The decision to adopt from and volunteer with animal rescues led to positive life-changing experiences for Jim Draper, Matt McGraw, and Marc Rexroad.
Jim has always loved dogs. Six years ago, when he felt ready to add a dog to his home, he took his time to ensure he picked the right dog. He wasn’t sure that he wanted a puppy, and so he spent the next two years contacting animal rescues with the idea of adopting an adult dog. “I was definitely surprised to see the number of dogs in these rescues and reading the stories behind why they were in rescue,” Jim shared.
One of those reasons is puppy mills. Like many people, Jim had heard of puppy mills, but he was unaware of “the extent and the breadth of how many puppies were being bred in this fashion.” This knowledge compelled him to adopt two puppy mill dogs from Little White Dog Rescue.
Marc and his wife have also always loved dogs. Several years ago, they were ready to add a dog to their lives. “My wife Wendy and I chose not to have children,” Marc said. “After finally being at a point where things are all settled, we can start giving. We chose dogs because we see so many in need of help that are mistreated or just have a rough start in life.”
They adopted a dog named Frankie, whom Marc referred to as a “once-in-a-lifetime” dog that was “good beyond measure.” Heartbroken after Frankie died in 2014, they searched animal rescues for another dog, and found one through Dolly’s Legacy Animal Rescue.
Matt has known most of his life that he wanted to help animals in any way he could. In fifth grade, he put his passion into action by volunteering with a junior keeper program at the Grand Island Heritage Zoo, As an adult, he spent two years working at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, completed an internship at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas, and partially completed a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University.
When finished with school, Matt bought his first English bulldog. “Clyde meant everything to me,” Matt shared, “and was with me through many life experiences.” After Clyde passed away in February 2017, Matt felt a loss in his life that he couldn’t move past until he found animal rescue. “My wife and I found out about an English Bulldog rescue that had just begun in Omaha, but I wasn’t sure yet about whether adopting or volunteering was right for me,” Matt said. “Shortly after becoming a foster, I realized this was what I was supposed to be doing.”
All three men ultimately ended up volunteering at the animal rescue from where they had adopted their dogs.
Jim volunteers with Little White Dog Rescue primarily as a pet foster parent, a role wherein he draws on his strengths of patience and compassion for animals. For him, volunteering is “not a measure of time, but more a part of my life.” Since 2013, he has fostered close to fifteen dogs. “They’re family as soon as the walk through my front door,” Jim said. “I don’t try to conform dogs, but rather let them adapt to my home at their pace. These dogs are generally fearful and slow to adjust, so I know my manner of dealing with them is the best way for me and them to coexist.” Jim also volunteers at Little White Dog Rescue events.
Marc and his wife volunteer with Dolly’s Legacy Animal Rescue. Fostering takes ten plus hours per week, while transporting and writing animal bios might take an hour or two. Marc believes that as a volunteer, he brings “a dose of reality to an area that can be very emotional. There are sometimes disagreements that need to be talked through from a non-emotional perspective and I’m good with doing that.”
Matt and his wife also volunteer together, with the Good Life Bulldog Rescue. As with the other two men, their main contribution is fostering dogs. “It’s hard to say how many hours per week this adds up to as every week brings something different,” said Matt. He draws on the medical knowledge he gained from Kansas State to help set up and keep records for veterinarian exams for dog that come into the rescue. Matt is also on the rescue’s board.
Fostering animals brings those involved memorable experiences, whether happy, sad, or even embarrassing. Perhaps this is why the highlights these men shared with me centered around fostering.
Matt shared a story that shows how fostering can be both challenging and rewarding. He and his wife first fostered a puppy named Ruby who had come from a puppy mill. She feared everything around her, including noises, shadows, and even Matt. After about two months of the couple working extensively with Ruby, Ruby began to respond to Matt’s wife but remained anxious around him. Matt guessed, “I must have resembled a male that she didn’t trust as she refused to come to me and became very nervous when I approached her.” Then one day after Matt arrived home from his job and called her name, Ruby headed straight to him and held out her paw. “It was the best feeling,” Matt said, “and made me feel like all the hard work and patience paid off.”
Marc described a couple of special foster matches. “One that I’ll always remember is a home adoption meet-and-greet with a family. The kids wanted to take the dog and show him their rooms. The dog happily went right upstairs with them.” Another foster match had a similarly happy outcome. A family was thinking about adopting a female pit bull. By the end of the meet-and-greet, the family’s two-year-old was playing fetch with the dog.
