Ruff pasts, bright futures at dog rescue

This adopter drove from Cape Cod on the weekend of July 4 to take Emilee to her new forever home. Photos by Mary Kate Nolan

By Mary Kate Nolan
Hometown Weekly Intern

"Shelter dogs aren't broken. They’ve simply experienced more life. If they were human, we would call them wise. They would be the ones with tales to tell, stories to write. The ones dealt a bad hand and responded with courage. Do not pity a shelter dog. Adopt one." This is the motto of Forever Home Rescue New England, an entirely volunteer-run canine rescue in Medfield.

While its official purpose is to ensure that dogs entering Massachusetts from partner rescues in the South are healthy by quarantining them for 48 hours in accordance with state law, the rescue’s mission goes much deeper than this.

It is the job of volunteers, such as myself, to show the dogs that this is not the end of the line for them and that they are capable and worthy of both giving and receiving love.

Many dogs come into the rescue not knowing how to express love or joy, having never experienced either of these with an owner or breeder. They may cower in fear or bark aggressively at anyone who walks by while they are in their cage, but often when let out they just look to receive attention and pats like any other dog. Because of their backgrounds, they may be more hesitant and less trusting, but it is precisely because of this that they need a little extra TLC.

Oftentimes, those who come to the shelter looking to adopt feel as lonely or hurt as the dogs themselves. Many individuals looking to adopt tell me they were motivated to do so by the recent loss of a beloved pet or family member. I believe that their mutual need for companionship and healing is what makes the adopter and the rescued dog such a perfect match.

Forever Home Rescue partners with rescues in the American South, where overbreeding and the subsequent abandonment of whole litters is sadly quite common. The dogs brought up north to us are rescued from situations of abuse, neglect, and the threat of euthanasia due to overcrowding in shelters. Men and women selflessly sacrifice their time to drive the dogs north in large trucks away from the memories of their past and toward a brighter future with a family that will love them the way they deserve to be loved.

Micah, a four year old Shar Pei, is looking for a loving family to call his own.  Photos by Mary Kate Nolan

Micah, a four year old Shar Pei, is looking for a loving family to call his own. Photos by Mary Kate Nolan

Occasionally, dogs found locally will also end up at the rescue. Just this past week, I met Stella, a Shih Tzu who was found abandoned and hairless on the streets of Boston. Stella’s story is not unique, but thanks to Forever Home Rescue, she will never be cast aside for lack of space and will certainly not lack care or attention while she waits to find her forever home. Her fur will grow back to cover her scars and new, happier memories will take the place of old ones.

Some dogs enter the rescue as puppies, together with brothers and sisters, while others, like Skippy, find themselves alone due to unforeseen circumstances. Left without anyone to care for him after his elderly owner passed away, Skippy was recently adopted at the age of 16. Despite being somewhat withdrawn and having some medical issues, he was blessed to find a home in New York with a woman willing to spend what is left of his life with him. After four years of volunteering at Forever Home Rescue, inspiring stories like Skippy’s continue to give me hope for each and every dog looking for a place to call home.

What makes this rescue remarkable is its commitment to care for its dogs in the most humane way possible. This commitment is especially reflected in the rescue’s extensive foster program, through which dogs waiting to find adopters can live temporarily with a family and adjust to a home environment. The foster program also allows volunteers to observe the temperament of a dog, as well as how it may interact with other pets and children, which helps potential adopters determine if the dog will be a good fit for them. Because of these incredible foster families, the dogs do not have to sit isolated in cages until somebody decides to adopt them.

Even in the rare instance that a dog is potentially contaminated with an infectious illness, the volunteers refuse to quit on them. I even recall, during my senior year of high school, donning a stark white hazmat suit at the rescue twice a day for a week in order to safely care for three dogs who were exposed to parvovirus.

Thankfully, the dogs were ultimately deemed healthy and I got to know what it feels like to look like an astronaut for a week.

A young girl visiting the shelter once asked me how I keep from crying when I see what kind of tragic situations some of these dogs come from.

To be honest, I didn’t understand it myself for a while.

I have since come to the realization that it is Monday – adoption day – that keeps me coming back. The hours of cleaning cages and tending to the dogs’ various needs are all worth it when I learn that a dog like Dixie, an absolute sweetheart with only one eye who went unadopted for weeks, has found a forever home. While it breaks my heart that I will probably never see her again, I am overjoyed that her tail will be wagging for a family that loves her as much as I have.

Both the dogs and the adopters have so much love to give to each other and it is an absolute joy to play a role in facilitating the start of their journey together. Joanne Wilkinson, who founded Forever Home Rescue in 2008, believes that this is what keeps volunteers and even repeat adopters like Eric and Michelle, who gave Boots a new home just this week, coming back. I have yet to feel anything as heartwarming as the reaction of a dog like Boots when asked “Are you ready to go home?”

No matter how tragic a dog’s beginnings may be, it is never too late for a happy ending.

Do not pity a shelter dog. Adopt one.

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