Friday, December 7, 2012

One Good Turn Deserves a Denial?

This post was originally written in July 2012. I did not publish it at the time, as I was hopeful my membership to the GSPCA would be reconsidered, and I would be allowed to serve on the national rescue committee, as an advisor. That did not happen. Although I was promised a public apology by the President, the apology did not arrive. It was to be published in the Shorthair Journal. It was not. Therefore, I am publishing this blog post, so the truth will be known, and the members of the GSPCA that DO care about the welfare of this breed, will have the facts about the GSPCA Board's apathy toward rescue and its disregard for the volunteers who work so hard to protect "our" breed.

"As the Parent Club, the GSPCA is charged with 
doing all in its power to protect and advance 
the interests of the breed..."

I am writing today to express my sincere disappointment in the GSPCA Board. 
It is not my goal to “trash talk” the GSPCA. What I am stating here are facts. Plain and simple. I sincerely hope, that by sharing my story, there will be CHANGE in the organization, a shift in their view of rescue, and perhaps an evolution of their understanding of the seriousness of this issue that so deeply affects our breed.

A few months ago, I was asked by Missy Neal, the current GSPCA National Rescue Chairperson, to serve on a national rescue committee, along with many other well respected and accomplished rescue volunteers. Missy assigned a representative for the various "regions" of the U.S. I was chosen to represent the Mid-Atlantic/Midwest region.

My involvement with rescue began in 2002, when I was living in Massachusetts. At that time, I founded the GSP Rescue New England. For the following three years, as our volunteer base grew, we expanded to cover six New England states, assisting countless GSPs each year. In 2005, I moved from Massachusetts to my home state of West Virginia. I left the New England group in the capable hands of some of my most seasoned volunteers. They have since grown the organization to be one of the premier GSP Rescues in the country. 

Following my move to WV, I was asked by Nancy Campbell, to serve as the national volunteer coordinator for GSPCA National Rescue. I gladly took on the role, as I saw it to be an amazing opportunity to grow the GSP Rescue volunteer base on a national level. During my nearly five years of service in that role, I assisted start-up rescues in areas where there was no rescue presence, I mentored new volunteers, and I coordinated several large-scale rescue operations, such as the Missouri 75 kennel fire, and the South Dakota puppy mill rescue. I always attempted, to the best of my ability, to represent the GSPCA National Rescue in the most positive and professional manner possible. I consistently and routinely adhered to the national rescue protocols, and, made every effort to prove to the GSP enthusiast community that "national" was deeply concerned about the many displaced GSPs in need across the U.S. 

In 2010, I vacated my "national" role in order to focus my energy on the GSPs in need in my region. The high number of GSPs in shelters (and owner surrenders) in KY, IN, OH and WV required my full attention. I could no longer juggle both a national and regional leadership role (and a full-time career). I aligned myself with Mid-Atlantic GSP Rescue, forming the "Midwest Chapter" of the rescue. In 2010, our group saved 135 GSPs. In 2011, we saved 176. The number of GSPs in need continues to grow annually, not just here in my region, but nationwide. Our group does NOT go to the GSPCA National Rescue fund, asking for assistance. We stand on our own two feet, and actively fundraise to help support our crucial rescue operations.

Given my years of service at the national level, the experience with several successful "start up" rescue projects, and, my current role as a regional director for Mid-Atlantc rescue, I was pleased to accept Missy's invitation to serve on the national rescue committee. After all, I have ten years of rescue volunteerism under my belt, and I felt strongly (as did Missy), that I may have some valuable knowledge to bring to the table. Therefore, I paid my dues online, and filled out the application to renew my membership.

