After noticing that our last few blog posts have been obituaries, I thought now would be the perfect time to touch on a very sensitive subject in the rescue world, euthanasia. This word has so many roads, twisting and turning all leading to the same destination. You can put descriptive words around it to try and change the meaning like ‘humane’ but it will always end with the same result. It is one of the most contradictory practices in animal rescue. I personally have always thought euthanasia in any form was unacceptable. To end another animals’ life is so horrific, why would anyone want to sentence another living being to death? I mean, isn’t that just a fancy word for murdering another living being?
After being in rescue for the time I have, my opinion has changed drastically. A lot of times, we like to focus on ourselves without ever realizing it. Of course, I don’t want to put my dog down, they are happier on earth with me. My dog would be miserable without me; they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves all alone. And on the other side of the coin, my dog is at peace but I’m not. Sure, my dog is not in pain anymore but I’m in such a state that I can’t even fathom life without them. So why would euthanasia be the best option? Behavioral? Medical? Lack of resource? Mental?
When a dog is put down due to behavioral problems, that can be a very tough call. So many people, myself included, think, “well there is still hope, they just need more time to adjust, I can live with all of the extra precautions”. What it all boils down to, in every category is quality of life. Joey and Nash are perfect examples of this. They were living their life, day to day, in a safe, loving home. People cared for them. They had food, water, toys, beds, blankets, treats, I could go on forever. They had play time in the yard and most importantly, a safe place to call their own. Despite all of their basic needs being more than cared for, these two boys never felt safe. They both always slept with one eye open, waiting for the next bad guy to get them. They were constantly on edge and a walking panic attack waiting to happen. Do you know those times where you look at your dog sleeping, dreaming, so soundly? Well Nash and Joey were ever able to experience that until the day the first sedative went in their blood stream. Strong sedatives could be administered daily for them to continue living, but the best equivalent I can think of is people who spend month in a medical induced coma. Sure, they aren’t in pain or suffering, but they are not here mentally with us. When they get to this point, Hard Knocks Rescue and Training steps up to pull the plug. We set aside our own feelings and emotions and do what’s right by the dog, not what’s easy for us.
Medical problems are a difficult decision as well. This type of euthanasia is the most understandable to many. But what happens when YOU aren’t ready for them to go and there is a $6000 treatment that will be extremely hard on the dog? Sure, it may buy them a few more months, but what will their quality of life be during this time? Will they be mentally, physically, and emotionally ok? I hear a lot of people say, “I’d do anything for my dog, no matter what it takes to make them better, money is no object when it comes to them.” That is a very noble mindset to be in as long as you are considering your PETS’ quality of life and not your own. Once again, I am guilty of this. I spent thousands of dollars on my Lilly putting her through surgery after surgery, and willing to spend far more money on making her well again. She pulled through and is a happy healthy 7-year-old. For years I swore I would do whatever it takes to extend her life. After seeing what toll it takes on dogs to go through chemo, hard surgeries, even prolonged hospital stays, I would think about what quality of life she would have over the amount of time she would have. Quality over quantity. I feel like after all the unconditional love and loyalty dogs give us, quality of life over quantity of years is far more important. We take on the burden to make that tough decision so that they can be at peace. We sacrifice our time with them, so they won’t suffer.
Another common reason euthanasia is needed is lack of resources. This particular situation breaks my heart tremendously. Whether it be lack of education, training, or something as simple as supplies to adequately care for the dog, euthanizing a dog due to lack of resources is far too common. Hard Knocks Rescue and Training strongly advocates for proper education to be available to the community. For situations like when a family dog of 5 years meets a toddler for the first time and the dog bites the kid on the face, that’s not the dog’s fault.
PROPER INTRODUCTIONS ARE SO IMPORTANT!
Is your little dog attacking little squirrels in the yard, tearing up their kennel, wreaking havoc on your home when you are away? Or maybe they growl and bite when you startle them? Did you get a puppy and it is just way too much and you just don’t have the time it's going to need?
