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Doing Their Best for German Shepherd Dogs

Sit, down, come, shake, up, hug, stay, leave it, roll over, and crate. These are commands Hunter knows. Oh, and he is learning place, heel, and speak.

Hunter was found as a stray by Oakland Animal Services. He arrived with an unflattering and mildly annoying skin condition that made him appear a bit older and a bit worn. But, Ryan Brennan, an OAS volunteer, knew Hunter was a diamond in the ruff. He took him home as a foster, and once Hunter felt secure, and a tad more presentable, he began to show off his intelligence and eagerness to please. Not too surprising; he is a German Shepherd after all.

German Shepherds are recognized by nearly everyone and admired by many. According to Golden State German Shepherd Rescue, they are a highly versatile breed, known for being powerful, loyal, athletic, energetic, brainy, a wonderful family dog, companion dog, and working dog. They require socialization, training, exercise, and structure, or as Jayne Goad, secretary of GSGSR, calls it, “a well-defined, orderly pack.”

Due in part to their need for mental and physical activity, German Shepherds can be anxious in shelter settings. behavior coordinator Allyson Sivalls comments, “The shelter is a stressful environment for any dog. That being said, I feel German Shepherds, especially young ones, tend to display their stress more actively in a kenneled environment because they lack an outlet to release their energy.” The results can be poor kennel presentation which can lead to lower shelter adoption rates, which then fuels their stress levels, ultimately producing an adverse feedback loop.

Additionally, even German Shepherd fans may not know that they are being abandoned at local municipal shelters at alarming rates. Rebecca Katz, director of OAS, states, “In my 10 years in this field, I’ve never seen German Shepherds outnumber Pit Bulls in the shelter, but they do now (at least here at OAS). I hear shelters through out California are facing a significant increase in German Shepherds.”

When asked what may account for this, Mike Murray, Pet Food Express director of community outreach, points out the down-side of being a celebrated working dog, canine pop star, and crazy-cute puppy. He notes that seeing them with police, military, and security personnel, and on television and in films, has resulted in a toxic visibility, which leads to a binge-and-purge mentality among novice adopters who disregard researching the breed, their temperament, as well as basic training or even basic guardian responsibility.

Murray has been highly involved in German Shepherd rescuing since 1994. He reflects, “I really thought 24 years after we started San Francisco Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue, and with the six or seven GSD Rescue groups that have spun off it, we would be seeing a big reduction in their shelter numbers. It is quite depressing to see just the opposite happening.”

As Murray mentioned, there are numerous Bay Area foster-based rescues who partner with open-door municipal shelters with the shared goal of re-homing German Shepherds, such as Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue, Golden State German Shepherd Rescue, Greater California German Shepherd Rescue, and Thulani Senior German Shepherd Rescue. Theses rescues are essential in the successful placement of German Shepherds in families. And, they are not simply matchmakers — they are educators, advocates, and dog (and human) behaviorists.

Rachel Zak is fostering Kasha, a stunning senior, through Golden State German Shepherd Rescue. Animal control officers spotted Kasha stumbling on the streets of Oakland with a chewed rope around her neck. She had nails like talons and an abdominal hernia the size of a pomelo. Her skin was infected, and her fur was falling out in clumps. She was old, and she was sick.

Rachel was introduced to Kasha during her weekly volunteer shift at Oakland Animal Services. She immediately saw “what a sweet tail-wagging girl she was,” and she felt that the only way Kasha, a senior German Shepherd with medical conditions, had a chance was if she was fostered. Golden State German Shepherd Rescue agreed, and transferred the care of Kasha from OAS to the rescue. Now Rachel fosters Kasha as a GSGSR volunteer.

Armed with the right meds, a tucked hernia, a cushy bed, and buckets of unconditional love, Kasha is now living large, though still slightly arthritic, and looking for her forever home. Rachel describes her as “joyful, playful, healthy and happy … she wants nothing more than to be loved and to be someone’s sweetheart.”

The plentitude of German Shepherds at shelters and in rescues makes it easy for you to adopt the right one for your family. However, German Shepherds and their puppies are definitely not the type of dog you should adopt on a wing and a prayer.

As Jayne Goad of GSGSR emphasizes German Shepherds are not just a breed, rather “German Shepherds are a lifestyle.” And, if you are confident that they are the dog for you, and you have a soft spot for German Shepherds of a certain age, endearing Kasha may be the perfect companion for you.

And what about Hunter? Well, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he was adopted, since he makes anyone standing near him look better and smarter. And truthfully, who wouldn’t want that.

How to Help

If you love German Shepherds and would like to adopt one, go to your local municipal shelter or contact your area’s German Shepherd rescue. If you are not wishing to adopt, but want to help, consider fostering. And, if you are unable to foster, you can ease the process of kenneling and re-homing by volunteering to socialize dogs at your local animal shelter.

Nancy Mizuno Elliott has parented and fostered over 20 mutts and a handful of purebreds. Though she has no breed preference, she goes gaga over toothless ancient Chihuahuas.


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Kasha, top, and Hunter, above, lucky in that they found awesome foster homes. Kasha is still available for adoption.



Main article photo by: Photo of Kasha by Andrew Dow; Hunter by Ryan Brennan