Our committee had already put together a proposal for a national "Seniors" program. The program, similar to programs in place by several GSP Rescues, would help provide financial support for routine vetting for Seniors in shelters and in foster care. This would help offset the financial burden for rescues, when housing and adopting out a senior GSP. After all, they too deserve a chance at a happily ever after, regardless of how short that time may be. And, contrary to popular belief, seniors DO get adopted. There are families who gladly welcome seniors into their home each year, regardless of how much time they have left.
After applying and paying my dues, it came to my attention that there was some concern on the part of the Board, that perhaps rescue volunteers were "activists" with some type of animal rights agenda. I was concerned that our budding rescue committee would be shot down before we could even get off the ground. And, we soon learned, that our senior program proposal was not even reviewed at the Board meeting. They claimed they "ran out of time" and did not even place it up for discussion. Talk about a slap in the face. And it's a SENIOR program to boot. We were all very disheartened to learn the Board did not even give the proposal the courtesy of a perusal or brief discussion.

Rescue volunteers are often classified as "crazy dog ladies" or presumed to be activists of some shape or form. I can tell you that I am not an "animal rights" activist. I don't go around campaigning against hunting, breeding, etc. I'm not a Vegan (or Vegetarian for that matter). I'm not a supporter of PETA or the HSUS. I don't go around bombing animal research labs, springing monkeys from cages, or dress up like a clown to protest the circus. Am I strong in my commitment to rescue? Absolutely! I take rescue as seriously as I do my "paying" career, and always attempt to conduct myself in a professional and ethical manner. I do have strong opinions. After all, I have been in the trenches for many years, saving the lives of discarded and unwanted GSPs. I am an ADVOCATE, not an activist. There IS a difference.

Rescue has been the most amazing and rewarding experience of my life. So yes, I am committed, to say the least. However, I have never, ever, discouraged anyone from purchasing a GSP from a breeder. I HAVE encouraged them to purchase from a reputable breeder, a responsible breeder, one who is committed to standing behind the puppies they produce, and will take them back for life. These are not the breeders that contribute to the rescue system. They have been, and continue to be, allies to rescue. They have the same care and concern for the long-term welfare of the breed as we do. Rescue GSPs are adopted on a legally binding contract. We take them back for life. No questions asked. It does not matter if they are four or fourteen. We stand behind them. Do we wish that every individual responsible for a litter of puppies shared our same level of commitment? Yes! Do I personally feel the GSPCA should put in place guidelines for responsible breeding and ENFORCE said guidelines? Yes, of course. I'm sure many of you feel the same. However, I am NOT and have NEVER been ANTI-BREEDER, an ACTIVIST, or anything of the sort.

It was reported back that the Board did not vote on our committee memberships in total. The "buzz" was they feared a few rescue committee members may be animal rights activists, and not suited for GSPCA membership. When I learned that the Board was concerned about our "activist" tendencies, I took the time to write a very respectful e-mail to the Board, outlining my personal experience in rescue, my knowledge of the other proposed rescue committee members, and, an overview of the current "structure" of rescue on a national level. A few days later, I received an "accidental" reply from one Board member. It was clear that I was not meant to be a recipient of that e-mail, but had been copied in error. In that note, my personal ethics were called into question, with the implication that I had "inflated" the number of GSPs in need each year. In addition, there was mention of rescue being a money-making venture, and I quote, "This is BIG Business. $ 150 to $ 450 per adoption." 

I replied to the Board, outlining the average costs associated with each dog. Rescue MUST charge an adoption fee. Not only is it bad practice to "give away" a dog for free, we absorb medical costs for each dog we place. We provide full vaccination, spay/neuter, fecal exam heartworm test and microchip for each dog. If they are healthy, our costs routinely exceed our adoption fee. If they are sick, obviously, there is an even higher expenditure for an individual dog. Rarely, if ever, do we even break even on a given dog. When you are assisting 175 per year, and you do the math, it should seem obvious that rescue is FAR FROM a money making venture. It is ONLY "big business" in the regard that there are so many GSPs each year that need us.  We are a non-profit organization, and therefore, are transparent with regard to our financials. I gladly shared them with the Board, as the numbers don’t lie, nor do I.

