Feature Articles

Volume 3, Number 1

RESCUE: A Day in The Life by Suzanne Bell Dilts


English Springer Spaniel Rescue Coalition, Pacific Region Coordinator

English Springer Rescue America, Inc., Treasurer and Director

Gateway Cities English Springer Spaniel Assn., Inc., Treasurer


  RESCUE: A Day in The Life

A few weeks before Christmas, 2000, a lonely 5-year-old black and white male English Springer Spaniel sat in the San Luis Obispo Animal Shelter after having been found as a stray. An owner hadn't reclaimed him and his time at the shelter was almost up courtesy of the required "crowd control euthanasia". The end of his life was inching closer. Photos on the shelter's website showed a pathetically sad dog full of despair. He was matted, smelly and depressed and although many people expressed an interest from far away, his location was a stumbling block. The look in his eyes foretold what was coming.

Little did he know, the Southern California members of English Springer Rescue America (ESRA) were working behind the scenes to come for him and provided he met our standards for health and temperament, we would be there. ESRA Adoptions Chair Renee Holmes sat at home some 7 hours away in Oceanside calling the shelter, begging the staff to give him one more day and pleading with rescue members to sacrifice a few hours of their time to make a trip North. Leanne Heriot responded to one of these pleas. She agreed to make the 4-hour drive from Los Angeles to evaluate him. There was no guarantee he'd pass her tests but all involved believed he deserved a chance. Every Springer deserves a chance.

When Leanne arrived she was met by a sweet and gentle Springer most glad to see her. He was a face licker, a butt wiggler, a whinier and a woo-wooer, all the things that make a Springer unique. He was a dog that made you stand back and wonder how on Earth he ended up in an animal shelter. He was the kind of dog that made you realize how susceptible all of our dogs are to the same fate. He possessed the kind, gentle, silly, fun, energetic temperament Springers are supposed to have and ESRA would gladly take him into its foster care program. As far as looks go, most of the time shelter dogs look like hell. You have to look for the diamond in the rough but as long as the temperament is there, they're our Springers and that's all that matters. With Leanne's approval life began again for this dog she named Gunther.

Rescue is the collected efforts of many. With over 300 members across North America, it's not just volunteers who dedicate countless hours of their time and money to the cause but also the kindness of numerous service organizations who understand our goal. They help us protect the breed we are dedicated to. They help us do what we do best in rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming our English Springer Spaniels. ESRA is blessed to have relationships with veterinarians, boarding kennels, groomers, airplane pilots, truckers, other breed rescue organizations and individuals from all walks of life with special talents they'd like to donate.

Gunny's story did not end the minute Leanne pulled him from the San Luis Obispo Animal Shelter. Receiving word of his existence via internet rescue lists and shelter websites, mobilizing a volunteer to evaluate & pull, then transfer him to his veterinarian was only the beginning. He still had mountains to climb and a life-or-death scare to make us realize even when we think we've saved them; something else can come along to take the victory out of our hands.

Next stop was Mission Park Pet Hospital in Mission Viejo, CA for his health check, neutering, heartworm test and vaccines. ESRA promises a dog in good health, fully vaccinated, heartworm negative, dewormed and extensively evaluated for temperament. We tell the families the positives and negatives about each dog as we know them both in health and temperament and we always look out for the best interests of the dog, preferring to reject a potential adopter than let the dog go where he won't flourish.

Everything went well with Gunny's surgery until he began waking up. Kicking, yelping and flailing around, it was necessary to administer a small injection of acepromazine so he wouldn't hurt himself. "Ace" is a tranquilizer that wears off slowly and takes the edge off an agitated state. It allows a dog to come up gradually from anesthesia and is common to give before or after surgery. The only problem was, we didn't know Gunny was allergic to the drug. The next day his temperature spiked to 104.3F degrees (the norm is 101.5F), his kidneys began shutting down, he had bloody diarrhea and as he became more and more lethargic as his blood chemistries went all over the chart. If he hadn't been given a continuous flow of room temperature IV saline solution to cool from the inside, he would have died. There was no drug to counter the effects of the acepromazine, just fluids and time. He spent 3 days in intensive care at his vet's and if the kidney functions didn't return to normal, we would have had a heartbreaking disaster on our hands. This was not exactly the desired effect an organization that strives to protect the breed was looking for.

At the same time, we also had another dog at the hospital in the cage next to Gunther's. A liver & white bench bred male around the same age was severely infested with whipworms. William's abdomen was distended, he was rail thin but his positive attitude, appetite and normal body functions told us he'd be fine So we watched them both, stressing over the fate of one, thinking the other was in no danger. And then it hit in the early hours of the morning. The hospital was opening when William had a massive seizure. It lasted so long the IV Valium had little effect and there was obviously more going on with this beautiful dog than we could fix. In looking at his overall health and incoherent behavior, the decision was made to let him go peacefully. Quality of life is as important as quantity and that left us with gravely ill Gunther to watch and worry about.

