The Animal Guardian Society (TAGS)

At Last, I’m a Volunteer

Dixie is very nervous, much like my Cora. She came to TAGS as a puppy and is now only a year old and hoping for a forever home.

When we first looked at adopting Cora and Dusty in April 2011, I learned a lot about rescue. I knew then that I wanted to help out in some way. But when we first brought two dogs into our home, especially super-timid, scaredy-dog Cora, I had enough on my plate (their training classes, cooking for them, walking them three times a day, trying to convince Cora we weren’t going to beat her, plus, of course, editing full time and teaching part time). And then, we decided to adopt a third dog—in part, to give another rescue a home—and free time was even more at a premium.

Four-year-old Biscotti is up for adoption through TAGS. I know I shouldn’t have favourites, but I can’t help it where she’s concerned!

It took about a year for us to really get a good groove going with the three dogs. We have a fantastic routine that includes two daily walks, scheduled meal and snack times, regular dog park visits for socialization, and occasional training courses. The dogs know what’s expected of them, and for the most part, they cooperate quite well. We often talk about how lucky we are to have three such well-behaved, well-adjusted (relatively speaking in Cora’s case) dogs, but, in reality, there has been a lot of work in getting to where we are.

Josie is a very timid girl rescued from a Missouri puppy mill, where she was used as a breeding dog.

Once we adopted Cora and Dusty, I stayed connected with the rescue, offering editing and writing help on occasion. But it wasn’t until July of this year that I decided I had time to start giving back more fully to the rescue that had saved Cora and Dusty. The Animal Guardian Society (TAGS) is, from what I’ve seen, unique among rescues. Its screening process—like the one we went through to adopt Hogan from Rat Terrier Rescue Canada—is quite involved, and then once a dog is adopted, the owner must attend training classes with the dog (included in the adoption fee, which is actually cheaper than many rescues’ adoption fees). While some people may balk at having to do training courses, it makes perfect sense to make them mandatory—dogs who are trained are much less likely to be surrendered at a later date. A prospective dog parent’s willingness to do the course also assures TAGS volunteers that the adopter is dedicated to spending time with and energy on his or her new family member.

Raggs was part of a family for ten years but was given up because he “got too old.” Now he’s looking for a good home to spend his remaining years in. Sad.

Anyway, in July, in my role as a volunteer, I started showing TAGS dogs at Petsmart. Since then, I’ve spent one Saturday each month with a variety of wonderful adoptable dogs. Some have been surrendered by their owners; some were strays; some came from high-kill shelters in the U.S.; some from overfull Canadian shelters. All are really sweet dogs deserving of a good home, and I feel so privileged to spend time getting to know them and sharing their stories with prospective adopters. Volunteering for TAGS has proven to be a really rewarding experience, and I strongly encourage you dog lovers out there to consider lending a hand at a local shelter or rescue. Even a few hours a month can really make a difference for homeless animals wanting nothing more than to be loved.

In one week, all of these dogs were adopted from TAGS. It was a very happy week! So many dogs still need homes, though.

Let the Dog Days of Summer Begin!

Cora joining the crowd at the TAGS family reunion

With the hot weather and a weekend of dog activities scheduled, my past weekend really went to the dogs. On Saturday, TAGS hosted a “family reunion,” inviting back all of the dogs who had ever been adopted through the rescue. So I brought Cora and Dusty to the TAGS dog park, where they played a little, sniffed a lot, and enjoyed socializing with their own kind. While there, I also bought some of the wonderful homemade dog cookies a volunteer is making to raise money for TAGS. They were a big hit with all three of my dogs! (By the way, I didn’t bring Hogan only because I thought he’d be more stressed out than happy with so many dogs around.)

Cora, Sherlock, and Dusty checking each other out

Cora loving an open window for a few minutes during a slow drive












Then on Sunday, I packed up Dusty (our most social dog), his Cool Coat, his Gulpy, my mom, my mother-in-law, and a cooler filled with water and headed into the smoggy city for Woofstock! I felt bad contributing to the smog by taking the car, but I worried about Dusty getting into a barking fit on the GO train (once he starts barking, it’s not always easy to get him to stop).

