Vol 6 No 1

Winter 2004

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Volunteer Spotlight

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Scout and Tag Furnari

Volunteer Spotlight -- Elaine Furnari

Volunteers are the lifeblood of rescue, and without them, rescue groups like GRRI-NJ simply couldn't exist.

Our profile of Elaine Furnari, who formerly co-chaired GRRI-NJ’s Foster Home program, is the first of an ongoing series of Volunteer Spotlights.  We offer it with enormous thanks to all our volunteers, past present and future; and with thanks most especially to all of our foster homes, who give so much of themselves with each new dog they care for.

Everyone in rescue has a story about how they got involved with Goldens, and Elaine is no exception.  When she began her odyssey as a rescue volunteer she belonged to a Sheltie named Buster, and her love for him made her want to help other Shelties. At the same time, she was also volunteering as a puppy raiser for Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc., bringing up a special Lab/Golden mix named Andy.

When Andy left, Elaine wasn't sure she was ready to raise another guide dog puppy.   But Andy's Golden temperament  -- the very qualities that lead guide dog organizations to use Goldens in their programs to begin with -- had her hooked.  She decided to focus her efforts on Goldens, and joined Dixie Golden Retriever Rescue (DGRR) in Atlanta.

Elaine began fostering for DGRR in 1997 and eventually became their Intake Coordinator, staying with them until she moved out of the Atlanta area in 2001.

Elaine joined GRRI-NJ in 2003, and took the reigns of our foster program soon after. Elaine also helps GRRI by transporting dogs, working at  events, contacting shelters, doing home visits, covering the intake line, helping with fund raising and conducting adoption interviews.  All this while having a full time job and a full time life!

With so much hands on rescue experiences under her belt, Elaine knows that rescue isn't always easy. But it's fostering, with all its unique challenges, that holds a special place for Elaine. “Just hearing their sighs of relief when they settle down in my car makes it all worth it."

Elaine’s first foster dog with DGRR was one that she will never forget.  Five-year-old Boomer came to her home the day after he was neutered. He was wearing an Elizabethan Collar to stop him from licking his surgical wound. Elaine felt sorry for poor Boomer because when he put his head over his bowl to eat the collar kept smacking against the floor.  So she took it off to make him more comfortable. Leaving him for about five minutes, Boomer proceeded to lick his wound totally open!  Elaine rushed him to an emergency clinic in a panic.  Boomer recovered, but Elaine was sure DGRR  would never let her be a foster parent again. Of course, they did.  And Boomer was not to be her only dramatic foster encounter. 

Lucky, her last foster dog with DGRR, was one of her most challenging and heartbreaking cases. He was approximately 5-7 years old when he entered rescue, and had been on his own for a long long time  ... possibly a year or longer.  But even at an emaciated 40 pounds with a face full of grey, Lucky was a beautiful dog.  He just didn't trust people. The woman who'd  brought him to DGRR had tried for over a month to catch him, and was finally only able to do so on horseback.

Lucky's distrust of people created many behavioral difficulties, and it was unclear whether even the most dedicated foster home could turn him around.  But Elaine believed he was worth the effort, and volunteered to foster him, knowing that helping him could take a very long time.

Almost immediately, disaster struck.  Elaine was taking him for his first vet visit when somehow Lucky got loose, ran into the road, and was hit by a car.  Lucky survived his injuries, including fractured ribs, lacerations and a collapsed lung, and then began treatment for the severe heartworm infestation he'd arrived with.  But what had started out as a serious behavioral challenge had morphed into a serious medical challenge as well.  Still, Elaine never lost her commitment to Lucky. She nursed him back to health every step of the way.

Traumatized as this very frightened, distrustful dog obviously had been before entering rescue, Lucky's Golden personality still shone through. He never growled, never bit, never raised his lip. And over time, Lucky became one of the sweetest dogs Elaine had ever cared for.  He learned to give kisses, to head butt, to  wag his tail  and to greet her with enthusiasm.  It had taken six months, but Elaine's kindness and special training had eventually warmed Lucky ...  and he'd begun  to trust her.

By March, 2001 it was time for Lucky to find a forever home. Elaine was preparing to leave Atlanta and Lucky was now a much more trusting dog. During his treatments, Lucky had befriended a vet tech who then applied to and was approved by DGRR to adopt him; Lucky had found a wonderful forever home!

But on Easter Sunday, disaster struck again.  Lucky's new owner's brother had inadvertently put Lucky's collar on incorrectly ... and during a walk, Lucky slipped free.  They tried calling him back, chasing him, clapping their hands, but Lucky,  instinctively distrustful, took off.

