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Grateful Dogs Rescue

Granting Best Friends The Best Life

For being dubbed “man’s best friend”, sadly more dogs than we’d like to think are abused, neglected, or abandoned for whatever fate might befall them. Luckily, there are truly caring, responsible organizations like Grateful Dogs Rescue that take in dogs and put pooch welfare first.

Encountering joyful dogs in places like Dolores Park and Duboce Park, it’s easy to romanticize the lives dogs lead. In reality, even some dogs who started off as well-loved puppies end up homeless or “surrendered” to shelters. While the San Francisco Department of Animal Care Control (ACC) takes in stray, injured, abandoned, neglected and mistreated dogs (as well as cats and other animals), those who do not pass ACC’s behavioral and medical assessments are likely to be euthanized unless claimed or rescued. ACC can’t be faulted for taking this practical approach, but just because a dog doesn’t pass ACC’s assessments doesn’t mean they aren’t “adoptable”. That’s where Grateful Dogs Rescue (GDR) comes in.

According to Administrative Director Kim Durney, GDR is the oldest nonprofit all-breed rescue group in San Francisco. In contrast to Breed Rescue Groups (i.e. Labrador Rescue, Poodle Rescue, etc.), GDR takes all breeds and mixes. Shelters like ACC often call GDR as a last resort before euthanization. From this point, GDR’s volunteers visit the shelter and conduct a temperament test to see what dogs they think they can find homes for. The next consideration is whether there is a foster home available for the dog.

GDR’s model of operation owes much to its extraordinary volunteers, who make it possible to save many K9 lives. The majority of GDR’s volunteers serve as foster parents, welcoming rescued dogs into their homes, taking them to the vet to attend to any medical issues, and rehabilitating or socializing dogs that may have been mistreated, traumatized, or just never received proper training.

Foster parents care for their rescued dog(s) anywhere from a week or two to a year or more, until it is adopted. One of the standouts of GDR is that they value quality over quantity. “Our goal is to find the right home for the dog and have it be their forever home,” Kim says. Dogs with GDR stay with foster parents until a home can be found. Spending time and energy with a dog allows the foster parent to really get to know the dog so they can place the dog with an appropriate adoptive family.

“If we put a dog into a home that isn’t suitable, they’ll suffer one way or another,” Kim says. “Either they’ll be stuck in the back yard or come back to us or something worse. We try to be very, very careful to place the dog in a suitable home where the dog fits the household and the household fits the dog.”

I moved into a dog-friendly apartment six months ago so I could get a dog, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago my boyfriend and I finally decided to start looking for a furry friend to join our family. We began by browsing the Pets section on Craigslist and were drawn to the photos and description posted for Frenchie, a thirteen-week-old puppy listed by Grateful Dogs.

After doing a little research to check out Grateful Dogs’ reputation, we filled out an adoption application. The next day we visited Frenchie in her foster home and fell in love. A short informational interview with her foster mother was educational -- we learned about what kind of training and socialization she’d already had, and what she would need in her owners to be a happy, well-behaved dog. Following the visit, the foster mother conducted a home inspection to make sure our home is suitable and safe for the particular puppy we’re interested in. As a last check, she contacted a reference we provided.

After that it was quick -- we arranged to meet Frenchie at her puppy training class. After puppy class, her wonderful case worker (and longtime GDR volunteer -- over 10 years! -- Melinda Ciricillo) handed Frankie off to us with several bags of dog food, her crate, collar, leash, a few doggie sweaters to ward off the chill on walks, her old dog bed, and a profile with information on her daily routine and feeding habits.

After the rapidly approaching conclusion of the standard two week foster/probation period, we will officially be the adoptive parents of Frenchie, who we have renamed Frankie! For a mere $150 we will rescue a dog that GDR has micro chipped, “fixed”, and vaccinated.

If GDR’s adoption process seems thorough and extremely detailed, it is, for the sake of the dog. “As opposed to saving as many dogs as possible, GDR is more focused on each dog that we rescue and the quality of what we’re doing,” Melinda says. “Sometimes somebody comes along and it’s completely right. It’s as though the dog was waiting and the people were waiting for that dog and it fits, and that’s what keeps me in rescue even though it’s often very tiring.”

Melinda has been volunteering with GDR for the past ten years, discovering the rescue group through her dog walker at the time -- GDR founder Michelle Parris. Michelle (a former SF Animal Care & Control volunteer) started GDR in the early 90s with the mission of rescuing dogs not put up for adoption by ACC; she was the primary foster parent. In 2003 Michelle moved to Oregon, and a group of volunteers took over GDR. Today there’s a group of 35-40 foster parents like Melinda, who put their all into finding good homes for rescued pooches canines.

Thinking about getting a dog? Given the large number of dogs in shelters and with rescue agencies, consider adopting a dog first. The key to a harmonious relationship with you and your dog is truly knowing yourself, and knowing what you’re signing up for.

“Ask a lot of questions of the [rescue] organization you’re interested in,” Melinda recommends. “A good rescue group is going to want to talk to you a lot and answer your questions thoroughly -- what kind of training has the dog had? What kind of situations has the dog been in? Spend as much time as possible. If [the organization] is pressuring you to take the dog, it’s probably not the best fit.” In other words, the organization probably does not have the dog’s best interest in mind.

“It’s really asking questions of your own self,” Melinda says. “Knowing what types of situations you’re going to be putting the dog in, your own energy levels. Look at a lot of dogs, if you have he opportunity, to make a really good decision about the perfect dog for you.” It’s also smart to read up on the breed(s), if known, to find out possible health and temperament characteristics. The last thing you want is to fall in love with a puppy only to find out that he or she will grow to be a lot bigger than you can accommodate, requires more exercise than you’re willing to give it, or has higher energy levels that you can deal with. Make sure if you rent, your landlord allows dogs!

To end on a happy note, Melinda recalls a pit bull named Pumpkin. Pumpkin was abandoned in a park and welcomed into GDR. For a year she resided with her foster owner, getting few adoption applications even though she was beautiful and sweet. Finally, someone in Colorado saw her on Petfinder and called GDR to express interest. She was moving to San Francisco in a few months. Over the next few months she continued to keep in touch with GDR about Pumpkin. Upon arriving in SF, she had to move three times in order to find a place that would allow pit bulls. Today, Pumpkin, who was rejected by the animal shelter and who it seemed no one wanted, is on an apprentice team for Search and Rescue. “She could have been euthanized and now she’s training for Search and Rescue!” Melinda says happily. “She’s a very, very special dog that got completely overlooked.”