How did Good Shepherd Rescue begin?
Our founder, Kathleen Higgins, recalls the start of the rescue for our 20th anniversary in 1999
(article originally published in 2019)
Making a difference – one dog at a time!
We’ve reached a significant milestone in rescue - 20 years of continuous efforts to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome German Shepherds here in Texas. Rescue is not easy and not for the faint hearted, so there is a lot of burnout among rescuers as they become disillusioned, overwhelmed, and unable to see where they are making a difference. In other cases, real life catches up with them and they must move on to new challenges in their personal lives. Good Shepherd Rescue is fortunate to have remained a highly respected, functional rescue these past two decades with one of the principal founders still involved.
One of the key elements of our longevity, has been knowing our limits – physically, emotionally, financially. One of the hardest things in rescue is saying “NO” to a deserving dog in need of our help. It is an asset when a rescue can keep one eye on the future of the rescue which will in – the long run – allow the most dogs to be saved. Passion brings us into rescue, but it is the practical side – thinking with our heads and not just our hearts – that brings us to where we are today.
And, where are we? Over 2,250 dogs found new homes through 2014, while still others lived out the remainder of their lives safe, secure, happy and loved. Broken dogs have been healed, broken hearts have been mended with the adoption a new family member, lost dogs have been returned to rightful owners, incredible relationships have been built with adopters, shelters, other rescues, vendors and a small army of volunteers.
IN THE BEGINNING
So how did Good Shepherd get started? In our case, it was the death of a beloved companion – not a dog, but a horse and the gift of an unwanted German Shepherd puppy that a breeder didn’t think was “aggressive” enough to be sold as a guard dog. When our Appaloosa stallion succumbed to colic on Thanksgiving Day in 1998 at the age of 25, it left a tremendous void as we’d been together since before he was even born. There would be no more horses, it was too painful to lose one. But the GSD pup that had arrived 2 years earlier was up to the challenge of pushing us towards the road to rescue. He made us think about what other exceptional dogs were tossed aside because they didn’t meet someone’s expectations. While he was never guard dog material, at 120 lbs. a solid black GSD – the first Vader – was intimidating but a gentle giant.
This was in the days when the internet consisted of dial up and there was no Google, Facebook or most of the social media that now fills our lives. But there was Yahoo Groups! We sought out German Shepherd groups, but for the most part they weren’t interested in help from an unknown person. A lady in Canada that rescued senior dogs (mostly German Shepherds) kindly offered encouragement, advice to find our place in the rescue world. Then Austin German Shepherd Rescue reached out and asked for help with transporting up and down I-35 and we were happy to help. Through them, we made contact with other people in our area interested in rescuing German Shepherds – namely Wally Swanson and Joyce Hryekewicz. A rescue was born, albeit loosely!
We worked together coordinating the rescue of dogs in the DFW area and helping move dogs up and down I-35 and I-45, working with rescues in Austin, San Antonio and Houston, getting our hands dirty and our feet wet in the world of rescue. As is often the case, each of us had a difference of opinion on what dogs to rescue and how to find the best adopters. Joyce liked the suggested name Good Shepherd Rescue, Wally wanted to name the rescue after his favorite dog, Wolfgang.
It was a very amicable parting of the ways as there were certainly far more dogs in need of rescue than we had imagined. It was our opinion, the more rescues the better. We continued to work together saving dogs – coordinating transports and discussing which dog was better suited for our rescues. We got our Petfinder sites up and running, maintaining Camp Wolfgang’s for a number of years until Wally found someone to help him with his. We frequently took the pups and seniors from Camp Wolfgang that would benefit from a home setting when we had room. Wally remained a close and personal friend until his death – a sad day for rescue and German Shepherds.
Unfortunately, there is not much recorded history of those early years. There was no “cloud” to back up computers, which dial up internet wouldn’t accommodate anyway! Computer’s crashed, cell phones didn’t take pictures (and when they did – frequently couldn’t be transferred) records and paperwork dumped in cartons and relegated to a backroom. Every time Petfinder moved their data to a new server, they lost all our historical listings. We would welcome any of you to share your memories, pictures, etc. of Good Shepherd or Camp Wolfgang. You can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or post to our Facebook page for Alumni and Volunteers.
It was rarely easy and often lonely, as we struggled to make a dent in the continuous flood of GSDs in need of new homes. There was always that hope, that at some point, we would see our efforts rewarded by a decrease in the number of dogs needing rescue. Now twenty years into it, we are still waiting!
