this way, and this is how I have explained it to many, many people over the past six years:  saving these dogs, the ones that I bring up, is what I can do right now, today.  Someday, when my kids are older, I want to be a part of addressing the larger issue.  Advocacy.  Education. Legislation.  All of it.  But to be a person who is passionate about dogs, lives in NH, has small children that require routine care (;-)), and is willing to do SOMETHING (and not need to be paid for it), well, this is what I can do right now, today.  For now, I have to leave the other parts of the puzzle to those with a passion for it, who live in areas where that particular message needs to be heard (preaching to the choir here in NH would be a waste of energy for sure!), and have their own time and inclination to do it.  If we all put some effort into our passions, wouldn’t the world be a better place?  My mom was always passionate about children’s issues and that’s where her volunteering efforts and time went.  I don’t expect everyone to have the same passion as I do, but simply respect the hell out of anyone who works towards their passion in some way, shape, or form.

The first time the state inspector met with me at our new place in New Boston, I chatted with her about this.  I told her flat out that my goal is to work myself out of a job.  Isn’t that a lovely thought?  A day where there is no need for us to help other parts of our own country with their overpopulation?  She told me she had never heard anyone say that, and she loved that I saw this importing of southern pups as a non-permanent solution.  (And I wouldn’t say ‘solution’ is the correct term, since we are still killing millions of animals each year.  But, as I have said, it’s certainly a solution for that dog that’s being saved.)

ImageOther comments were less constructive, certainly less informed, and sometimes downright nasty or mean-spirited. No shock there. (Have you read comments sections anywhere?!? It’s fascinating.) And then there was this post that, at first, made me laugh out loud.  And then it just made me sad.  “NEH” posted “Yeah the rescue in my town ‘specializes’ in pregnant dogs and sells the pups they can produce at a nice profit.”  I don’t think it’s conceited to think this is about Canine Commitment.  I’m the only rescue up here that I have ever seen say we “specialize in pregnant mamas and puppies.”  I don’t use that term so much anymore as we have grown tremendously and really do all ages and sizes now, but I certainly haven’t seen anyone else say they specialize in it.  When I started saying that a few years ago, I didn’t know anyone else who was even doing mama dogs.  Now, I know of at least three other rescues who routinely rescue pregnant dogs as part of their rescue.  Still, I’m guessing this is about Canine Commitment. About me.

Other comments, of course, also swirled around all the profit to be made and how rescues are pulling dogs from shelters in the south where there is no fee (“go ahead — look it up!”) and then “selling” them for ridiculous mark-ups and making money.  One poster (I think it was NEH as well), encouraged everyone to look up a rescue’s 990 form on-line and just see how much profit is made and see how much staff is paid.

Well, look, there was a whole load of comments.  If you are interested in seeing them, here is a link:


Where to start?

1. Profits Being Made, Part A:  I guess I feel like this topic is beaten to death, but given the number of people in these comments who talked about how much money rescues make perhaps not.  I’ll be the first to say I haven’t spent any time perusing other rescue’s 990 forms on-line (um, too busy caring for dogs and trying to keep my head above water — but perhaps if you have that much time on your hands NEH, I might suggest you have time to do something constructive to help the rescue effort, AHEM), so I don’t know what others are doing.  I know the oft-relayed schedule of costs rescues face, as I’m sure many of you do. I won’t list out the transport fees, the vetting fees, etc, here.  The fact of the matter is that sometimes we have a little margin on a dog, sometimes a bit more, and sometimes very little or none.  Whatever is “extra,” after you take in factors like overhead that we can’t get around (insurance for the rescue, heat for the facility, licensing fees), goes into the account, not into anyone’s pockets.