TRAIN YOUR DOG, LISTEN TO YOUR DOG, RESPECT YOUR DOG’S CUES.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of organizations out there that have their heart in the right place but do not have the funds to function adequately. These rural shelters, overcrowded animal rescues, and boarding groups are giving it their all 24/7. When the funding runs out, they are responsible for keeping each and every animal in their care healthy and manageable. Once every stone is unturned, every plea for help has been heard, with no help in site, these places have the tough decision. Some of you know the feeling of being so overwhelmed with people/animals in need and no help to give them. You just stare into their eyes knowing your desire to help is there, but you can’t. You wouldn’t want to just stand there and watch them suffer. Once again, it’s all about quality of life.
Well that was a depressing blog post and I absolutely hated writing it, but it needed to be done. I hope this helps explain some of what Hard Knocks Rescue and Training believe in. Our goal is to be able to rehabilitate every last dog that comes into our care. Our reality is that not every dog can be helped. Just know, if they cannot be helped and come into our care, each of our directors will be right by their side, holding their paw, fighting back tears (unsuccessfully). Each dog we have had to send over the rainbow bridge will always be remembered. Their life was not lived in vain. Each has a lesson we take with us, and each goes with an incredible amount of love and respect.
Not a day goes by that we don't think of you...
Back in January, Joey became a Hard Knocker via transfer from another rescue. He came to them with a bite history, was adopted but returned two or three times due to biting and had run out of chances. They reached out to us in a last-ditch attempt to find him help. Given his history, we were upfront that we may not be able to save him but would do everything in our power to give him a chance. The first few weeks Joey was in our care he bit his foster mom and dad, as well as attacked and minorly injured a puppy. He refused to go outside to potty and would lunge while trying to bite when anyone would come near him. Joey guarded food, water, his space, and anything else he found to be a valuable resource. Feeding and cleaning up after him was difficult and dangerous. When seen by the vet for his intake appointment, he needed to be muzzled to be examined and he hissed at her the entire time. We learned that his teeth were bad which likely was causing some pain. He had a bad leg, but we did not know why or to what extent. A second visit was scheduled to get his teeth taken care of and x-rays done to see what was going on with his leg. The x-rays showed he had an old injury that had been surgically “fixed” but was impacting his range of motion and could possibly be causing pain. We started him on daily pain medication hoping that he would not hurt as much and might start to come around a bit. Sadly, the pain meds did not seem to help so we got some him some anti – anxiety medication (Xanax). The Xanax helped him sleep but not peacefully. Over the time he was in his foster home, he bit his caretakers on several occasions. It became necessary for them to wear bite gloves when attempting to work with him. Even with the gloves, he managed to break his foster dad’s finger. About two months after coming to us, he began to show some improvements. One time, he brought a toy to his foster mom and wanted to play. He began to go outside to potty and show some signs of being happy. Another time, his foster mom was having a hard day, Joey seemed concerned, so he laid at her feet and allowed her to love on him. We thought we had finally had a breakthrough. A few weeks ago, his foster family went out of town for a few days, and a family member stayed at their house to watch the dogs. They were given strict instructions about handling Joey and all went fine other than he refused to leave his space even to potty. When the fosters returned home, Joey completely regressed. We were all devastated but hopeful that he would come back around. Over the next two weeks, Joey’s behavior continued to decline. He had to be kept from lunging and biting with a physical barrier. He growled and barked anytime someone tried to give him any attention. At night, he would bark for hours and could not be soothed. Even with anti-anxiety medication, he was angry and reactive without an identifiable trigger. He seemed to sleep with one eye open, if at all. After much discussion, the HKRT Leadership Team determined that the “right” thing to do for Joey was to set him free from the perceived dangers that kept him so guarded. Last week, we were with Joey when he peacefully crossed to the other side. This is not the outcome we hoped for. It never is. But Joey let us know that we had done what was best when he kissed his foster mom while she held his head as he drifted off to sleep after receiving the sedative. He began to snore and slept soundly as he crossed over. It was the first time we had seen him truly relaxed. We do not know what made him so at odds with this world, but we are glad that he is no longer fighting his demons. Sometimes, that is all we can do for them. Run free and be happy, JoJo.
