Rescue is an Effort, Not a Science

The point of this blog post is to explain what adopters should expect when adopting a dog from a shelter, pound, or rescue.

Before I explain in detail, understand when you go to a shelter or pound, and ask the questions:

  • Is he good with other dogs?
  • Is he good with cats?
  • Is he good with children?
  • Is he housebroken?
  • Does he bark a lot?
  • Does he play?
  • Does he like to escape?
  • Is he crate-trained?

The answer most of the time will be, “I don’t know.” You can not judge a dog’s temperament when it’s scared to death at a pound.

Yet, those are questions that we pride ourselves in being able to answer for you.

We do not carry DNA tests in our back pocket, and are not veterinarians; there are many questions that we can not answer. Let’s face it, most of our dogs are strays. Even the dogs that are owner-surrendered do not come with the complete truth.

We try to deal with honesty and integrity, not perfection.

Today marks the one year anniversary of Farrah’s adoption. Ironically, that little pup brings back a lot of memories from when I was very new in rescue. We deal with a lot of unknowns. Farrah was adopted by a wonderful family over a year ago. She was vetted, spayed, and de-wormed. The adoption contract stated that she needed to be de-wormed again. Her new adopter took her to the vet, and worms were still present. The veterinarian charged the adopter $440 (I have a copy of the receipt) and scared the Mom so much she returned Farrah. The vet said the worms could live in her yard for years, infect her children, and cause serious complications. Farrah was retreated and adopted. Her second family reported that they had to de-worm her six times before she was clear.

Regardless of whether you purchase a puppy from a store, adopt from a rescue, pound or shelter, or purchase from a breeder, all puppies have worms, and must be de-wormed, sometimes several times.

Holly tells her puppy adopters, “Puppies have worms. Every time you take your pup to your vet, have them do a fecal test.
Expect it to be positive, every time.”

When we agreed to rescue Gilligan from Rome, GA, we were told he was a she. We named her Gillian. Weren’t we surprised when he came off transport! We quickly renamed him Gilligan. People make mistakes. This is not the first time a mistake has been made either by a shelter volunteer, a cross-poster, or the shelter themselves regarding sexing an animal.

Moonpie was heartworm tested at a shelter in Gainesville, FL. The result was negative. We retested her, and she was positive.

Ocala’s paperwork did not indicate that she had been spayed. We could not locate her former foster, who had the paperwork. I do not believe in operating on a dog just because we can’t find the proof. Many times the shelters place a minus sign next to the spot where it asks Male or Female. Many times an “N” is marked instead of a check mark. Dale Parent insisted the dog had been spayed. We had Ocala examined by Val-u-Vet in Sanford; shaving revealed the scar, confirming that she had been spayed. It is because of the trust that we have with Dale Parrent that Ocala was not unnecessarily operated on.

Update:  After adoption, we asked our vet to shave Ocala, and indeed, a spay mark was present!

An Older Female:
Four months ago, an owner-surrendered older dog came into our rescue via a pound. The owner had reported the dog spayed, but when we contacted the dog’s vet FOUR TIMES, and he insisted that there was no record of any spay. Surgery revealed that the owner was right. It was heartbreaking.

Reed’s Bandit:
Bandit was only 7 months old when he was surrendered to me by a professional breeder. He was purchased by a local Border Collie breeder, and at the time of his neuter, I thought it was absurd to have him heartworm tested. After his adoption, he was taken to the vet by his adopters, and he tested positive. Heartworm testing a puppy? Because of Bandit, I implemented the policy of heartworm testing young dogs unless I have proof that heartworm preventative has been administered.

Our Dogs’ History:
Every dog has a story. Sometimes we get the whole story at the beginning, sometimes it comes in over time, and sometimes we never know.

For example, I didn’t know until recently the details that Buddyfrom Kentucky was found tied to a bench at a park.We still don’t have Buddy’s paperwork, and although we were promised he was up-to-date on shots, and heartworm negative, Buddy is at the vet as I write this post, he has been given his shots, simply because I have no paperwork to prove he is vetted, and he is being heartworm tested, simply because I have no paperwork to prove he is negative; an expense I did not expect to absorb.