We routinely have enough in our bank account to know that we can prepay all the expenses on the next group of dogs coming up without worrying about adopting out all of the last group and depositing those fees.  To know that if there is an emergency and a dog needs to spend a night or two in the hospital, we will be able to cover it without begging for donations.  To know that we can buy some items to sell at the next fundraiser without worrying about every item selling or how we’ll pay for a big order.  I spent my first 2-2.5 years in rescue without that comfort, knowing that anything “extra” would be coming out of my personal checking account.  And it did.  Too many times for me to count.  I’m damn grateful to know that we’d be able to cover an emergency or two without putting ourselves in financial risk, and without me needing to write a personal check on an account to which I don’t deposit a paycheck myself!

And, as NEH pointed out, our tax returns are available to one and all. My books are open to one and all.  There is not enough to be “made” or profited, at least not in our rescue, to hire staff or to pay the three main folks running this place.  I don’t know how many hours we put in, but I know it’s routinely in the 40+ range for the two of us who have full-time jobs outside of rescue.  I kept track for myself one week and it was so mind-boggling to think how many hours I have poured into this rescue that I never kept track again.  Best just to keep working and be filled with gratitude that I get to live my passion. And that I don’t have to wear high heels and business clothes everyday.  I’ve got a lot of gratitude for that!

2.  Profits Being Made, Part B.  I get that there are good rescues and bad rescues out there. I’ve heard the stories, I know.  Hell, I’ve made my own mistakes on this heart-wrenchingly steep learning curve.  I’ve tried to learn and be better.  Always be better.  But there are the groups out there.  The ones that drive down to a shelter offering $5 out-of-state adoptions, get the most adoptable dogs, drive them up themselves, meet folks in an empty parking lot in NH or MA (where it is illegal), and charge hundreds of dollars, and then disappear. One of my volunteers has a good friend who did just that.  They met someone in an abandoned grocery store parking lot last year (long after it was illegal for adopters to meet transport trucks in the state of NH), paid over $700 for the pup they wanted, and went happily on their way.  They were lucky — their pup was healthy and fine.  So fine, that they thought they would update the rescue about their happy pup.  They e-mailed their contact, and the e-mail bounced.  They tried to find their Facebook page.  Poof, gone.  And — you see where this is going, right? — they had disappeared off of Petfinder.  Absolutely it happens.  Anytime someone sees dollar signs next to something, there is someone that figures out a way to cut corners, do it more cheaply, ignore the laws, whatever, and make money … and there are some truly awful people that even do it when animals’ lives are at stake, or the ability of legitimate rescues to continue rescuing and importing dogs is at stake.  I have my own suspicions about a couple of groups and how they handle things.  I know it happens.  But I know what my books look like and I know that I would gladly show them to anyone showing interest.  (Thank you to KK who keeps the books in ship-shape order!)

3.  Mama Dogs for Profit, Part A.  This one is for you NEH, and for your comment regarding bringing up pregnant mamas, selling all the babies they can produce, and making a profit on them.  Well.  Let’s see.  When I started in rescue and somehow, magically, seemed to get added overnight to various mailing lists of desperate shelters in the south, trying to network and save lives and not have to watch one more gorgeous, lovely, adoptable dog get shoved in a metal box where they would be gassed to death with 25 others, I started to see a lot of desperate pleas for pregnant dogs.  You see, I didn’t know then what I know now.  I didn’t know that a lot of shelters are mandated to kill pregnant dogs first, because that way they wouldn’t have to kill mama AND her puppies in a few weeks. Stop and imagine that for one minute, if you can — mama and babies being shoved in that metal box together. It kinda makes you want to DO SOMETHING, doesn’t it? It made me want to do something, that’s for sure.  And when I started out in rescue, one of the main things I knew was that NH didn’t have lots of puppies (if any!) in our shelters. And very quickly in rescue, I learned about the dangers of any pups that had spent so much as a millisecond in a large shelter — parvo, distemper, ringworm, and more.  So, I thought, this is win-win, isn’t it?  I can save the mama dog, the babies can be born here safe and sound and healthy, and I won’t be displacing a ton of puppies waiting for homes in our local shelter.  Yes, adopting mama to a family that might otherwise have gone to the local shelter and adopted an adult dog was a dubious part of the equation, but my heart broke for these young, female dogs that were uprooted and dumped simply because their owners didn’t spay them and then didn’t want the hassle of the consequences.  To this day, it is the mama dogs who crawl into my heart and stay there, long after they have gone on to their own families. I certainly didn’t choose to rescue pregnant dogs because I saw dollar signs. And if I had seen half of the baggage that comes with rescuing these poor mamas and their babies, I daresay I would have done more than thought twice — I would have given my husband leave to seriously question my sanity!