Ten days ago, Jen and I went to visit our friends at 2nd Chance Shelter in Boaz. Prior to visiting shelters, we typically check out their list of available dogs so we have a general idea of who we want to meet. Additionally, we contact the staff to let them know the type of dogs we’re looking for because they know their crew better than we do. We rely on them to introduce us to their underdogs. However, rarely do we walk out of a shelter with the dog(s) we thought we might. And, we always make a pull…even when we have promised ourselves (and our husbands) that we wouldn’t.
Leo was that kind of pull.
We arrived at 2nd Chance with a list of dogs we wanted to meet that day. One little guy has been there since our last visit in August and has been on Jen’s heart ever since. We went to see him first, and while Jen was working with him, Mrs. Wanda told us about a new intake at the shelter, a 110-pound bull mastiff with a history of killing a small dog. While he had only been there for a few days, the staff had seen nothing that indicated he was aggressive in anyway.
Because we are a small group, our foster space is extremely limited. Big dogs typically come to me and I already had four fosters (which is two more than I hope to have). I said he sounded like a great dog, but I just couldn’t help due to space constraints. We continued to make our rounds up and down the rows of kennels, meeting and discussing the dogs we went to see. When I excused myself to find the restroom, Jen continued without me and stumbled upon the dog Mrs. Wanda had told us about.
Once we found each other again, Jen INSISTED that I meet him. She said his name was Buck and he was perfect in every way (Jen says this about every dog, and she’s not wrong, but it’s also not a selling point anymore). The whole way to his kennel I told her we couldn’t pull him. She remained adamant that he was coming home with us and I repeated “Where is he going to go?”
Then I saw him. Crap! Then Jen’s toddler, aka Baby Dog Whisperer, knelt by his kennel. He lowered his enormous head to her and leaned against the fencing. Double crap!! How am I going to explain this to my husband? You can’t just slide a 110-pound dog into the mix and hope he goes unnoticed. As I am trying to figure out what to do, I knew his name was going to be Leo because he reminded me of a lion. Leo, the Lionhearted. Am I really naming AND nicknaming a dog I am not bringing home?! Triple CRAP!!!
Jen had brought along a little pet taxi, just in case, but there was absolutely no way this giant dog was going to fit in that. We were not at all prepared to bring home a dog that size. We didn’t even have a leash or collar with us. I didn’t have a crate at home large enough for him and my decompression room was occupied. Not to mention, a dog of that size coupled with his history was more than a little intimidating. It didn’t matter. We both knew he was coming with us.
As we prepared to load him into the car, he had to pee, and Mrs. Wanda noticed that his urine was dark in color. We weren’t overly concerned since he had just been neutered and we knew our vet would be seeing him anyway. The first step of our rehabilitation process is always to get the dogs examined for anything medical that may be affecting their behavior, to ensure they are fully healthy before we begin training and working on their behavioral triggers.
After our 90-minute drive home, during which Leo was absolutely the perfect passenger, he was so happy to be out roaming the yard and enjoying the sunshine. He would approach us to gently press his massive noggin into our chests, his tail wagged constantly, and he loved our little Dog Whisperer – even allowed her to leash walk him.
We often practice Reiki with our dogs, when they are receptive to it. Reiki is a Japanese energy exchange that promotes calming/bonding. Leo was not only receptive; he initiated the exchange. We received so much gratitude from him, it was almost as if we could literally hear him saying thank you. Jen commented on it several times because it’s not something we typically notice so significantly nor that early in our process. It was palpable and undeniable.
Over the weekend, Leo seemed to not be feeling well and we noticed a great deal of swelling in his scrotum. Because he was recently neutered that wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but we consulted with a couple of vets anyway. We treated him with pain meds and rest thinking he had over done things. Monday morning, Leo didn’t want to get up to go potty. He seemed to be resting comfortably but wasn’t the happy boy we had been getting to know. I had already made him an appointment with our vet for that afternoon, so we just tried to keep him comfortable until she arrived.
Jen arrived about an hour before the vet and we noticed he had some swelling in his groin. He was tender and not excited about us touching him. By the time the vet arrived, the swelling had moved to his abdomen and legs, and his pain level was increasing rapidly. While being examined, we realized his scrotum was leaking from infection and it was going to require surgery to clean up. He also needed IV pain medicine and antibiotics. The mobile vet sedated him and transported him to another clinic we work with so he could be treated and more closely monitored for the next couple of days.
