Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ask Wednesday: Donna Carney on dog rescue and transport

The Schnauzer contingent of the Carney Family
[click to enlarge]
Work from the heart

Edited by Morris Dean

Donna Carney and her husband have been helping with dog rescue in the area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they live, for the last couple of years. My wife and I learned about their work when we visited them in April – and were able to spend some happy time around their ménage of four miniature Schnauzers.
    We are exceedingly fortunate to be able to interview Donna, for she does an admirable job sharing details about checking out suitable “forever homes” and transporting rescued dogs to organizations committed to placing as many of the animals as possible with responsible owners. [Our questions are in italics.]

How did you get involved in dog rescue?
    About five years ago, I wanted to get a third mini Schnauzer. I looked on the internet and found a number of rescue groups throughout the country that rescue mini Schnauzers or part minis. I contacted Schnauzer Rescue Cincinnati [SRC], a non-profit organization, and filled out an application. SRC picked out a dog that seemed to fit the bill – hence, Pepper.

    I began to realize that there are so many expenses involved in getting a dog ready to be adopted (all vaccines, vetting, dentals, heartworm treatment in many cases, boarding, feeding, fostering, grooming and socializing), and the small donation requested for adopting a dog didn’t even come close to what all these services cost. The volunteers who ran this organization paid much of the expenses from their own finances in addition to devoting countless hours to finding these dogs a good and safe home. When I adopted Pepper, I filled out a five-page application that required me to provide age, type of dwelling, children, children’s age, recurring visitors, name and telephone number of my vet, name and telephone number of several people who knew me and vouch for my character, former pets, what happened to these pets, were any of my previous pets turned over to a shelter, where would the dog live – inside or outside – what would I do when I go on vacation, what is the maximum amount of time that a dog will be left home alone, is the dog allowed on the furniture, is there a fenced in yard. These are just some of the questions. After adopting Pepper I wanted to do what I could to help the SRC. Since I live so far away from Cincinnati, I’m really unable to do any of the routine day-to-day work that is involved in running this organization.

So, is Schnauzer Rescue Cincinnati the agency or organization that you work with? Tell us about them.
    I have worked with two other organizations in addition to SRC (although the internet reveals many – some are breed-specific and others rescue any breeds). The other two groups that I (and my husband, Jim) have worked with are:

  1. Martha’s Mutt Movers (MMM), non-breed specific, whose mission is to move dogs that are in areas of low demand to approved rescue organizations [or just “rescues”] in areas of high demand. Martha’s motto is “without your wheels, my transport won’t roll.”
  2. The Liberty Train and Rescue (LTR), which is similar to Martha’s.
What do these organizations do, basically?
    Both groups transport dogs primarily from south to north, and while they rescue dogs from bad situations, it’s actually the rescue groups such as SRC that call on LTR and MMM to move a dog to a forever home [the home of someone who, hopefully, will be the dog's guardian for life] or, in some cases, to another rescue agency. One thing that I found interesting when I first got involved with LTR and MMM is that they definitely have a unique jargon when they talk about a transport. One transport involves the following: Verified Transport Coordinator/Transporter, Rescue Coordinator, Advocacy Coordinator. These are the “bosses” who organize what dogs are going where and when they are going, and they verify that the rescue agencies the dogs are going to are legitimate agencies and not a group trying to get dogs to sell for a profit.

Tell us more about their operation.
    The transport agency operates from a very detailed “run list.” The run list consists of a series of “legs.” The run list records the name of the person who is driving that leg, his or her cell number, car description and license plate number, the number of miles, and the length of time allocated to that leg. The person who oversees the entire transport is referred to as “the conductor.” She or he monitors the transport as it passes from one leg to the next as each “engineer” calls in to report his or her progress or problems at the end of a leg.The dogs are referred to as “passengers.” Their health records, toys, special food, etc. are referred to as the dogs’ “baggage,” and the conductor reminds each engineer to “tow the baggage” as the transport shifts from one leg to the next. Each engineer is required to call in to the coordinator at the beginning of a leg and then at the end. Each engineer is also required to call the next engineer as he or she approaches.
    There is a 10-minute break to allow the dog to “comb his hair” or to “freshen up her makeup.” When an engineer calls the coordinator he must tell her how the dog acted during the leg or if there were any problems that other engineers should be made aware of.
    I initially felt that this procedure was a little excessive, but when there can be as many as 15-20 legs in a transport – often involving a “slumber party” – it makes it a lot easier if you know there’s someone overlooking the whole transport to make sure it’s moving in the right direction, at the right speed, and to note any problems and communicate them to all the engineers.

