Tails wagged, hearts leaped, and applause filled the PetSmart pet supplies store branch in Millburn on March 12: Summit's Home for Good Dog Rescue marked its 300th dog adoption since being founded in August of last year.
The non-profit group's mission is to rescue, nurture, and find homes for dogs who might otherwise be killed. Home for Good is not a shelter–it is a network of volunteer foster owners who nurture dogs until they can find permanent homes. Vice President Ailie Sommers said the animals come from local shelters, pet rescue groups that save abandoned dogs, and "high-kill" shelters, where dogs who aren't adopted are euthanized.
"A lot of our dogs come from Georgia, which has a very high kill rate," she said. "Dogs are found in drainpipes, tied to trees, or worse."
Sommers said all dogs are up-to-date with vaccinations as well as receiving medical care and socialization to ensure that they are healthy. Potential adopters have to meet certain criteria as well: They are screened carefully to make sure they are a good fit for the dog and are capable of being responsible pet owners. People who wish to adopt dogs have to submit an application and, if they do not have pets, they must provide two references. Those with pets must certify that their cats and/or dogs are healthy, have been spayed or neutered, and have had a flea-tick-heartworm preventative. Anyone who wishes to adopt a puppy has to have someone with the young dog for at least eight hours per day.
Once an adopter is pre-approved, they come to a Meet and Greet event (held either at a local pet center such as Summit's or at PetSmart) to make sure that they are a good match with the dog.
"We scrutinize everyone," said Home for Good president Toni Ann Turco. "I have no remorse. These dogs deserve good homes with responsible people."
On March 12, about 20 dogs were on hand, along with a host of pre-approved families, foster owners, and volunteers. Also there was Pennie Rowe of Jetta's Pet Rescue in Soperton, Ga., who transported 26 dogs to New Jersey. She said she and her husband have about 30 more dogs at home.
"Over 15 years, we've helped thousands of dogs," she said, adding that in Georgia, there are "no repercussions" for animal mistreatment and no laws mandating that pets be spayed or neutered. This leads to a massive overpopulation problem. "The real problem, though, is the law itself, and the fact that shelters only have so much space, and once time is up, the dogs are put down. It's heartbreaking."
One story Rowe shared involves her rescue of four puppies who were found huddled close to their dead mother, who had been shot in the head. In another incident, a wealthy family gave up a former show dog they could not offer ample care for. She said that if people could see the reality of what dogs face in Georgia, they would understand the importance of the work that she and Home for Good do.
Rowe, a nursing student, said she spends up to 18 hours a day caring for the dogs she rescues. She receives no pay for her work and covers the cost of food, toys, treats, and medical expenses for the animals out of her own pocket. ("People have no idea what it costs," she said, sighing.) Once the dogs are healthy–all receive vaccinations and whatever medical care they require–she advertises the dogs through her Facebook page. Other dogs are sent to groups such as Summit's Home for Good.
"Home for Good does a great job in this area," Rowe said. "We're lucky to have them. They are a godsend."
Turco has made the journey to Georgia (you can see highlights in the video at right; she will make another trip south in May) and helps Rowe by sending food and supplies. Helping dogs has long been her passion: She and Ailee Sommers met while working with different rescue groups. Last summer, they decided that Summit would make a good base for a volunteer network, and Home for Good was born. In August, 2010, Turco saw firsthand the work that Rowe did and the horrors that abandoned dogs experienced. She brought back more than 20 dogs, and the effort has grown since then.
"We started with five volunteers and now we have about 40," Turco said. "We can always use more junior and adult volunteers."
People can assist in numerous ways: by serving as a "foster," by helping to exercise, train, or groom the animals, by offering no- or low-cost transport or medical services, by assisting at the various Meet and Greet events, and by making donations to the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
One volunteer foster owner is Marty Dragor of New Providence. His own dog passed away three months ago and, missing canine companionship, he decided to take in a Home for Good dog on a short-term basis.
"It's like being a grandpa and sending them home to Ma," he said with a smile. "But one of them will stay, eventually."
The one who stays may end up being Belle, a beautiful Great Pyrenees who has been with Dragor for two and a half weeks now. A month ago, Belle was found under an abandoned house in Georgia with four newborn puppies.
"She had been traumatized and she looked shaggy," her foster recalled. "Poor girl had to eat garbage. But look at her now: She's been washed and groomed. She's a real sweetheart, and just feel that soft coat."
Belle's babies were adopted quickly, as puppies often are. At press time, Belle, who is about 18 months old, is still available for adoption, as is Snoopy, an adorable 1-1/2 year old American bulldog/Dalmatian mix Dragor fostered so that Belle could have some company.
The 300th dog to be adopted through Home for Good was Huntlee, a sweet-natured and affectionate Labrador retriever/hound mix. Not long ago, the dog was found after being abandoned in a Georgia dumpster. Now, he has a permanent home on Long Island with Kimberly McEntee and her family. McEntee said she saw Huntlee on Petfinder, a website Home for Good uses to list photos of and information about available dogs, and could not resist him.
"Just look at his face," she said, hugging her new friend.
Nearby, two little children embraced their new four-legged family member. Their mother, Emily King of Summit, explained that their pet Golden retriever died a month ago, and the family decided to give a home to a dog who otherwise might lose its life. As the kids talked happily about the various items they would have to buy for the animal–food, a dog bowl, a slip leash–their mother beamed. As much as the dog will receive from her family, King noted that she and her children will receive a lot as well.
"A home is just not the same without a dog," she said.
Anyone interested in adopting a dog or in donating to or volunteering for Home for Good Dog Rescue can contact the group at (908) 598-8212 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternately, you can visit the organization's web site at http://www.homeforgooddogs.org or visit its official Facebook page.