Lucky was never found. 

As heartbreaking as this was for Elaine, she reflects mostly on the positives of Lucky's story instead.  “I like to think of Lucky as more of a success than a sadness. It’s not the happiest ending, but I put more love and patience and work into Lucky than any other foster and it showed. His personality did a 180. He was scared, untrusting, unsure and extremely anxious.  By the time I dropped him off, he would give kisses, wag his tail, snuggle and would give that “golden sigh”.  I was glad that I was able to help him learn that the world was a good and happy place and that he was loved.”

Along with the foster dogs, like Lucky, who've made Elaine cry, there have been fosters that have made her laugh.  Like Darby,  a “smart, little female” who had just whelped a litter of puppies when she was placed into rescue. “From the looks of her, this was not her first or maybe even her second litter and she was under two years old.” 

Darby was a happy girl who loved women but had issues with men. She had been adopted out twice and returned for “intimidating” the men by snapping at them. Darby “was an angel when the wife was in the room, but would snarl at the man when she left, then become a happy girl again when the woman reentered the room. “Her chances for finding a forever home were very slim.”  

Elaine decided to foster her. “She had a twisted sense of humor and was a firm believer that the weak or non-producing ‘pack’ members should be eliminated.  On adoption days, Darby would be lying in my lap and wagging her tail. She’d spot some dog 20 feet away out of the corner of her eye and growl in his or her direction.  When we would then ask the owners about their dogs, they would tell us their dogs were sick or impaired in some way.” 

Several behaviorists evaluated Darby and found her to be fit and extremely intelligent. They realized that she was not aggressive, but just had a quirky personality that you couldn’t help but laugh at.

Ultimately Darby found a great forever home. “Her owners were extremely committed to making sure she was not allowed to get away with bullying the men in the household, but they listen to her if she senses a problem.” She now is a very considerate dog that loves everyone ... well almost everyone. When a particular young man comes to visit the son, she makes her displeasure known. The family has “taken Darby’s advice and keeps a very close eye on this young man.”

But perhaps the greatest of Elaine's rescue experiences was when she met Scout, then a three-month-old puppy.  While assessing the young golden, Elaine noticed that Scout had already trained his surrendering owner:  every time Scout barked three times the owner would stick her head out the door and yell at the dog to stop. She realized that this was a very clever puppy.   Soon after, Scout stood in Elaine’s backyard and pounced on the grass like he’d never seen it before ... and Elaine fell in love.

Scout was purportedly a dog of “show lineage”, and when she inquired about adopting him she was told that there was already a lengthy list of other volunteers that had heard about him and wanted him too.  Elaine soon learned she was at the bottom of the list.  

Lucky for Elaine (and Scout) things went wrong at all the homes who'd been interested in him.  He was either too much puppy, or the people had decided to buy from a breeder, or the resident dogs would try to run him out of the house.  Eventually, only Elaine was left, and Scout wound up where he was meant to be -- with her!

Scout wasn't an easy dog to raise, and he led Elaine to apprentice with a professional trainer and behaviorist in Atlanta.  But today, he's a beautiful, fluffy four-year-old member of Elaine’s family, which also includes a six-year-old cat named Buddy adopted from the Atlanta Humane Society, and a two-year-old Border Collie named Tag.  Buster, her original Sheltie, sadly succumbed to Lymphoma in August 2000, at only four years of age. 

Looking back on all her fostering experiences, Elaine urges people who are considering fostering not to worry about making mistakes. No one has all the answers.  The satisfaction of helping is the ultimate reward.  “Not every rescue story is dramatic, but they all need us in one way or another and we try to fill a void in their lives.  Extra walks for a dog stranded in the house, extra pets for a dog with no one to love it, manners for a dog run amuck, or medical care for an injured or ill dog.  And even if all you did was transport them, when they leave, you gaze after them longingly hoping for them to turn their heads and acknowledge you.  And if you fostered them what you want is for them to break free, run back to you, and beg you to keep them,” says Elaine.

“Everyone that meets that dog on its rescue journey helps restore their faith in people just a little bit more and prepares them for their forever home.  The sad thing is that if you’ve really helped them out, they give you a couple licks, then wag their tails and march or bound off happily with a new owner. Maybe one day they’ll remember you fondly in a fleeting moment somewhere between chasing a ball and crunching a cookie.” 

Thanks to GRRI -NJ Volunteer Sylvia Mogerman for contributing this article to the GRRI News