Rescue Groups give Homeless animals a second chance

By Debbie Gilbert
The Times
Gainesville, GA

Adopting a homeless pet can be a double blessing. You acquire a faithful companion, and you also get the satisfaction of knowing that you may have saved its life.

Today is National Homeless Animals Day, promoted by animal welfare organizations to raise awareness about pet adoption.

Last year, 3,189 dogs and cats were adopted from the Humane Society of Hall County. But more that 8,000 others had to be euthanized because there was no space for them.

To try to give such animals a second chance, hundreds of “rescue” groups acquire unwanted pets from shelters and place them in foster homes until they can be adopted. These groups post descriptions of available pets at www.petfinder.com, which currently lists more than 180,000 animals across North America. Potential buyers can search by ZIP code or by a specific breed.
In Georgia, rescue groups must be licensed by the state Department of Agriculture. Currently, 411 licenses are held by animal shelters and rescue organizations, which the department does not count separately.

“We inspect the license holder, and then they are responsible for making sure each foster home follows all the rules and regulations,” said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin. “We only have 13 field inspectors statewide, so we don’t usually investigate foster homes unless there’s a complaint.”

Occasionally, the lack of oversight can lead to problems. “In North Fulton, we recently had a terrible incident where over 100 cats died in a foster home because of overcrowding and neglect,” Irvin said.

Such incidents receive a lot of publicity, but fortunately, are rare, said Rick Aiken, director of the Humane Society of Hall County.

“(Foster volunteers) are very compassionate and loving people, but sometimes they can’t recognize when they’re overextended,” he said. “But many of these groups do an excellent job. You shouldn’t have any concerns about adopting from rescue as long as the animal looks healthy and they provide the proper documentation.”

Like the humane society, nearly all rescue groups spay or neuter and vaccinate their animals prior to adoption. But a dog or cat purchased at the Hall County shelter costs $70, while rescues may charge $100 to $300.

The higher price reflects difference in philosophy between rescues and municipal shelters. Because of space limitations, shelters typically euthanize animals that are sick, injured or old. Rescues, on the other hand, attempt to save the animal if at all possible.

But homeless pets, by their very nature, incur high veterinary bills. Due to neglect, they often are plagued by conditions such as mange, fleas, heartworms and ear infections, and they must be treated before they can be adopted.

“With rescue, we have to charge more to cover the medical expenses,” said Beth Mulrooney, who lives near Hall and Forsyth County line and has worked as a rescue volunteer for five years.
Mulrooney is applying for a state license \for her own rescue group, the Lake Lanier Humane League, and \is also trying to get incorporated as a non-profit so the organization can accept donations.

“The rescue groups provide some funding to the foster homes for their expenses,” she said. “But you’ve got to be sure that no one takes on more than they can handle, physically, financially and emotionally.”

Fostering truly is a labor of love, Mulrooney said. “It’s hard to give the dog up (to a new owner), but you turn around and realize that there’s another dog waiting for your help.”

Some rescues work with both dogs and cats; Mulrooney’s focuses mainly on dogs. Georgia also has rescue groups for most of the well-known dog breeds.

“I think breed rescues can do a better job placing a dog than a shelter can, because we can tell the person more about breed-specific problems and whether this breed is right for them,” said Susanne Allen, president of Dawsonville-based Sheltie Rescue of Georgia, which fosters abandoned Shetland sheepdogs.

Many animals who end up at rescues are “owner surrenders,” she said.

“Sometimes the owners legitimate reasons, such as illness, that they don’t want to take it to a shelter where it may be killed.” Shelters also may contact breed rescues and offer a “transfer” when a purebred is brought in.

According to statistics compiled by Atlanta-based SPOT (Stopping Pet Overpopulation Together), in some counties such as Barrow, as many as half of all shelter dogs are transferred to rescue groups.

Hall had the lowest transfer rate of any county in metro Atlanta.

“If the animal has already had its (sterilization) surgery and it seems adoptable, we put it up for the public (to purchase),” Aiken said. “But sometimes we will call a purebred rescue group if the animal has a medical problem.”

Allen wonders why, if the humane society has to euthanize thousands of animals due to lack of space, it doesn’t allow rescues to take more of the healthy dogs rather than just the ones that are sick or elderly.

But shelters know that most rescues won’t turn away the hard-luck cases.

“We almost always take the dog in and see if we can fix it before giving up,” Allen said.

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