Everyone who meets Drew falls in love with him, which leaves me perplexed as to why such a beautiful, friendly and well-mannered dog ended up needing a home.
Drew is the 5-year-old Sheltie who joined my family last November. I've never had a dog fit in so effortlessly, and bond so tightly. He is, in the words of one friend (who doesn't really like animals), a perfect pet.
There are so many other great pets like Drew out there, just waiting for someone to give them a second chance. Sometimes finding such a pet is as easy as going to the shelter. Other times, as with Drew, you have to snoop around a little to find a rescue group specializing in the kind of pet you're seeking.
Although everyone knows about shelters, rescue groups aren't as visible in their communities. But these grassroots organizations are an important part of the effort to find homes for pets in need and to support the efforts of larger, more established groups with sheltering facilities.
What differentiates rescue groups from humane societies is that rescue operations are usually quite small -- one or two people are usually the norm -- and typically focus their efforts on a single species or breed. While there are rescue groups specializing in such pets as rabbits, ferrets, cats and parrots, the largest number of these all-volunteer organizations are dedicated to the rescue of purebred dogs.
Breed-rescue groups usually work with a single breed, such as the pug, or with related breeds, such pack hounds or sight hounds.
Some breed-rescue groups work by referral only, keeping lists of dogs who 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.
The nature of breed rescue creates both advantages and disadvantages for a potential adopter.
The advantages include getting a vet-checked, altered and vaccinated purebred at a very reasonable price -- commonly, just the cost of the veterinary care. (Most other costs for rescue and fostering come out of the volunteers' own pockets.)
You may also get more personal service with a breed-rescue group than with a shelter. Some groups will put you on a waiting list if they don't have a dog who suits you, and also will work with other rescuers in the region to find what you want. Breed-rescue volunteers often live with the dogs they're trying to place, so they are more keenly aware of how each dog handles a home situation -- such as how the animals get along with cats.
Getting a dog through a breed-rescue group has drawbacks, too. Breed-rescue groups rely on volunteers, and volunteers sometimes get in over their heads and burn out. Rescue groups start up, stop, regroup and drop out at a surprising rate, which can make tracking down current breed-rescue contacts a little difficult. It can be hard, too, to find the same person you worked with if you have problems a year or two down the line.
But don't let these problems dissuade you if you're looking for a particular kind of pet. Shelters, veterinarians and reputable breeders may be able to provide you with a referral to a rescue group, or you can visit a Web site such as Petfinder.com, which encourages rescue groups to post their listings of adoptable pets. For purebred dogs, you can also search the Internet for the national club of the breed in which you're interested, and then click on the "rescue" link for contacts.
Working with a rescue group is both a good deal and a good deed. And it might net you a good pet like my darling Drew, the hard-luck pup who's now set for life.
PETS ON THE WEB
When readers ask me to advise them in choosing a small pet for a child, I know from experience my answer won't be met with enthusiasm. "Rats!" I say to those who insist on dismissing these clever, playful and affectionate pets, so perfect not only for responsible children but also for open-minded adults. Maybe what we need are a few children's books where rats aren't the bad guys.
If you're willing to consider a rat, be sure to check out the Rat Fan Club site (www.ratfanclub.org), a labor of love by club founder and leader Debbie "The Rat Lady" Ducommun. The site isn't anything fancy, but it does have a lot of good information on getting, raising and caring for these underappreciated pets.
Not long after I wrote my recent column on wanting a parrot again, I took the plunge, bringing home a 5-month-old black-headed caique. At this writing, the bird's gender is undetermined, a riddle that will be solved with a blood test when we visit our avian veterinarian for the first "well bird physical." Male or female, the youngster's name is Eddie, after the colorful and entertaining proprietor of a local breakfast joint. Caiques are lively, small parrots, known to be both clownish and sometimes bratty.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Please solve an argument my husband and I are having over our new rottie puppy, Kelsey. My husband grew up with dogs, and dry food was always kept available. I have read that it's better to feed set amounts at set times. Which is it? -- E.F., via e-mail
A: Most trainers and behaviorists believe it's better to control your dog's food and not free-feed. Here are the main reasons for this advice:
-- Obesity. Too much food and too little activity have the same effect on the canine body that it has on humans. Surveys show that the majority of pets brought into veterinary offices are a little pudgy, and some are downright huge. Letting an animal eat all he wants isn't a good plan if you want to keep him trim -- and you should!
-- Observation. Pets can't tell you with words when they're not feeling well, but they will tell you in behavior -- if you're paying attention. Appetite is one of the key measures of well-being, and free-feeding denies you the ability to observe this crucial indicator.
-- Behavior modification. Food is one of the most powerful tools you have when it comes to training your dog, and if your pet eats when and how he chooses, you've lost that edge. Some experts go so far as to suggest that at least in the beginning a dog should work for every morsel of food, using daily rations as part of a training program. (This also helps with weight-control, since dogs who eat full meals and then get treats in training are getting more calories than they need.)
But it's about more than the active art of training: Dogs understand instinctively that food is power, and if the human family members control the food, they are going a long way to being accepted as leaders. My dogs never get anything for free -- at the very least they must sit before those dishes hit the floor or treats are handed out. Sometimes, they are all put on "stay" before I give them the "OK" command and allow them to eat. Other times, I put them on stay and call them to me -- away from the food -- before they get to go back to those dishes and dig in.
These activities don't take more than a few minutes out of my day but they gently and subtly reinforce the idea that I am the head of this particular pack. And that understanding makes our household more pleasant.
So ... I'm with you on this one. Two measured meals a day, no free-feeding. Such a regimen will help your new pup to be trim, healthy and well-behaved.
Q: I followed your advice and sought out an avian specialist for my scarlet macaw. You mentioned that it's important to have a carrier for the bird, but I'm wondering what Sammy will do for water on the trip. -- S.D., via e-mail
A: Here's a tip I got from my "Birds For Dummies" co-author, avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer: Put some fresh orange and apple slices in an unbreakable food crock, and set these goodies in the carrier with your bird. Many birds love these sweet, healthy treats, which will not only help keep them hydrated for the trip but also keep them busy in their carriers.
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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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