Scruffy sits patiently by his owner’s side, his eyes focused on the two new arrivals entering the park. He watches them, two White Swiss Shepherds twice his size, and gently pulls on his harness to try and get closer. His head turns to look at his owner Nicole, his dark eyes pleading with her to let him off his leash. All he wants to do is play. As soon as he hears the leash unclip from his harness he shoots off, hairy head bouncing as he runs to his new playmates. The Schnauzer Cross’s black fur contrasts greatly to the smooth, white coats of the towering Shepherds. Scruffy bounces around them and their owner, overwhelmed with excitement and eagerness to play.
Nicole Cordeiro had only just begun bringing him to dog parks, but from the very beginning she knew he was dog obsessed. “We can’t even walk past a yard with a dog without him wanting to go in and play. He’s not so into people, but another dog he’ll go nuts for,” she says.
There is a reason Scruffy is not as obsessed with people as he is with dogs, however, as throughout most of his short life he has not been able to rely on humans for love or protection. Only six months previously, Scruffy sat in a concrete kennel behind wire bars, with no family and no home. A lonely and unloved stray picked off the streets. With no one coming to claim him, Scruffy’s time was running out. Dogs can only stay so long in the pound before they are put down.
But just when it seemed all hope was lost for the gentle, wiry-haired Schnauzer Cross, the pound made a desperate last call for help. And someone answered it.
SA Dog Rescue was founded thirteen years ago, when Carole Morris took home a dog on the pound’s kill list. His name was Freddy, and he was one of the thousands of dogs the world had forgotten about. Carole soon became known for saving dogs on death row and finding loving new homes for them where they could live the lives they deserved. In 2010 she began the SA Dog Rescue Facebook page, and in just four short years it skyrocketed with 70,000 likes. Today, what started with the rescue of Freddy has grown into one of the dozens of successful not-for-profit dog rescue and adoption organisations in South Australia.
Sitting on the hollowed out tree trunk in the Four Paws Dog Park, Nicole scratches the grey hairs on Scruffy’s chin and pats his back. She had only fostered the lonely dog for a week before falling in love with him. “He’s got such a good nature, we don’t know how anyone could have let him go.”
It is not hard to see why Nicole fell for Scruffy. He is kind and gentle, with a “distinguished old man’s face” Nicole says. “You think he’s so old and serious, but he is only one-and-a-half. He tricks you because he is so playful. I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘we’re not going to give up on you’.”
Spending the day at the dog park with Nicole and Scruffy is Danielle Slocombe, SA Dog Rescue’s Events and Sponsorship Coordinator. Like Nicole, Danielle also adopted her foster dog; a tiny Jack Russel Cross named Buddy. A stray like Scruffy, Buddy was wandering the streets with no collar or microchip when he was found. Danielle cared for him while she searched for his family. “We tried absolutely everything,” Danielle says, “but clearly no one wanted him back. That’s how a lot of them come to us, abandoned and all alone.”
Most of the dogs who end up in the care of rescue and adoption organisations around South Australia are surrendered by their owners who are unable to continue caring for them. People who fall ill or who move to retirement homes cannot take their dogs with them, nor can those who relocate elsewhere in the world. Litters of puppies are often surrendered to rescue organisations because owners were unaware their dog was not desexed. Occasionally animals are surrendered through persecution cases, where the dog has been neglected, malnourished or abused.
In the dog park, Nicole and Danielle play with Scruffy, their clothes covered in dusty paw prints. Scruffy’s energy seems to have no limits, though when Nicole pulls out a treat, he sits and waits patiently, eager to please and obey his new mother who he trusts and loves unquestionably.
A short drive away, within the city, RSPCA South Australia is running Happy Tails Day, an annual fundraiser to raise funds and awareness for animal adoption. Volunteers in bright blue t-shirts sell merchandise and paint dog noses and whiskers onto children’s faces.
Josie Sullivan, the Events and Fundraising Coordinator for RSPCA South Australia, oversees the fundraiser that celebrates the stories of rescued animals, once surrendered, abandoned or neglected, who have been adopted into happy forever homes. Josie believes fundraisers are imperative to helping animals because most of the RSPCA’s funds come from donations. “It’s so important since every year more and more dogs come in. Last year there were about 2,000 more dogs than the year before and the vet fees to get them ready for adoption are so expensive.”
