A Statistical Study
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door. Emma Lazarus
The above is from the sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. These words can be applied to Doberman Rescue as well today as they applied to the harbor of hope so many immigrants fled to so many years ago. With the breed's popularity decreasing over the past couple of decades (much to the chagrin of more recent "fad" protection breeds), the tidal wave of homeless Dobermans has subsided and somewhat leveled off. However, like the unmistakable 152-foot lady herself, the number of homeless Dobermans is still unacceptably high and cannot be ignored--and after reading this article, you will not be able to feign ignorance as your excuse.
Since the inception of DPCA COPE/RESCUE in the mid 70's, exhibiting breeders have taken the attitude that "it isn't my dogs that are the problem, not my breeding program that is the problem, not my placements that are the problem . . . not my problem." The truth of the matter is if you own a Doberman, show a Doberman, breed a Doberman, love a Doberman--then Doberman Rescue is your problem.
The purpose of this article is to help the reader come to better understand the state of Doberman Rescue in this country. Over two months worth of research and untold hours on the telephone went into this work and comprises the largest and most comprehensive Doberman Rescue study ever done. Involving interviews with over 140 rescuers nationwide, the following is a look at the truth about the volume of homeless Dobermans, rescue operations and the people who do it, and the role that exhibiting breeders play.
Starting with COPE/RESCUE's network list, noted rescuers were contacted to obtain the number of Dobermans they rescue in 1993 and 1994. Additionally, rescuers were asked about other issues which included, but not necessarily limited to: rescue needs, how they fund their work, what support (or lack thereof) they receive from local DPCA member clubs and individual members, reasons for euthanasia, contact with white Dobermans, and general comments on rescue as a whole. From the initial list, many additional referrals were made to rescuers that COPE/RESCUE was not aware of; all of these individuals readily agreed to be made a part of the list.
Sadly, due to changes in address or phone number, about 7% of the rescuers could not be contacted. However, of the remainder contacted, 98% complied with requested information--an astounding remark about the character of the people who do rescue work. Overall the rescuers were extremely cooperative and more than willing to discuss their efforts at length. Attitudes regarding the current state of rescue and its future ranged from the cheerful optimist to smothering gloom to zealous extremism.
However, all rescuers agreed on two things: first is that they LOVE this breed; and second, some major changes need to be made in owner and breeder responsibility in order to stem the tide of homeless Dobermans.
The Numbers Don't Lie
Unfortunately for every rescuer COPE/RESCUE knows of, there are probably just as many that we do not know of, and so their rescue totals could not be retrieved. Obviously due to the sheer volume of shelters across the country, Dobermans placed from these organizations could not be counted. The same is true of all- breed purebred rescue organizations. The figures reflected in this article are only from known rescuers that have had some contact with COPE/RESCUE or rescuers made reference to through the course of research for this article. These figures only include Dobermans that were actually rescued from their previous situation and fostered. Dobermans turned away from shelters by rescuers from lack of space are not included. Once rescued, whether the dog was placed, retained in care, or euthanized is not considered, because the focus of this study is that those Dobermans wound up in these homeless situations in the first place.
The research showed that, nationwide in 1993, confirmed Doberman rescue cases totaled 3,795. IN 1994, that total rose to 3,900 Dobermans. Most rescuers also place Dobermans by "telephone referral." These referrals usually take two forms. First is the rescuer who is notified by the local shelter that they are holding a Doberman. The rescuer then screens potential adopters sent to him/her from the shelter until a match is made. In this situation, the shelter fosters the dog but relied upon the rescuer's breed knowledge an interview skills to make an educated placement. Second are the Doberman owners who contact a rescuers that they can no longer keep their dog for whatever reason, but can hold onto it for a little while until the rescuer can refer a good home to them. Dogs placed by telephone referral never come in the rescuer's hands thus few if any records are kept. However, based upon interviews, it is believed that these placements account for an additional two to four times the number of placements made under a foster situation. For 1994, that's an additional 7,800 to 15,600 Dobermans (estimated) that were displaced from their original homes on top of the 3,900 Dobermans actually rescued and fostered.