This past Friday, I received an e-mail from the GSPCA Board. I was informed that my application for membership had been denied. My dues were refunded to me the same day. There was no explanation given, no rationale behind their decision. I reviewed the Bylaws, and the Board is not required to offer an explanation.

The GSPCA mission states, "As the Parent Club, the GSPCA is charged with doing all in its power to protect and advance the interests of the breed..."  I believe, through the example of providing volunteer service to the breed for the last ten years, I have exemplified my commitment to "protect and advance the interests of the breed." My five years of service as a public representative of the GSPCA National Rescue are among the most rewarding of my rescue "career" and to be quite frank, it is a kick in the gut to be denied membership to the "parent club" of the breed I hold so dear, and have been so dedicated to protecting.


Michelle Salyers
Founder and Regional Director, Midwest Chapter, Mid-Atlantic GSP Rescue
Board Member, Mid-Atlantic GSP Rescue
Founder, GSP Rescue New England
Former National Volunteer Coordinator for GSPCA National Rescue
Former Member of the GSPCA

For more insight into the REAL world of rescue, as posted just after my membership denial (and accusations of my being an animal rights activist and "anti-breeder") please read:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Could You?

In 24 hours in the state of Indiana, three senior German Shorthaired Pointers have been dumped at high kill shelters by their owners. Two separate families. One in Muncie, the other in Indianapolis. One male, two females. The male was said to be 9 (but is obviously older), the females are 13 and 14 years of age. Three in 24 hours in ONE state.

These situations are heartbreaking for us in rescue. We are so full right now, turning away young, highly adoptable dogs due to a lack of available foster homes. Our hope is the youngsters will have a better chance of adoption through the shelter. But, can we turn our backs on these seniors? Not a chance in hell. No way.

Dear Owner #1,

How could you look into these eyes and think of abandoning him at a shelter? He's scared, confused and all alone. You dropped him off without a tear in your eye, with no reason given, just left him there, as if he didn't matter at all to you. Well, he matters to ME! He's not my dog. I didn't buy him. I don't know him. I have only seen his photos, but I already LOVE him. So do many others, who have seen his photos, heard his story.

WE rescued him from the shelter today. He will have a foster family that will love him and care for him as if he were their own. THEY will show him that his loyalty and love will be returned ten fold. THEY will tell him he's WORTH saving, that he is AMAZING and TREASURED, and that he matters. He deserves that.

Dear Owner #2,

How could you leave your two senior girls at a high kill shelter? They are 13 and 14. They have loved you, been loyal to you. How could you look into their eyes, sign the papers, then turn away as if you didn't have a care in the world, as if you were grateful to be shed of a burden? How did you lay your head on your pillow last night, knowing your faithful girls were scared and confused and sleeping on a cold shelter floor?

Not that it matters to you, but I care. I learned of them today. I reached out to other rescue friends, and WE will save them. WE will never desert them. WE will give them a soft place to sleep, a warm and cozy bed. WE will shower them with the same love and affection they so freely give us, and once gave you. WE will take care of their medical needs. WE will let them know they matter. They are worthy. They are LOVED.

We'll get them out. Don't you worry now. We're just volunteers, but we'll put forth an incredible amount of time and energy on rescuing them, arranging foster and/or adoptive homes. We'll spend our non-profit organization's donations on their vetting needs. We'll drive our vehicles and pay for our own gas to move them to safe places. We'll spend hours on end on the computer trying to network with others willing to assist. We'll lose sleep worrying about them until we have firm arrangements for them. We'll do for them what they deserve. We will do so without reservation, without hesitation, because that's what WE do. We take care of other people's pets. WE are there to pick up the pieces when YOU turn your backs on them. We support them, love them, and stand behind them for the rest of their days.

