One Dog at a Time
Shortly before moving into their home in 2000, systems engineer Amy Pergosky and her husband contacted the Mid Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue (MAGSR) to adopt two dogs. MAGSR led them to two older German Shepherd Dogs who were sisters. Even though both dogs were heartworm positive and had bad hips, the Pergoskys adopted them. They had the dogs treated for heartworm, an expensive and often dangerous proposition. A year later, while preparing for the girls’ hip replacement surgeries, they learned that one girl’s back end was riddled with BB pellets. One dog succumbed to a previously undetected cancer two months after hip surgery, but the other lived to be almost 16.
The Pergoskys currently live with three adopted dogs. “I got into rescue because I wanted to thank the group which had pointed us to our girls.”
At first, Pergosky assisted with adoption events, taking available dogs to large pet stores looking for suitable homes. She soon began making home visits to evaluate an applicant’s suitability. Says Pergosky, “The whole family has to be there because we want to make sure that everybody wants this dog in their home as part of their family.” By 2002, Pergosky was MAGSR president. “It became a second full-time job,” she says. “I wasn’t going to bed until 3:00 a.m. After three years, I became a victim of rescue burn out.”
She took a two-year break to raise her two young rescue dogs and care for her remaining older rescue dog. Despite needing a break, neighbors contacted them all the time with questions about dogs. In 2005, a neighbor told them about a stray dog in the area. The Pergoskys found the dog and arranged for animal control to take him to the Prince George’s County Animal Shelter. “I called a few days later and found out that nobody had come for him so they had put him to sleep. It broke my heart. That was the catalyst that made me resume rescue work, this time at the Prince George’s County Animal Shelter.” She remains there still today.
Her first day at the shelter was a hard one. She watched an owner surrender his older dog who reminded her of her girls. Because the dog was an owner-surrender, she was put down that day. Remembers Pergosky, “I saw them bring her body out to the freezer. They just carried out the body without any cover. I tried not to look and tried to keep the dog I was walking from looking. I relive things like this in my head all the time.”
Most purebreds have affiliated rescue groups and some all-breed rescue groups also exist. These rescue groups work very closely with local animal shelters to take their respective purebreds out of the shelters and into foster homes. She knows that a rescue group has to be run differently from a shelter because the rescue group can keep a dog longer. “A shelter is just heartbreaking. You see all these dogs begging for attention, a walk, or just a treat and I’m only one person,” says Pergosky. Mindful of emotional burnout, she developed a system of friends, including her husband, who understand and do this kind of work side by side with her. She has found a balance between her rescue work and the rest of her life. Says Pergosky, “It is easy to get burned out because you want to do so much and there is never any end. The dogs keep coming in. You need to realize that you cannot save them all.”
There are days when she goes home and just prays for strength. Says Pergosky, “I’ve learned that even when there is a dip, a high point is coming shortly like hearing happy news from an adoptive family or that a rescue group has pulled a favorite dog from the shelter.” She has also accepted that she can only do so much, which is how, she believes, she protects against another emotional burnout. “Every time I am able to help a dog, I am inspired by that last dog to try to help another. It is a dog-by-dog process,” says Pergosky.
She now also assists with temperament testing for a Siberian Husky Rescue group. A temperament test involves finding out what a dog will and will not tolerate. It takes about fifteen minutes. “We do things that a veterinarian or an owner would do and then look for the dog’s reaction and triggers,” explains Pergosky. “Rescue groups typically cannot take dogs with bad temperaments that show aggression towards people or other dogs. These are two different kinds of aggression.”
Her advice for owners of new dogs? “Make them part of your family. To do this, train and socialize them, set house rules and boundaries, and keep them healthy,” says Pergosky. “You can and should do this even if you adopt an older dog. Keep socializing them, taking them out and about to meet other people, other dogs, and generally exposing them to life.” She further cautions, “If your new dog has an issue, immediately contact the rescue group or your veterinarian to ask for help and to find a trainer.” According to Pergosky, “Taking a pet you can no longer keep to the shelter should be the absolute last resort. You should first try to ‘rehome’ the pet yourself, maybe with a trusted friend or family member, and then try a rescue group.”
Pergosky, despite her heroic efforts, remains haunted. She says, “It’s the faces and knowing that some of them didn’t get out. That’s the hardest part. Sometimes it hurts, but I keep trying―one dog at a time.”
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.