In 1994, 42.8% of rescues were in the western states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HA, ID, MT, NM, NV, OR, UT, WA, and WY). 28.4% or rescues were in the southern states (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, and WV). 17.6% or rescues were in the northeastern states (CT, DE, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VT). 11.6% of rescues were in the northern states (IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, and WI). The western region's high percentage is mainly located in California, where an overwhelming 40% of the country's 1994 Dobermans were rescued. Other states of concern were Florida and Texas, 7% each,; Michigan and Massachusetts, 5% each; and New Hampshire, 4%. Rescuers in these areas attribute high rescue counts to 1) human population concentration,; 2) proximity of military installations; and 3) proximity of colleges and universities. Turnovers at local shelters increase markedly when military personnel are shipped out or mass transferred and at the end of academic semesters.
Unfortunately for rescuers, Bureau of the Census projections of population changes for the year 2000 show increases in all states with the exception of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, which are expected to slightly decrease. The western and southern regions increases of 13% and 9% respectively are particularly disheartening considering their existing high rescue populations.
Based on the predicted population changes and without sufficient offsetting influences, rescuers will need more support than ever to meet the resulting need for larger rescue operations. Therefore, rescuers were asked for their primary needs--those needs which if met would improve their operations and allow them to reach even greater numbers of Dobermans. The following are their responses in order of frequency noted.
1. MONEY - Unfortunately, rescuers are frequently faced with the dilemma of a dog suffering from illness, heartworms, car-related injuries, or worse--human-inflicted injuries. These dogs can easily run up vet bills in the hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. The rescuers also have to cover costs of food, prescription medicine, crates or kennels, blankets, toys, etc. To help offset these expenses, and to confirm a commitment on behalf of the adopter, rescuers typically charge an adoption fee of $50 to $150. A few lucky, healthy dogs come into the local rescue to find themselves spayed or neutered and in their new home virtually the next day. Of course, the expenses on this type of dog are minimal, and a portion of that dog's adoption fee will go to pay for the next dog that comes on needing a several hundred dollar heartworm treatment or major surgery.
For the past four years COPE/RESCUE has had a reimbursement policy in place to help prevent rescuing from becoming an unbearable financial burden to the individual rescuer. The fund os used to reimburse rescuers for the most common of their veterinarian costs, mainly being initial examination, spay/neuter, fecal and heartworm checks, and vaccinations. COPE/RESCUE will also reimburse rescuers $50 toward heartworm treatment. However, in order to get financial help where it is needed and prevent the fund from being depleted, COPE/RESCUE has had to limit the total reimbursement per dog to $200, and per rescue entity to $500 per year. Ever with this assistance, most local rescuers operate in the red.
Take for example the geographic Southern Region of states where rescuers quoted an average heartworm incidence of 53%. This figure is in line with a recent University of Georgia study which indicated that in Georgia, 60% of dogs never given heartworm preventative will test positive for adult heartworms by 2 years of age. With an average heartworm treatment cost of $150 - $200, on top of costs for vaccinations and spaying/neutering, shortfalls from adoption fee charges easily mount. An organization in Florida that has been dedicated to rescuing Dobermans since 1977 ended up with a $1200 deficit in 1994. Another Doberman rescue organization in Maryland struggles to cover its veterinarian bills which consistently top $10,000 per year.