I'll ask you again. HOW COULD YOU?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Chain Gang

I have recently been accused of possessing an"anti-breeder" agenda, when nothing could be further from the truth. I started volunteering for rescue ten years ago, in New England. When I began, my only volunteers were breeders. They were my mentors, my support system, my friends. They supported my rescue efforts financially, they transported, they fostered, they CARED. THAT was the foundation for my start in rescue. And, those relationships have always been of great value to me. I have treasured them, and always felt a strong allegiance to them. I have always thought it was my responsibility as a rescue volunteer, to foster positive relationships with breeders. I have always made it a point to support those who stand behind their dogs, who sell puppies with a contract in hand, and lifelong concern for each pup in their heart.

When I moved to WV/OH in 2005, it was a complete shock. I had no idea how bad things were here. No idea. The rescue climate in New England is far different than here in the midwest and mid-south region. Completely and utterly different. Why? Because many of the so-called "breeders" here are cut from a different cloth. Their value system is different, their priorities are different, and their ethics are different. I often post about "breeder surrenders" on Facebook, because I handle a LOT of such cases in rescue. I get dogs directly from the breeder. It happens quite frequently here.

Three of Sassy's puppies at my home
Because the folks who are casting stones are not involved in my day-to-day rescue world, I'd like to try to shed some light on the reality we rescue volunteers face regularly. These are just a few of many examples I could share. It is my goal to help facilitate some sense of understanding about what we do, what we see, what we are up against.

In 2010, a litter of five GSP puppies were surrendered to a KY shelter. The shelter told me they were turned in by the "breeder" but he did not leave his name. So, I did some research and found a "for sale" listing for GSP puppies in the area. I contacted him, and he informed me he did surrender the pups because he couldn't sell them, and couldn't afford to feed them. I told him shelters were known for disease, and although I hoped he wouldn't have any more unwanted pups in the future, I encouraged him to get in touch with me in the future should he have any more GSPs in need of assistance. I didn't rant and rave and tell him he was scum of the earth (he was actually a very nice guy). If I were an activist, or had a rabid "anti-breeder" mentality, wouldn't I have used that opportunity to chastise him? I am not and I did not.

I took the puppies and fostered them here temporarily until they moved on to individual foster homes. They were delightful, suprisingly healthy (despite low body weight and parasitic infections), and they were well socialized. It was obvious they had been handled and loved.

A year later, I received a phone call from this same gentleman. He told me he had two females he "couldn't use" any longer. He asked if I could help. I told him I would be happy to. It turned out one of the females was named Sassy, she was the  mommy to the puppies from the year before. He was also surrendering Star, one of Sassy's pups from a previous litter. We made arrangements to meet, he drove an hour to meet me. When he and his wife said goodbye to Sassy and Star, it was obvious they cared about them in their own way.

Sassy on a chain by her "dog house"
Sassy and Star were in rough shape. They were painfully thin, they had scabs and scars from being tangled in chains. Star had fresh wounds on her leg from entanglement. They were full of parasites. Sassy's coat was so sunbleached and dry, I wondered if she would ever look like a GSP again. Her belly sagged from years of producing litters. But, these girls were very well socialized, and had been loved. It may not be the way you or I would "love" our dogs, but their life on a chain was all they ever knew, and these folks did socialize them.

We patched them up at the vet, they were spayed, and moved along to foster homes. Sassy spent a week with me, and she was a delightful addition to my pack. She loved my cat in particular. She was a special girl.

Now, I ask you, if I were anti-breeder, would I have taken such care with this man? The man who "bred" these dogs? The man who had supplied us with an entire litter of puppies the year before? The man who kept his "studs" so he could start back up his breeding practice in the future, when the economy improves? I wanted to foster a positive relationship with him. I wanted him to have a positive experience with rescue. I wanted to be someone whom he spoke of highly, and with whom he built a sense of trust. He knew I would take care of his "kids" and I did just that.

I have been brought under fire for using the word "breeder" to describe someone like this. Sure, he's not someone whose name appears in show or field trial results. He is a man who has multiple intact dogs chained outside. Their sources of shelter are plastic barrels turned on their side, stuffed with straw. They live there day in, day out, in the heat of the summer and the severe chill of the winter. The fact remains that he handed me the AKC paperwork for both Sassy and Star. His name was listed under "breeder" on the form. So, if I'm not allowed to call him a breeder, what DO I call him? Does "the human individual who facilitates the production of canine offspring" sound better than using the word breeder?

