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How You Can Get Started In Dog Rescue

Updated on November 7, 2014
SheilaSchnauzies profile image

SheilaSchnauzies is a Miniature Schnauzer rescuer, writer, crochet designer, gardener, crafter, wife, mom & friend living in Omaha, NE.

Questions You May Have About Dog Rescue - There's A Lot To Think About.

A Great Box For Your Dog Rescue Toolkit!

I'm going to give you a brief overview of dog rescue here. It's not all-inclusive, and you should study everything you can get your hands on about dogs - their health, behavior issues, first aid, and dog rescue.

Back in 1998, I had to give up working because of my health and I was searching for a way to continue to "give back to the universe." At the time I had three Miniature Schnauzers - Sheina, Sparky, and Scrappy Jack. I had always wanted to help dogs, so I volunteered with a local dog rescue as a foster mom. After seeing the number of Miniature Schnauzers needing help, I founded Sheila's Schnauzies Miniature Schnauzer Rescue, Inc. in the year 2000.

I'm going to tell you one thing before you jump in with both feet. Make sure your family is 100% supportive of what you want to do, or you are in for one major struggle after another down the road! Every time a new rescue dog comes in, it disrupts the routine of the household in some way, large or small... and that will include the dogs in the household as well as family members. If you have a dog that is incontinent, a dog with separation anxiety, a dog that likes to bite people - these and other problems can cost you real money. If you are not prepared for that, you may want to help dogs in other ways than caring for them in your home.

You will have to have adequate financial resources to take care of the needs of the rescue dogs OR you will have to depend on the generosity of others to help you.

Extended family and friends may not "get" what you do or why you are doing it. Are you prepared to deal with criticism?

Your city probably has limit laws on the number of dogs you can have in your household. They may or may not have a special rescue permit available. If they have one, and you plan to have more dogs than the regular limit, it's a good idea to get a permit. If they don't have one on the books, you can work with your city council to get one created - that's what I did in Papillion, Nebraska.

In this photo, volunteer Larry falls in love with new foster Zoe.

What You Need To Know About Rescue

In this photo, left to right are volunteer and major donor Sheryl, Scamp the Schnauzer on his way to a new home, me, and my daughter Cari.
In this photo, left to right are volunteer and major donor Sheryl, Scamp the Schnauzer on his way to a new home, me, and my daughter Cari.

Rescuing Schnauzers (or Golden Retrievers, or Poodles, or mixed breed dogs) is rewarding. Most of all it is NEEDED. When I started volunteering in rescue 11 years ago, I could not believe ANYONE would ever give up a Schnauzer! Boy, was I naive. Over 50 Schnauzers who have passed through our rescue since then have also proved me wrong. If you don't believe it, just go to and plug in a search for "Schnauzer." You won't believe your eyes.

People are always asking me where the dogs come from. Quite simply, everywhere! The longest distance transport I've personally had in our rescue was a boy named River who came to us from Minnesota. Tasha and Springer came to us from Junction City, Kansas. So did Ladybug. Sam started out in Iowa, traveled to our farm in southeast Missouri, went to a rescue in northeast Missouri later, and finally ended up in his forever home in Washington State! We've received dogs from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, and of course all over Nebraska. Over the last few years rescue shelters have gotten much better at talking to each other thanks to the Internet, and dogs are traveling all over the country going to their new forever homes. There are even rescue transport businesses that have sprung up to meet the growing need. We'll go into more detail about getting dogs from Point A to Point B in a little bit.

You can't usually plan for rescues. Sure, sometimes there are organized breeder releases or large surrender events. But most of the time, it's an emergency call. When a dog is in eminent danger of being PTS (Put To Sleep) at a shelter, there is no time to waste. You have to be ready to move NOW. If you cannot rescue the dog yourself (referred to as "pulling" the dog from the shelter), you have to activate your rescue network and find somebody in that location who can pull the dog and get it to its next destination (either you, or another rescuer you've made arrangements with). Just pulling the dog can be an incredibly complicated process, depending on the releasing shelter and their requirements. You'd think just having a rescue to hand the dog over to, saving its life, would be enough... but no. You'll encounter everything from release fees to paperwork and licensing requirements.

Another common question asked of me is, how do you keep your heart from breaking, time after time? How do you let go of a dog that you have stolen from the angel of death and nursed back to shining health? How do you pay for a surgery to save a dog's life? How do you get a puppy mill dog who has never even been petted or stepped on real grass to live a happy life? How do you deal with it when you find out a dog you have placed for adoption is left at a pound and subsequently killed? (Answer? You don't "deal with" any of it, I don't think... you simply try to learn from it, change how you handle things in the future, do the best you can. And understand that "all you can do is all you can do."

Every Dog Steals A Piece Of My Heart...

The photo is me with my precious Sarah. She came into rescue with her sister, Bonnie, when their elderly mother moved into a nursing home. Sarah suddenly went totally blind but adapted very quickly to our environment. She was one of the bravest dogs I've ever known, and so sweet. She and her sister Bonnie were eventually adopted and lived out their lives well cared for in a wonderful home. I still miss her.