The Maryland group, like other rescuers across the country, have had to develop fund raising efforts to cover their shortfall. Local rescuers are quite creative when it comes to finding financial support for their work. Many send out periodic newsletters or desperate plea letters to their adopters and local dog fanciers which generate donations. Others offer all-breed obedience classes, summer week-end dog dips, collection cans at local pet stores and veterinarian offices, and set up booths at dog shows, pet expositions or rescue fairs. Still others sell T-shirts, Christmas wrap, and candy bars, or collect and sell aluminum cans at recycling centers. Several have yard sales, bake sales, and hold tattoo clinics. Some host annual Wag-a-Thon or Bark-in-the-Park type events. A Virginia rescuer sells homemade pies at the local strawberry festival. A rescuer in California earns about $200 per week for her rescue by holding a multiple rescue effort Bingo game. Two rescuers reported obtaining corporate grants. Another is on a waiting list for a grant from a local all-breed rescue organization. Some rescuers reported boarding dogs for adopters for a donation. Industrious rescuers in Utah supplemented donations by making and selling fake lamb's-wool chew toys and tennis ball tugs, and buying obedience training equipment at wholesale and reselling it at retail prices at local training centers and their rescue booth.
2. FOSTER HOMES AND VOLUNTEERS - Running neck and neck with the need for money, rescuers voiced an overwhelming need for foster homes and volunteers. Foster homes typically evaporate after fostering the first few dogs, mostly due to the fact that these homes frequently adopt one or two of their charges and know they cannot foster more without wanting to adopt them too! Others become burned out from the never-ending stream of malnourished, heartworm-positive, and otherwise mistreated animals. These foster homes lose hope of stemming the tide of homeless Dobermans and give up trying. Many rescuers have to turn down foster home offers despite their need. The homes turned away do not show the commitment to see a dog through to the end placement with efforts towards housebreaking, basic house manners and obedience, socializing, physical rehabilitation and temperament evaluation. While some Dobermans need fostering for only a couple of days, others may require fostering for several months for rehabilitation or placement with the correct home.
Volunteers are also needed by rescuers for a variety of activities. Volunteers run transportation services to pick up dogs at local shelters and take them for veterinarian care and then to their foster home. Others screen prospective adopters and foster homes on the phone, through application checks, and through house visits. Volunteers can also man rescue booths, distribute rescue information at shows, and assist larger rescuers with cleaning kennels, bathing and feeding dogs. One Alabama rescuer gets help from his local 4-H club in the form of cleaning kennels and caring and feeding dogs; in turn the kids get credit towards certain badges.
3. BREEDER RESPONSIBILITY - Across the country homeless Dobermans are coming from several sources -- per shops, backyard breeders, puppy mills and yes, even supposedly reputable DPCA and non-DPCA exhibiting breeders. In Connecticut, Patti Clark attributed her rescue problems to backyard breeders. It has been rare for her to get registered dogs from reputable breeders, but when she does they have been willing to take the dog back. Joleene Ladyman in California has several dogs a year that come into her rescue that have pedigrees going back to kennels which advertise in a nationally recognized monthly canine publication. Joleene finds that the majority of supposedly reputable breeders have not been willing to take back their dogs when contacted by her. Dorothy Lechuga in Arizona runs into the same problem adding that Michelle Lewis of LeMils Dobermans (a great supporter of COPE/RESCUE) is the only breeder who has encouraged Dorothy to call in the event of rescuing a dog of her breeding (which in Dorothy's five years of rescuing, she hasn't had the need to do).
From coast to coast rescuers mentioned over and over again the names of exhibiting breeders most Doberman publication subscribers would immediately recognize, including several mentions of some in the Top 20 rankings. It is shocking to know that these same breeders are not selling pet quality puppies on spay/neuter contracts and limited registration, are not following up with their puppy buyers, and most importantly, are not willing to take back their homeless dogs. Some of these breeders, when approached by their own puppy buyers who can no longer keep their dogs, refer them to the local rescuer because they "just don't have room." One rescuer complains that in one breath an exhibiting breeder will say they don't have room to take one of their dogs back, but in the next breath will carry on about the litter they plan to have next season from which they plan to keep one or two prospects!
In Florida, Mary Beth McManus has had dogs turned in over the years that are the progeny of dogs and bitches bred by exhibiting breeders that were supposed to be pet quality and spayed or neutered, except that there was a lack of follow up on the breeder's behalf. She feels that exhibiting breeders should still take responsibility for these second generation rescue dogs, and if they are not willing to take them in, should at least send a contribution to the rescuer to help with the care and placement of the dog.
