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
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)
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.
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,
his lip. And over time, Lucky became one of the sweetest dogs
Elaine had ever cared for. He learned to give kisses,
butt, to wag his tail and to greet her with
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
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.”
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
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.”
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
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
Thanks to GRRI -NJ Volunteer
Sylvia Mogerman for contributing this article to the GRRI