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Operating a Successful 
Chow Chow Rescue Group

by Vicki DeGruy, Wisconsin Chow Chow Rescue


Before you get started.....

The simplest definition of "Chow Rescue" is finding new homes for abandoned or unwanted Chow Chows. The whole job involves some skills you might not think would have anything to do with rescue: you're a boarding kennel manager, a groomer, a vet's assistant, a trainer, a teacher, a public relations & media whiz and an advertising agency all rolled into one! You certainly don't have to born with all these skills - you can pick them up along the way. The major qualifications for the job are common sense, determination and of course, a love for Chow Chows.

"Chow Rescue" can be conducted by one individual but is much easier when you can find others to help. Currently there is no one national organization for rescue efforts. Work is being done by some regional Chow clubs but most of the job is carried on by individual owners, breeders and fanciers. If there is no group in your area, you may want to start your own.

First you'll need to decide how much time, money and kennel space you can afford to devote to this work. Rescue is much harder than it looks and can become a full-time job! Whether or not you can take in an abandoned Chow for foster care will depend on space available, needs of family members and other pets, your job and other demands on your time. Talk it over extensively with your household before accepting your first rescued Chow.

Sources of Chows to rescue .....

One of your first decisions will be just which Chows you can rescue and where they will come from. As hard as we try, we can't save them all - there are just too many. If your facilities are limited, you may choose to rescue only emergency cases, strays or Chows scheduled for euthanasia at animal shelters. You may also decide to accept Chows given up by their owners. Some groups, in order to avoid becoming a "dumping ground" will only act as advisors for people wanting to get rid of their Chows. It pays to start small until you see just how much work you can handle.

Letting people know .....

Once you've decided on some basic guidelines for your program, you can get the word out. The first place to call is the Chow Chow Club, Inc.'s Welfare Committee so we can list you in our Rescue Directory. We get calls for help from all parts of the country and refer them to rescue services in their areas.

Contact your local animal shelters, humane societies, police departments, veterinarians, groomers and boarding kennels to let them know that you are willing to accept Chows or advise on their placement. Most kennel clubs carry listings of breed rescue groups, also.

Give your service a name like "Greater Chicago Chow Rescue or something similar. Make up a simple business card or flyer that provides information about your service that they can keep on file. This same flyer or card can be posted on public bulletin boards, at vets' offices, pet stores, etc. The flyer can also contain information about Chows you may have for adoption. Periodically check with the places where you've left your card to make sure they're still aware of you. You'd be amazed how those cards travel or get lost!

Dealing with animal shelters ....

You'd think that most shelters would welcome your help with open arms, but it isn't always so. To understand why not, you have to look at it from their point of view. While their business is to save as many animals as possible, they have to be concerned about who they're saving them to. Shelters have been burned by people who turn out to be puppymillers, resale brokers or just plain irresponsible. They have legitimate reasons for checking you out. If you're currently breeding Chows, expect them to be doubly suspicious! "Breeder" is a dirty word to the shelter managers who have to inject euthanasia solution into the veins of the results of "breeders'" work on a daily basis. They want proof that your own breeding isn't adding to pet overpopulation and that the dogs they release to you won't be bred themselves.

You can establish a relationship with a reluctant shelter through volunteer work, references from vets and other shelters, and getting to know the manager and staff personally. The Chow's reputation can be both a blessing and a curse. Many shelters don't want anything to do with them and will be delighted that you'll take them off their hands. Others do not consider Chows (and some other breeds) to be adoptable at all and euthanize them, period. If you consider the dog to be a good adoption candidate, you may be able to covince them to release it to you.

Keep in mind that tax-funded shelters and animal control agencies operate under state and local laws. Private shelters are somewhat more flexible but even they usually have a board of directors that sets policies for operation. If you run into a policy or law that prevents you from rescuing a Chow, try to stay calm and reasonable. Blaming the staff or harassing the shelter won't do any good and only hurts your reputation. You can sometimes become the exception to the shelter's rules by approaching the right people in a professional manner.

Many shelters, especially tax-funded ones, require an adoption fee before a dog can be released to you. Most also require that you provide proof that you've spayed or neutered the dog if it hasn't already been done.

The easiest way to get on a shelter's bad side is not to do what you promised! If you've made an agreement with them, live up to it. Another kiss of death is to promise to help with a dog and then not be heard from again. Many shelters complain that "rescue says they'll come but they never show up". If you can't help, be courteous and honest enough to tell them. Don't leave them hanging.

We also recommend that you provide the shelter with the name and address of the adopting family and a copy of the adoption contract when the dog is finally placed. Since all shelters love happy endings, photos of the Chow in its new home are appreciated, too!

One of rescue's pet peeves is that shelters seldom call for help untill it's the Chow's last day to live. It can sometimes take at least 24 to 48 hours for you to arrange to pick up and house a dog. Ask your shelters to please call you as soon as a Chow arrives so you can be prepared. The law requires that strays be kept a certain number of days for their owners to claim them. You can use that time to get ready to pick up the dog if it's not claimed. Some shelters will try to place the dog themselves, only calling you as a last resort. Encourage them to call you right away so you can refer potential adopters to them. Keep in close touch with your shelters so you know what's happening there.

If the shelter absolutely won't release an adoptable Chow to you or you aren't able to provide a foster home yourself, you can still refer qualified adoptors to the shelter directly. We recommend that you go to the shelter first or send someone knowledgeable to evaluate the dog's temperament and health. If you can, offer to give the Chow a bath and grooming to make it more attractive. Chow Rescue services that don't have kennel space have been able to get many Chows placed directly from shelters by advertising, the use of flyers, kennel club referrals and word of mouth.


Chows given up by their owners .....

Because of limited kennel space and the great numbers of Chows already in shelters in danger of being destroyed, some rescue services are no longer accepting Chows from owners unless it's an emergency. Whether or not you can take these dogs will depend on your own space and rescue load. The Chow Chow Club, Inc.'s Welfare Committee has published a booklet called "How To Find A Home For Your Chow Chow" that tells owners how to place their own dogs without resorting to rescue or the shelter. Copies of the booklet are available from the Committee. You can xerox them or ask the committee to send you free copies. You can save valuable time by mailing out a copy to an owner rather than asking and answering the same questions over and over to each caller. Not all owners will care enough about their dogs to follow the booklet's advice but in many cases, it will convince them that the responsibility for their dog's future is theirs and that a shelter (or rescue) isn't just an easy way out.

Before accepting someone's Chow into your rescue program, it's essential to find out why they want to place the dog. One of the common reasons (or excuses) is "we just don't have time for him anymore". This can mean anything from just being tired of the responsibility of owning a dog to behavior problems that the owner's not willing to work on. Getting to the real reason takes careful, tactful questioning, patience and an ability to read between the lines. Read "The Job Evans Guide to Counseling Pet Owners" for a good background in dealing with people and getting to the truth.

Your questioning is very important and you'll get better at it as time goes on. People often "forget" important aspects of their dog's behavior and temperament. They use terms like "nipping" and "protective" when they really mean an out and out bite. They make excuses. Listen carefully to what they tell you and ask them to describe any questionable instances to you: What exactly does the dog do when approached by a stranger?, How serious was the "nip"?, etc. See the sections on "Evaluating Temperament" and "Problem Dogs" for more information. Don't forget to ask where they bought the dog. The original breeder has a moral obligation to help, provided it's in the dog's best interest.

Be tactful and professional when talking to owners. This, too, takes practice and often, self-control! It's hard to stay calm and unemotional when an owner tells you his dog is worthless, not mean enough or whatever. It's also hard to tell the owner of a poor adoption candidate that the best thing may be to put the dog to sleep. People don't realize that you may have received 5 (or 15!) other calls today, all wanting help. They may have no idea that no one will possibly want their beloved, but biting, dog. Your tone of voice and choice of words could make the difference between that dog being dumped by the side of the road or being brought to you where it might have a chance. Gently explaining the facts of life about dangerous dogs and being sympathetic to the owner's fear of euthanasia could keep a bad dog from going to someone who can't possibly handle it.