In Colorado, rescuer Kathy Anderson complains of a totally different problem--area breeders euthanizing blues and fawns while she actually has an adoption mailing list for dilutes. (Kathy's waiting list is an indirect result of an area puppy mill losing AKC registration privileges and Denver's hefty $90-per- year unaltered dog license fee, both of which have reduced the number of dogs showing up at the area shelter needing rescue. In 1993 she rescued 70 Dobermans, while in 1994 that number dropped to 45.) Susan Weitz, a rescuer in California, echoes the wishes of many rescuers that microchipping become mandatory before puppies can be registered. She would also like to see COPE/RESCUE publish the names of breeders whose dogs have turned up in rescue programs.
An interesting note to this section is that reports of homeless white Dobermans are beginning to crop up. While most rescuers had not had their shelters call with whites yet, they were aware of white breeders in the area and expected to start seeing their dogs turn up in shelters. Those rescuers who have encountered whites stated unequivocally that, with the exception of one bitch, all were euthanized due to their unapproachable and "schizophrenic" behavior. This included one black dog who came from a white bitch. Some rescuers are also expecting to start seeing dogs abandoned which will be the result of current newspaper classified advertising Dobermans of solid black and brindle coloring.
4. PUBLIC EDUCATION - Not surprisingly, rescuers feel that better public education would do much to stem the tide of homeless Dobermans. We live in a disposable society, and the attitudes of that society have even encompassed dog ownership. We also live in a greedy society, where dogs are often a commodity and the welfare of the animals is seldom a concern. Rescuers would like to see exhibiting breeders take time, before and after the sale, to educate buyers. Stud dog owners, even those who say "no" to breeding pet bitches (and are to be commended for their ethics) should take it a step further and make every effort to discourage the bitch's owner from breeding, period.
Rescuers who have had to euthanize Dobermans suffering with C.V.I., epileptic seizures and other neurological problems would like to see the DPCA make greater efforts at encouraging research on Doberman health issues and assimilating that information to the fancy and the general public. Hopefully the newly launched Doberman Pinscher Foundation of America will address this latter issue.
5. OTHER NEEDS - Other needs voiced by rescuers were for good homes for males, natural-eared dogs and older dogs. Support from exhibiting breeders through puppy buyer referrals to rescue, investigating into pediatric spay and neuter of pet puppies, using limited registration in addition to spay/neuter contracts for pet puppies, and encouraging veterinarians to give discounts for work done on rescue dogs were also mentioned by many rescuers.
DPCA Member Clubs: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Rescuers were also asked about assistance received, or lack thereof, from local DPCA member clubs. Responses ran either hot or cold, with little in-between--either the local club demonstrated full-fledged support or distanced themselves from rescue as if it were a contagious disease.
THE GOOD - With your help the Champions of COPE raffle and dinner at the National each year raises almost $10,000 for the DPCA's COPE Rescue Committee. Raffle prizes are donated by many individuals (they always need more; bring them to the DQ booth at the National) and $5.00 from each dinner ticket purchased is donated to COPE/Rescue. (All expense money is donated by champions of COPE.)
At the COPE/RESCUE raffle dinner in October, the Atlanta DPC announced its decision to donate 25% of all net profits of all shows, matches and any other type of fund raising to help Dobermans in need. The same club also has a network of volunteers who provide transportation services as well as act as foster homes to dogs rescued by Judy Fellton, DPCA COPE/RESCUE Chairperson, who happens to also be the area's rescuer. Other DPC member clubs are showing their concern for their breed--in addition to running their own rescue operation, the DPC of Charlotte, NC, donated $130 raised by special raffle to the Columbus, GA, rescue and offered to provide foster homes for that rescuer. Julie Kay Stade organized a W.A.C. test last year whose $285 in proceeds were donated to COPE/RESCUE. Patti Clark in Newtown, CT, brags that the DPC of Danbury is very supportive of her efforts as the club helps to pay for the spay or neuter of rescue dogs. More importantly, the club members give Pattie referrals by trying to persuade prospective callers to look into adopting a Doberman before they consider buying a puppy.
