One very positive change in the handling of homeless animals in the last couple of decades has been the growth of the volunteer, grass-roots breed-rescue movement. If you're looking for a purebred and are willing to accept a grown dog instead of a puppy, then choosing a dog from a breed-rescue group is a good deal, and a good deed.
Breed-rescue groups work with a single breed, such as the basset hound, or a couple of related breeds, such as one group I know of specializing in collies and Shetland sheepdogs. In some areas, all-volunteer groups also foster and place mixed breeds.
These groups range from one-person operations placing a few dogs a year, to a few massive nonprofits with their own sheltering facilities, boards of directors, and a well-organized volunteer network all dedicated to stepping in when one of their particular breed needs a hand.
Some breed-rescue groups work by referral only, keeping lists of dogs in private homes and shelters that need homes, and referring potential adopters. Others take in dogs from shelters and private individuals and foster the dogs, a policy that allows them to get a good feel for an individual animal's personality.
While such diversity of policies makes it impossible to describe a "typical" breed-rescue effort, probably the closest description of one would be a group consisting of two to four volunteers who work together to foster and place dogs of their chosen breeds, and are affiliated with a local breed club and loosely tied to a national network of rescuers for that particular breed.
They typically offer dogs who have been vet-checked, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered; the adoption fees they charge cover these veterinary expenses. Transportation and foster-care costs often come out of the volunteers' pockets.
The nature of breed rescue creates both advantages and disadvantages for a potential adopter.
The advantages include getting a vet-checked, altered purebred at a very reasonable price -- commonly, just the cost of the veterinary care. You also get more personal service with a breed-rescue group than with a shelter. A breed-rescue group puts you on a waiting list if they haven't got a dog who suits you, and also works with other rescuers in the region to find what you want. Breed-rescue volunteers have often lived with the dogs they're trying to place, and so they are more keenly aware of how each dog handles a home situation -- such as how she gets along with cats.
Getting a dog through a breed-rescue group has drawbacks, too. Breed-rescue groups rely on volunteers, and volunteers can easily get in over their heads and burn out quickly. These groups start up and stop and regroup and drop out at a surprising rate, which makes tracking down a current breed-rescue contact in your area a little difficult. It can be hard, too, to deal with the same person you worked with if you have problems a year or two down the line, or need to give up the dog.
But don't let these problems dissuade you if you're looking for an adult purebred. Shelters, veterinarians and reputable breeders often can provide you with a referral to a breed-rescue group and, if not, you can start at the national level and work your way down. Many American Kennel Club breed clubs have national rescue coordinators who maintain a current list of local and regional efforts. To find the national coordinator for any breed, contact the AKC at (919) 233-9767, or visit the Web site at www.akc.org.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org) is a nonprofit organization that offers information and support to those who use animals as helpers. Service dogs -- animals trained to assist people with disabilities -- are one focus of the group's attention, but so too are all manner of animals who help people with their very presence.
Animals as small as cats and rabbits and as big as horses can change the lives of people, and the Delta Society does what it can to help those animals and the people who work with them. You'll find a lot of information on this site on the usefulness of animals as health-care workers, along with ideas on how to get started as a volunteer.
(Note: A couple weeks ago I transposed letters for the National Iguana Awareness Day Web site. The correct address is www.niad.org.)
Canaries hail originally from the Canary Islands, which were not named for their most famous residents, but for the dogs the Romans found there (canis is Latin for "dog"). Wild canaries are green and yellow, but domesticated canaries come in many colors and varieties, thanks to centuries of selective breeding. Canaries can be sleek or plump in body type, and smooth or puffy when it comes to feathers, with colors from yellow to bright orange to greens and browns. If you want a singer, though, make sure your new bird is a male -- female canaries don't sing.
Although still one of the most popular birds in the world, the canary isn't talked about as much for its pet potential as it used to be. And that's a shame, because the bird is perfect for beginners who aren't sure they want as much interaction as some other species require. The canary is happy to hang out in a cage and entertain you with beauty and song.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We lost a cat a few years ago after she crawled into the dryer to sleep on the warm clothes, and my 9-year-old son turned the dryer back on again, not knowing she was inside. Our whole family was devastated, especially my son. We adopted a new cat from the shelter a few months back, and the other day I found her in the dryer, too! I've reminded everyone to check the dryer before turning it on, to remove the clothes when the cycle's done, and to keep the dryer door closed. But kids are kids (I have three of them), and my husband isn't that good about remembering to check for the cat either. I am worried we'll lose this cat, too. Any suggestions? -- H.F., via e-mail
A: For a cat, being killed in a dryer is a very real danger. Not even counting the many, many readers who have told me about their cats who have been killed this way, I personally know of four animals who lost their lives in a dryer.
Cats love warmth, and they find it in some dangerous places. The dryer is a natural draw, but so is the engine of a car that's just been turned off. The cat who falls asleep next to a warm manifold may be gravely injured or killed when the car is started again. (Which is why everyone should thump the hood of the car on cold mornings, to startle any sleeping cats into skeddadling.)
The preventive measures you mention for the dryer are the best ones, but accidents can still happen. One more drastic measure is to convince your cat that the dryer is a horrible place to take a nap. When you see your cat inside, close the dryer's door for a few seconds (make sure the machine is off!) and pound on it with your palms, making as much noise as you can. Then open the door and let your cat make a run for it.
I normally would not recommend any training method that would scare an animal, but the risk of death here is too great to ignore. A couple of scary moments in the dryer is vastly preferable to a horrible death, in my book.
Q: What do you think about wolf hybrids as pets? We're thinking about getting one. -- Y.D., via e-mail
A: I don't recommend wolf-dog hybrids. They're more pet than the majority of people can possibly handle.
The result of a breeding between a wolf and a dog -- most commonly a husky, malamute or German shepherd -- the wolf-dog hybrid is a beautiful, intelligent animal and a potentially dangerous companion that few people can handle or adequately care for. They are often destructive and can rarely be house-trained. Determined and resourceful escape artists, they can be chillingly efficient predators.
The intelligence that fanciers adore, combined with size and strength, causes problems at maturity, when wolf-hybrids do what comes naturally: try for a higher place in their social order, challenging the authority of their human "packmates." Human deaths and injuries are higher with these animals, as compared to domesticated dogs as a whole. And you hear many anecdotal accounts of vicious attacks -- especially on children -- by seemingly docile wolf-dog pets.
Because of these problems, some communities have tried to ban the wolf-dog hybrids, many humane and animal control shelters will not put them up for adoption, and the few groups that do give permanent sanctuary to unwanted hybrids are always at capacity. As a result, many a wolf-dog hybrid has paid for the surge in popularity with its life. All of which means the wolf-dog hybrid is a pet that all but a few highly experienced and dedicated dog lovers should avoid.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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