You might even get calls from people wanting you to help sell their dogs for them! They feel the dog is valuable or want to "get their money out of it". Just explain that you're not a licensed dog dealer and that your main concern is for the dog's future welfare. You can point out that if the Chow was originally purchased as a companion, they've most likely already received more than their money's worth. That usually gets the point across, but if not, you can offer to help them find a home once money is longer their main objective.

If you accept a dog from an owner, ask for a donation toward the dog's care. At the very least, ask the owner to bring the dog up to date on DHLP and rabies vaccinations and get a heartworm test. Some owners will care so little about the Chow that they'd rather dump it than "pay" you to find it a home. If that's the case, I just accept the dog as is. Whenever possible, I ask the owner to bring the dog to me rather than pick it up myself. It's really the least they can do!

A transfer of ownership waiver should be signed by the owner before handing over his Chow. This waiver protects you in the event the owner changes his mind and wants the dog back after it has been placed. It also protects you if you decide the dog is not adoptable and is destroyed. Another protection is the owner's written certification that the dog has never bitten anyone. A copy of the signed waiver should be given to the owner. In some cases, the owner might really want to keep his Chow but doesn't know how to handle a behavioral or training problem. By offering to work with them to solve the problems, you might avoid a rescue later!

Kennel space and foster homes ....

Before you accept a Chow, make sure you'll be able to keep it for as long as it takes to place it. It isn't easy to find homes quickly and you may have the Chow for several months. Shifting a dog from one foster home to another is hard on our "one family" breed so you must make a commitment to stay with it.

Although it's easiest to work with and socialize a rescued Chow when it's in your own home or kennel, you may be able to work out an arrangement with a sympathetic boarding kennel owner or vet for a short-term stay. It's not a cheap solution but may help get an emergency case out of a shelter when you don't have a home available.

Naturally, the most ideal place for a rescued Chow to stay is right in your house but that may not be practical. It's a good idea to isolate shelter dogs from your own dogs for a time to prevent the possible spread of parasites or diseases. If you already have a multi-Chow household, they may not accept this new stranger in their midst. Chows of the same sex usually don't get along and they tend to do best in male/female pairs. On the other hand, if you've been living comfortably with different "groups" of Chows in your house, rotating them inside and out, adding another "rotation group" might not be that difficult for you. A crate is a must for dogs that may not be used to being left alone in a room or away from home.

If you have kennel runs, check them over to make sure they're secure. Most Chows aren't diggers or jumpers, but some rescued ones are, at least during the first few days while they settle in. Some of them fear being abandoned again and will try to escape out of anxiety. Dogs given up by owners are sometimes spoiled and may never have been in a kennel before. They generally cause the most trouble during this initial period. (Shelter dogs and strays are usually just happy to be somewhere warm and dry with regular feedings!) Expect some barking from the new tenant and some grumbling from your own dogs. Things usually settle down after a day or two as everyone accepts the new arrangements. Some rescues are very quiet and withdrawn the first few days, like being in shock.

Some rescue services have used private foster homes to care for rescued Chows. This can work very nicely and then again, it can be more hassle than it's worth. It works best when the person or family is well known to you, has had Chows before and, preferably, training experience and is fully prepared for what they're getting into. The foster family needs to be committed to caring for the Chow for the duration and have proper facilities. They also need to be available for adoptors to visit. Arrangements between you and the foster family to pay for food and medical care must be made ahead of time. The question of liability for damages the rescued Chow may cause while in the foster family's care also must be answered ahead of time. Who will be responsible if the Chow bites or injures someone? Don't let these considerations stop you from using a suitable foster home if one is available but don't wait till something happens before thinking about them.


Health care .....

All strays and shelter dogs can be assumed to be in need of shots and wormings. Give them as soon as possible! Dogs given up by owners are usually behind in their shots, too. Owners may vaguely remember when the dog saw the vet last and it's usually been longer than they thought. We recommend that all rescued Chows receive a health checkup from a qualified veterinarian along with DHLP and rabies vaccinations and a stool and heartworm check. You can give your own DHLP shots to save money but rabies must be given by a vet. A heartworm test should be part of the routine examination and is an absolute must if you live in an area where heartworm is common.

Besides isolating rescued dogs for a period of time, the best protection you can have is to make sure your own dogs are up to date on vaccinations, are well-cared for and healthy to begin with. We recommend giving your dogs annual intra-nasal Bordatella (kennel cough) vaccines along with your regular shots. They're safe even for baby puppies and can be given at home to save money. DHLP shots include a Bordatella vaccine but we've found it's not as effective as the intra-nasal. Just like the common cold, kennel cough comes in different "strains" and the intra-nasal vaccine protects against most of them. Kennel cough is an air-borne virus. A dog doesn't have to be physically exposed to a sick dog in order to get it. Bathing a rescued dog right away helps to remove bacteria and germs that could spread disease.

I don't want to minimize the health risk that comes with taking in rescued Chows but having rescued dogs since 1985, my own dogs have only become ill twice. Both times involved kennel cough and happened before I used intra-nasal vaccines. You should be careful if you have baby puppies at the critical immunity stages and with very old dogs in failing health. The highest risk dogs from shelters are usually baby puppies who've not received vaccinations yet and may have come in contact with a disease. Most of the risk of introducing disease can be handled by common sense, good management and proper care of your own dogs.

Health Problems .....

Most people want to adopt healthy pets. They're reluctant to adopt a Chow that may need surgery or other costly care. What problems you can fix and how much to spend depend on the dog's overall adoptability, your budget and your total rescue load. If you're operating on a bare minimum of funds, one dog with a serious problem could bankrupt your entire rescue program. This is never a black and white issue. Your personal feelings toward the dog can get in the way of practicality. You'll have to set your own guidelines.

Talking to other rescue groups about how they deal with problems can help you decide what to do. Working with a health problem that can be cured with a short-term course of treatment may be more practical than trying to save a dog with a chronic condition that will cause expense and heartache to its new owners. Put yourself in the place of the adopter when evaluating a dog. Would you want to be saddled with a dog that has a chronic and potentially expensive health problem?

Entropian is probably the most common health problem in rescued Chows. It's also one of the least expensive to treat. You may be able to find people willing to adopt a Chow that needs surgery but the dog's adoptability is greatly enhanced by having the work done while still in your care. Blindness or inherited eye conditions that lead to blindness have been seen in rescued dogs and require some soul-searching before trying to place a dog. Heartworm treatment is one of those gray areas. It's a one-time cure but it's expensive. The cost is usually a minimum of $200 and can go as high as $500. Asking a new owner to assume this cost is unrealistic. If the cost is totally outside your budget or fundraising program or if the dog's adoptability is average or below, you might consider putting the dog to sleep in favor of spending money on more adoptable dogs.


Hip Dysplasia .....

Hip dysplasia can be very common in rescued dogs. It's been estimated that as many as 50% of all Chows are affected by it. How can you tell if a rescued Chow has HD? You can't really know for sure without an x-ray but there are things you can watch for. A dysplastic dog may show any or all of these symptoms. An obvious red flag is lameness or limping in one or both rear legs. There may be stiffness when getting up or after exercise. A dysplastic dog is often very careful how he positions himself as he sits or lies down. Some of them have a hard time finding a comfortable position and are restless.