Dusty cooling his paws at Woofstock

Thanks to his Cool Coat, Dusty managed to stay refreshed despite the 40-degree (with humidex) heat and hardly panted at all during our hour-and-a-half trek through the crowded street. He enjoyed sniffing all of the other dogs and didn’t make a peep the whole time we were there. He was patient with me when I wanted to stop and look at something he had no interest in (collars, T-shirts, and Scruffy Dog Photography, one of my two main reasons for going and where I was really hoping his picture would be taken, but no such luck) and wagged his tail excitedly when we stopped for something he was interested in (cookies, liver treats, doggy frozen yogurt).

We saw lots of Harlequin Great Danes, but none as big as our friend Mumford, who visited last weekend.

My new T-shirt (proceeds to Big on Beagles)!

As always, Dusty was an angel in the car, too. We are fortunate to have adopted three dogs who enjoy car rides and settle quickly. We just seatbelt them in and go. Sometimes they look out the window; other times they relax on their bed and have a snooze. On our way into Toronto, I had to have my mother-in-law look behind her to make sure we actually DID have Dusty in the car. He was that quiet.

One of the best parts of having dogs is doing fun, out-of-the-ordinary things with them, so as far as I’m concerned, a dog-centric weekend like this past one is pretty darn close to perfect! What sorts of fun activities do you do with your dogs?

Guest Post: Diamond in the Rough

I have been volunteering for a while now, and I have seen many dogs come and go. Some are especially memorable. This is the story of one of those dogs.

In January, TAGS “adopted” a dog who was about to be euthanized from the pound. The five-and-a-half-year-old boxer cross came with a chain collar and the name Bella. Both were changed immediately, and Bella became Buttercup.

The first time I met Buttercup was at the TAGS dog park. It was one of the coldest days of the year, so the park was very quiet. Since there weren’t others around and I didn’t have much to do, I decided to take this new dog out of her crate and into the park to see what she was all about. She went crazy. Others around us were overwhelmed by her energy, but I quickly realized it was harmless, excited energy (at least, I hoped it was).

Buttercup couldn't even lie down to chew a bone. She had to do it in the play bow position.

I’ve met dogs with high levels of energy before, but putting a leash on Buttercup was impossible. I had to use a slip leash and lasso her.  Once I got her in the dog park, I picked up a tennis ball, which elicited an intense wide-eyed stare. So I threw the ball, and she chased it down as if her life depended on it (see video here). She brought it back but circled me, chewing on the ball vigorously. It was obvious that she had a lot of energy pent up from being caged in the pound, most likely for months. Buttercup’s pace didn’t slow the entire time I threw that ball for her. I was trying to see how long it would take to tire her. I never found out.

I don’t have a dog of my own, so in the middle of winter, I experience dog withdrawal. Knowing Buttercup would benefit from a nice run, one day I contacted her foster mom and asked to take Buttercup to the park. This is one of the ways I see myself having the largest impact as a volunteer. I picked Buttercup up just before 11 a.m. and dropped her off at 2 p.m. She ran the entire time!

Head out the window in February?

For the first two weeks, I don’t believe she ever came close enough to let me touch her. But slowly, she started to trust me. It seemed that she was experiencing many things for the first time: her head out the window of the car, long grass, even just going for a walk.

On our third “date,” she rolled over onto her back and asked for a belly rub. I felt as though I had been let into the Buttercup Club. On our fifth date, I took her into Brooklin, a small town in north Whitby, to go for a walk on a busy street and among people. She seemed to love the walk in Brooklin even more than the dog park—I attribute it to experiencing more things for the first time. She was very social, walking up to storefront doors, wagging her boxer bum. It was fun going on walks with her because of her childlike playfulness.

Once she started to trust, her character really shone.

On these walks, I felt really good that I was helping out a dog like Buttercup. She had already come a long way compared to when I first met her (when she wouldn’t let me touch her). I learned on future walks to fill my pockets with TAGS business cards because her happiness was so noticeable, even people stopped at a red light would comment on her.

