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:

1 comment:

upnorthwi said...

Wow, that was really enlightening.

Obviously they do not know you, or what rescue is all about.

Perhaps the term "big Business" should not have been said of rescue but of breeders. If the GSPCA feels that rescue is big business, maybe it's because rescue might be hurting the bottom line of the breeders, though I honestly don't believe it. The people that come to rescue for a pet love their breed and the ability to help a dog someone didn't want.

It's really ridiculous and not worth discussing if the GSPCA is that ignorant of your efforts.

I well say though, that as seniors are always a struggle with any rescue, if you have a plan that will help, by all means take it to other rescues. They will appreciate your efforts and I'm sure the dogs will love a forever home.