HD symptoms can be more noticeable in a dog that's walking around the house rather than gaiting around the yard at a trot. At faster speeds, even an unsound dog is able to balance himself so that he appears to be almost normal. It's not as easy to do this at a walk and irregularities can show up. Watch how he stops and stands. A sound dog will stand squarely, solidly, with his weight balanced equally on all four legs. A dysplastic dog usually can't stand this solidly and will often sway a little in his rear as he shifts his weight around in order to stand comfortably. Give him a little nudge and you might be surprised to see how easily you can throw him off balance. If you put your hands on the hips of a dysplastic dog as he walks or climbs stairs, you can sometimes feel a "popping" or "grinding" sensation in his joints.

If you suspect a dog may have HD, it's a good idea to do an x-ray before investing any more money in his care. HD, like heartworm, is treatable but the cost can range from $100 for a simple pectineotomy to $1000+ for hip replacement. Some of these treatments may only have a temporary effect. Placing a dog with mild HD may be possible but the adoptor should be made aware of the condition before he or she takes the dog.

Skin and hormone problems .....

Strays and dogs from neglectful owners may come in with problems that look more serious than they are. Poor diet, particularly generic dog food, can cause allergies, hair loss and hot spots. Fleas and parasites are another cause. Unless you have reason to suspect the problems have a more serious cause, a flea dip and a decent diet are the first things to try. Many shelters automatically dip new dogs when they arrive to get rid of any creepy crawlies. Coat recovery from parasites or bad diet can take time, but you should start to see an improvement and new hair growth within 2-3 weeks. If not,suspect a thyroid or hormone disorder that should be treated. Keep in mind that adolescent Chows may going through their coat change and will look scruffy for awhile no matter what you do. The same goes for bitches that may have weaned a litter before their rescue. In both cases, although the coat looks bad, the skin underneath should be healthy.

Thyroid pboblems cause coat loss and changes in behavior and skin pigmentation. A test to determine thyroid levels usually costs between $25-40. Most thyroid deficiencies can be treated through daily medication. This is an example of a chronic problem that can usually be dealt with but you must inform the adoptor of the problem and be sure they understand that the dog must have medication every day for the rest of its life. Reproductive hormone problems also cause coat loss and changes in skin pigmentation that look similar to thryoid disease. Spaying and neutering usually cures it immediately. Spay/neuter won't have much effect on a thyroid condition.

Mange comes in two forms: sarcoptic and demodectic. Sarcoptic mange is contagious and can be cured with one or two dips and proper kennel management. Any age of dog can be susceptible. Demodectic mange is not contagious and is usually found in adolescent dogs. Mild cases of demodectic mange may clear up by themselves, but more serious conditions, called "generalized" mange can result in complications and staph infections that are difficult and expensive to treat.

Accidents and emergencies .....

You may be called about a stray Chow that's been hit by a car and needs care immediately. There may not be time to evaluate temperament or consider the dog's future adoptability. Fortunately, people tend to rally round a dog like this and help you find money to pay for treatment. Some vets will discount their services considerably on an emergency case. There is a strong emotional involvement with these dogs and it can be hard to be objective. Ask the vet to give you an honest appraisal of the dog's injuries, what's involved to save it and what the dog's future might hold before committing yourself.

Pregnant bitches .....

Pregnancy can also be considered a health problem! Many shelters automatically euthanize pregnant bitches rather than bring even more (and probably mixed-breed) puppies into the world. I've had several pregnant bitches come into rescue, usually strays. In these situations, you have no way of knowing what the sire was, if he had a good temperament or whether he was healthy. A pregnant bitch presents several problems: the cost and time involved in whelping and raising the litter and bringing the bitch back into condition, along with keeping track of and enforcing spay/neuter contracts on several puppies for their lifetimes. One solution to the problem is spaying the bitch prior to delivery. This, again, is a personal decision that has to be based on what's best for the dog and for you.

Serious health problems can create a dilemma for rescuers. The most common and potentially expensive health problems I see are heartworm infestation and hip dysplasia. The cost to treat and cure these and other problems can be prohibitive. There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding whether to treat or destroy an unhealthy or unsound dog: the age of the dog, the seriousness of the problem., cost, whether it's curable or chronic, the dog's temperament, adoption potential, availability of homes and the needs of other rescued dogs. These are personal decisions. It helps to be practical and try to keep your emotions in check. Depending on your area and situation, you may discover that you could save five healthy lives for the cost of saving one dog with a serious problem. More on this can be found in the section on Problem Dogs.


Spaying and neutering .....

We recommend that all rescued Chows be spayed or neutered before placement. Animal shelters that place dogs with spay/neuter contracts report that less than half of the new owners actually alter their dogs as promised. Contracts are helpful but once the dog is out of your hands, you have no real control over what's done with it. No matter how beautiful the Chow, allowing a rescued Chow to reproduce is simply adding to your own work in the long run. It's become our policy at Wisconsin Chow Rescue to spay and neuter all Chows before placement. The purpose of rescue is to keep our breed safe and in good, responsible hands.

Most pet owners are just not capable of breeding wisely and keeping track of their puppies. Remember that one bitch, bred only once, can be responsible for 1,000 descendants in only four years! Even if an adoptor doesn't mention breeding, you can be sure that the idea will cross his mind when the bitch next comes in season or when their friends mention how much they'd like a pup of their own. The thought of having a houseful of cute, fluffy Chow babies can be just too much to resist. They don't think that having just one litter will do any harm. There are also people who'll lie about their intentions and plan to use their new rescued Chow as backyard breeding stock.

Considering all the expense and trouble involved in rescue, it makes no sense whatsoever to allow the Chows you save to continue to add to the population problem! Spaying and neutering before placement gives you true peace of mind. Advertising your adoptable Chows as already altered will eliminate 90% of undesirable applicants to begin with. The people who're simply interested in a loving companion will be glad this service has provided for them.

Puppies too young to be altered should be placed with spay/neuter contracts that include a provision for enforcement and a substantial spay/neuter deposit. A provision for enforcement means that your contract must include actions that you can take if the agreed terms are not met. Specify that you have the right to repossess the puppy if it has not been altered by a certain date. The additional provision that any future litters born of this dog shall be turned over to you is also effective. Be prepared to take legal action if your contract is not honored! Spay/neuter deposits are an effective incentive. The deposit should at least be large enough to cover the cost of the surgery. The larger the deposit, the better! Hold up your end of the bargain by promptly returning the deposit upon receiving a veterinary certificate showing the surgery has been performed.

Early Spay/neuter ......

Some veterinarians and animal shelters are now altering puppies and kittens as young as 6 weeks of age. An article in the July 1991 issue of Dog Fancy reports that the Medford, Oregon SPCA has spay/neutered thousands of animals between 8-12 weeks of age since 1974 with no serious ill effects. A study conducted by the University of Florida found little difference in the behavior or health between animals altered at 7 weeks or 7 months of age. Dr. Kathy Salmeri, one of the researchers in this study, noted that a review of veterinary literature fail to show any scientific information on what the best age for neutering actually is. The commonly accepted age of 6 months seems not to have any basis in fact. More than 50 humane organizations now perform spay/neuters at very early ages including the Massachusetts SPCA, the Memphis animal shelter and the Commission on Animal Control in Chicago.

What would be the advantage of early spay/neuter? It's been shown that only 50%, at best, of adoptive owners of shelter puppies actually spay or neuter them as promised. By altering rescued puppies before adoption, we can be 100% sure they won't go on to produce more unwanted animals and free ourselves of the hassle of enforcing contracts. This is definitely an option worth exploring.


Grooming .....

It only makes sense that a clean, well-groomed Chow is more attractive to potential adoptors. Most stray Chows are in such awful shape when they arrive that you'll need to groom them right away just to find out what health problems might be hiding under the hair!

