Volunteers from the Mid-Atlantic English Springer Spaniel Rescue rescue their beloved dogs from overcrowded shelters or unsafe homes
By Jane Hess Collins
Sandye Blalock’s ten-year-old Toyota Forerunner doubles as a dog limo. Tricked out with treats, toys, waste bags and a blanket, collar and leash, it was the perfect car to help transport a four year old English Springer Spaniel named Sarah, who was leaving her foster family in Pennsylvania to begin a “furever” new life with an adoptive family in Virginia Beach.
A volunteer with the Mid-Atlantic English Springer Spaniel Rescue nonprofit (MAESSR) and Springer Spaniel lover, Sandye wanted to be part of this organization that places stray, abandoned, relinquished or impounded Springer Spaniels throughout Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, New Jersey and North Carolina. (Google almost breed of dog or cat and you’ll find rescue groups for each of them too).
The MAESSR dog transport program is highly choreographed. The instructional email to the drivers listed the name, cell phone number, email and home address of every driver by stop, along with the location of each transfer, expected arrival time, car model and color, and license plate number.
It was fail proof, although I could not imagine undertaking this project in pre-cell phone days.
On this particular trip six volunteer drivers would each drive approximately one hour for the six-hour trip. Sandye, with me riding shotgun, was on shift for hour three of the journey.
Having already planned and driven rescue trips over the last year and a half, Sandye knew the routine and was also, she jokes, a failed foster parent (her first attempt to foster a Springer Spaniel resulted in her adoption of eight-year-old Princess Grace). Our handoff site to receive Sarah was a Wendy’s parking lot outside of Baltimore, MD, and we would take her to the next transfer site at a Springfield, VA, McDonald’s. Fast food has value after all.
As we pulled into Wendy’s, Sarah was waiting for us patiently in the parking lot with her transport team, a middle-aged husband and wife. We gushed over Sarah, petting her and praising her markings. The woman handed us a yellow folder with Sarah’s medical records (MAESSR funds a visit to the vet for each rescue dog) and the signed paperwork that relinquished ownership. She told us to expect Sarah to fuss for the first 20 minutes then settle down for the ride, and then she hugged her goodbye as if she had been in their family for years.
We coaxed Sarah into the back seat with leashes and treats, bracing ourselves for whines howls and scratches. Sarah circled a few times then fell sound asleep.
Easiest transport ever.
Animal rescue organizations have a surprising number of volunteer duties including finding the endangered dogs through websites, keeping contact with an animal shelter staff member in case an English Springer Spaniel appears, foster parenting or interviewing potential foster and adoptive families.
The most difficult volunteer job, Sandye believed, was retrieving the dog from its owners. It could be heartbreaking if the family lost a job or a home and could no longer care for their pet. Sometimes the owner was too elderly to care for the dog properly, or a child develops allergies. Those surrenders, as they are called, can be quite painful.
Then, there were the handoffs where the owner was negligent, ambivalent or abusive. Volunteers are trained by senior volunteers for professional handling of these owner relinquishment cases.
Those surrenders can be painful too. Occasionally the rescue dog turns out to be a Brittany Spaniel or a Welsh Spaniel or some other distant cousin of the Springer Spaniel. In those cases the dog is still rescued, of course, and MAESSR sometimes partners with those breed rescue organizations on the legs of the drive.
An hour later we arrive at McDonald’s and meet a mother and daughter team, who will begin part four of the trip. Sarah is still chilling in the back seat. It was a special day for the daughter-only 19 years old, she had accompanied her mom on dog rescues for 11 years, but today was her first day as the lead driver. She was visibly excited and proud to be part of Sarah’s journey.
Then just like what happened an hour before, we hugged Sarah goodbye as if she had been in the family for years and watched her depart for her furever home.
Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.