Update:  Our foster had Buddy’s paperwork, which had proof of vaccines, and heartworm status, but couldn’t understand it!  Still an unnecessary expense I absorbed.

Sometimes I’m told that a dog was a stray, only to find out the dog was owner-surrendered. No one is being deceived here. The fact is, shelters and pounds juggle numerous dogs at the same time, rushing to save them before their time is up; details are often irrelevant when the dog has literally hours left. As details emerge about the dog, we update the blog post, always striving to give the most accurate information available. A prime example of this is the story of Garcon.

We didn’t know anything about Garcon, until we received an email from his original rescuer. Suddenly we had a wealth of knowledge! We count ourselves fortunate when such a thing occurs. The detailed history of most dogs is usually lost to us. We rely on fosters and behaviorists to uncover the mystery for us, but even then, it’s just a guess. I mean, think about it: since when is an animal abuser or a person who neglected a dog going to come forward with the truth? In the case of China, the abuse was obvious, but in the case of Gilligan (Skipper) it’s still a mystery and work in progress.

Paperwork has been a major cause of protocols slipping through the cracks. In the case of Filly/Philly, I assumed because she came from Athens Dog Pound, she was spayed. She went from transport to foster to adopter. But I was wrong. Before she came to us she was pulled from Athens Dog Pound by a rescue/foster in Alabama. That rescue was not required to spay her. She was adopted, and went into heat 2 days later. I assumed she had been spayed , my error. Regardless, she was spayed last month.

We did not know that Dudley had upper respiratory infections before transport, nor did we know he was heartworm positive, and if it wasn’t for an x-ray to take a look at his lungs, we wouldn’t have known that there was a bullet in his chest. If Had Dudley not needed to x-ray him to check for pneumonia, we would’ve never known about the bullet, and his adopter would’ve never known either.

Dudley was adopted by Kim, of Aloma Jancy Hospital, and is being treated for Heartworm with liquid ivermectin (the new slow kill method), not immmiticide (the conventional fast kill method).

Rex & Radar:
Two weeks ago I was working on transporting Rex/Bolt, (shown left at the vet in Gainesville, GA) and ensuring that Radar will have a space here at our rescue (Radar has not yet arrived and is not posted).

Both are the same age, look almost identical, and both were being boarded at a veterinarian’s office. Rex was renamed Bolt, but I still kept calling him Rex.

When I received a call from foster Vicki telling me that Rex was light HW positive, I didn’t bat an eye, and assured her he was still coming to us.

But all the while I had Radar on my mind, and incorrectly mentally filed the phone call under Radar (shown right and labeled as “found dog”).

When Rex/Bolt arrived, his foster and I reviewed his paperwork over the phone, which was handwritten and illegible, and no where did we see on the paperwork “HW+”. That’s what we look for. Rex was adopted, taken to the vet, and his new owners were shocked to learn he was Heartworm positive, as was I.

I believe that not having a chance to personally review his paperwork caused this oversight.

Rex’s owners are devastated because they were not informed in advance of his condition.

They are also disappointed that their vet has estimated his age to be four, when his rescuers estimated his age to be two. I’m sure if I asked a dozen dog-savvy people to guess his age, I’d come with a dozen different answers. Regardless, his blog post clearly indicated that his age and weight was an estimate.

New Protocol:
This week, we are establishing a new protocol for shelters and pounds to adhere to. We require that all of the paperwork for all dogs coming to us be faxed prior to transport to our vets so that we may have the opportunity to review the fine print, and handwritten notes.

Why? I still do not have the paperwork for Baby Ga Ga and Garcon, because it was lost in transport!

Heartworm Treatment:
In most cases shelters and pounds do not allow heartworm positive dogs to be adopted. If a willing rescue is not quickly found, the dogs are euthanzied.