It's tempting to shave off a neglected, matted coat to save time and start fresh. If at all possible, don't do it. Shaved Chows aren't very appealing to adoptorc who expect the usual long coat and a shaved Chow can take several months to get his coat back. Shaved adolescent Chows can look bad for quite a while. The adult hair isn't growing in well yet but the puppy hair has stopped growing.

Everyone knows that a Chow should be fully groomed out and mats removed before bathing but...a really filthy matted coat is almost impossible to get a comb through. Most mats are made of dead hair that's trying to fall out. Bathing the Chow, mats and all, can loosen the dead hair enough that mat removal will be easier once the original dirt is out. A hefty dose of cream rinse helps. This first bath may not penetrate fully to the skin and you may have to bathe again after you've removed the worst of the mats. Mats that can't be combed out or broken up with a mat splitter can be scissored off. All this takes more effort than shaving but can pay off by getting the Chow adopted more quickly.

Grooming a newly arrived Chow gives you an idea of what care it received before and what its temperament is like. Some of these dogs have never felt a brush or water hose in their life! They can be terrified of being lifted onto a grooming table or into a bath tub. If you think the Chow may bite you out of fear, slip on a muzzle just long enough to get the dog on the table or in the tub. I like to leave a lead on during the bath - rescued Chows are champion bathtub escape artists. With experience, you'll perfect a "one-handed" shampoo method, the other hand being used to hold onto the unhappy dog. The next baths and grooming sessions are never as wild as the first one! When the new owner picks up the Chow is a good time to give a "hands-on" grooming lesson. They need to know what tools to use and the most effective techniques. Be realistic about grooming requirements and shedding. Emphasize that the beautiful, well-groomed dog they're taking home today didn't get that way by magic and won't stay that way without regular brushing!

See also Grooming Your Pet Chow Chow

Training and socialization......

Most rescued Chows haven't had much of either one! Despite this, few rescued Chows are canine terrorists or vandals. Even adult Chows who've always lived outside can be housebroken in just a few days. Most of them have never been taught to come when called, walk properly on lead or stay in a crate. Most of the people who want to adopt your dogs won't have a lot of experience in the training department. You'll help make your placements more successful by giving a rescued Chow a short-course in the commands used most often in every day living. Training sessions, whether at home or in class, give you an idea of the Chow's basic temperament and whether he'll accept discipline from his new owner. The subject of dominance is discussed more fully in the section on Problem Dogs.

All Chow people know that Chows require different methods of training and motivation than most other breeds. Physical force is seldom needed or recommended. You should always be cautious when correcting a newly arrived rescued Chow whose temperament you're not sure of yet. The Welfare and Obedience Committees can help you with training problems or refer you to a qualified trainer in your area for advice.

Exposing the rescued Chow to a variety of situations gives you more valuable insight into its temperament and reactions. Some of them are born socialized but most of them never left their owner's yard except to go to the vet. Take the rescued Chow along on car rides, walks, anywhere where it can see new people and new things.

"Kid-testing" is definitely a good idea. . (Whether or not stray Chows should be placed in families with children will be discussed later in the manual.) Kid-testing should always take place under your supervision and with the dog on lead to prevent potential problems.

Evaluating temperament ......

This is probably the most critical part of Chow Rescue but like many other subjects in this manual, there's not always one right answer to any question. We've based our recommendations on experience but others may have had different experiences and offer different advice. Many of us are now looking even more critically at Chow temperament because of the steadily increasing numbers of unwanted Chows and the lack of homes available. In some areas, only the very best dogs are considered adoptable. You'll have to set your own guidelines on acceptable temperament based on what's best for you, your adoptors and the best interests of the individual dogs.


What is a "good" temperament?

Good temperament means different things to different people. We cherish the aloof, independent,loyal and stubborn nature of our Chows but the reality is that this breed was never meant to be for everyone. Most people don't want a Chow that acts like a Chow - they want a Golden Retriever in a Chow suit! If you've worked with a number of Chows, you know there's a wide range of temperament among individuals. There are Chows that act like Golden Retrievers just as there are Chows that don't like anyone but themselves. Is there a happy medium somewhere?

You'll have an easier time defining what good temperament means to you if you target the market you're "selling" to. Most people who want to adopt a Chow have never owned one before and their impression of the breed is based on a picture they saw in a book. True "Chow people" are few and far between. To adopt the greatest number of Chows into the greatest number of homes, you'll need dogs that can be worked with by people with little or no experience.

What would describe the "average" person who calls about adopting a Chow? He or she is usually married, both work and they have 1-3 children under age 10. If they had a dog before, it was probably a popular breed like a Cocker Spaniel or Lab. The kids and their friends are always running in and out, the household is a busy one. They want a safe, reliable dog that can fit in. What would be their idea of a good temperament in a Chow?

Families like this need a stable dog that doesn't startle or snap easily, is confident enough to handle the noise and bustle of a busy home, is protective yet wise enough to know the difference between friend and foe. He shouldn't have to tolerate abuse from children but his reaction should be to walk away, not growl or bite. He should be able to tolerate handling from strangers while on walks, at the vet, groomer or boarding kennel. He needs to be loyal but adaptable enough to adjust to a stay in a boarding kennel or with a friend while the family goes on vacation. We feel this is a reasonable description of "good" temperament that also fits within the breed standard. A Chow doesn't have to be a Golden Retriever in disquise to fit within this definition.

Problem dogs ....

Now that we understand "good" temperament, what is a "bad" one? Truly bad dogs are rare but many dogs have problems. We get into another gray area here because what's a problem to you might not seem like a problem to me. "Chowpeople" might be willing to tolerate a wider range of behavior than the "average" family.

The most common temperament problems we see are shyness, fear-biting, aggression and dominance. They can be man-made or inherited. Man-made problems occur from abuse, improper training or lack of any training or socialization. Some man-made problems can be corrected with training and good care. Inherited problems are there for the duration. They can be modified but never quite cured. Not all of us will agree on what conditions make a Chow unadoptable or training methods to try. The following discussion is a collection of opinions based on experience with a large number of rescued Chows.

Shyness .....

Suspicion of strangers is part of the Chow's basic nature. Scooting under tables to hide from guests is not. Shyness results from heredity or lack of socialization. Shyness can also come from abuse, but the majority of shy dogs were born that way. Socialization and obedience training will help build confidence and may make the Chow into an acceptable pet. A dog who inherited his shyness will never be as confident as the one who just needs socialization. Shy dogs may be able to be placed in quiet households with adults who understand and are willing to work with the dog's problem. It's essential to be totally honest with the adoptors about the dog's personality and make sure their expectations are not higher than what the dog may be capable of. Many people adopt shy dogs because they feel sorry for them and are convinced they were abused. They often baby the dogs and can make the problem worse without realizing it.

Fear-biting .....

Fear-biting is an extreme form of shyness. Many shy dogs would never bare a fang if their lives depended on it. Fear-biters can and will bite anytime they feel threatened, whether or not a threat actually exists. Dogs react to a perceived danger by "flight or fight". Shy dogs choose flight. Fear-biters don't know what they should do so they try a little of each. They give mixed signals. They look like they're going to run then they change tactics and rush you. Sometimes they fight and run at the same time! I feel that fear-biters are more dangerous than outright aggressive dogs because they're so unpredictable. You never know what will set them off and how they'll react. Fear-biters are not mentally stable and we recommend that they should not be considered adoptable. Some fear-biters were once normal dogs that were abused to the breaking point. These dogs will break your heart because you can see that they might have the potential to return to near-normal if placed in the "right" hands. We'll go into the issue of biting dogs in more detail in a little while.

Dominance and aggression .....

These two subjects aren't the same but can be closely related. Aggression means different things to different people. First, let's look at some definitions of these terms.