Mama dogs are in the roughest shape of any of the dogs I ever receive by nature of the urgency to get them here.  They can’t be left in a crate overnight, certainly not when birthing seems imminent. They have to be checked on.  They rarely give birth at convenient times. Their puppies die sometimes.  Sometimes the whole litter dies.  Newborn puppies are tricky and make you worry, constantly, for the first two weeks at least.  Then you worry 23 out of 24 hours for the next four weeks or so.  Then you worry after you give them their first vaccines.  Then they get kennel cough, somehow, from the pups downstairs who just came in but aren’t coughing at all themselves.  And then your heart breaks a little when it’s time to say goodbye to these babies, as you hope you have done everything you can to make sure that the adopters are who they seem to be and that they will love them and care for them the way they deserve. And then you will worry that you won’t be able to say goodbye to Mama.  That you’ll never find a home that will take her on with all her quirks and all her “perfect imperfections.”  But you know, you know, that next Saturday another scared, undernourished, perplexed mama dog will arrive and everything will start all over with the same morning walks played out with new doggy nicknames and new goofy hops and skips; the dance of the rescued  mama in the pink morning sky of NH, where she knows she is safe and her babies will be born into safety and love.

No, I didn’t start “specializing” in pregnant mama dogs for the money.

4.  Mama Dogs for Profit, Part B:  Where, oh where, is there a huge profit in the mama dogs, selling “all the puppies they can produce?!?”  I just don’t get it.  The mamas are here often for three to four months.  Fed, housed, vetted.  Puppies need multiple rounds of dewormer and vaccines, and that’s when ALL GOES WELL and nobody is ill or has any issues.  Mama has to be spayed when all is done. All the puppies require health certificates before leaving, at $65-$80 per puppy.  The mom and pups require a lot of space to roam and grow, and other dogs shouldn’t be anywhere near them — it’s a huge resource commitment for 2.5-3.5 months!  And the hours, oh the hours.  Do you really begrudge a rescue if they have ANY “extra” on a litter of pups, that extra that might help us rescue a senior, or a three legged, or a chihuahua (second most euthanized dog in our shelters, or they may have surpassed pit bulls now to be number one) that will take five times as long to adopt as those cute puppies and we will lose money on. (But geez, how I hate even saying “lose money” on a living being!  We commit to them, we are able to do what we do because some pups cost less than others, and we are left with enough operating money to not have to talk about the P&L numbers of every dog!)

And I DON’T know where to start on the “all the puppies they produce” portion of the comment.  Did NEH intend to make me sound like a puppy mill? For the love of pete, these mamas are often pulled out at the 11th hour, underfed, scared, hugely pregnant — and those are the lucky ones that are heartworm negative and are actually able to be transported to NH.  The hours I have spent curled up next to a new mama dog, in her fresh, clean, warm enclosure, somehow trying to cross the human-animal communication bridge and will her, WILL HER to understand that she is safe now, and cared for, and loved.  That her babies will be safe.  That she will never have to have another litter again, and that once she is done with the mouthy, teethy little monsters in eight weeks, that she will find a family of her own, one that wants her, and loves her, and will never, ever let her go.  Well, that’s how I got to the feeling sad part when I read NEH’s comments.  To belittle what we do, to collapse it down into self-serving little soundbites, wrapped in platitudes of his/her concern for what is happening in rescue (something NEH expressed a couple of times — that they have been involved in rescue and they are just concerned about what is happening nowadays), to denigrate that little rescue in your town that happens to be trying, trying to make a small difference in this crazy world of ours … well, NEH, it makes me feel sad for you.