For example?
    A couple weeks ago, we were called to help out another transport agency (Libertine) to move a very sick English Mastiff puppy (named Tom Hanks) from his current home, where he was no longer wanted, to a hospice. Jim drove two legs of the trip (about 125 miles) to get Tom closer to his forever home (however temporary it might work out to be).
    All these transports work the same way in that they use the same jargon and procedures. They are very strict about observing and enforcing their rules, and if you deviate (for example, not calling into the conductor or not updating the next engineer about your progress along the way), you’re probably not going to be asked to help again, or, at the very least, the coordinator will reprimand you so that you don’t make the same mistake again.
    For another example, we were participating in a transport on a Saturday and the coordinator sent out a run sheet, which I acknowledged. Well, Friday night, a final run sheet was sent that I failed to see. The coordinator called to ask me in a very annoyed tone, why I hadn’t acknowledged the final run sheet. She stressed the importance of this and convinced me that I shouldn’t make this mistake again. (Participating in a transport is almost like a job, except that you don’t get paid – but you can be fired anytime.)

Being an engineer sounds quite demanding! What happens before you or Jim gets a call to help? And are there some jobs you don't feed comfortable taking?
    The rescue has a coordinator who divides trips up into legs of 75 to 100 miles each. The coordinator puts out an email to people who have already filled out several pages of a questionnaire and are deemed to be trustworthy. This email describes the transport date, the legs and their location, the meeting place, time it takes to travel each leg. He or she also provides a description of each “passenger” (dog) – its likes, dislikes, and temperament, and whether or not the dog is a flight risk. The dog’s description is really important to me because a lot of the Liberty Train passengers are pit bulls. If flight risk is added to a pit bull’s extreme strength, there’s the making of a very nervous engineer.
    Jim’s not as concerned as me, but one of our fight passengers was a medium-sized pit bull (80 lbs), very strong, who didn’t want to stay put. Jim took him for a potty break at the end of the leg where we would meet the next engineer, and the dog pulled away from Jim at a very public location. I did the only thing I could think of, which was to scream, and the dog came running to me. As I grabbed the dog with all my strength (forgetting for the moment it was a pit bull), I was saved by the next engineer, who was much more adept in dealing with a large, strong, flight-risk dog. I don’t know what we would have done if we had not been saved, but I have the feeling that we would have been removed from the transport list.
    We have had several pit bulls, and they do scare me. The dog transport gives the option of opting out of any transport of a breed that the engineer doesn’t feel comfortable transporting. I’m very uncomfortable with pit bulls, but Jim isn’t worried. Truthfully, the pit bulls that we have transported are friendly, but very, very strong. They are all muscle and you must be prepared for that when walking the dog.
    Another concern that I have when transporting a dog is that when we open the door at the end of our leg, it is possible that the dog could try to escape. I am always very concerned about this. So what I do is tie a big knot at the end of the leash where the handle is and then close the car door with that part of the leash hanging out the door. Then it is possible to grab the leash before the door is opened, thus preventing escape, especially for dogs that are known to be “high-risk escapees.” The transport requires that the engineer keep a leash on the dog at all times during transport, but I like to carry it one step further.

This setup reminds me of the “underground railway” employed to rescue African-Americans from slavery. Is that an apt comparison?
    It really is a good comparison. All transports are done very secretively. Not just any dog can be transported. First it must be coming from a reliable rescue organization. The transport verifies the organization’s reliability. The same is true for the organization or individual adopter who is receiving the dog. The coordinator keeps the transport as private as possible as well as the last names of the engineers. The transport organization warns against “bad” rescue organizations that might try to get access to a particular dog for breeding, fighting, medical experiments, or other bad reasons. They keep the details of the transport as private as possible, and information is given out only on a need-to-know basis.
    The coordinator who oversees the transport not only verifies that the transport is moving along as expected, but also passes along problems that arise, such as an impostor meeting an engineer at the end of his leg and telling the engineer that he is supposed to pick up the passenger. One of the most important rules of the transport is that no passenger can leave the transport for any reason at all. Several times people have tried to remove animals from the transport. It is definitely not allowed and is punishable in all states.