In those early years, Good Shepherd consisted of two people who shared the same vision. There were countless miles put on vehicles picking up dogs at shelters, from individuals, taking dogs from other rescues who were at capacity, endless trips to the vet all while working full time jobs.
During those years, our reputation as a responsible rescue grew – with shelters, other rescues, our adopters. We were extremely fortunate to work with a couple of vets that appreciated our efforts and allowed us to run balances so we could get the dogs ready for adoption. Without the support and quality care of Dr. Doug Sanders of Chase Oaks Animal Clinic and Dr. Mark Stanfill of the Animal Hospital of Ovilla, we could never have achieved the success that we have. (Dr. Sanders is also one of our adopters and Dr. Stanfill has treated more than 1,200 of our dogs and continues to care for our dogs being fostered in southern Dallas County and Ellis County). It made a huge difference for the rescue as we were paying for everything else - food, kennels, fencing, medications - out of our own pockets. The adoption fees always went to the vet bills and frequently, we personally made up the difference - as adoption fees rarely covered the cost to fully vet a dog. It wasn’t easy – we both had full time jobs, family obligation, and a lot of fosters. Occasionally, we would find ourselves with 30+ dogs split between just two foster homes.
We gained some notoriety when the City of Lancaster sought to incorporate the unincorporated area of Dallas County where most of the dogs were fostered. The Dallas Morning News thought the story of what would happen to the rescue if it was subjected to city ordinances regarding animals was an interesting angle in the dispute. Fortunately, it played a small part in Lancaster’s decision to drop their efforts of incorporation.
This was followed by a lawsuit involving a dog rescued after Hurricane Katrina. In our case, we took a dog out of a shelter in north Texas on the day she was to be euthanized for biting one of the kennel attendants. It was near the end of the year of Katrina and the shelter asked us to hold her a few more months in case the owners claimed her. They didn’t and we adopted her out. A year after Hurricane Katrina, we were notified that we were going to be sued to reveal where the dog was located. With the pro bono help of a magnificent team of attorneys, who specialize in animal welfare in Texas, our case was dismissed – as we did not remove the dog from New Orleans and without our intervention, the dog wouldn’t even be alive to have ownership disputed. Our dog and her story would later be included in a documentary that ran on PBS – which generated it’s share of hate mail! If you really care about animal welfare in Texas, Texas Humane Legislation Network deserves your support. This team of attorneys has continued to provide legal advice to our rescue over the years.
As is often the case, rescue wears on you and burnout is common. After the passing of some of her personal dogs, one half of our team wanted to retire her super hero rescue cape and build a personal life. Joyce didn’t give up on dogs completely though – she went on to train and campaign border collies to national herding titles!
So… can a rescue survive with just one person? The answer is yes – but barely! It was a struggle! A very precarious balancing act of working full time at a “real” job, caring for aging parents, and on one occasion – taking care of 37 dogs at one time (we had three litters of puppies at that time!). Fortunately, Gail M is tenacious and after years of offering to help (as she likes to say “forced her way” in!), we let her put her people skills to work monitoring and responding to emails, screening applications and fostering. Chances are, if you’ve contacted us in the last 10 years, it was Gail who responded. She continues to be our managing director which includes traffic control on incoming dogs, finding foster homes, recruiting volunteers. Always seeing the possibilities and making it happen.
Two things had a profound impact and set the course for Good Shepherd Rescue’s growth. Almost exactly 10 years ago, we started our Facebook page. We immediately felt the impact that social media could have on promoting rescue and finding good homes. It provided a user-friendly means for highlighting our dogs, our efforts, our successes, our losses – and most importantly – an interactive platform with other GSD lovers. Gone were the limitations of Petfinder and the stagnation of a website that required too much effort to maintain. With 15K followers on our page – we have been able to give voice to the voiceless as well as provide a communication forum for our volunteers and adopters.
Secondly, after of years of debating, we began the process of becoming a recognized 501(C)(3) in 2013. While we had incorporated Good Shepherd Rescue in the state of Texas shortly after realizing it looked like we might be doing this for a while, the paperwork and record keeping for nonprofit status seemed daunting for the two people in the rescue who were already overextended. But Gail was convinced that it could be done and set to work on it. We had a volunteer come along who taught accounting at a local college. With a little persuasion, she offered to make applying for our nonprofit status a project for one of her advanced classes. Back then, the process was pretty arduous, and it took several months, but the end result was we officially became a nonprofit in 2014! It was the impetus that was needed for us to be recognized as a legitimate and “real” rescue in the eyes of those unfamiliar with the world of rescue. It brought us recognition, funding options, and volunteers – including the wonderful individual (and multiple adopter!) who maintains our financials for us.