I have received quotes from $200 – $2,000 to treat heartworm with immiticide (the conventional fast kill method). I’ve also heard hundreds of stories from dog owners whose vets refused to sell them heartgard (ivermectin) as a method of treatment. Ironically, those same vets admit that when a dog crashes (has a life-threatening reaction to immiticide) they stop the immiticide treatment and prescribe monthly Heartgard (slow kill method).

The majority of veterinarians may see a heartworm positive case in their clinic once and a while, while rescues see dozens of them. I think I’ve personally taken 30-50 HW+ dogs in just 18 months. Almost always treat through the slow kill method and have not lost one to heartworm.

I believe that vets who refuse to educate themselves on the viability of the slow kill method fail to give many dogs a chance at life. A good number of owners cannot afford an $800 to $2,000 treatment. They don’t know that they can buy liquid Ivermectin (the active ingredient in Heartgard) from feed stores, so without the vet’s prescription for Heartgard, their dog will die.

Since I have reached our to our vets, and discussed the options, we have had a wonderful response with vets willing to work with us. Some homeopathic vets are using methods that are even more gentle to the dog.

To date, Jackson Browne and Collie Gisele were my two most serious cases of heartworm disease. Jackson Browne used monthly Heartgard prior to one injection of ivermectin by Dr. Susan Wayne. Collie Gisele had to use the immiticide treatment because of complications. Both are doing well.

Written by Amy Benz:
Before I adopted border-collie mix Chas (formerly Billy Joel), my only experience with heartworm positive dogs was secondhand. My brother and his wife had rescued an American Bulldog that was heartworm positive; their vet recommended the fast-kill treatment via Immiticide. My aunt rescued a heartworm-positive American Eskimo Dog; her vet also recommended the fast-kill method. Following treatment with Immiticide, both dogs nearly died and had to be rushed to the emergency veterinary clinics in their respective areas. Despite following all the necessary precautions/instructions, my brother and my aunt nearly lost their dogs because they had a difficult time keeping them completely and totally quiet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Both dogs were young and very active at the time of their Immiticide treatment.

This was my mindset going into adopting Chas, who at two years of age had been diagnosed as “light heartworm positive.” I had never heard of the slow-kill method, which employs a combination of treatment with doxycycline and monthly dosages of Heartgard heartworm preventative over a long period of time. Gisele and Holly explained my options and recommended several sources of credible information so that I could educate myself. Because Chas was young, fit, active, and – most importantly – asymptomatic (no coughing, shortness of breath, or lethargy), I decided the slow-kill method would be the way to go. I simply couldn’t fathom keeping him confined and quiet for such a long period of time if another option was available.

Feeling I’d made an informed decision with Chas’s best interest in mind, I took him to my regular vet for a check-up as soon as I got him home. Imagine my surprise when my vet berated me for my thinking, implying that I was not only ignorant but irresponsible for even considering the slow-kill method. She went as far as telling me that I was putting my entire neighborhood’s dog population at risk by maintaining a heartworm positive dog. “What if your neighbor’s dog isn’t on preventative?” she asked. “You could be responsible for infecting that dog!” I left the office in tears and immediately called Holly, who informed me that unfortunately many vets feel this way about the slow-kill method. Her advice was to research as much as possible, read testimonials about dogs successfully treated with the method, and ultimately make my own decision. I chose to stick with the slow-kill method. So far, so good – my Chas is a healthy, happy, active dog and continues to remain asymptomatic. I’m hoping for good news this spring at his annual check-up.

We treat our dogs using the slow kill method, however, you and your vet should discuss the options, and choose the option that works best for you.

Rescue is an Effort:
In rescue, we are not promoting a cookie-cutter product, like shoes, cookies, or hamburgers. We cannot guarantee the way in which the product was manufactured, the ingredients used, or how the product will be delivered.We cannot guarantee the age of a dog, just provide a guess. We rely on the shelters to age a dog, we consult with our fosters, and our own veterinarians. We average the estimates, and come up with a range. We can’t even give a definitive answer to the age of a puppy, just an educated guess.