Wasn’t your miniature Schnauzer Benny a transport dog? How did you end up with him? What is Benny’s story?
    Benny was dropped off at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society (WPHS) because he was no longer wanted by his people. I think that he was tested for temperament and he failed the test, which made him eligible for euthanasia. However, before doing so, WPHS called Schnauzer Rescue Cincinnati to ask if they wanted him. They said that they wanted him. He was picked up by some lady in Pittsburgh who had recently adopted a Schnauzer from SRC, but she didn’t want to keep him overnight. So somehow Jim and I agreed to bring him to our house until we could get him to Cincinnati. As soon as I saw him I wanted him. Jim definitely did not feel the same way.
    Benny was terribly scared and unfriendly. He growled or barked at anyone who came near him. He was petrified to be touched. I pleaded with Jim to keep him but he wouldn’t budge. The next morning I spoke to someone from SRC who told me that they had a potential adopter. After hanging up I begged, pleaded, and cried that I wanted to keep Benny. He agreed, but was very unhappy about it.
    And now Jim has come to love Benny, but even now Benny will not allow anyone to pick him up. He growls and gives the impression that he might bite. But he will jump up on your chair, if invited. It’s obvious that Benny was abused, like so many of the Schnauzers that SRC takes in.

I just loved it in April when Benny would jump up on my lap!...Your work involves checking out potential new homes for rescued dogs. What do you check for?
    The most important point that I check for is how well equipped a prospective adopter is willing and able to care for a dog according to the standards established by SRC. Prior to actually doing a home visit, all the paperwork must be verified. This is very comprehensive – probably as much work and checks as there is to adopt a child. They want to know if you own your own house, if you have a fence, how long the dog would be alone during the day, where the dog would sleep, whether the dog would be allowed on the furniture, whether it would go on daily walks, how you would discipline the dog, whether you’ve ever gotten rid of a dog — if so, why? They require the name and phone number of the veterinarian you would use and they call to check how responsible you were with your previous animals. The potential adopter must also provide at least two character references from people who are familiar with how the adopter interacted with his previous or current animals. Another area of concern to SRC is the number, genders, and ages of the people living in the house.
    A home visit is made only after the paperwork has been completed and the potential adopter has passed with flying colors. It is not my responsibility to say yay or nay. I merely report my findings to the foster guardian and it is up to him or her to decide.

Do any particularly interesting home visits come to mind?
  Actually our last visit was the most interesting because the potential adopter wanted to adopt two bonded dogs so badly, but she just didn’t seem to be capable of dealing with them. Everything sounded great on paper, but in meeting the adopter and talking about issues relating to the dog, I saw some red flags. First of all, she had a chicken-wire fence that the dog could easily escape from. She said that she would fortify it. There were two very narrow alleys that I could envision a dog getting stuck in. And there was no grass – just a little patch of weeds and cement. She said that she spent her weekends at her cabin and would keep the dogs on a leash until they became accustomed to the cabin. This was a red flag because I could see a dog escaping in the wilderness, never to be found again. Finally, I was concerned about the house and its surroundings. It wasn’t a slum, but it was close to it. Wallpaper was peeling off the walls. This led to the question whether she would be able to adequately care for the two dogs and whether she could afford a veterinarian.
    As I said, it wasn’t my responsibility to say yay or nay. I merely reported my findings, and the foster mother in this case decided against the adoption. The adopter asked about another Schnauzer from SRC that she had seen on and was told that none of the available dogs would meet her family needs. This is sad for the woman because she really wanted the dogs and I think that she would have loved them, but I don’t think that she would have been able to care for them very well.
    We’ve done only a few other home visits and they all had a happy ending. I think that I was too rigid on that first home-visit experience, and when I reported my findings to the appropriate person, Jim thought that I had been too negative and that it might have resulted in the adopter not getting the dog. I thought about it for awhile and I decided that Jim was probably right, so I contacted the lady from SRC and tried to play down the negative and emphasize the positive points. The woman ended up successfully adopting the dog.