The clinic vet determined that he likely had an infection in his prostate prior to the neuter surgery which had become aggravated during the neuter procedure. Ultrasound showed that his prostate, scrotum, and bladder were all inflamed. Also, and most concerning was that he was heart worm positive with a heavy parasite load. The swelling in his abdomen continued to increase and was causing him extreme pain (even while sedated). Once the vet was able to finally get him some relief, he rested overnight. The next morning, he seemed better initially, ate a little, but then had a seizure or stroke that left him terrified and suffering. We had to let him go and were with him when he peacefully crossed to the other side.
We often receive feedback that we shouldn’t pull dogs where so much risk is involved. People worry that we are wasting resources when we spend money on a dog who doesn’t make it. All we know is that our calling is to be there for the ones who speak to us, no matter what the outcome is. Money is donated to Hard Knocks by many generous souls so we can try to save as many as we possibly can. Every bit of Leo’s expenses was covered by donations; evidence that his sweet, gentle soul spoke to more than just Jen and me.
The dogs we pull have been dealt a terrible hand and our passion is showing them what love is, for as long as we possibly can. Yes, we know it may hurt our hearts, but we fully embrace the challenge anyway. This is our superpower and that is not a resource we ever plan to waste. Sadly, we couldn’t give him more time, but we surely gave him an abundance of love. The day we brought him home was likely the best of his life. We are honored and thankful to have been able to share that day, and three more, with him.
Lionhearted: brave and determined
Oh, Nash. Our hearts broke today watching you find peace in the only way we could
help you attain it.
You gave the best hugs, always with a bit of side eye.
The restriction of a leash was never something you were particularly fond of, which made neighborhood walks and adoption events challenging (to say the least).
On your way outside to play, you loved to grab whatever laundry was close and would
run away with it like you had just stolen a winning lottery ticket.
You would fiercely protect the things you loved. I get it. Biting has crossed my mind a
time or two when someone got too close to my food and toys.
Car rides made your love of barking at all loud, moving things much more exciting (for
Buddy, we tried our hardest to show you that it was okay to trust and to share and that
boundaries were necessary.
Our goal was to learn your patterns so we could create a safer environment and allow
you to stay.
We hoped that you could learn to relax in this life and not feel so wary.
Being the master of surprise, you got a few too many good shots in. Sadly, that is not a
skill that gets folks to line up to take you home.
Your independent and circumspect soul just wouldn’t allow it.
Now, you are on the other side.
No restrictions or rules.
No kennels or leashes.
Just sunshine on your sweet face and gentle wind blowing through your fur as you run
carefree and happy.
As every dog should.
Rescue work is challenging and requires us to wear
multiple hats to get the job done. It is vital that we know
what our purpose is and are realistic about our limitations.
Our role is not to be thought of as a permanent solution,
but rather a steppingstone in the dog’s journey to finding
their forever family. In order to save as many dogs as
possible, we need lots of helping hands and a dedicated
forever family for every single one we pull into the HKRT
As we finish 2019, we are looking at our current numbers
and setting goals for the next year. We are proud to say that
we have doubled our intake from last year! What that means
is that we have had enough funding, space, volunteers,
and adopters to say “Yes” to 28 dogs. While we will be
far surpassed by other groups who have a larger
support system, we are encouraged and motivated to keep pushing forward because our network is growing and always shows up when we need them. Also, our numbers
will likely always be a bit lower than others because we are taking in dogs who typically
come to us after being unnoticed by adopters visiting shelters or turned away by other
rescues due to breed or behavioral issues. Before becoming a Hard Knocker, our dogs
have been labeled, left for dead, or overlooked for reasons that are not their fault.
Because of the gap we aim to fill, we must approach things a bit differently than other
One thing that sets us apart is that we provide ongoing aftercare for our adopters. While
we firmly believe “Once a Hard Knocker, always a Hard Knocker”, our mission is to find
our dogs forever homes so we can continue saving and rehabilitating unadoptable dogs
until there are none left. To help keep our adopted dogs in their new homes, we are
always available to answer questions or troubleshoot. Each of our adopted dogs comes
with a gift of six weeks of group training classes to be completed with their new family,
as well. We know it can be overwhelming when you first bring a dog home, even under
the best of circumstances, and we believe having a support system can make that
transition easier and is crucial to limiting returns.