No rescue, pound or shelter makes a dog heartworm positive, their previous owners do, out of sheer neglect. We do not give dogs worms, kennel cough, or make them become emaciated, they come to us that way.

Nor can we guarantee, without paperwork, a dog’s breed. We sometimes stare at photos and debate for long periods of time. Some of our adopters have had DNA testing on our dogs, and we always enjoy reviewing the results.

Do I believe that Lady Di, Sugar Ray, China, Kiss, Baby Ga Ga, Tim Tebow, Big George, Chelsea, Trixie Belle, Dudley, Valentine, Gemini, Rex/Bolt, Radar, and many others are purebreds? Yes, I do. Can I prove it? No, I can’t. Only Shy Shannon and Titan have come to me with AKC registration.

While we work very hard with our shelters and pounds, our fosters, and our vets, this is rescue. We work with the information that we get, decipher emails, interpret phone calls, and document as much as we can as new information arrives. We do the best we can. We make mistakes. We admit it. But they are honest mistakes. We want our adopters to be able to trust us. That is why we spend so much time writing on the website, on facebook, on the phone. We want you to know our heart.

But we will make mistakes. If a person cannot tolerate an error in age, breed, health, etc., then they are surely better off going to a source that has the full history of its dogs, i.e., a quality breeder. If, however, they just want a great dog and the knowledge that they saved the life of an abandoned pet, then we hope that they will consider adopting from us, warts and all!


Update: Both Billy Joel (Chaz) and BoBo are heartworm negative after being on heartgard for 8-12 months.



  1. Lou B


    Good Blog, we all live and learn in whatever we do, you will continue to make mistakes, what I admire is that you learn from all of your mistakes no matter how big or small and your hearts are squarely in the right place. You and Holly LOVE your dogs without reservation and look for the best home possible….anyone that wants any guarantees should NOT get a living thing, with life ANY life there is no guarantee!!! All you can guarantee and you do is you will do your very best for your dogs!! Love you guys Lou

  2. Steven


    FANTASTIC post, Gisele!

  3. Nina Glaser


    I am happy to hear that it's been "so far so good" with Amy's Chas…We've been doing a lot of research since learning Rex was HW+, and from what we've reading, the Imiticide treatment is the only real option we have. He's not asymptomatic, and we fear what kind of damage the adult worms could do while waiting for a preventative to work as a remedy. What surprised me the most about her story was that her vet berated her for having a HW+ dog, since the disease is only transmitted by the dog being bitten by a mosquito. We brought Rex into the house with another dog, and our vet assured us she was not at-risk. As for Rex's age, he's still a young dog, and while we understand his age was estimated, we just anticipated a closer match, since we were told he was with a vet and presumed they'd have been in the same neighborhood as our vet in the estimation, with his teeth as a guide. If our experience helped establish new protocol and saves others from some unnecessary heartache, then some good has come from it. We'd appreciate everyone sending positive thoughts Rex's way as he embarks on his medical journey.

  4. Robinlynn


    Your update is very well written and informative. Thank you for all you do for our dog community. I hope to someday soon welcome one of your Borders into our home. So miss our precious Molly girl.

  5. Cindy


    Excellent post. The dogs are lucky to have all of you! Once we finish our remodeling we hope to contact you about adopting.

    Keep up the good (and hard) work!

  6. Amy Benz


    Nina, I believe I may have been unclear in explaining my vet's reaction to treating Chas with the slow-kill method rather than the Immiticide. She meant that by using Heartgard and thereby keeping Chas HW+ for a longer period of time, I was exposing area dogs not on HW preventative to the disease. In other words, a mosquito could bite HW+ Chas, then bite an unprotected dog and infect that dog. In retrospect, my response should've been to tell her to direct her ire at the owner of the unprotected dog.