How serious a problem is dogs in need of rescue? What sorts of situations are they being rescued from?
    There is an extreme need to rescue dogs. One of the main reasons for this is that so many people refuse to get their pet spayed or neutered – sometimes out of ignorance, indifference, or “wouldn’t it be so cute to have a litter of puppies.” People buy a puppy (usually from a puppy mill) and frequently get tired of it, abandon it, abuse it. Many dogs are found running the streets with no tags. They could be very friendly dogs and wonderful family pets, but if they are not claimed in five days or so they are “put to sleep” – unless they are lucky enough to be saved by a rescue group. SRC acquire their dogs from kill-shelters, owner surrender, and puppy mills.

What is a “puppy mill”?
    I think that at least half of SRC’s dogs come from puppy mills. Dogs in puppy mills exist solely for creating puppies. As they get old and can no longer produce – or if they are not profitable – the puppy mill wants to get rid of them to make room for more productive dogs. Dogs in puppy mills are abused and mistreated. They are frequently kept in crates that are too small to stand up in. They are not given proper food or medical attention. Almost all of the puppy mill dogs rescued by SRC need to have every tooth pulled because for the females all the nutrients went to supporting their puppies.
    Rescue groups bargain with the puppy mill owners for dogs that are no longer wanted. If the rescue is unable to pay the puppy mill the price it wants, the puppy mill would just as soon shoot or drown the unwanted dogs. Puppy mill owners are very callous people. And they disguise themselves in sheep’s clothing. For example, when I did a search for miniature Schnauzer puppies near the Pittsburgh tri-state area, there were innumerable pictures of cute little puppies home-raised. In 95% of the cases these are puppy mill dogs. When I did a search for American Kennel Club-approved miniature Schnauzer breeders, none of the places that advertise “cute little puppies home-raised” were listed. I believe that the Amish congregation is one of the largest owners of puppy mills in the Pittsburgh tri-state area, which includes Lancaster, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas and much of Ohio.

Do any laws need to be passed or changed? For example?
    There are already laws against puppy mills, but they should be stricter. For example, to be considered a puppy mill, there needs to be at least number of breeder dogs (I’m not sure what the number is) and in a number of states have laws that puppy mills are required to follow. It helps to improve the welfare of the breeder dogs and their puppies. But these rules are infrequently enforced. Then there are “backyard breeders” who are not subject to any laws. A lot of times, puppy mills or backyard breeders advertise their puppies as “home-raised” on the internet and show pictures of cute little puppies. I would like to see an organization that investigates breeders who falsely advertise over the internet. The American Kennel Club has a list of reliable breeders by breed, and if a breeder is not on this list, then there should be an organization that can investigate them. I would also like to see a law banning the sale of dogs at pet stores. This would eventually reduce the number of dogs that could be sold through puppy mills

Other animals could be in similar straits. What about them?
    Another group of animals that should be protected by better laws are those that are used in medical experiments. These animals are often tortured and/or subjected to diseases and experiments for the sake of medicine. I think that there should be other methods for testing diseases and new medicines. I would like to see this practice outlawed. There are a number of organizations that oppose medical experimentation on animals. One that comes to mind is “Kindness Ranch” which rescues animals that are “retired” from medical experiments and tries to rehabilitate them (primarily dogs and cats) so that they can live out the last few years of their lives in a loving forever home.