ESRA isn't an organization that seeks to save every Springer at any cost. Our firm motto is to PROTECT THE BREED and we realize part of this comes in the form of making tough decisions. We will not under any circumstances take a dog into foster care that has a bite history. There is no need to because we assist so many with proper temperament. Weeding out the bad ones is what makes our breed stronger and in our rescue capacity, every dog is spayed or neutered so no unscrupulous breedings can take place. We counsel families with dogs who have temperament issues, provide resources to assist them and don't shy away from suggesting euthanasia when the situation warrants.

With Gunther, we had the temperament we were looking for and he proved to us dogs really are amazing creatures. A few days later the veterinarian called to report the good news and we were out of the woods. Repeat blood chemistries showed no ill effects from the ordeal, his kidneys were functioning normally and Gunny was standing up in his cage, wiggling like a mad man and ready to go home. He was ready to go to his foster care home to recuperate and as he walked out the doors, the staff who lovingly cared for him smiled because they knew another rescued Springer was going to find a new home.

Gunny came home with me to recover and my husband and I had the pleasure of fostering him. He still had some bloody diarrhea but I knew it was from his intestines sloughing tissue that had been "cooked" when his temperature spiked. He was wonderful with my cocker and 3 springers boys and fit in low on the dominance totem pole. He was content to hang out with the crew, laze around on the couch, bask in the sunlight and go to work with me daily. This boy was definitely a keeper but I'd have to own land the size of Texas to keep all the springers I've fallen in love with.

The next task, besides constantly monitoring Gunny's temperament was to search for an owner who would best fit his qualities. The majority of ESRA's families are found through our website. It's a prizewinner at www.springerrescue.org maintained by a professional web designer who just happens to be a Springer fan. Gunther's photograph and description had already been on the site under the URGENTS/SHELTER dog section so the public knew of his existence. A new listing with photographs would be moved to the FOSTER CARE section so inquiring homes could see his sweet face and read a little about him.

Who ever adopted Gunny would have to be a gentle home. He's not a ball chasing, bird crazy wild man, so the target family would consist of 1 to 3 people with older children, if any. A huge yard wouldn't be required but ample exercise countered with equal parts couch duty would suffice. A family new to the breed would be fine, too, since he didn't have any significant temperament quirks and was proving himself to be painfully well mannered and housetrained. He'd do well with other dogs, too, as he played well with others.

Along came an adoption questionnaire from Ken and Judy Heitzenrader forwarded from the good people of Golden Gate ESS Rescue of Northern California. Ken and Judy are the kind of folks who make us rescuers smile. They didn't care what the dog looked like, they were open to gender, coloring, age and special needs and they were willing to travel a good distance to see a dog. They knew the value of proper temperament over looks and were striving for it with their new family member. They had previous ESS experience and just wanted a Springer to love and keep their older ESS girl, Victoria, company.

I called them immediately and spoke with Ken. He was a kind and warm gentleman, I could tell in his 50's or 60's, dedicated to and knowledgeable about the breed. He possessed the same gentleness that would complement Gunny's. He told me about his home, yard, daily routine, previous dog experience and Victoria. He described how he was retired and wanted a companion to go for walks with and keep he and his wife company. He knew the virtues of crate training and passed the "hot point" questions regarding where the dog would sleep at night, length of time he'd be alone and where he'd left. Intuition and experience said these were good people and Ken wanted to come visit the dogs in my care.

The only problem was that he lived in Reno, Nevada and I'm in Orange County, CA. We email corresponded a few more times never able to find a good time and then I presented Gunny to him and Judy over the phone. I asked if they'd be willing to adopt him sight unseen, based upon my completely honest assessments. It takes a lot of guts to adopt a dog long distance with only photographs emailed back and forth. They needed to think about it and might be willing. I knew Gunny was going to be one happy dog if this worked out.

Then at last, the Heitzenraider's said yes and the march was on to find a way to get them to each other. It was a few days before Christmas and if Gunny could be with his new family before then, everyone involved would have a brighter holiday.

Around that time, we received an email through the website from Ed Mashman and Carolyn Molloy in Los Angeles. They contacted ESRA offering to transport a dog to his/her new home via their private plane. Their offer was like a gift from heaven and the timing perfect. After several discussions, interviewing them and learning of their dedication to the breed, it was decided they would take Gunny to Fresno on their way to visit family for Christmas in Oakhurst near Yosemite. Ed told me he looks for any reason to go flying and this would be the perfect way.

So Gunny left my foster care on Christmas Eve and flew to meet his new mom and dad. Once the airplane doors opened, Gunny immediately took to Ken like they'd known each other forever and the bonding process began. It was going to be a very good Christmas indeed.

Two months later, Judy reports Gunny is doing well. He and ESS sister, Victoria, are getting along and he goes for daily walks with Ken to feed the geese at the local pond. Gunny carries the loaf of bread in his mouth, stays tentatively back from the birds and wags his tail and whinnies the whole time. He loves Ken dearly and anticipates their nature trail walks. There have been no residual side effects to his acepromazine reaction but he wears a bright red tag on his collar that says, "NO ACE!"

This little sweet dog who a couple of months ago was facing certain death in an animal shelter, who braved an allergic reaction to medication and then an airplane ride up north had finally made it. These are the stories us English Springer Spaniel rescue folks live for. This is how we protect the breed.

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