If you want to help...

Start Googling! Find your nearest rescue that handles the breed you want to work with, or an all-breed rescue... and volunteer! You can be a transport driver, you can foster dogs in your home... even collect blankets for shelter dogs. The opportunities are endless.

The easiest way to find rescues needing help is to search for your zip code! Dog rescues will be listed on the dog adoption pages.

A Day In The Life Of A Dog Rescuer

Well, there are good days... and not so good... and "oh my God, this is a nightmare" days. Today was the latter for me. I was sitting here, recovering from hip surgery two weeks ago, crocheting something with a few dogs on my footstool and on the floor around me - typical day. Until the phone rang, telling me that a Schnauzer I had placed almost a year ago had been dumped at a city animal pound and was on death row. I sprang into action, contacted the pound, only to learn they had euthanized him a couple of hours before. The rest of my day was spent grieving, emailing and writing... right after I called that adopter and asked her "WHY?" She had no answer. She had no remorse. This was definitely a nightmare day.

But there are good and wonderful days too - when things go perfectly right, the stars align and the magic perfect adopter appears out of nowhere for a particular dog... and it works out, and they are fabulous. That's what you work for. Those days.

Now those pretty bad days - good example, I had one of my furbabies, Ladybug, very sick. She was under treatment when I left for the hospital to have hip surgery, but in still very bad shape. I had to trust her care to others (and I thank them!!) When I came home, I couldn't walk more than a few steps on a walker and another dog had gotten the same illness - I was spending days feeding dogs with eyedroppers of liquid food, trying to keep them alive. Thankfully it worked and both of them are fine now. But for a few days there, it was pretty rough going. And there's the time the emaciated, pregnant Bassett hound showed up at our farm at midnight one night... but that's another story!

Be prepared for messes, for sick dogs, for dogs who bite you (if you choose to take in dogs with biting issues). I'm not going to sugar coat it - it can be ugly. And expensive. And heartbreaking. And when it works, it's the whole world wrapped up in a big shiny bow!

In this photo from 2005, new rescue Monty, a stress biter, gets his first bath by me. He did really great, considering how scared he was.

Your Roadside Dog Rescue Toolkit! - What You'll Need

You see a dog lying on the side of a busy highway, obviously the victim of a hit-and-run. You want to run right to her and scoop her up. NOT safe. First off, you have to protect yourself from getting hit too! Turn on your flashers and set up an emergency cone, reflector, etc.

  • An injured dog is terrified and may bite you even though you're trying to help. Dog bites can be very serious (wanna see my scars?) and you need to protect yourself from that. Having a muzzle handy is a terrific way to do that. (In a pinch, if you don't have one, you can make one out of a lightweight leash, a big-size dog collar, or even a bandanna. Quite simply.... tie the mouth closed. Firmly enough that you can't get hurt, but not tight enough to pinch the dog.
  • Chances are pretty good that an injured dog may be going into shock. One of the treatments for this is to cover the dog with a nice, warm blankie.
  • You should probably NOT give an injured dog water until it sees a vet, but there are always lots of other handy uses for a container of water.
  • If the dog is just a stray and not injured, a leash is one very handy thing to have in your toolkit!
  • A container of moist Pet Wipes is handy for cleaning up messes.
  • If you want to protect your hands (from blood, other contaminants) you might want to have a box of disposable gloves handy.
  • Last but not least, you'll want a comfy place for Fido to rest. A crate is ideal, but not everyone wants to carry one around! You might want to consider a protective mat (or old towels) for your seat, and a safety harness would be nice too.
  • Once you've gathered your toolkit, you can keep it in a tackle box, or a nice tote bag where it's always handy.

5 Ways Anyone Can Help Rescue Dogs!

  1. Volunteer your time with your local humane society or dog rescue.Volunteers are needed to walk dogs, groom dogs and cats, clean kennels, etc.
  2. Donate food, toys, blankets or grooming items to your local rescue or shelter.
  3. Donate financially to your local rescue or shelter.
  4. Don't Buy Puppies – Adopt instead!
  5. Spay or neuter your pet!

Lily Rose

Lily Rose
Lily Rose

A Real-Life Rescue Story

About A Tiny Puppy Named Lily Rose

The phone rang one afternoon. On the end was a veterinarian in west Omaha. She had found my name on a dog rescue contact list. She had a tiny, 14-week old puppy named Lily Rose, who was literally dying. Lily's owner had brought her to the vet for extreme vomiting. The puppy hadn't been able to keep any food down for days, and was now very weak, lethargic, and dehydrated. Problem was, the vet wanted to hospitalize Lily and put her on IV fluids for life support, and the owner wouldn't consent to it. Instead, the owner just left the puppy there. The vet, thank heavens, went ahead and hooked Lily up to an IV and started trying to find a rescue to take over her care. And that's where I came in.

Only one hitch - the vet had to obtain the owner's release of ownership before our rescue could step in. It was an anxious couple of hours before she got the owner to come by and sign off.

You Say... - Where Do You Stand on Rescue?

My status with Dog Rescue is...

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