When people ask you how they can help, what do you tell them?
    One way to help homeless dogs is to support rescue organizations. If you live near a rescue group, you can visit dogs (which are often kept in a boarding shelter), take them to the vet, walk them, write bios for them so that they can be placed on to find a forever home. Rescue organizations are always trying to find people who will foster a dog by taking it into their house temporarily until a forever home can be found. This can be as short as a couple of weeks or as long as several months. Foster homes are especially valuable because a dog can be taught manners to help make them more adoptable. Also some dogs cannot tolerate being locked up in a boarding shelter. They can become very depressed, withdrawn, and refuse to eat. This is especially true for dogs that lived a happy life with their human but for some reason had to be separated – sometimes through the human’s death.
    Another way of helping out homeless dogs is to get involved in dog transports. These transports (as well as rescues) are charities. The people who organize, coordinate, and transport are volunteers. If necessary, volunteers are reimbursed for gas and tolls. The rescue group pays all vet expenses and even pays for food. It really doesn’t cost anything but time and love to participate in a rescue group, foster a dog, or help to transport a dog.
    Of courses, rescue groups never turn down charitable donations. Another way to help rescues and transports is to participate in their fundraisers. For example, I am currently participating for the first time in the main fundraiser for SRC. The fundraiser is titled Barkaritaville and held near Columbus, Ohio. I have made eight different theme baskets filled with goodies relating to that theme – for example, “Schnauzer Mom,” “Kitchen Helper,” “Scents,” and “Waterford Crystal and Champagne.” These will be sold in a “Chinese auction.” I have also made dog pillows and mats for dogs to lie on, and dog scarfs. I am also going to try my hand at both dog treats and human treats. This event will be held in September and Jim has agreed to go with me this year and play it by ear for next year.
    Another way to help is to buy products at certain stores that donate a small portion of the proceeds to an animal charity.

What personal characteristics does it take to be an effective dog rescuer?
    It takes love and compassion for dogs and a desire to help save their lives and to move them to a forever home. It also takes a willingness to commit time, but the beauty is that you can participate as infrequently or frequently as your desire or your schedule will allow. No help is ever turned down as long as you follow the list of instructions that have been established by the rescue. I have participated with three different rescue groups and they all have the same protocol.

Some people acquire a dog (or other pet) without understanding the commitment involved. How would you advise them?
    Acquiring a dog is a 10 - 15 year commitment. If you can’t give this commitment, don’t bother. I consider owning a dog is almost like a wedding commitment – for better or worse, in sickness and in health. You must be willing to feed, play, vet, and give love and attention to a dog that you acquire. If you’re not sure that you want to make this long-term commitment, spend some time with a dog at a local shelter.

That’s good advice! Shall we wrap up? Any final thoughts?
    One of the SRC rescuers in the South recently received a liter of 4-week-old puppies who had had acid poured all over their bodies. They were close to death and the rescuer is trying to treat them. She said that especially in the South pouring acid on puppies is a common practice so that the puppies will become very mean from being in pain and can be used as “bait dogs” in a dog-fighting arena. I know, it’s unspeakable....
    And last week we transported a dog (half boxer, half great dane) that was traveling from North Carolina. We transported it for two legs – about 140 miles, total round trip about 5.5 hours. We usually just do one leg. Anyway, this was a very sweet dog who was slated to be euthanized. The Great Dane rescue group near Pittsburgh was contacted and it agreed to take him and hopefully they will find him a forever home. He was so sweet and gentle. There are just too many irresponsible people who don’t get their dogs spayed or neutered. There really is no excuse for this since there are many shelters that offer low-cost spaying/neutering.
    One thing I don’t understand about dog transports is how they select the dogs that they transport, since there are so many facing euthanasia. It may have to do with finding a breed-specific rescue organization willing to take the dog or finding a person who is willing to foster or adopt a particular dog. I think that the transport takes only dogs that are friendly and can easily fit into an adoptive home.

Copyright © 2014 by Donna Carney & Morris Dean


  1. After adopting a rescue dog and starting to realize how many expenses are involved in getting a dog ready to be adopted, Donna Carney wanted to do what she could to help. Today's interview reveals what's involved, and it's fascinating! [Thank you, Donna!]

  2. A lady by the name of Elan has a rescue place here in Costa Rica called "Dogland". Elan also neuters her animals and holds free clinics for people to bring their pets to be neutered. That is where we got our dog Del. Elan has 235 dogs to date and has named each one of them and remembers their name. She also came to the house and traveled to the Vet with us. We have become very good friends and try to help out when ever we can. Like Donna said the cost of keeping so many animals is high. We couldn't be happier with our girl. Most of these animals are like all of us, they just want to be loved.

