When the global pandemic first began, it was somewhat of a blessing in disguise for local animal shelters and rescue nonprofits.
People were spending all of their time at home, which meant for some it was time to welcome a furry friend into their home, whether through fostering or adoption. In fact, so many people expressed interest that multiple locations had no other fosters to send home, or adoptions cleared the rescue organization altogether.
Back in April, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria had sent all of its fosters to new homes, and just a few short weeks later, GRREAT, the Fairfax-based Golden Retriever Rescue, Education and Training organization, cleared its rescue of all available dogs for the first time in the nonprofit’s 30-year history.
To find out how nonprofits are continuing to cope during this time, we caught up with Lab Rescue LCRP, based in Annandale, about having to close its adoption applications due to the rise in interest, and what the group is hoping for the future of the organization. Highlights from our conversation with Jen Norris, treasurer of Lab Rescue LRCP, are below.
For someone who may not be familiar with Lab Rescue LRCP, how would you describe the organization’s mission?
Lab Rescue takes in more than 800 homeless Labrador retriever dogs each year. We provide medical care, vaccinations, tests, treatment, loving foster homes, good nutrition and even major surgery when needed. We work with shelters in six states, as well as owners who can no longer keep their dogs. Our goal is to give that second chance to a dog who needs a healthy and loving home.
When the pandemic began in March, what were your initial reactions as an organization, and what were your plans for keeping the dogs safe and still helping them find their forever homes?
When the pandemic first became a frightening reality, we prepared to cancel or downsize adoption and fundraising events, but to maintain our work to help as many dogs as we are able. Most of our dogs are in foster homes while they wait for their “forever home” and the vast majority of our adoptions happen directly from these foster homes. Our vets all remained open as essential businesses, but with additional safety protocols in light of COVID-19. Therefore, we adjusted our adoption routines, but never paused or stopped helping as many dogs as possible during the pandemic.
Did you have an increase in interest of fostering dogs and adopting dogs from the public?
We indeed had an incredible interest in both fostering and adopting dogs from our rescue! So much so that we had to stop taking applications, which we never even imagined as a problem in the past. It shows that people want to do good, even in the scariest of times.
Since closing the adoption applications and volunteering for fostering, what has that process looked like?
The hardest part of this pandemic from the rescue’s point of view is that so many shelters were forced to close their doors by county government orders (for public safety purposes), which meant there was truly nowhere for dogs to go that desperately needed that shelter. This change meant that dogs were not available for us to evaluate and take in, which is such a sad prospect, since there is no lack of stray, neglected or abandoned dogs.
We had to close the application system temporarily because so many people were applying to adopt, and yet we were taking in so few dogs. We felt that leaving the application open would only exacerbate potential adopters’ frustrations. Instead, we added interested adopters to a waiting list, which we are now slowly starting to open, thankfully. Shelters have been opening as well on a limited basis and we are seeing more dogs once again that need our help.
Do Lab Rescue LRCP still need foster assistance, or have those needs been met?
One of our greatest assets is our network of foster homes. In a foster home, a dog gets a safe space, regular and healthy meals, interaction with people and often other dogs, love, rest and playtime. It’s their chance to “be a dog” after being stray, neglected or locked up. We always need foster homes and encourage folks to try fostering for this reason … and because it is a good experience for the humans, too!
How have these situations impacted the organization, and kept you all hopeful at this time?
We were indeed immensely encouraged by the incredible number of applicants who came to us during such an unusual and difficult time. We also were bowled over by the success of our main annual event, the Lab Rescue Dog Walk, which we turned into a virtual event for social distancing reasons. Our supporters, donors, fundraisers, adopters and volunteers didn’t let the fact that it was a virtual event slow them down one bit! We had hundreds of Facebook postings showing people out walking with their dogs—at a safe social distance—and we raised more funds to further our mission than in any past year. A triumph of the human and canine spirit working together! To that point, we’ve also had two stories of triumph from the dogs themselves:
Beast was found wandering by the side of a road in North Carolina, clearly in trouble. He apparently had been hit by a car and animal control picked him up and got him into a shelter and veterinary care. The animal control officer named him “Beast,” perhaps because of his courage in the face of such trauma. No one came looking for this beautiful young boy, so Lab Rescue got the call. Fast forward a couple of months, Beast had amputation surgery and is recovering so well—he receives continued care while he heals. He is living it up in his foster home, even sneaking in a pool swim before anyone could stop him, proving to everyone that the doggy-paddle also works with three legs!
Vader was in the back of a truck on an interstate and jumped out while the vehicle was moving at 65 miles per hour. He suffered intense road rash on his paws and abdomen. The owner couldn’t care for his dreadful injuries and surrendered him into a veterinarian’s care, who then contacted Lab Rescue. We provided treatment for his injuries, extensive lasering on his wounds helped to speed the healing, and now only the most spry of us can keep up with this boy! He is a high-energy hunk who loves his walks, playtime with other dogs, swimming, splashing, hiking and picnicking. He has healed up perfectly from his scary day on the highway and is one happy Lab–especially since he got adopted last month!
What are your goals for the future of the organization beyond the COVID-19 era?
We would like to continue to bring in, love and adopt out these deserving creatures to good homes. We work to always be on the forefront of vaccination and medical developments for dogs.
One future concern is encouraging adopters to prepare their pups for being alone when the adopters return to work and school: gradual reintroduction to crating, if needed, and desensitizing them to the ‘leave-for-work’ routine. Some families will find they need a midday dog-walker or doggy day care, at least for the transition.
We are also deeply cognizant that as we all work through the challenges of COVID-19, there will be people who return to work–or are unable to find work–and realize they don’t have the time or financial resources for their pets. These days are hard ones. Lab Rescue is grateful to those who can assist by opening their hearts and their homes to our dogs and to support us as we support the labs.
If someone wants to support Lab Rescue LRCP, what can they offer/donate right now that would benefit the organization most?
We are constantly in need of donations, since our average cost per dog far exceeds our adoption fees: On average, we spend $1,100 per dog and the adoption fees range from $250 to $400. We make up that difference in donations. Every gift helps us toward the goal to take in another dog who would otherwise not have a bright future nor a second chance.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about Lab Rescue at this time?
We would like to express enormous thanks for all of our volunteers, our supporters, our adopters and our Facebook fans! Even during these challenging past months, we have been able to help dogs with serious medical needs, dogs who needed hip surgery, dogs who had severe skin conditions due to neglect. Even in the darkest of times, we all share a big love in common. When many work toward a common goal, it’s astounding what we can accomplish together!
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