Correction to This Article
The article about rescue groups for specialty-breed dogs said that animal rescue organizations have been around since the 1950s. In fact, they have been in existence longer than that. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was started in 1866 in New York City

Times are ruff for specialty-breed rescue groups

In the past decade animal rescue organizations have cropped up for nearly every breed and those breeds' mixes. Groups like MidAtlantic Bulldog Rescue and Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue foster dogs to ease crowding at local shelters and offer would-be pet owners more options to adopt.
By Melissa Bell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rosemary and John Yun were looking to adopt.

For months, the Ellicott City couple waited. They filled out applications asking about their neighborhood, their jobs and their daily routines; prepped their home before an agency checked in on them; asked friends to provide references; and visited with foster families where they were told they were not the only couple in contention. They hoped they wouldn't be disappointed yet again.

Finally, one day last fall, the phone call came: Benji, a mix terrier, could join the Yun family.

The Yuns, who are now adopting a child from Korea, would joke that looking for Benji "was just as hard as finding a human baby," said Rosemary, 38. But the dog was worth the trouble. "He's so smart; he's super cute; he's just a great dog," said the biotech company manager.

The Yuns needed to find a small dog that had short hair and was nonallergenic and house-trained, but Rosemary worried she would not be able to find one at a local shelter. She didn't want to buy a dog, fearful that the animals are bred in awful conditions before being sold online or to pet stores.

Tails of Hope, a dog rescue group in Mount Airy, Md., provided a solution. Though the search was time-consuming, the Yuns adopted a dog that matched their criteria.

While animal rescue programs have been around since the 1950s, it has only been in the past decade that organizations have cropped up for nearly every breed and those breeds' mixes. The groups foster dogs to ease crowding at local shelters and offer would-be pet owners more options to adopt.

This month may be the best time to find the right pet. Each spring, after the joy of getting a dog as a Christmas gift shifts to the reality of taking care of it, new owners drop their dogs off at shelters in droves. Worse, the current economic downturn has forced many families to turn their dogs over to rescue groups. And even the record snowfall led some pet owners to decide they could not provide for their dogs during the difficult weather, instead surrendering them to shelters, rescue volunteers said.

"The influx of dogs is just tremendous so far this year," said Joanne Hale, the director of MidAtlantic Bulldog Rescue. By the end of February, the group had taken in 27 dogs, and Hale expects that number to hit 150 by the end of the year. Last year, the rescue group took in 60 dogs.

The rescue groups are usually a loose network of volunteer pet owners who have fallen in love with a certain type of dog. They foster dogs found in the shelter system, rescued from puppy mills or dropped off by owners who can no longer care for them. And they look for the perfect permanent home for the animals.

"We're eHarmony for dogs," said Sarah Ruckelshaus, director of Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue, whose group has a 98 percent success rate at finding a happy "forever" home. "We're really looking to match up the dog's personality, temperament and energy needs with the family."

The adoption process is strict to ensure the match will stick. Jenny Eisen grew up with the Danes her mother adopted through the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League, and she volunteered for the group. But even she had to submit to a two- to three-month adoption process when she decided she was ready for her own dog. Eisen, a nurse who lives in Arlington, said a volunteer brought over a Dane to see how it would interact with her two roommates and in her townhouse.

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