This man isn't a "responsible" breeder. He isn't a reputable breeder. But, according to the AKC, he IS the breeder. Do I lump him in a category with the countless caring and incredibly responsible breeders I know? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Do I subscribe to the line of thinking that "they're ALL the same"? No way! But, if my using the word "breeder" is offensive, I don't know what else to call him. It does NOT mean I am anti-breeder. How could it? Instead of pointing fingers at me, and making false assumptions about me, how about directing your displeasure at HIM and others like him? HE is the type of "breeder" I deal with routinely in rescue. As a matter of fact, he is NOT the norm, in that he was a kind and gentle man with well-socialized GSPs. Many "breeders" I  meet are anything but kind and gentle, nor are their GSPs socialized, even just a little.

Now, onto the "other" type of "breeder" we deal with on a regular basis. I happen to have a foster from a "breeder" in Ohio. His name is Watson. He has been with me since 2010, when he entered rescue at eight months of age, with his litter mate. His "breeder" admitted to me he had never been handled, had never been let out of his kennel, and had never stepped foot on the grass. He had never eaten out of a bowl, as his water was in a bucket (full of feces and mud, I might add), and his food was thrown onto the ground at feeding time. He was broken, battered, and terrified of the world. His rehabilitation continues, and although he will likely never be "adoptable" he is happy here with us, he is joyful, and we will provide a loving home for him for life.

GSP on chain behind OH breeder's home
That same "breeder" has surrendered five other GSPs to us over the last two years. He has also flooded the local English Setter rescue system, as well as the Vizsla rescue system. He continues to breed without health clearances, without providing even the most basic health care for adults or pups. The conditions at his "kennels" are far from being even remotely humane (see photos), but he meets the "minimum" standard set by Ohio law.

He is, by all accounts, a hoarder. His home was condemned after it caught fire due to the overwhelming amount of paper and garbage being hoarded inside. His property is littered with old farm equipment, cars, tools, trucks. The dogs live amongst the garbage and filth, chained to old camper tops from trucks (yes, that is considered "shelter" in the state of Ohio). The dogs have cuts on their bodies and legs from the scrap metal that litters the property. It resembles a junk yard. The others live in makeshift kennels that are in a constant state of disrepair. They are exposed to the elements day in, day out. There are no whelping boxes, puppies are born in the mud, on the dirt, surrounded by feces and urine. They are not given vaccinations, deworming  medication, or anything of the sort (he told me this himself). If they survive, they are sold to whomever will pay the asking price. There is no contract, no health guarantee, nothing that any "responsible" breeder would offer to a puppy buyer.

Urine and feces "stream" running through kennel
I have spoken to this man countless times by phone. He called me just a few months ago, wanting to get rid of a few female GSPs. He told me I'd have to purchase them. He wanted $350 for each. I explained to him that we would likely have to spend twice that much for each in vetting, and that the dogs we had taken from him over the last few years had cost us thousands more due to their extensive medical needs. I explained we can't afford to "buy" them, but would be more than happy to take them, have them vetted, and find loving homes, as we had for all the others. He told me he'd call me back. He didn't. He sold them at an auction instead.

I can't change the agendas of the animal rights groups, who seem to have set out to get ALL breeders. But, why hold ME accountable for THEIR flawed agendas? I don't share their opinions, I don't support their cause(s). Never have, and NEVER will. But, after dedicating the last ten years of my life, and making thousands of sacrifices on behalf of the "forgotten" and "unwanted" GSPs out there, I can't witness first hand this type of "breeder" practice, these types of conditions, and this lack of regard for our breed, and NOT wish it were not so. My thoughts and feelings expressed about THEM, has never been an attack on the breeders who are doing the RIGHT thing...the responsible ones. I applaud and support them. Always have.