Another thing that we do a little differently is that we are transparent about the issues
our dogs have. The HKRT dogs live in homes with foster families so we learn their
habits and quirks. If they don’t like to be touched a certain way or prefer a special type
of toy, we will share that with you. We know how to manage their difficult behaviors and
will show you how to do it, too. Before our dogs are considered “adoptable” we have
addressed all their medical issues, gotten them used to a schedule, and taught them
some basic commands like “sit” and “watch me”.
We can raise funds. We can house, nurture, and train them; but, our mission to save as
many as possible grinds to a halt without adopters. What we need to keep our
momentum going is committed adopters. With the holiday season rapidly approaching,
we would love for every family considering adding a new dog to consider adopting
rather than buying from a breeder. When you adopt from a rescue, you are saving two
dogs because you open a space for us to say “Yes” to another intake. Because we are a smaller group, the impact an adoption has in our program is even more valuable
because space is so limited.
If you aren’t looking to adopt, maybe consider fostering (even short term). Also, we can
always use help with taking dogs on outings to get more practice with socialization. We
have many volunteer opportunities throughout the year to help with marketing and
fundraising, as well. Everyone can do something to help homeless animals. If you are
willing to try, the HKRT team will be there to support you every step of the way.
We hope you all have a wonderful holiday filled with love and happy memories.
It’s been a while since you have heard from us. There is never a dull moment around here but the last couple of months have been an absolute whirlwind. In addition to the usual day to day grind, we were honored to film a digital episode for an Animal Planet Go miniseries highlighting Best Friends Animal Society network partners. The goal of the project is to empower and encourage others to get involved in rescue. It was an incredible experience that was well worth the time and effort it took.
Through the amazing generosity of our supporters, we were able to spruce up our space for the filming and provide lunch for the production crew (which they said never happens). From fence boards to cleaning supplies, we had everything we needed donated and plenty of hands to complete the work prior to the big day. We cannot express what a relief it was to have so many things checked off our to do list! Our HKRT family never fails to take care of every request and we cannot thank you enough.
The filming of our episode took place on October 1. The film crew was wonderful and made things so much fun for us. We had hair and makeup services donated by local artists Krysten Blasingame and Haley Walton which took a ton of pressure off, too. (Seriously, check these ladies out. They showed up, on time - at 5:30am, for free.) The HKRT dogs were showcased, and a great deal of time was spent discussing the why and how of what we do. Our episode is shaping up to be deeply personal but will hopefully inspire others to take a similar leap of faith, not just on the underdogs but also themselves.
Because of this unbelievable opportunity, as well as the fantastic, organic growth we have experienced this year, Hard Knocks will be making some big changes over the next few months. Our next goal is to have a facility which will allow us to increase our intake availability, expand the training program, and add a doggy daycare/boarding service for reactive/sensitive pups in a homelike setting. Our fee for service menu helps us cover rescue expenses and supports our mission by offering families compassionate and committed support with training and pet sitting needs which can be vital to keeping dogs in homes. If you would like to help us reach this goal, please consider becoming a regular monthly sponsor or make a one-time donation earmarked for our “Facility Fund”.
We will keep you posted on when you can view the entire miniseries. Be sure to download the Animal Planet Go app now so you’re ready for the air date!
A few months ago, I had the honor of meeting Razzle at a local shelter. She was supposed to be in renal failure (or have cancer) and was earning a reputation for having a bad attitude. A shelter volunteer who had bonded with Razzle wanted to make sure that she had a chance to get out of there, but based on the strikes against her that wasn’t likely to happen without a rescue stepping in.
The volunteer contacted HKRT and offered to sponsor Razzle’s veterinary care if we would pull her. Unfortunately, we were over capacity already. All we could do was try. So, we posted a request on our volunteer page and I went to meet Raz. The volunteer and I took her to the vet for a nose to tail exam.