I could go on and on about the other comments, but I don’t have time.  Those puppies are going to be waiting for me at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning.  Those puppies … and those mamas.  So I’ll just count the piles of money around here for awhile, then head off to bed.  Goodnight Maisy.  Goodnight Ginny and Mystic. Goodnight Lori and Stella and Chloe.  Goodnight Pansy.  Goodnight Genevieve and Ellie Mae and Teal.  Goodnight Lady  and Luna and Willow.  Goodnight Taylor Louise.  Goodnight Rosie.  Goodnight Nora and Maeve.



9 Responses to “Where to Start? (Or, “NEH,” This One’s For You)”

  1. 1 spunkymommy May 22, 2014 at 1:20 am

    Rescues are hard work and there are good and bad ones out there – the work that you are doing at Canine Commitment is amazing and anyone who thinks otherwise is simply misinformed. This is a wonderful and tactful recap of why some points are untrue – thank you for clarifying the good you do for the world. We appreciate it.

  2. 2 janey May 22, 2014 at 1:23 am

    This is beautiful, well said and perfect! Goodnight sweet Mamas!

  3. 3 Amy McC May 22, 2014 at 1:40 am

    Ross!! There are so many reasons why I love volunteering for you and those furry monsters!! And what you just wrote is the biggest one – you have such a passion to be doing this for all those furry souls. Once they leave your care they give people/families so much love and companionship and you are the first one they get it from when they set foot in NH! I may only be able to help for an hour but I am proud to be able to give you my hour and do what little I can to help give those pups a good life…or at least a clean bed for an hour until the next volunteer comes in to help 🙂 You should know that there are so many souls who appreciate what you do – most of whom have fur!!

  4. 4 Dsbp May 22, 2014 at 1:47 am

    Well said. Heartfelt words that ring so true. Thank God that there are people that don’t just step back because it is too overwhelming.

  5. 5 Lynn Clough May 22, 2014 at 2:56 am

    I adopted a mama (from a NY rescue). She’s a wonderful, loving dog! And my neighbor adopted one of your pups who has grown up into a lovely, sweet little girl! Drive on! Ignore the ignorant NEHs of the world!

  6. 6 NinaD May 22, 2014 at 10:08 am

    We adopted a 1 1/2 year old from Canine Commitment about 3 years ago. She is an amazing sweet dog. Thank you for all you do!!

  7. 7 Dorinne Whynott May 22, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Ross, I am always here for you if you ever need a shoulder or to vent or ideas from my experience in rescue and shelter work. The amazing animal shelter boss I had back in 1978, told me ” we are here to put ourselves out of business, because if we do our jobs, there would be no need for a shelter”. Ideal words but Those were words that shaped me and I have been educating and rescuing and helping where I can. Have not been able to rescue to your level, of which I thoroughly commend.
    The TV piece was not beneficial to animal welfare in my opinion. You are right, there are many who are exploiting and making a profit. Many look for free pets, then re home them for a profit. We just keep trying to educate the public. Sometimes it is hard, because many look at us as fanatics. We just keep going because the animals are always worth it.

  8. 8 MJ May 22, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Ignorance has never stopped people from forming opinions on anything — just look at the folks who get elected and how they get elected. Anyway Ross I certainly hope NEH and those like her will take the time to read your response. This is a beautiful tribute to those with a passion for dogs and for life. All of my dogs have been rescues and I have gladly contributed to their rescuers for the care they have obviously lavished on my dogs. For the dogs who can’t say it, “Thank You Ross for being there for them!”

  9. 9 Paddy McHale May 22, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    You’re my hero.

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