Dogs have been described to us as being "mean and aggressive" for just barking at strangers. Dogs defending themselves from abuse have been called "aggressive or vicious". Protection, schutzhund and herding dog trainers call a bold, courageous dog "aggressive". The dictionary defines "aggression" as: "an unprovoked attack or invasion" and "aggressive" as: "boldy hostile; quarrelsome". Those are the definitions we'll use here to discuss "aggressive" behavior. I'll use the dictionary's definitions in this discussion.

The dictionary defines "dominate" as: "to rule or control by superior power". The word "alpha" is often used by behaviorists. It means "first". Most people think the terms "alpha" and "dominant" are interchangeable. I don't. I consider alpha and dominant to be two different, although related, things. An alpha dog -wants- to be first. A dominant dog already -is- first. This can be a big difference! Chows, by their nature, have "alpha" personalities. They feel above everyone else. Their pride and dignity won't allow them to grovel before the average master! You can tell the alpha's easily both as puppies and adults. They push everyone else away from the food dish, they're the first out the door, they're not afraid of much and they fight the hardest when you make them do something they don't want to.

Being "alpha" isn't all bad. Alpha dogs are confident, secure and they make the best show dogs. Alpha dogs can make very good pets provided their owners have stronger personalities than they do! An alpha dog may challenge your leadership from time to time but will obey you if you keep the upper hand.

The trouble starts when an alpha dog is allowed to become dominant. The dominant dog -knows- he has the upper hand, whether -you- know it or not! Dominant dogs are made, not born. Lack of training and discipline and/or the owner's failure to recognize and deal with an alpha's challenges are what creates dominant dogs. It can be hard to recognize a truly dominant dog. They're often very well-behaved, loving and easy to live with - untill you push them or threaten their leadership position. Most dominant dogs aren't outwardly aggressive but will react with greater violence than other dogs. Alpha dogs challenge - dominant dogs defend. Alpha dogs challenge when they feel the leader is weak enough to be defeated. A dominant dog knows he must defend his position against challenges from subordinates and will use whatever force he feels is necessary. A dominant dog considers you to be subordinate to him. He (or she) won't tolerate corrections or discipline. And he will bite you if that's what it takes to keep you in line.

Many adolescent Chows coming into rescue are alpha's on the verge of achieving dominance. They're usually spoiled brats who were never taught manners and were allowed to get away with murder. Most of them have potential if you can take them through boot camp and place them with owners who can enforce commands. These dogs will walk all over someone who's afraid to get tough when necessary so your skill at screening adoptors is important.

An older dominant dog who's enjoyed this position for some time is another story. This dog isn't going to give up his throne easily, if at all. Who wants to play second fiddle when they're used to leading the band? We can't read their minds so we don't know just what actions they'll consider to be a challenge. An innocent thing like taking away a forbidden object could lead to an "unprovoked" attack. Forcing these dogs into a submissive posture like a down/stay is asking for it! Dogs like this require professional training with an aggression specialist experienced with Chows and even then they may not be suitable for adoption by anyone less qualified. Truly "vicious" dogs are rare and are considered to be mentally disturbed. If you examine the details sorrounding an aggression incident, very few cases can truly be considered "unprovoked", at least from the dog's point of view.

Dogs that have bitten ....

It used to be that every dog was entitled to "one free bite" or so people believed. That phrase has been widely misunderstood. The owner of the biting dog has always been held financially liable for any damages unless it's proved that the dog was deliberately provoked. Homeowner's insurance usually covered that first bite making it "free" for the owner. If the owner could prove that the dog had never bitten before, the dog was "free" from being destroyed as a dangerous animal. Some people still believe that "one free bite" means their dog has the right to bite someone once. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Because of increasing legislation and insurance regulations, there are few options open for an unwanted dog with a bite record. Homeowner's insurance will usually cover the first bite incident but no further ones. Nearly every state has a "dangerous dog" law. In most states, a dog that has bitten (whether or not it was his fault) is considered to be a dangerous dog. Under the law, even a dog that's shown a tendency to bite can be considered "dangerous". In some states, it's illegal to sell or give away a dangerous dog. In any state, you're required to tell the new owners about the dog's complete history. In order to keep a "dangerous" dog, the law may require special confinement and mandatory liability insurance.

Rescue services find themselves in a Catch-22 when it comes to placing a dog that's bitten. If you're honest and obey the law by telling adoptors about the dog's history and what the person will have to do to keep it, no one in their right mind will want it. If you don't tell the adoptor, you've left yourself open for a lawsuit that could cause you to lose your home and everything else you own if the dog should bite someone. Heaven help you if that dog injures someone and the court finds out that you withheld information or actually misrepresented the dog!

The "pitbull" issue has made it tough for any dog that bites or has a tendency to. Some cities and counties have proposed new laws that would actually make owning a Chow illegal. These laws, up till now, have been fought in the courts using the argument that people have a Consititutional right to own property. (Animals are considered property). Recently, a Wisconsin judge ruled that our Constitutional rights don't include owning a dog! This ruling is expected to open up even more attempts to ban certain breeds that are considered by some people to be "dangerous"".

Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility and an obligation to provide people with safe, reliable pets.

My own rescue service has had to draw some hard lines as to which Chows are adoptable and which are not. State laws regarding dogs that have bitten or injured people and potential liability problems have to be taken into consideration. We have a hard enough time placing Chows with good temperaments much less ones that require special handling and special homes. Because of this and bad experiences with some rescued Chows, we now destroy dogs when we realize they're beyond our help. Some of the dogs that we've had to euthanize include dogs with bite records, fear-biters or overly shy Chows, and Chows that show unpredictable, unprovoked or unnecessary aggression toward people. In some cases, we also destroy Chows that are overly dominant and won't tolerate normal corrections and discipline.

You'll have to use your best judgment and experience when evaluating a problem Chow. In some cases, you'll need to search your heart to decide what is really best for you, the Chow, the breed and the public. Despite your best efforts, a Chow may prove to be too much too handle or too big a libabilty risk. Just as with any breed or mixed breed, some dogs are unpredictable, mentally unstable or dangerous, whether it's a result of poor breeding or bad handling. When and which Chows to euthanize is a personal issue and we don't expect everyone to agree with our policies. You'll have to set your own. We advise that you put yourself in the adopting family's place as you evaluate a problem Chow. If you were an inexperienced owner seeking a loving, reliable pet, would you want and be able to handle this dog? In many cases, the answer will be no.

Some rescue groups refuse to accept Chows with known temperament problems. We feel we cannot turn a dog away to be dumped on an unsuspecting owner or shelter or turned loose if the owner refuses to accept his responsibility for it. If necessary, we will accept the dog and have it humanely destroyed. If such a Chow is being given up by its owner, we explain the difficulty, ethics and liability involved in placing it. We discuss the options available, if any, and explain the euthanasia procedure. This discussion needs to be handled tactfully and with sympathy. Many owners love their dog even if it is dangerous and cannot face the responsibility of taking its life. You will need to gently explain the reasons why they must not turn this job over to someone else or put other people in danger by giving the dog away. If a Chow in a shelter is showing similar problems, we explain the situation to the shelter personnel and recommend that the dog be destroyed. Again, you'll have to make your own judgments and set your own standards regarding Chows with serious temperament or health problems.

Putting a Chow down is never an easy thing to do but it can sometimes be the kindest rescue of all. Chows with temperament problems have a high abuse potential and can become "boomerangs", returning to rescue over and over again, sometimes with more problems than when they left. When in doubt, consider what is best for everyone concerned - the dog, yourself, the public and the breed. Taking a Chow with a questionable temperament out of circulation permanently may be the wisest thing, not only for the individual dog but for the breed as a whole. If you ever make a mistake, make it on the side of safety! If you have to make this decision someday, try not to be too hard on yourself or feel guilty. Turn your attention to the Chows you -can- help. You did your best and everything you could for that particular Chow. Sometimes things are just beyond our control and we have to turn the problem over to a higher power.