We learned that Razzle was not in renal failure but did have a pretty nasty urinary tract infection. She also had several masses all over her body that would need to be biopsied and her back legs were extremely weak. It was obvious that she had been bred multiple times and not well cared for. This poor girl was a Hard Knocker if we’ve ever seen one. When we finished at the vet, we still didn’t have a foster for her, so she had to return to the shelter. I promised her we would get her out and told her to behave in the meantime. By the time I got home, we had a family agree to take her! I got ahold of the shelter volunteer and told her we would pull Razzle in the morning.
Raz was the first foster for the Mathias family. They agreed to bring her into their home sight unseen, and I brought them a lumpy, skinny, snotty nosed, cantankerous pit bull. They loved her immediately and gave her the best days of her life. Razzle loved them, too. When the Mathias’s found out that despite all their hard work and care, Raz had chronic pain and many medical problems that made daily life a struggle for her, they loved her harder and gracefully accepted that it was time to set her free. They fed her steak, and cheeseburgers, and made her queen of the castle for her final days. They bravely attended her final veterinary appointment with me, and we surrounded her with love as she went to sleep. Among many tears, there was BIG love in that room.
I hope that days like today never get easier and that my heart always aches when we have to say “Goodbye” rather than “See you later”. The depth of my sadness reflects the abundance of love and respect I have for the HKRT team. Razzle knew peace and happiness because a group of people pooled their talents and resources to give her a chance. Today, this group is hurting but we are lead by our hearts and will continue to do what’s right, not what’s easy.
RIP Razzle Dazzle
HKRT receives multiple intake requests each day, and more times than we want to
count, we have to say no. The biggest reasons for that are a lack of volunteer/foster
support and funding. The first question we ask ourselves is “Where will the dog go if we say yes?” We take into consideration size, age, sex, and the type of issues needing to be addressed. Surprisingly, funding is easier to find in emergency or urgent situations than foster homes are. But don’t let that fool you into thinking we have funds aplenty. Our number one job is fundraising because without money we cannot responsibly care for our dogs.
When assessing whether we have space for a new dog in the program, we must
consider the fosters we have willing and able to take them. As of now, we do not have a facility or sanctuary to house our dogs which limits who we can take. The handful of
foster families we have are wonderful but there is only so much time in the day and
space in their homes. We simply cannot keep up with the demand without more
dedicated foster homes. HKRT covers all expenses for our dogs while they are in the
program, so don’t let finances deter you from giving it a try. We even provide dog food! Because we focus on the ones with special socialization needs, a different management approach is often needed, which basically means more structured interactions and/or closer supervision. Sadly, our reactive dogs tend to spend more time in isolation or in a crate, but that does not mean they are bad dogs! Frequently, the issue is not aggression but rather a lack of confidence or an inability to communicate appropriately. With our guidance, they will learn, but catch on fastest when given more frequent opportunities to practice.
If you can’t foster, consider volunteering a couple hours each week to help with
socialization. We always need dependable, kind, and fun-loving folks to join our team!
Volunteers can give foster families a break while providing wonderful enrichment for the pups by just taking them for a hike or a sleepover. While our goal is quality over
quantity, the quicker a dog can work through their obstacles, the sooner they can find
their forever home, which opens space for another. We want to save as many as we
can, but a devoted team is needed to make that a reality.
Lastly, funding…UGH. Money goes out as quickly as it comes in. We are fortunate to
have an amazing sponsor in Pet Supplies Plus of Madison, who provides all the food,
treats, and toys our dogs need. That is a tremendous help and we are so thankful for
them! Vet bills are our number one expense. For us to grow into the program we dream to be, complete with a facility for training/boarding/rescue and sanctuary space for the truly unadoptable, we need funds. Monthly sponsors would go a long way towards helping us reach those goals. The donors who have helped us get this far into the journey have been incredibly generous, but we need more consistent and reliable monetary support for future growth. We are always on the lookout for fundraising opportunities so don’t be shy about reaching out if you have some ideas. Our Fundraising Coordinator will be happy to speak with you!
The next time you see a dog in need and go to tag your favorite rescue, consider also
offering to help in whatever way you can. Tag Hard Knocks (@hkrtinc), share the post
with your pledge of assistance, then challenge your friends to foster, volunteer, donate, and share as well. Let’s all do our part! Every little bit helps.
