Grateful Dogs Rescue was founded 21 years ago, born of one woman’s compassionate vision for saving dogs from euthanasia at San Francisco Animal Care & Control (ACC). Michelle Parris, a lifelong animal lover, became ACC’s first volunteer in 1990.
Immediately, she realized that dogs not made available for adoption were being euthanized because no other options existed for them. So she started taking some of these dogs, fostering them in her home, and finding adopters for them.
This is how Grateful Dogs Rescue was born – the first all-breed rescue group in San Francisco. GDR has grown a lot since then, and much has changed (imagine trying to do rescue work without the Internet and a computer in every home!), but our mission remains the same. We believe that our responsibility is to help dogs in need right here in our own community. Sadly, this need seems to be as great now as it was when we started.
Although many people still believe San Francisco is a “no-kill city,” that is not the case. Although the live release rate is higher here than in most cities, savable animals are still dying and no official city policy exists to protect them. Fortunately, rescue groups are able to provide a safety net for some of these animals that are falling through the cracks.
The Adoption Pact, an agreement negotiated in the mid-nineties between ACC (the city’s publicly-funded open-door shelter) and the San Francisco SPCA (a privately-funded limited-admission shelter), states that all “adoptable” animals will be made available for adoption. Unfortunately, “adoptable” excludes dogs with easily treated medical conditions and behavior issues that are often resolved simply by removing them from the shelter’s stressful environment.
It’s important to understand that most animals come into ACC through no fault of their own – they get lost, or are unwanted, or their guardians are no longer able to care for them. When people hear that we take “unadoptable” dogs from ACC, they assume something must be wrong with them. But ACC will make only the soundest and most stable dogs available for adoption.
Dogs can arrive at ACC as either owner-surrenders or strays. Those not claimed by their owners remain for a five-day holding period, confined to small kennels in a strange place surrounded by barking dogs and handled by strangers. Under these very stressful circumstances they are evaluated for their suitability for adoption. Needless to say, many dogs suffer terribly in this environment and fail their behavior assessment.
After the behavior test and a veterinary exam, a dog is either put up for adoption at ACC or offered to the SF SPCA under the terms of the Adoption Pact. The SF SPCA does take many of these dogs with treatable medical conditions, but rarely those with any behavior issues. All bets are off for one type of dog; the SPCA has very strict limits on the number of Pit Bulls and Pit mixes allowed in its shelter. According to the most recent data available, only 30% of the dogs that the SF SPCA puts up for adoption actually come from within San Francisco (from ACC and owner-surrenders); the remaining 70% are brought in from shelters elsewhere in the state.
This is where rescue groups come in. When the SF SPCA declines a dog, ACC will contact one or more of us in the hope that someone can take him before his time runs out and he is euthanized. ACC’s euthanasia rate of 15% for dogs is very low for a municipal shelter, but that number would be almost double without Grateful Dogs Rescue and other rescue groups.
GDR’s assessment of these dogs is different from the testing practices used by shelter staff. Often the first thing we do is simply go into the kennel, sit quietly, and wait. A dog who might have previously backed into a corner shaking with fear often will approach and accept a treat within a minute or two, and may soon be in our volunteer’s lap licking her face.
When we commit to taking one of these dogs, the hard part begins – finding a foster home. Because so many of our first-time foster parents decide to adopt their foster dogs, we need a constant supply of new volunteers to replace them. It is an ongoing struggle to find responsible new foster homes, using word of mouth, fliers, Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter… anything we can think of! Foster parents are such an indispensible part of rescue that we do everything we can to make the experience as simple and enjoyable as possible.
Sadly, it appears that rescue groups will continue to be needed for many years to come, at least until we have (among other things) strong spay/neuter laws and access to low-cost spay/neuter surgery, ample pet-friendly housing, and a better understanding of the obligations of responsible pet guardianship. Grateful Dogs Rescue is run entirely by volunteers and could not survive without the amazing support of our adopters, foster parents and other volunteers, and donors. With their help, we will continue working tirelessly to save as many of these at-risk dogs as possible. You can help save a life; please join us!
Kim Durney, administrative director of Grateful Dogs Rescue, lives in San Francisco with her two mixed-breed rescue dogs. In her spare time she enjoys taking them to Ft. Funston, which she hopes will still be open for off-leash recreation in the future. For more information about Grateful Dogs Rescue, visit us at www.gratefuldogsrescue.org.