  3. Del was so happy she kept licking Janie in the face. She is a very sweet dog. Janie asked me before we went how we would find a dog with so many. I told her not to worry the dog would find us. I was on a beach with dogs all over me and I looked down and there was Del laying beside me with her head in my lap.

  4. A reader wrote to me via email: "I am concerned about the statement that most of the puppy mills (a not-nice concept) are owned by the Amish...Doesn't sound like the Amish to me."

    Well, see "Puppy Mills: A Side of the Amish that You Never Knew"....
        And Donna Carney responded as follows:

    1. Several of the ladies from SRC rescue dogs from the Amish puppy mills. Many times dogs which are older and past their breeding age are offered to rescue groups, which then vet, spay/neuter, socialize, and whatever is necessary to find these dogs a good home. I don’t have any specifics, but this is not the first time that I’ve been made aware of this situation and it’s possible that I could send out an email to the whole SRC group asking about details. However, I’m not sure that this would do any good because they probably don’t want to say anything that would endanger their rescue efforts. But I could ask a couple of individuals who might know more of the specifics.

    2. When we "rescued" Murphy [one of the Carney Schnauzers], we got him from a woman in Ohio who said she bargained with an Amish farmer who let her "buy" several dogs which he no longer wanted. She told me that there were many dogs kept in small cages with wire floors and were hardly able to move. She expressed great sadness that she was unable to get more dogs.

    3. I have a neighbor who I have become friendly with over the years because she too had a miniature Schnauzer. She acquired her dog in response to an ad in the newspaper. When she got there should found a farm run by the Amish and in a barn were a bunch of mini Schnauzers that were just past the puppy stage. The farmer told her to take her pick, as many that she wanted, because the next day he was planning on drowning the dogs because they were past the cute little puppy stage and no one would buy them (I don’t know where the rescuers were then — maybe they weren’t prevalent at this time or maybe there are just so many that rescue groups can save. This was close to 20 years ago.

    4. Finally several years ago Jim was contacted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to give support in a legal case that was trying to prosecute an Amish farmer somewhere near Harrisburg, PA because of his mistreatment of dogs that he was breeding on his farm without any concern for the well-being of the dogs. It was just a way of making money. They were caged, never allowed out except for breeding and they were in very bad physical condition. (Jim volunteered to give his legal expertise, but after sending him the details of the case, they didn’t contact him again so we don’t know what happened at the end.)

  5. Another article about Amish puppy mills: "Puppies 'Viewed as Livestock' in Amish Community, Says Rescue Advocate." Excerpt:

    It is a world most people never see, but undercover video shot by Main Line Animal Rescue provides a startling look. Hundreds of puppies can be seen stacked in crate on top of crate. Most of those puppies will eventually be sold to pet stores, but their mothers will likely never know a home other than this....
        The female breeders live their life producing litter after litter... until they can't any longer. Bill Smith, the founder of Main Line Animal Rescue, says that the dogs are then disposed of -- sometimes euthanized, sometimes shot. And it's perfectly legal....
        That's why Smith spends so much time driving the country roads of Amish country, rescuing dogs from breeders. On the day "Nightline" visited, he convinced an Amish farmer to give him a female golden retriever who could no longer breed, in exchange for some free dog food. The dog -- who spent her life in a cage -- struggled to walk.
        "When they come out of the rabbit hutches they walk like crabs because they don't know what it's like to walk on a proper surface," Smith said. "They drag their bodies."
        There are about 300 licensed breeders in Lancaster County, and rescue workers estimate another 600 unlicensed facilities operate in barns and sheds. Those breeders go to great measures to avoid discovery. Smith says some even "de-bark" their dogs.
        "The farmers, the Amish and the Mennonites, they pull the heads back and then they hammer sharp instruments down their throats to scar their vocal cords so they can't bark," he said. "So that way they can have 500-600 dogs in a barn and no one knows. As we said, it's an industry of secrecy."
        Secretive and profitable. Breeders can make upwards of half million dollars a year. The Amish breeders sell the dogs at auctions and the puppies at pet stores.