If stating my lack of approval for irresponsible breeding practices and sub-standard living conditions places a target on my back, then there is nothing I can do to prevent that. If wanting a BETTER future for the breed I love and adore makes ME some type of activist in non-rescue folks' eyes, then there's nothing I can do to change their opinion of me. You know the saying about don't judge me without walking a mile in my shoes? Well I have been running a daily rescue marathon for the last 10 years, and not one of the people who question my motives has been running (or even walking) alongside me. So how do they KNOW what I believe? How do they KNOW what I stand for? I was never asked, never questioned, and never offered the opportunity to defend or explain myself. I was automatically considered "the enemy within" and did not receive even a shred of the benefit of the doubt.

So, in spite of the sticks and stones being cast, I know one thing...I'm out there, day in, day out, doing something to protect and serve this breed. It is my mission, it is my passion, and it is above all else, it is a labor of love. I'm proud of the lives I have saved. I'm proud of my rescue "team" and I'm proud to be a rescue volunteer. We care about one another. We support one another. We share a common love for this breed. It was, perhaps my flawed belief, that all who share this love should come together, to share our experiences for a common goal, to protect and serve OUR breed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

For The Love Of Pete...

I must confess, I have been suffering from rescue burnout for a while now. It's so exhausting to see so many lovely GSPs in need of assistance. No matter how hard we try, or how many volunteer hours we invest, it's just never enough. And, when you are the one who has to reply to the shelter e-mail with the words, "I'm sorry, we're full" knowing all too well that you are likely signing the euthanization orders for that dog, well, the weight of that is nearly unbearable. Honestly, sometimes I just want to throw in the towel for a while...the burden is just too heavy.

I took a walk, and ended up down by our pond. I was thinking about Pete, my first rescue boy. He came to me as a senior in Dec. 2002, after his owner had passed away suddenly. He was a 90lb lug of a dog, half of his ear missing, long tail that knocked everything off every table and shelf, calm by GSP standards (except at meal time). He stayed with us because of his age, and, well, because we fell madly in love with him. Everyone did. He was an amazing therapy dog for the elderly, and there were patients battered by Alzheimer's, who had lost the ability to communicate, but when they petted Pete, they would speak. Their faces would come alive, just with a mere touch to his silky ears. He was a magical force, there was something special about him that everyone could see and feel. He moved you.

Pete passed away two months before our house was completed. By the pond, I planted a weeping willow tree, and placed some of Pete's ashes at the roots. We planted three other weeping willows that day. Pete's tree is the only one still standing. And, it's thriving. It made me think about the thousands of other "seeds" that have been planted through the last 10 years in rescue. How many families' lives have been touched by their own "Pete" and how they made beautiful memories with their adopted dog. I also thought about all of the volunteers whom I have "met" and those who have joined rescue in my time. They are all such amazing, strong, dedicated people. I have never met most of them in person, but I consider them my friends. I am grateful to have them in my life.

Although it can be difficult, exhausting, and heartbreaking at times, rescue is what I know. It's why I'm here. Of that, I am certain. How boring my "spare time" would be if not for rescue. When I put my head on my pillow each night, I know I have done something right. This amazing rescue team of ours is an amazing force. WE move mountains. WE change lives. I wish for others, who have never fostered, to know the JOY that comes from saving a life. We truly have control of a living being's destiny, simply by opening our hearts and our homes. It is an amazing gift for which I will be forever grateful.

So, in a few weeks, it will be four years since I lost Pete. I decided to take a tearful look at his 'tribute' video. It was long overdue. I needed this today. I needed HIM to remind me WHY I do this. Why I must move past this feeling of throwing in the towel, and keep going.

Since Pete's death, I have also lost my "original" GSPs, Heidi and Rudy (they are pictured in Pete's video as well). My household has come full circle, and there's a new generation of rescues here with us. I suspect when they are gone, a new generation will replace them. After all, it's what I know. It's why I'm here. It's what I do. Watch: Pete's Video Tribute