Just as important as the donations, says Josie, is awareness. As education and understanding of the issues with pet stores and puppy farms grows, through campaigns like the RSPCA’s ‘Close Puppy Factories Campaign’ and Pedigree’s ‘Adoption Drive’, more and more people are beginning to ‘adopt not shop’.
According to the RSPCA South Australia Annual Report for 2013/14, 1,324 more animals were adopted than the previous year, a 45.2% increase in rehoming and adoption. “Events like Happy Tails Day are so effective because it gets the word out; I have chatted to people today about all the dogs that are up for adoption at our shelter, and they’ve said they’re going to have a look,” Josie says.
SA Dog Rescue’s Danielle also says adoption has developed immensely over the past year. Last year the organisation saved over 360 dogs from euthanasia. Within the past few months Australian franchise PETstock announced they have become an advocate for animal adoption and stopped selling dogs and cats as “our small way of helping to nip, claw and scratch out animal homelessness.”
“The mistreatment of dogs on puppy farms has really been pushed by the media; it’s gotten bad and I think people know now. You see puppies in pet stores and you just don’t know where they’ve come from,” Danielle says. “There aren’t enough homes in Adelaide for dogs we’ve rescued, and with the hundreds of puppies being bred, it makes it that much more difficult to find families to adopt rescues. It’s become a mass market and it shouldn’t be.”
Another South Australian not-for-profit rescue and adoption organisation is Guardian Angel Animal Rescue (GAAR). Founded in 2012 by Aimee Dent, GAAR’s mission is to educate the community and reduce the level of cruelty to companion animals. Acting as the voice for unloved and abandoned animals, GAAR works together with both South Australian and interstate pounds to rescue dogs from death row and find them safe and caring homes. As founder and Operations Manager, Aimee remembers every animal that she takes in and re-homes, especially one two-year-old German short-haired Pointer named Ruby.
Ruby was malnourished and starving when she was surrendered to GAAR. Her breed is known for their powerful bodies and strong legs with a normal adult weight of approximately thirty-five kilos, but Ruby was severely underweight with a belly full of ten puppies. She weighed in at a mere seventeen kilograms three days before giving birth. Vets had to perform an emergency caesarean to remove the last pup Ruby was too weak to birth on her own.
Ruby took a long time to recover, and it was very expensive to improve her health and get her back to a healthy weight. Aimee also stresses how vital donations and fundraisers are to ensure dogs are cared for properly. “We have dogs surrendered who have been dumped on the side of the road in terrible conditions. It takes a long time to get them healthy, with thousands spent on vet bills,” Aimee says.
One of Ruby’s puppies was adopted by Melissa Daley, who had adopted through GAAR once before. Honey, a mix breed, was ten years old when Melissa adopted her. Rescued from an owner who used her as a ‘puppy-breeding machine’, she was extremely neglected, dirty, and in need of surgery. Melissa is a strong advocate for animal adoption, and knew she had to give Honey the second chance she deserved. “After living a life of pain, we promised her she would never feel that way again,” Melissa says. “She has given us such true love. She had no reason to love people, but she knew she was going to be loved til her very last day.”
Danielle Slocombe believes de-sexing and prevention is a fundamental step to reducing the number of animals left abandoned or homeless, and the surrendered pregnant Ruby is proof of this. “We need to teach prevention; to de-sex dogs and prevent us actually being needed in the end. But there’ll always be surrenders for inevitable reasons, through no fault of the dogs.”
When it is time to head home, Nicole places Scruffy’s blue harness back around him, clipping the leash. On the walk back to the car, Scruffy remains excited and curious of all his surroundings, and stops to sniff every bush, weed and rock. Nicole lets him explore but gently pulls him along towards the car.
“You sometimes hear people say ‘I rescued this dog, but they really rescued me’, and I think that’s true. Scruffy definitely chose us,” Nicole says. “He was lost and now he’s found.”
They reach the car and Scruffy jumps in the backseat. His tongue hangs out of his open mouth as he stares out the window. As the car drives off he looks happy, knowing his new family is taking him back home, where he will be loved and protected forever.
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