Our area is overrun with unwanted, discarded, and abused animals. How many times have you scrolled through a social media thread regarding an abused or abandoned animal and seen several comments from concerned animal lovers yelling, “Someone, do something!” Hard Knocks Rescue & Training, Inc. exists because we realized that WE are someone and WE needed to do something.
The HKRT motto is Doing what’s right, not what’s easy. We look for the ugly ones, the sick ones, and especially the ones with bad attitudes. We take in as many as we can with the hope of healing them and finding them loving forever homes. It takes a lot of help and resources to rehabilitate these pups, but they deserve a chance. When we take a dog into our program, it is generally one that has been overlooked or can no longer be managed at their current shelter or rescue. Occasionally, we will take a stray or owner surrender if space is available. Our dogs are fully vetted upon intake, on preventatives, as well as working on basic obedience skills and potty/crate training. We rely on monetary donations and volunteer support to keep our mission going.
Running a rescue is a 24/7, 365 days a year kind of gig. It is a lifestyle and a calling. It is not a vocation that will reap great financial gains. You must be willing to accept your car will never be clean again, dog hair is a food group, chew marks are decorative, and poop happens…a lot. Having a dark sense of humor is also quite helpful.
Most importantly, you must recognize that YOU are the someone who can DO something. You just need to try.
As of right now, there are 12 dogs living in my home; 4 belong to us and 8 are fosters. They are in every single room of the house and are managed in 8 different groups to minimize safety issues. Our bedrooms do not have any flooring other than the cement slab, because it’s easier to clean up than carpet. We wash more loads of dog towels and blankets in a week than we do laundry for the humans. Our fence constantly needs repairs and it is nearly impossible to keep the yard cleaned up. We play "Find the Stink" on a daily basis. Basically, we live in a doggie fraternity house.
All of that probably sounds awful to some of you, but I cannot imagine life any other way. I found my joy when we began fostering. Our first foster ended up staying as a permanent member of the family, as well as three others so far. My husband and I still have a fight every time a new foster comes in as we learn the newest routine, but we also still marvel together when a pup has a breakthrough. Hubby’s role is Chief Executive of Play and Handler of All Things Gross, because he’s a master at drawing the shy ones out with play and seems to have no sense of smell or gag reflex. He is saint material. We get all the satisfaction and validation we could ever hope for in caring for our home full of misfits. There is nothing more gratifying than when a traumatized pit bull decides you are pretty okay and proves it by sitting on your head.
But, even for us, 12 is too many. The dogs are doing fine but would benefit greatly from more one on one time and socialization opportunities. We don’t want our dogs to just be “fine”, we want them to thrive!
If you have ever considered fostering, now is a great time to get involved. HKRT has 6 dogs needing foster homes where they can polish their social skills and learn to be part of a family. Hard Knocks covers all expenses to include vetting, food, and supplies for all our dogs while in foster homes. We will work together to address any training or integration concerns to make the process as easy as possible. Feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com for more information. We would love to have you join our crew! And, you never know. You may just find your joy, too.
By Lisa Maasen
“What makes HKRT different from other rescues?”
“Why do your dogs stay with you for so long?”
“You should really take in more desirable and easily adoptable dogs.”
These are the three most common questions and suggestions we receive. They come at us almost daily and are valid feedback from our supporters. Because of that, it makes sense that our first blog post answers those questions and addresses your concerns. We understand that our way of doing things is not how conventional rescues work. That is exactly our goal!
HKRT’s mission statement says, “With our individualized, respect-based training and decompression program, we will ensure more dogs find and keep loving homes. We will assist local shelters and rescues in rehabilitating abused and neglected dogs who are considered “unadoptable” due to anxiety triggered behavioral issues. We will provide training and resources for the entire community to promote safer interactions between dogs, their canine companions, and humans. In doing so, we will help reduce the number of dogs euthanized due to fear-based reactivity.”