Evaluating Chows in shelters ......

For the most part, Chows in a shelter don't show well. They're usually scared, confused and not in a mood for company. Your first impression of a shelter Chow while in its kennel or crate can be misleading. Retreating to the back of the run with a low growl could be considered normal. Charging the gate with teeth bared is not! A Chow that retreats while barking hysterically, tail down and body hunkered over, should be regarded with suspicion. If it quiets down after a short time, when it sees you're not a threat, it may have potential. If it continues with its hysterics even though it's obvious that you're not threatening it in any way, it may be a fear-biter or too shy to be adoptable.

Talk to the shelter worker who's had the most contact with the Chow. A dog with a stable temperament will have managed to make friends with at least one person there. If the Chow's been there for some time and no one can get near it, you should have serious doubts! Find out how the Chow was captured, how long before it could be handled and what's been done with it so far. Ask the shelter worker to put a lead on the Chow and take it out for you so you can go for a walk. Outside, away from the noise and confusion, a stable Chow should allow you to handle it without growling or trying to bite.

This initial interview can really only tell you that the dog might be adoptable. It'll take more time and testing to know whether the dog will be a good pet and what kind of owner it needs. If you can't take the Chow home with you and plan to refer adoptors directly to the shelter, you'll need to spend more time with the dog to get a clearer picture. You can make recommendations to the shelter about the dog and what type of person it should go to.

Chows of unknown background .....

Stray Chows have no history and you have no way of knowing how the dog was treated in the past or whether or not they have ever bitten anyone or shown aggression. It's been my experience that most stray Chows have exceptional temperaments and are well-suited for many families. However, you need to use extra care when evaluating and placing stray Chows. As a safety measure, I usually will not place a Chow of unknown background in a family with small children. It can't be said often enough - better to be safe than sorry!


Selecting new homes ......

This is the most time-consuming part of rescue. Each Chow will need different circumstances and your job is to find a home closest to the ideal. Hardly anyone has acres of room to run and someone home all day to care for the Chow! You'll need to set some guidelines as to what you feel is the right environment for the average dog. These guidelines should be flexible enough to adapt to the individual case.

Rescue has a big advantage over an animal shelter. The sheer numbers of animals that shelters must deal with makes it hard to screen new owners properly. Rescue can take more time with placements and there isn't as much pressure. Shelters seldom say no to an unsuitable owner because it can mean the animal's death if not placed within a few days. Rescue can pick and choose their adopters. So be choosy!

You'll be spending alot of time interviewing, asking questions and educating about the nature of our breed. Some rescues save time by preparing an information packet and adoption application that they mail out to callers first. Interested parties fill out and return the application for further screening.

Most of your callers will have no idea what living with a Chow is like. Be honest about the good and bad points of our breed! Leaving out important details will only guarantee that the dog will be returned to you to repeat the adoption process again, leaving behind a discouraged and disillusioned adopter. Make sure your new owners know what they are getting into and what their commitment is expected to be.

Ask lots of questions and listen carefully to the answers! Two of the most important questions you should ask are: "Have you ever had a dog before and what happened to it?" The ideal answer is: "It died of old age." but more likely you'll hear one of the following: "he ran away" or "he got hit by a car" or "we got rid of him because....he barked too much, chewed too much, we couldn't housebreak him", "we moved", etc. Any one of those answers imply a serious lack of responsibility and commitment to their pet. If you give them a rescued Chow, it's likely that they'll eventually get rid of him, too! Find out what people expect from a dog and if their expectations are realistic.

Other important questions involve whether they own or rent their homes, the number and ages of their children and other pets, how much they know about Chows and the care of dogs in general, whether or not they have a fenced yard and their willingness to take advice from you on the care and training of their adopted dog. Get the name of their veterinarian to find out about the care given to their last pets and if renting, check with the landlord to see if he allows pets in his units.

Information about finances is relevant - you want to make sure there will be adequate funds for medical care and quality food throughout the dog's life. The new owner's income level may or may not affect the care the dog will receive. Wealthy people don't always make responsible owners. The priority the new owner gives to the needs of the Chow is a better estimate. A good question to ask during an interview is "how much do you expect it will cost per month to properly care for a dog?" You'll be surprised to see that most people's estimates fall short of what the dog will actually cost them. Be realistic about expenses and be sure that the adopter is prepared to handle them.

Some people will resent all these questions and become defensive. Tactfully explain why you must be so careful to find the right home and that you're acting in the dog's best interests. After all, this dog was abandoned and not properly cared for the first time around. He trusts you to do this right! People who don't understand this attitude will probably not be good owners of the Chow you've rescued so carefully and at great expense.

After the initial phone screening, you can invite the families you feel are suitable over for a visit. Have them bring the kids so you can see firsthand if they are well-behaved and how they interact with the Chow. Some rescue groups visit the adopter's home as part of the screening process. Unfortunately, some people will lie about their home and intentions. If you have reason to doubt anything they tell you, check things out for yourself.

Trust your intuition and gut feelings. If something about the adopter doesn't seem quite right, even if you can't quite put your finger on it, don't give them a dog! A good rule of thumb is to never place a dog with someone you wouldn't want for a good friend. If you wouldn't feel comfortable having these people as guests in your home, don't give them a dog! Be honest with yourself as well as with the adopters. Don't let your enthusiasm to place a dog get in the way of your common sense. Is this dog really right for this family? Do they honestly have time to work with it? Will they really care for it properly? Would they be wiser to wait until a more suitable dog comes along? Would you be wiser to wait until a more suitable family comes along? Better to turn people away than to put a Chow in a home that may be hazardous to his life.

Rescue placements can be just as susceptible to impulse as shelter placements or pet store purchases. To avoid letting an adopter's excitement run away with him, you can require people to wait at least 24 hours before making a decision on a dog. "Sleeping on it" can be just as good for you as for the potential adopter. You may realize later that this home is not the right one for the dog. This "cooling off" period gives you both a chance to back out.

See also "How To Find A Home For Your Chow Chow".

Saying no .....

Frankly, most of the callers you interview won't be suitable homes for the dogs you have for adoption. You'll need to learn how to say no in a polite way that doesn't offend the caller. This isn't as hard as it sounds. Most callers aren't accustomed to being interviewed in the first place - they expect the usual backyard breeders' enthusiastic responses to their questions of "how much?" and "when can I pick him up?"

When I get a call, I usually start the conversation with "Let me tell you a little about our program..." After this brief introduction to rescue, the caller already understands that they're not dealing with the average advertiser nor the average dog. I explain that we're trying to match the right owner with the right dog and find the best home we can. "Let me ask you a few questions to see if we might have a dog that would be right for you." After getting a few answers, I already have a fair idea whether this caller is one that might be worth talking to. If not, there are several ways to end the conversation gracefully. Even if this caller is obviously not suitable because of the way he's treated his past pets, be tactful. Suggest, for example, that he wait until his children are older before getting a dog or that perhaps there are breeds that would be better suited to his lifestyle.

Trial adoption periods ......

We offer a two week trial period on our adoptions. An adopter may return a Chow for refund of the entire adoption fee during that trial period, no questions asked. We use this trial period mostly for the adopter's benefit. Some people feel more secure having this option and it allows for unforeseen problems. But...offering a trial period should never become a substitute for a good screening process! Many Chows do not adjust well to brief periods in a succession of homes. Work to get your placements right the first time!

Adoption contracts ......

A written contract should accompany every adoption. Keep the original for your records and send a copy with the adopter. Ours is based on contracts used by other rescue organizations and animal shelters. I believe in keeping contracts simple, easy to understand and easy for the adopter to live up to. It's a good idea to have a lawyer look over your contract to make sure it is legal and enforceable. You don't want to find out later, in front of a judge, that your contract won't hold water!

