by Pat Clark
“The ultimate expression of Generosity is not in giving of what you have, but in giving of who you are.”-Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, noted Anthropologist and Educator
As Lab owners there are a variety of opportunities for us to rally around the breed we love. We have the ability to make life better for the thousands of retrievers in shelters and potential owners needing assistance dogs. Organizations throughout the country gear up during April to recognize and recruit volunteers who are the lifeline of their organization. As a potential volunteer, there are several ways you can become involved.
Shelters and rescue organizations are in constant need of foster homes. Often times, fostering a dog is the first step towards finding a “forever” home. This allows volunteers to determine the dog’s personality, temperament and training needs. As a foster parent, you will be required to provide a comfortable home with proper shelter, adequate food and a loving heart for a needy dog. You may need to take the dog to vet appointments, adoption events, and meet with potential owners during the fostering process.
For John deBessonet and his wife Liz of Houston, Texas, following the death of their Lab Jake, they volunteered to foster two rescues, Duke and Freckles. John describes himself as a “Foster Failure.” Volunteering their home was the easy part. They soon discovered the two fosters were ideal companions for them. Realizing how difficult it would be to surrender them for adoption, they earned the honorary title of “Foster Failures” when they agreed to adopt the dogs. Now, instead of serving as a foster home, they do volunteer work for Southeast Texas Labrador Retriever Rescue.
Rescues often rely on contributions of time and money to remain in operation. People with professional skills can donate their services resulting in a substantial savings in operating expenses. A donation of skills such as web page design, graphic arts, photography, and creative writing will enable rescue groups to develop a professional image that draws attention to their organization. There is also a need for accounting, legal, and grooming services to enable them to run smoothly. You can donate heartworm meds, contribute new or gently used toys, collars, leashes and crates. Volunteers can walk shelter dogs, transport rescues to vet appointments, answer telephones, or conduct home visits.
Parents, teachers, and youth group leaders can encourage children to become involved by helping with projects that would benefit your local shelter or rescue group. Examples of activities include garage sales and lemonade stands. Students can collect unused linens to donate for use in kennels and crates. Youth groups can sponsor pet food drives and car washes with the receipts donated to a local charity. This would be a great way to develop leadership skills. Schedule a visit at your local shelter with your children and let them present the funds they raised during their special event. Children who learn the meaning of philanthropy are more likely to embrace volunteerism as adults.
Since 2002, Karen Harness and her family in Clovis, California, have volunteered for Guide Dogs for the Blind as volunteer “Puppy Raisers.” They provide the initial phase of training which includes basic obedience, manners, and socialization until it is time to turn the dog in for training around 15 months of age. Karen states, “It is also the most rewarding part of being a puppy raiser – seeing the pup we raised go on to be a guide dog for a blind or visually impaired person.”
Anne Swindeman of Yakima, Washington, is a Labrador retriever breeder who believes that responsible breeding includes giving back to the breed she loves. Swindeman states that one of the biggest needs responsible breeders and clubs can fill is to educate buyers, which in turn will help prevent rescues. She suggests kennel clubs become proactive in the field of education by conducting programs that teach people about the value of spay and neuter programs, and responsible pet ownership.
Becoming a volunteer is easy! You can start by checking your local telephone book for the names and addresses of rescue groups in your area. Go onto the Internet and do a search for guide dog or leader dog agencies near you. Entering the words “Labrador Retriever Rescue” in your search engine will provide you state listings of rescue groups. Also, the Labrador Retriever Club has a link on their site to a directory of rescue groups at: http://www.thelabradorclub.com/subpages/searchrescue.php.
Get involved. Remember volunteering is an act of kindness. The rewards are numerous. When you take the time, it may be the first good deed some dogs will ever know. It could be the turning point in their life. There is a homeless pup out there waiting to reward you with a wag of his tail or a warm nose snuggling your face. He or she will be your friend for life. This is their way of saying, “Thank you for helping me.”