We accomplish our mission in several ways. First, the dogs we typically take in are the ones other rescues and potential adopters have been passing over for a variety of reasons. We are looking for the forgotten and those deemed unworthy by others. Many have been in a shelter environment for months with no end in sight. We ask volunteers and shelter staff who needs some extra TLC and may not make it out. We also receive requests from facilities begging us to take a dog who will be euthanized otherwise. You know, the ones hiding in the corner of their kennel trying to make themselves as small as possible to avoid being seen because people are terrifying. Or, they are the ones barking and biting at the kennel from panic and frustration. We understand this isn’t ideal behavior, but we also understand there is a reason the dog may be lashing out. Our goal is to find those triggers and help them learn to trust and get past their fear so they can live the happy life they deserve.
Second, once we get the dog home, they are given a chance to decompress. They are walked outside to inspect the yard and go potty, then they are given a quiet place to acclimate away from all the hustle and bustle. Some dogs find a crate in a private room to be the most comforting, others prefer free run of their space. We keep the lighting low, provide a regular predictable schedule for feeding and outside time. Calming aids such as peaceful music, lavender essential oil, thunder shirts, and CBD oil are used as needed to help the dog settle in and feel safe. This process lasts two weeks on average; however, some dogs need more time and others need less. We pay attention to what they are telling us with their behavior and move at their pace. Our goal is to avoid pushing them too hard too fast so they will learn to trust us because we show them respect.
Third, we take all our dogs to the vet within the first couple of weeks of intake to ensure everything medically has been addressed. It is amazing how different a dog will behave when they feel healthy! We choose to repeat their heartworm test and get them preventatives, make sure their vaccinations are up to date, they are spayed/neutered, nails are trimmed, anal glands expressed, any infections or injuries are treated as well. Our initial vet visits for each dog costs around $200 but is money well spent. If anything shows up that may require surgery or if bloodwork is needed, we get that taken care of as well. Unless the dog is physically healthy, we have no way of knowing if their behavioral problems are more from pain or fear. Decompression lasts until all their physical needs have been taken care of.
During decompression we are assessing what the dog knows and begin basic obedience training. The dog is taught the commands “sit” and “watch me”. We ask them to do it for everything they want or need. This establishes a bond and builds trust between them and their new handlers. It also creates what we call a “reset button”, meaning those tasks become second nature to them which is essential to any future success with behavior adjustment training (BAT). Also, during this time, we are working to find out what is most upsetting to them, finding ways to manage it initially, and slowly begin to teach them better coping skills than biting and growling. They learn “leave it” and how to walk away rather than lash out aggressively. This happens naturally when the animal feels heard and respected rather than dominated. Until we have built a relationship with open communication, we do not introduce the new foster to anyone outside of the home or ANY animals (including their housemates).
When we take a dog into the HKRT family, we know they will be with us for a while in most cases. From our experience we can usually estimate fairly accurately how long their rehabilitation may take when we meet them. While we have a basic timeline in mind for their specialized program, we do not enforce it strictly. Our main concerns are: Can we manage and care for them in a safe manner for all involved? Are they making progress or at least maintaining their improved behaviors? As long as we all feel safe and the dog isn’t in distress or regressing, we will continue to care for them indefinitely.
Our motto is “Doing what’s right, not what’s easy.” To accomplish that, we must be patient, understanding, and leave our egos at the door. Working with these difficult to place dogs is rewarding, heartbreaking, frustrating, and exhilarating – sometimes all at once. We have been described as doing “intervention work”, meaning we are the ones called in when standard methods and protocols have failed. Creativity is important and not being rigid in our beliefs in key to our success. Our margin for error is small because of the dog’s history. We must be especially cautious about who adopts them to ensure they find a true forever home the first time (as often as possible) because they have already had more turmoil in their lives than most can imagine. We have learned through experience that every dog is different, just like every human. It is not easy or quick to find the hidden gem in some of these dogs but each one deserves a chance.
To date, HKRT has taken in 22 last chance dogs. We have had to euthanize two. We hate that there are two we couldn’t save, but the other 20 are here today because we took a chance on them and gave them time to come into their own. We are their cheerleaders, their caretakers, and their soft place to land. It is an honor and a privilege to gain their trust and respect, and it is time well spent.
Lisa Maasen, Jennifer Marbrey, and Nikki Hinsdale are Partners in Hard Knocks Rescue & Training, Inc. They have years of experience within the rescue and training community, and a drive to see its teamwork bring positive changes to the dogs in most need.