At the same time, Marc acknowledged that fostering animals has its challenges. He and his wife have foster-failed three times. “Some of them you just fall in love with and can’t let go,” Marc explained. “Others,” he said, “don’t receive much interest and you know that they’re in the best place in your home.” Marc and his wife have also had the “sad but rewarding experience” of fostering a dog with only a short time to live due to a cancer growth.
Jim shared two heartbreaking stories. Saoirse, a Norwich terrier from the Wichita Animal Shelter, had a tumor the size of an apple in her abdomen. She died after just eight days with him “It was my first foster loss, and I had many people tell me that they’d understand if I stopped fostering,” Jim said, “but it just made me want to foster more.”
Jim also fostered a Chihuahua who was blind, old, and “was basically just alive because she didn’t know she was not supposed to be.” Unfortunately, Bonita started having seizures. After a third bad series, the veterinarians, Little White Dog Rescue volunteers, and Jim himself decided it was kindest to put Bonita to sleep. “When the vets got her hooked up and I was holding her,” Jim said, “the very last thing she did was look at me and lick my nose before passing.”
Fostering also has its lighter moments. Marc told of how fun it was to see foster dogs race about on their nine acres of fenced property, and likened the experience to “dog heaven.” Jim did not shy away from the more embarrassing moments of dog fostering, namely the many times he has “stepped in poop or been peed on at rescue events and meet-and-greets.”
Then there is the experience of Matt and his wife with Ruby, the puppy mill dog they eventually adopted. “A few nights after letting her sleep in our bed, we thought it was going well as she hadn’t had an accident. Then one night, I woke up to my wife yelling at me to get up because Ruby was peeing on the bed. When I finally figured out what was going on, I realized my entire back was wet as I had rolled into the wet spot. All we could do was laugh, clean it up, and go back to bed.”
Volunteering with animal rescue changed the lives of Jim, Matt, and Marc, not simply because of the memorable experiences, but also due to lessons they’ve learned over the years.
Jim believes that his patience and compassion has increased in the five years that he has been a volunteer. “It’s easy to let external things external—job pressures, family pressures, etc.—bring a person to the point of not being able to care,” Jim said. The constant for him has been that the dogs have always deserved and received his best.
Matt also believes that animal rescue has pushed him to be a better person. “I’ve learned how resilient and forgiving these dogs are,” he said. Their strength has encouraged him to help as much as he can because of the positive results it reaps.
Marc has discovered that despite growing up with dogs, he doesn’t know as much as he thought about dog behavior. “After working with a few challenging cases,” Marc said, “I now realize how little I know.”
He has also learned more about how “amazing” his fellow human beings can be. To illustrate, Marc described the number of people it takes to save a dog from the southeast Missouri area—the focus for Dolly’s Legacy Animal Rescue. First, a full-time nurse photographs the new shelter dogs and posts their pictures to her Facebook page. She also brings the dogs to a veterinarian for an examination. Then there are temporary foster homes that hold dogs until transport. After that, there is a couple who sets up and organizes a volunteer transport to move as many as 60 dogs to their perspective rescues. This transport need is posted online, and multiple people will sign up for part of the route. “A dog who comes to us in Nebraska has been in seven to nine different cars that day,” Marc said, adding that every step of the rescue is due to the dedication of volunteers.
Jim, Matt, and Marc have the following advice to offer to potential animal rescue volunteers. Start by observing a few rescue groups. Then pick one that fits your style and personality, and do not feel you have to foster to help. According to Marc, there are so many different skill sets needed:
• Transport rescued dogs
• Organize adoptions
• Screen adopters
• Set up fundraising
As you become more comfortable, remember that there are a lot of facets to animal. Jim pointed out that there will be good and bad times with animals, volunteers with similar goals and not so similar goals, and the general public which often doesn’t understand why rescue even exists. For all these reasons, he encourages volunteers to ask questions, seek out help if needed, and most of all: Do not overdo it.
Finally, Matt stressed the importance of patience. “Patience can help you through the toughest of times,” Matt said.
While animal rescue is not without its rough moments, all three men emphasized how fulfilling the field can be. There are the great people you meet and of course the animals whose lives you help to improve.
“Animal rescue is a donation of time, money, heartstrings, and emotions that never gets repaid,” said Jim, “but you see the rewards most of the time down the road as these creatures you have saved become cherished pets and family members.”