The DPC of Reno, NV, is in the process of setting up a fund to help their local rescuer with the costs of spaying and neutering. The Doberman Breeders Association of Penn-Jersey makes a monthly donation to their local rescuer. Some DPCA member clubs like Dallas, Salt Lake City, Memphis, Charlotte and Aztec, CA, run their own rescue operations. In addition to supporting their local rescue efforts, the Redwood Empire DPC (CA) held a silent auction last year that raised over $1,000 for COPE/RESCUE. Several DPC member clubs donate proceeds from B-matches or raffles to their local Doberman rescuer.
The Doberman Owner Handlers Association members hold garage sales and participate in other events to raise money each year for Champions of COPE. In 1994, Bill Garnett of the DOHA presented Ann Lanier, of Champions of COPE, $2000 raised in honor of Miss Tess Henseler.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY - Unfortunately, across the country most rescuers do not receive help of any kind from their local DPCA member club--no money, no supplies, no volunteers, no referrals. Many rescuers have dropped out of their local DPCA club because of lack of support. At least two rescuers in different states in the Southwest reported that when they have handed out rescue information at all-breed and specialty shows, Doberman exhibitors have complained to the show chairman to have the rescuer removed because they felt that the rescuer was stealing their puppy sales! One of these rescuers, along with her associates, has rescued over 320 Dobermans in the past two years. (Kudos to Clarice Tom of Foxfire Dobermans who was considerate enough to invite the rescuer to sit with her ringside so she could hand out her information.) Another rescuer who has been scorned at shows has rescued over 400 Dobermans since 1990 and had 12 Dobermans needing homes at the time of our conversation--and the pound only calls her when they have a Doberman they consider "unadoptable!" Yet when one of the two DPCA member clubs in her state held a raffle at their last show they donated the proceeds, not to their local rescuer, but to the Humane Society.
What Keeps Rescuers Going?
Without a doubt, rescuers have the proverbial deck stacked against them. As if the never-ending flow of sick and abused Dobermans were not enough, rescuers must struggle to make financial ends meet, fight public ignorance and often defend themselves from the snobbery, contempt and lack of support from the majority of the Doberman fancy. One rescuer referred to rescue people as "the garbage men of the Doberman breed." Another lamented that the worst part of rescuing was the daily role of "playing God," certainly an emotional drain that most of us can understand. Not surprisingly, rescuer burnout and cynicism is a real problem. Through interviews with those rescuers who preach more zealous views on Doberman overpopulation, one can appreciate that some Doberman fanciers would feel a need to distance themselves from these rescuers. However, keeping in mind the hardships that rescuers must face everyday may help fanciers to at least understand, even if you don't agree with, these rescuers' perspectives and still find ways to assist their efforts that would not necessarily involve face to face interactions.
Those rescuers who do stick it out year to year often report that what keeps them going is following up with their homes and hearing good stories. Or knowing that a rescue dog will find purpose in aiding their blind master after graduating from Pilot Dogs, or alerting his/her master to an oncoming epileptic seizure in time for him or her to get to a safe location and position.
Adopters discover that rescue dogs give back 100% more than they take. The dogs instinctively seem to know that they are being given a second chance and will lay down their lives for someone to love them. Therefore it does not come as any great surprise when adopters come back to the rescuer for a second rescue dog either as a companion to the first or after the first has passed on. Adopters also state that they will never go back to getting a puppy when they can get a rescue dog that is already grown, housebroken, etc.
Through all the good and bad, Sharon Shiele in Pennsylvania summed it up best when she said, "I wonder, will we ever see the end? One day I would love to tell people, 'Sorry, we just don't have and Dobermans for adoption.'"