Animals are not disposable. They are not something people can throw away when they are done with them. Yet, it continues to happen every single day, according to Sharon May, a volunteer with Detroit Animal Welfare Group in Romeo.
"We get hundreds of calls a day from people wanting to surrender an animal. It's overwhelming," May said. There are a variety of reasons why people do it, but often times it's the harsh reality of vet bills and new routines or an unexpected health issue. Some frustrated pet owners, May explained, lack the patience and understanding needed to teach their pet what is acceptable behavior and the solution is to give them away.
Many dogs and cats are abused or cruelly killed by people who don't want them. They are dumped on the side of the road left to starve or get hit by a car. Several more are injured, frightened and suffering from disease.
The fortunate ones are rescued by compassionate and hardworking people who volunteer their time with rescue programs, such as DAWG, and at shelters. Animals are taken in off the streets by volunteers to feed them, provide them with medical treatment, rehabilitate them if possible, and work tirelessly to rehome them.
But a shelter is only as good as its volunteers are abundant. Many shelters are overcrowded. More help is needed to maintain the quality of life for homeless dogs and cats as they wait to meet their new owners or live out the remainder of their days at the shelter.
"We have great volunteers who sacrifice a lot for these animals. They are committed and do a great job, but we need more," said Kelley LaBonty, founder of DAWG, a non-profit rescue on the verge of becoming the first no-kill shelter in Macomb County pending the installation of required fencing, which DAWG needs help to acquire and put in.
Volunteer duties include, but are not limited to cleaning kennels, walking dogs, feeding animals, grooming animals, assisting at adoption events, coordinating fundraisers, transportation of animals, and fostering.
DAWG has saved more than 2,000 animals locally since it began in 2011. The rescue also has a Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit to help nurse wildlife in Michigan back to health when needed and safely release them.
But their main priority is the dogs. While the rescue welcomes all breeds at their shelter from many different areas, more often than not, DAWG takes on the challenge of helping the older dogs, the bully breeds, and the ones with medical or behavioral issues.
New DAWG Programs
Something as simple as shopping at Schwan's online can help. When people designate DAWG as their charity of choice, a percentage of the purchase goes to the rescue.
DAWG recently announced their new animal sponsorship program established by volunteer Meaghan Marton who commutes from Amherstburg, Ontario to help when she can.
As a sponsor, a contribution between $10-50 per month will help cover monthly costs to feed an animal and provide medical care. This guaranteed donation will allow DAWG to allocate additional funds raised toward the care of other animals and shelter maintenance. Sponsorship perks include animal visitation at DAWG, and quarterly emails and updates.
"It gives people who are unable to or are not ready to adopt a pet a sense of ownership and responsibility to an animal of their choice," she said. On occasion, Marton has stayed overnight at the shelter in a loft apartment above the barn. The space was converted by a volunteer to give shelter dogs a chance to live outside of their crates, which some have called home for more than a year.
"It's beautiful," she said. "It's an amazing experience getting to witness the excitement each of the dogs have while spending time outside of their kennel."
LaBonty said the dogs "love it," but more importantly volunteers can address behavioral issues and teach the dogs basic manners while getting some experience in a home environment, which makes them more adoptable.
This is critical as many shelter dogs succumb to "kennel stress," a condition that effects even the most loving and healthy animals. This is caused by noise, unfamiliar smells, fear, continual confinement and lack of human contact. The idea that these dogs can go stir crazy can result in irreversible emotional trauma, which leads to depression, lethargy and an unhealthy decrease in weight. Some dogs become hyperactive and start exhibiting extreme behavioral problems.
That's why DAWG enlists the help of local trainers as shelter dogs' transition into their foster or forever homes, but funding is needed to continue this much-needed service.
"Training is always a big thing," LaBonty said. "Because these dogs have lived on the streets, some have behavioral issues. A few trainers have volunteered to help on a limited basis. Otherwise, it is not cheap."
Sabrina Terenzi, owner and operator of Boo Boo's BoneYard in Armada has been helping the rescue rehabilitate dogs by taking them out of the shelter one at a time to socialize with her pack and expose them to a new environment.
"Many of these dogs have not had the opportunity to take a walk on a leash or visit public places like parks or pet stores. They have minimal interaction with people and animals outside of the farm at DAWG," she said, adding that first impressions are a big part of the adoption process.
Terenzi said it takes time to learn a shelter dog's temperament and how they will respond to structure and routine, but it's important to know and explain to potential adopters.
"There is a period of time a dog needs to decompress and adjust to being in a new space," she said.
For this reason, the adoption process is not always as simple as filling out paperwork and taking the dog home.
DAWG is committed to education. Part of DAWG's outreach efforts include teaching owners how to properly care for their adopted pet to keep them safe, healthy and happy.
In addition, DAWG strongly advocates for the spaying and neutering of animals. "Do not buy from a pet store or a breeder," May said. "There are pages upon pages on Facebook from shelters all over the country that have dogs in need of rescue."
Getting these animals off the streets seems to be the easy part. But DAWG's shelter is near full and foster homes are limited right now. LaBonty consistently worries about funding to care for the number of animals they take in.
DAWG operates on a budget of $120,000 a year. Adoption fees generally cover age appropriate vaccines, heartworm and feline leukemia tests, de-worming, microchipping, and spaying and neutering.
But DAWG's long-term survival depends on more foster parents, money for food, additional veterinary expenses and countless supplies. This leads to the hard part of asking the community to step up and help. Solving the problem of the overpopulation of animals will take time. Aside from killing them, LaBonty said, for now the answer lies in working together to take care of them and find them loving homes.
For more information about DAWG to include volunteer applications, monthly pet adoption and fundraising events, and how to donate, visit their website or visit DAWG's Facebook page. To join the sponorship program, send an email to [email protected].
Keyla has been affiliated with DAWG since January 2014. She was found on 8 Mile and Van Dyke after being hit and dragged by a car. She suffered head wounds and severe spinal cord damage. It was determined by veterinary professionals that Keyla would never walk again, but four months later she was learning. With mobility lessons and water therapy, Keyla was thriving, but this type of treatment is expensive and requires one-on-one time and attention. Keyla needs someone who is looking for something meaningful to do. It's a life commitment. Without help, DAWG will need funding to purchase Keyla a dog wheelchair, which has the potential to set her back, decreasing her chances of being adopted.
DAWG's Wish List
Frontline Flea and Tick medicine
Purina Pro Plan Shredded Chicken and Rice
Peanut Butter with no Xylitol
Fruits and veggies for livestock
Dawn dish soap
Wire crates and pens
Towels and rags
Cleaning supplies to include Bleach
DAWG Drop-Off Locations
17945 Rainbow Road, Fraser, MI 48026
17958 Country Club, Macomb MI 48042
69394 N. Main St., Richmond, MI 48062
16367 Judiciary, Macomb MI 48044