Photography by Vera Lair/Stocksy United Credits: Photography by Vera Lair/Stocksy United
I was first attracted to Save Our Scruff (SOS) through Instagram. Strangely, before I started stalking the organization's feed, I didn't even know dog rescues existed. Sure, I'd heard of animal shelters, but this organization is different: SOS rescues dogs from difficult circumstances, finds foster parents (people who take in dogs temporarily) and sees the pooches through to adoption. SOS's Instagram pics are full of adorable, happy pups lolling around in beds, playing tug of war and posing at the park. Obviously, I had to know more.
When I got in touch with founder Laura Bye, she told me how the Toronto-based organization focuses on life after rescue and relies mainly on social media to get the word out. "People love that Save Our Scruff is all about positivity," says Bye. Instead of concentrating on the often heartrending backstories of the rescued animals, she prefers that SOS looks to the future, efficiently finding homes for dogs in need so that they can bring in more animals.
Bye started fostering dogs three years ago, after coming across an application on Kijiji. In that moment, the seed for SOS was planted. Bye soon discovered she had a knack for finding pups forever homes, and by 2014, she founded an organization of her own. SOS started out small, bringing in one or two dogs at a time from places such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, New York and California, and, of course, from across Canada. Her brand of optimism spread, and the team expanded.
Today, Bye, executive director Allison Wills (who joined SOS in February 2015) and their group of 20 dedicated volunteers and more than 150 casual volunteers have found homes for more than 200 dogs.
My work with SOS began as an extension of my daily job skills: I edited the rescue's brochure and foster manual. But, before I knew it, an 18-kilogram Egyptian mutt landed on my doorstep. SOS had named her Sage, and she was a stunning, regal dog with a difficult past. Even though she was almost two years old, Sage had never received proper discipline, and she still acted like a six-month-old puppy that would do everything in her power to get her way. She was both annoying (I had to spritz her in the face with water to keep her from nipping at my toes) and lovable (she enjoyed playing with Bebop and would do anything for a good belly rub). I wanted to foster Sage until she could be adopted, but Steve's allergies acted up, so after a one-week stay, she moved on to a new foster home. Happily, her new host fell in love and ended up adopting her.
Since my first foster experience, I've babysat and met a bunch of other fabulous ruffs and learned a lot about rescue dogs: They come in all shapes and sizes, from puppies to seniors and everything in between; some are well trained and some could use a little help; they often have surprising personalities (a mastiff might be gentle, and a Chihuahua full of attitude). Most importantly, rescue pups have all come from unfortunate situations, they all need good homes and they're all worthy of love. If you're thinking of becoming a dog owner, fostering through an organization like SOS is a fine place to start.
Save Our Scruff, and all rescues and shelters, do the important work of saving animals. In many cases, these organizations unite dogs with their forever families. Bebop and I are lucky to have found each other; I hope that, by volunteering at SOS, I can give the same gift to homeless dogs and prospective adopters.
Think you might be ready to adopt?
First, ask yourself a few questions: Am I ready to commit to giving this dog plenty of exercise, discipline and affection? Am I ready to live with a pup that will likely become my best friend and watch Netflix with me all the time? Am I ready to feel happiness like never before each time my dog falls asleep in my arms? Have I made peace with the likelihood of waking up to dog-fart smells in the morning?
Seriously, having a dog is a real commitment. The cost of food, toys, vaccinations, medications and doggy day care adds up. Your social life is put on the back burner because you're at the dog park, making sure your pup gets enough physical activity, especially if you live in an apartment. You may even need to take yourself to obedience training; a dog is only as well trained as its owner.
And if adoption isn't a fit for you right now but you'd like to volunteer, SOS is always looking for people to transport dogs from the airport, pet-sit, organize events, foster and fundraise. "Without foster homes, the dogs don't have a place to stay," says Allison Wills. "And without fundraising, we don't have the means to take care of them." Adoption fees, at $400 per dog, cover about 50 percent of all costs, which include flights, food, toys and veterinary bills; the other 50 percent comes from donations. If they can cobble together enough funding, Wills and founder Laura Bye also hope to open an intake centre, where new rescue pups can come for a checkup and behaviour evaluation before they're moved into foster homes.
Check out these rescue-dog success stories that will make you tear up.
This story was originally part of "For the <3 of Scruff" in the January 2016 issue.
Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!