A contract is a "meeting of the minds" and an agreement between two parties. Those two factors are essential to the enforcement of any contract. There has to be an undersdanding between the parties - a meeting of the minds - on what the contract requires and the ability of both sides to live up to it. Be sure your adopters understand what they are signing and what your terms mean. Read the contract through to the adopter and give him a chance to ask questions if he's not clear on any of the points.

There are several critical things every contract should include:

1) a provision that enables the enforcement of the contract. You can put as many terms in the contract as you want but unless you specify a penalty for violating those terms, you have no way of enforcing them. A common penalty is repossession of the dog.

2) a provision that requires the return of the dog to you in the event the new owner can no longer keep it. Make sure the adopter fully understands this provision and that he may not sell or give the Chow to anyone else without your permission! The dog must be returned to you.

3) a liability waiver releasing you from responsibility for the dog's future behavior, actions and damages. No matter how careful you've been when evaluating the dog's temperament and screening the new family, the future can't always be foreseen. This provision will protect you, in most cases, from being held liable for the dog's actions. This provision will not protect you if you have in any way misrepresented the dog's temperament or have not used good judgment in selecting a proper home!

Refer again to the section on "Problem Dogs". Your best protection against possible legal action against you is to not to place dogs with questionable temperaments or bite records at all. Be safe, not sorry!

No contract by itself, no matter how binding or well-written, can guarantee a good secure future for your rescued Chows. Your best guarantee of a good home and a successful placement is your good judgment, common sense and caution when evaluating dogs and adopters. No contract, by itself, substitutes for good follow-up and communication after adoption either. Remember that you have to hold up your end of the bargain and the contract, too. (see Follow-up)

Contracts are a tool. How the tool is made and used will determine how effective it is.

Adoption fees .....

A fee of some kind is necessary to recover some of your expenses, however, don't expect the fee to cover all of your costs. How much to charge is a personal decision and will be based on many factors including what the local market will bear. Most people want puppies and today, backyard bred puppies complete with papers can be had for as little as $50 in some areas. Our club's fee averages $75 - $100, just enough to cover spaying or neutering .

Some rescue groups feel that higher fees insure that the new owner will put a greater value on the Chow and be less likely to "dump" it if things don't work out. Personally, I haven't found that to be true. Some people will get rid of a $500 dog as easily as a $50 one. If you've screened your homes carefully and maintained high standards in selecting adopters, the kind of people you choose won't need a high fee to remind them of their dog's value as a companion. The "right" people will cherish a rescued Chow just as much as an expensive, pedigreed one.

Guarantees and refunds ......

Because the history and inheritance of most rescued Chows are unknown, they can't be guaranteed in the same way as a dog from a reputable breeder. Your contract should state that dogs are adopted "as is". If you do a careful medical screening prior to adoption, you should be able to catch any major problems.

Be realistic and practical during your evaluations of rescued dogs. Your service will gain a better reputation if you offer people dogs that are healthy and mentally sound. Represent dogs honestly! Don't hide physical or behavioral problems fbom the adopters. Use good judgment and common sense. Put yourself in the place of the adopter when evaluating a dog. Would you want to be saddled with a dog that has a chronic and potentially expensive health problem or a difficult behavior problem?

Since few things in life are a certainty, there is always a chance that you and your vet may miss a health condition in your examinations. During the two week trial adoption period that we offer, we encourage the new owner to take the dog to his own veterinarian for an exam. If anything serious is discovered that the adopter doesn't want to deal with, we take the dog back and refund the adoption fee. In certain cases, if serious, unforeseen problems develop in the future that the owner can't afford to treat or cope with, we allow the adopter to exchange the dog for another rescued Chow.

Follow-up .....

Just like a responsible breeder, your job doesn't end when the Chow leaves for its new home. It's your responsibility to check in with the new owners on a regular basis to see how the relationship is going, advise on any developing problems and make sure the dog is doing well. If you've chosen the right homes, you'll have made many new friends who'll be anxious to share their Chow's antics with you!

Our club sends annual Christmas cards to all adopters and most respond with photos and letters. These "happy endings" are a godsend on days when rescue isn't going so well. They're happy reminders of all the good work you've done! Some rescue groups hold annual reunions or picnics for adoptive owners and their dogs.

Good follow-up is necessary to make sure the Chow remains with its new family, is being well-cared for and that the owners are living up to their agreement. People can be strange sometimes - they may be embarrassed to call you about a problem. When things aren't working out, some people are ashamed to tell you that they don't want to keep the dog anymore and may give it away without your knowledge. They may move and forget to let you know. It's essential that you keep in touch and avoid these problems.

You have to keep up your end of the bargain, too. Be available for advice and help. If your contract states that an unwanted rescued dog must be returned to you, then you must be prepared to take it back - no matter what. If you move and don't notify your adoptive families, how will they find you? What will happen to their Chow if things don't work out? You are the safety net for these dogs for the rest of their lives. Don't let them down!

Fundraising .....

If you're like most of us, the bulk of rescue costs will come out of your own pocket. Needless to say, this can put a big strain on your finances! Adoption fees will not cover the total cost of boarding, feeding and providing medical care for rescued Chows.

If you're a member of a regional Chow club, the club can help initiate projects to raise money for a "rescue fund". Rummage and bake sales, fun matches, donation drives, raffles - all can be easily organized and fun. They allow members who may not otherwise be able to get involved to be able to help. There are many skilled artists who are willing to create a special piece of Chow artwork that can be reproduced for sale or raffled off. Tee shirts, sweatshirts, pins and other jewelry are good sellers.

When accepting Chows given up by owners, ask for a donation toward the dog's care. If you're picking up a Chow from a shelter, depending on the shelter's policies, you may be able to convince them to waive their usual fee. By working closely with local veterinarians, you may be able to negotiate lower rates or discounts. Return the favor by referring adopters to these veterinarians for future care of their adopted Chow. Ask local feed and pet supply stores to donate food and equipment in exchange for publicity. Scouring the classifieds and hunting through rummage sales can find bargains in crates, used equipment and fencing.

Under certain circumstances, The Chow Chow Club, Inc.'s Welfare Fund makes grants available to Chow Rescue groups and rescue volunteers toward the medical expenses of rescued Chows. Supported expenses include spaying and neutering, vaccinations and heartworm testing. For more information about the Welfare Fund and to request a grant application, contact the CCCI Welfare Committee at the address shown at the end of this article.

Advertising & publicity .....

Many people shy away from newspaper classified ads because they're afraid of the attracting the wrong kind of callers. Classifieds are still a good way to advertise pets! They cover the widest territory at a reasonable cost. The keys to success with classifieds are how you word the ad and how you handle the callers. There's a trick to writing a good ad that will generate interest and do some preliminary screening for you.

As mentioned in the section on spay/neuter, advertising your rescued Chows as already altered will weed out all the puppymillers and would-be breeders right off the bat. At the very least, the ad should give a description of the dog, his needs, your requirements for a home and of course, your phone number. A typical ad can look something like this:

CHOWS FOR ADOPTION: young adult dogs, friendly, spayed/neutered, vaccinated. Fenced yards preferred, references required. Reasonable fees. Chow Rescue 555-1234

Note the wording. "Young adults" screens out people who only want puppies. "References required" screens out most of the people who would intentionally deceive you. "Fenced yards preferred" excludes another segment of the population and "reasonable fees" writes off the folks looking for free dogs. This will cut down on your number of total calls, but more of the calls will be the kind of people you're looking for.