  7. FurryReaders


    Very informative post, with a lot of heart. It saddened us that you even have to write such a post and provide so many explanations. We can only hope that these people that are the cause behind the negative aspects are the minority. As the Bard says "To err is human", it is whether we learn from them which is more important. And really those people who expect perfection are probably the same ones who never learn from their own mistakes. Speaking of cookie cutter, our 70 lb BC mix, Nougat, (aka Bling) certainly and shockingly to many broke that mold!

    So many people come up to us, telling us how beautiful she is (we beam proudly every time) and/or how well behaved. They always ask what breed she is. Of course we tell them she is a BC mix and a rescue (go into that later)and although that means she is intelligent, that they do not automatically come this way. You have to train them, along with large doses of love and patience. We can't tell you how many people we have had to convince that getting the same breed does not mean you will get the same dog. We explain that we researched the breed, knew we had to come up with things to stimulate and challenge her and schedule plenty of activity time, this was before we ever called Giselle. Then when we explain she (and all our animals) is a rescue, sadly 70-80% are shocked that Nougat could be a rescue. Changing this perception is what all of us are doing.

    Ron & Dawn S.

  8. FurryReaders



    We just had to respond to your comment. You are so right, your vet's anger was misguided, it needed to be directed at the irresponsible dog owners not the responsible one standing in front of her.

    Ron & Dawn S.

  9. arlene


    I wish you could be cloned and placed in every state!

    ~Arlene Meyer

  10. Carlyn Nugent


    I am saddened and confused by your comments regarding Buddy. I did disclose his origin–abandoned in city park, half-starved–when I initially contacted you. His resource-guarding and trust issues were mentioned then and repeated in multiple correspondences.

    I made no claim to his vetting other than rabies, one deworm/deflea and a heartworm test. We had the rabies proof–he had a tag and certificate. The only heartworm test evidence to be had was a handwritten note from the vet tech on the back of a business card from the low-cost vet clinic. No, I do not know if that went to you… I am not sure what paperwork was able to be retrieved from his earliest days after being found in that park.

    I am extremely grateful to you for taking Buddy after I made so many pleas for him…please do not misunderstand that. I am happy he is with you now and I believe you will give him the best chance at a future.

    But, I feel like your comments suggest deception or withholding of information on my part. Perhaps, they aren't meant that way, but I felt I was completely honest with you regarding where he came from, what had been done medically, and what all his issues were, from the very beginning.


  11. Gisele Veilleux


    Carlyn, please, no worries. This happens very often, sometimes paperwork is lost in transport, sometimes it's with someone that we can't track, and sometimes the female dog arrives as a male! It's really no big deal for me.

    I do believe that a third-party at once time mentioned he was fully vetted, but if they are as busy as I am, I understand how facts get confused when you're managing so many dogs at once.

    We talk to many people each day, and answer literally hundreds of emails. When the dust settles, we review the paperwork, and try to make sense of it all.

    Buddy is doing great.

  12. wendy


    your blogs are full of good information….. thanks for taking time share your experiences for all of us in rescue to continue to learn…. is there a way to share each blog on my facebook page? thanks
    wendy mcarthur

  13. Maria DeRosa


    Beautifully written. I foster the heartworm positive dogs. MY DOG is not heartworm positive and I am 100% certain to give him his preventitive monthly, as prescribed. Still, I have heartworm positive dogs passing through my home regularly. Yes, I am putting the other dogs on the block in danger IF thier owners have not treated thier dogs as a responsible owners does. If those dogs are not preventitivly treated, is it my fault that thier dog got heartworm? No it is not…. no more my fault than if I had not treated my own dog who then caught it from thiers. Do they care? Obvously not, if they are not using preventitive. We cannot controle the actions of others – only our own. If we could controle everytone else, there would be no need for rescue….

  14. Gisele


    and the drama continues, as the country runs out of immiticide to treat heartworm positive dogs… now what? Use the slow-kill method we’ve been talking about for years? I think I see a bunch of vets nodding their head now.

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