Good Shepherd Rescue has enjoyed continued growth since then – in reputation, volunteers and the number of dogs saved, rescued and rehomed. In the next issue of our newsletter, we’ll look at some of the changes the rescue has undergone and what the plans are for the future. We invite you to stick with us and see where we’re going.
As mentioned previously, receiving our nonprofit status had a dramatic effect on the rescue. It included more visibility, within the rescue community and the community in general. With that, came pressure to responded to the ever increasing requests to take in dogs. In order to do that, we need more volunteers and more foster homes so we were more open to including more people in our mission. While that would generally be consider a positive, it wasn’t without some negative too!
Having built a successful, well respected rescue over the years it was only natural that it would attract like minded people and we were grateful for that. For us, it was always about the dogs. So many rescues struggle with control issues and egos that the initial purpose gets lost in the process. Not Good Shepherd Rescue – for the most part, every single volunteer checked their ego at the door and never took their focus off doing what was best for the dogs. That single focus is the glue that holds the rescue together.
There was a brief moment where a couple of people thought they could run the rescue better than it was being run. They attempted to force the principals out, thereby taking over a respected rescue without putting in the effort, the sweat, the tears and time to create it. They forgot one thing – the person that controls the email and social media (not to mention caring for most of the dogs) – controls the rescue! So, while they were plotting their coup, we were changing all the passwords and locking down all our accounts! We learned a lot from that experience, the most important was the intensity of the loyalty of our friends, adopters, followers and rescue community. We bounced back better and stronger than before and we never looked back.
While we repeatedly say “it’s about the dogs, always about the dogs”, we couldn’t have come this far without the people – an eclectic bunch for sure – who - for all their differences - share a love and passion for these German Shepherd dogs. It is amazing what we have accomplished together.
We can not talk about our success and our future without recognizing the people who got us this far and are poised to continue to move us forward ensuring that the dogs we love will find refuge and hope through Good Shepherd Rescue. The lack of big egos among our volunteers also makes them reluctant to step into the spotlight so we won’t embarrass them by naming them (or ourselves by FORGETTING a name!) We are fortunate that each individual saw a need and stepped up to fill it dependent on their unique talents.
We all know Gail M – it is her talent as managing director that has been key to our growth and success. How grateful we are that you “forced” your way into rescue!
Sonja and Michelle D, who worked tirelessly in the background, checking emails, working applications, organizing adoption events – always willing to do whatever is needed. Thanks to Sonja – we have this monthly newsletter!
Nancy – while no longer in Texas with us – we are grateful for the miles you traveled transporting, assisting adopters with your knowledge of dog behavior, evaluating dogs. No matter the request, the answer was always “no problem”.
Barb and Gail (GA), who not only show up for every event, but went so far as to build an addition on to their house so they could foster sick puppies! Talk about commitment to the cause! And hours on the road or in vet offices with those puppies. Barb has been instrumental in building working relationships with Dallas Animal Services and SPCA of Texas and they in turn have shared their resources with the rescue. Thank you!
To Chuck, who stepped up to fill the void in southern Dallas and Ellis counties when I retired. Thank you!
To all the fosters that regularly open their homes to medical management cases and stretch their limits to take in “just one more” pathetic pup who has nowhere else to go. Wendy, Brenda, Michelle, Karin, Laura et al, you set the bar for foster care. Thank you!
To all the transporters who will drop everything and head out in any direction when a dog is in need. Thank you!
To all our adopters for your trust, support, friendship and for providing the inspiration, motivation and encouragement to continue doing what we do. Thank you!
To everyone that has given freely of your time or resources to help the dogs or the rescue. Thank you!
And posthumously to John Kirby who contributed his gentle spirit, knowledge and kindness to this rescue in his final years. We are better people and a better rescue because of the time you dedicated to Good Shepherd Rescue.
Because of all of you – Good Shepherd Rescue of Texas is ready for the next twenty years!
Founder, Good Shepherd Rescue of Texas
Foster home to more than 2,000 dogs over the years