If your budget allows, you can include more detailed descriptions, more information about your rescue program, etc. If you include the ages of the dogs in your ads and the dogs are under two years old, state their age in months, not years. If over two, just say "adult". State the requirements for a home in a positive way. "Kids over 10" sounds better than "No kids under 10". Does the dog have any special qualities or good points that should be emphasized? Especially pretty? Loves kids? Does tricks? Include them in the ad but don't exaggerate. Knowing his name doesn't mean he's "well-trained"!

Take advantage of the special rates some newspapers offer and always run your ads so that they'll appear in Sunday's edition - the day with the greatest circulation. Inexpensive advertising possiblilities are local weekly "shopper" publications. Their ad rates are cheaper than a newspapers and you may even be able to afford a photograph or eye-catching border with your ad. You can ask your local feed supplier or veterinarian to sponsor advertising for you. You both get publicity at a reasonable cost.

Printed or xeroxed flyers with Chow illustrations or actual photos of well-groomed rescued dogs can be posted on bulletin boards. They get attention! Flyers are inexpensive and you have more room to describe the dogs and your program Public bulletin boards can be found almost anywhere - grocery stores, churchs, banks, pet supply stores, veterinarians, factories, even at K-Mart! Flyers can be mailed out to kennel clubs, trainers, groomers, anyone who might be able to pass the information along to potentially interested persons.

Newspapers are always looking for local public interest stories. Your rescue service can make great copy and get you the kind of advertising money can't buy. Call your area papers and get the names of reporters in charge of writing this kind of story. Then neatly type a brief "press release" about your service and include some clear photos of well-groomed adoptable Chows and send it to them. The release should be concise and include the "who, what, where, how and why" of your work.

Contact local kennel and obedience clubs for dates of shows and the possiblity of acquiring booth space for publicizing your program. Some shelters may be willing to cooperate with you and allow you to share space at their periodic "adoption days". More and more kennel clubs are putting on independent "dog fairs" and exhibitions at local malls. These are excellent opportunities to publicize rescue and educate the public on responsible ownership. An attractive booth can be set up with miminal expense for decorations and flyers. Rescue groups from other breeds may be willing to work together with you to share booth space and expenses.

Dealing with "burn-out"......

All of us encounter it at one time or another. Burn-out is that depressing, hopeless feeling you get when you're overwhelmed with the demands of rescue, have to destroy a dog or just realize that no matter how hard you work, you may never solve the problem of too many dogs and not enough homes.

There will be feelings of anger - anger at those who've abandoned their dogs, anger at those who continue to breed irresponsibly, anger at the ignorance so many people show about responsible dog ownership and care, and anger at those who turn their backs and refuse to help you.

Burn-out is usually a temporary condition, but while you're in the midst of it, you don't know if you can keep going anymore. There's no easy way to shake these feelings of frustration and hopelessness. One of the best ways to deal with it is to keep in touch with other rescue volunteers for moral support. We all understand these feelings and can relate to what you're going through!

You may have to set limits for yourself and learn to say no. It does no good to take in more dogs than you can handle, care for and place in a reasonable amount of time. It's easy to get in over your head! If you, your family and own pets are being neglected because of rescue, then you need to cut back. It's hard to say no, but the reality is that we can't save them all. You need to keep things in perspective and try to achieve a balance between rescue and the other aspects of your life. Take a break if you need it.

When things seem hopeless, remind yourself of all the good you have done, all the dogs that you've been able to help so far. Look back on the successful placements you've made and what you've accomplished. Remember that no matter how large the problem may seem, each person can make a difference. Every effort you make, no matter how small, is an important contribution. You may not be able to save them all, you might only save a few, but each one is precious, each one is a step toward solving the problem. Even if you can only help one dog, that's still one less Chow that will die alone, unloved and unwanted. Take heart and keep the faith!

Rescue assistance, education and referral ......

If you don't have the facilities or resources to take Chows into foster care, there's still plenty you can do to help!

You can become a shelter volunteer, offering to evaluate, groom, train and socialize Chows housed there. You can donate ads, screen and refer potential homes, even going with them when they look at the dog. Many shelters are misinformed or unfamiliar with Chow temperament. You can do a great deal to educate them and help them evaluate new arrivals. You can maintain a list of adoptable Chows in local shelters and match them up with potential homes. You may be able to arrange housing for a shelter Chow whose time is up through other local shelters or adoption services.

You can help transpord a Chow to a rescue service in another area if there is space available.

You can help owners who need to place their Chows. The Chow Chow Club, Inc.'s Welfare Committee's booklet "How To Find A Home For Your Chow Chow" is available free of charge and tells new owners how to evaluate their dogs and place them properly. Keep a supply of these booklets on hand and send them out to people who need them.

Your list of shelter Chows can be expanded to include adoptable Chows being given up by their owners.

Build a network of referral sources by contacting veterinarians, boarding kennels, local kennel clubs and responsible Chow breeders. Many breeders receive calls for puppies from persons who'd be better suited to an adult, rescued Chow. Encourage them to refer these callers to you. Become a source of education and training advice.

Let people know you're available to advise owners and try to help solve their problems. Offer to teach owners how to groom their dogs, refer them to reputable obedience trainers, provide reading material and steer them in the direction of a regional Chow club if one is nearby. The Welfare Committee has a library of educational material that can be copied and distributed free for the asking. A supply can be sent to you on request.

You can call people who advertise litters in the newspaper and offer them a free "puppy information packet" that they can give to the new owners of their puppies. This packet can include material on responsible Chow ownership, care and the advantages of spaying and neutering their puppies. You may not be able to convince the backyard breeder not to have any more litters, but you can influence the people who buy their puppies.

One of the most critical things you can do to help the overall problem of too many Chows is encourage spaying and neutering of pet Chows. If you are a breeder yourself, require that your pet puppies be spayed and neutered. Don't give stud services to pet bitches. Instead, tactfully explain why they shouldn't breed their bitch at all. Most people have no idea what's really involved in breeding dogs, what their responsiblities are and why there are so many Chows in rescue. Once you've made them aware of all these things, they often change their mind about breeding in a hurry!

Continuing education is important for yourself as well. If your experience with dogs is limited to the few individuals you own, evaluating and working with the wide range of behavior and temperament in rescued dogs can be eye-opening. Visit area breeders, attend dog shows and obedience trials, go through some obedience and conformation classes to better acquaint yourself with dog care, behavior and training. Don't limit yourself to education about Chows only, learning about other breeds can give you valuable insights into our own breed.

Freely sharing knowledge and education material has a mushroom effect: it spreads and grows! New Chow owners are deluged with questions from friends and strangers about our breed and about dogs in general. They'll share the information you've given them and pass it along to others. By showing them how to be responsible owners, they'll be able to set examples for others. My experience has been that most people want to do right by their pets but most just don't know how! The chain reaction you'll start by carefully educating just one person will ultimately be of as much importance as rescuing homeless dogs.


This handbook can't begin to cover every situation or problem you'll encounter. You'll find that you'll have to adjust your policies and procedures as your needs change and you become more experienced. Networking with other rescuers and rescue groups is important for sharing ideas, advice and moral support. If you take the plunge and become a full-fledged member of the rescue world, welcome! This a unique group of very special people - compassionate, practical, dedicated and hard working. They don't get discouraged easily! You'll find that, no matter the breed, they're willing to help you, to share your successes and your heartaches. Make no mistake, the job is far from easy. But the rewards are oh, so great!



Published by

The Chow Chow Club, Inc.'s Welfare Committee
9828 E County A, Janesville, Wisconsin 53546

This article was written and copyrighted by Vicki DeGruy and appears here with the author's permission. It may be reproduced for non-profit purposes with author's credit given. It may also be adapted for non-profit use as a rescue manual for another breed or type of animal provided the following wording appears in the manuscript: "Adapted from the booklet 'Operating A Successful Chow Chow Rescue Group' by Vicki DeGruy."  Contact us for reprint permission.


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