During an adopt-a-thon at Petsmart one weekend, Buttercup was a hit—as I knew she would be. I was over-the-moon happy when I found out someone had put in an application to adopt her.

The first step, the meet and greet, was set up with the applicants. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Up to this point, it had always been just the two of us, alone, nobody else around. I sat down at a picnic table at the dog park with the nice couple who had applied. Every 15 seconds or so, Buttercup would look at me to make sure I was still there.

The home visit the following week was more of the same. It took Buttercup 20-30 minutes to calm down, but she eventually lay on the carpet. The couple seemed very understanding of Buttercup. My mind was put at ease when the husband said that once she got into a routine, she would feel comfortable and would relax. I couldn’t agree more and gave my thumbs-up for the weeklong trial run that is the extended visit.

Sitting on the couch having a conversation

As is custom with extended visits, I called the couple 24 hours after the visit started and spoke to the wife. She said Buttercup was very well behaved, was beginning to settle down, and was even giving “gentle” kisses! They were concerned, though, about her relatively poor socialization skills in the local dog park, which I knew could be an issue. But she was eating and sleeping well.

After a few more days, I found out that the couple had decided to adopt Buttercup, which just made my week. Here was a dog who the first time I met her wouldn’t let me put a leash on her—and now she was being adopted. I felt like a father marrying off his only daughter. I was very proud of Buttercup, but mostly I felt vindicated. I saw in her that first time we met that she was a dog who was eager to please but, because of her circumstances, was misunderstood.

When the couple came to sign the adoption papers, the husband said to me, “I feel like I’ve had her my whole life.” All Buttercup needed, as is the case with all rescue dogs, was someone to see her for who she really was, a loving dog looking for someone to love.

Guest Post: The Power of an Hour

Julie Valentine was Hogan’s foster mom when we applied to Rat Terrier Rescue Canada to adopt him. She shared a house and a huge treed yard with about six dogs at that time. Selflessly, she’d moved to that house specifically so that she had a good home in which to foster dogs. Before that, she volunteered in other ways on behalf of animals. Here she explains how you can help by offering even just an hour of your time (and your car).

Colorado is one of Julie's current fosters. If you're interested in adopting this beautiful boy, contact Gentle Jake's Coonhound Rescue.

Rescues work to save dogs that would otherwise be euthanized, either because there isn’t enough space to care for them, because they need medical attention, or because their time is simply up. Rescued dogs come from puppy mills, animal shelters, dog pounds, and dog owners who are unable to keep them. I first got into rescue by volunteering to drive dogs around. If you don’t have any room in your home but have lots of space in your dog-friendly car, why not consider giving a dog a ride?

What is a transport?
A transport is a well-orchestrated “bucket brigade,” organized by a transport coordinator, followed by a transport monitor, in which dogs—as many as 20—travel from volunteer-driver to volunteer-driver along a pre-determined route for a day or two until each dog reaches its safe haven. Dogs may join or leave the transport anywhere along the route. Sometimes doggie sleepovers, aka “overnighting” a dog on transport, is also required when a run stops for the night before resuming in the morning.

How does it work?
The transport coordinator posts online for volunteers to drive a certain leg of the journey, about an hour in length. As volunteers sign up, the transport coordinator completes a run sheet, which lists the dogs, their size and age, the sending and receiving organizations, the driving times of each leg, drivers’ names, car descriptions, and cellphone numbers, as well as meeting spots where the dogs will change cars.

What do drivers do on the run?
Once you’ve signed up for a run, charge your cellphone and set up your car with crates, yummy treats, extra leashes and collars, towels and paper towels, water and water bowls, and a map or GPS system. Reread the run sheet, ensuring you know which dogs you’ll be transporting, where they will travel in your car, who you’ll be meeting, and where.

On run day, you will receive updates on your computer as the transport progresses, so you’ll know if the run is early, late, or on time. Plan to arrive before your leg is scheduled to begin. Leave your own dog at home: dogs on transport can be stressed and confused and may not behave as they would in another context.

At the meeting spot, the person with the dogs should do the transfer. It’s unusual, but sometimes a dog will bolt at the first opportunity, so you have to ensure their leashes are secured! Once the dogs have been watered and transferred, ensure the paperwork you’ve received matches the dogs you’re transporting.

Then comes the fun part: knowing you’re doing your part help a homeless dog find a warm bed! Some dogs will whine or bark until they settle into the trip. You can sing, turn on the radio, talk to them, or just drive along.

At the end of your leg, carefully transfer the dogs and their paperwork to the next volunteer. When you get home, check your email: you’ll find stories and pictures of the dogs’ journey from almost certain demise to foster care and, eventually, to a forever home in a loving family like Cathy’s.

How can I become involved?
Transporting is a great way to meet wonderful, compassionate people and oodles of dogs of all shapes and sizes. Drivers are needed both for large coordinated transports as well as for more flexible trips to move single dogs. If you can offer a dog a ride—or if you’re just going somewhere and have room in your car to transport donated items—contact a rescue in your area (such as RTRC, Gentle Jake’s Coonhound Rescue, or TAGS) and let them know you can help. When you see pictures of the dogs happy and loved in their new homes, you’ll be glad you did!

Guest Post: Shopping for a “Pound Dog”

I recently walked through a local shelter and was dismayed by the condition of the dogs being housed there.  Being involved in rescue, I know appearances mean very little, but unfortunately, they do go a long way toward getting a dog adopted.

Many people go into a shelter to look for a dog that they could see becoming their dog.  Through my experiences in rescue, I have found that there are three things that prospective adopters must understand when walking through a shelter and considering their choices:


  1. TipC is an energetic and adorable Jack Russell cross.

    Dogs are a product of the environment they grew up in.  These dogs have been discarded for a myriad of reasons, none of which is their fault. If a shelter dog had a previous owner, the owner clearly did not have the time to take care of the dog, which is why the dog was surrendered to the shelter.  And as for the strays, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they have never had to follow any rules. People do not realize that a very large portion of dog rescue is actually behaviour training, leading to the second issue potential adopters must understand.


  2. Sadie, a basset hound/bulldog mix, is still looking for her forever home.

    If you are planning on rescuing a dog, training is mandatory. There is no way you, or the dog, will survive without it.  It simply will not work.  To be successful in training the dog, you have to be patient and persistent.  Seemingly simple issues like jumping up on people or resource guarding (growling and biting when you try to take away food or a toy) are solved over time, not by one simple command. Nine out of ten of the dogs in a shelter will jump up on you for the simple reason that they have never learned that this is wrong—and they are very excited to see you!

  3. Strange as it may seem, the third is diet. In a shelter, dogs are often fed whatever is donated, so they’re rarely getting top-quality food. People often comment on the condition of the dog’s fur, teeth, breath, odour, and pretty much anything physically unappealing about the dog. Most issues regarding the dog’s appearance can be solved without even going to the vet. Even after just a few days of a dog chowing down on food like Orijen or Taste of the Wild, you will see a noticeable improvement: The dog’s fur will start to shine, his breath will smell better than yours, he will gain weight, and he will also just feel much better.

Liberty is the product of a puppy mill and looking for a loving home.

Because many of these dogs are spending long periods of time in dog runs and not in the company of people, they develop tendencies that, once the dog is removed from the shelter, are really not a big deal.  So, yes, shelter dogs require ample time when it comes to training, but that time will only increase the bond you have with that dog, making it even more rewarding when he starts to understand the rules.

So if you are planning on going into a shelter, or any other type of facility to browse through the dogs, keep in mind that these dogs are essentially at rock bottom.  They are not getting much in the way of stimulation. While there are volunteers (yay!) who graciously walk and spend some time with them, these dogs are in essence one step away from being wild animals. They will be a different animal altogether with some TLC from a good owner.

Note: If you’re interested in meeting any of the dogs pictured, please visit the TAGS website.