TRAVIS – Saving Lives Instead of Losing His

Email Subject Line: Lucy Calling East Valley German Shepherd put on Red List “Travis” #A2127974

Every day email networking alerts are sent out into the wild blue yonder from each of the six Los Angeles Animal Shelters (LAAS), hundreds of them. Hundreds of lives hanging in the balance. Exhibit A, my networking IN box:

Just as the parade of dogs needing rescue is never ending, the alerts come and go constantly. Usually they twist in the winds of fate for a couple weeks, some show up again months later, only to evaporate with outcomes unknown. I am someone who dedicates hours, far too many, working on these alerts, posting on Facebook and Instagram, answering questions, connecting, ‘liaison-ing’ with shelter volunteers and rescues, and I am not the only one. Social media is a powerful tool for getting the word out and makes it possible to sometimes track down what happened to a shelter dog no longer in the system. You really want to know with certain dogs, the ones you come to “know” and hope for after pleading and updating and posting over and over. Who wasn’t over the moon finding out about Travis’ exit?

Travis was a total surprise. His rescue is the kind of outcome that fuels networking. Travis was Red Listed (two weeks to live) when he wasn’t able to share a kennel with other dogs and Killing for Kennel Space is real. It’s rare to learn that a Red Listed dog connects to what that dog was always meant to do, go where they should go. Volunteers Jennifer Downs, Kristin Laurene and Emily Belgard made this super duper ‘save’ happen. A ‘save’ so special that they, and anyone who devotes time and effort to shelter dogs, need to savor, relish, revel, all that.

Volunteers saw Travis as a friendly, fun, athletic dog who only had eyes for the ball. High energy dogs like Travis who are smart, tenacious and need a J-O-B” as volunteer Emily Belgard puts it, need an outlet, they struggle in shelters. His owner had only good things to say in his surrender notes but was moving out of state and fine with leaving his two-year old pup in an ultra full shelter, condemned to small space kennel confinement for days or weeks at a time. All his promise was at high risk of being snuffed out just as Travis was on the threshold of the prime of his life. Except (!), volunteers saw his potential to be trained to do search and rescue, detection of narcotics, human remains, explosives.

Emily recognized that Travis was out of place in a shelter setting and knew Jennifer Downs would see him in the same way. Jenn was instrumental in connecting dogs to rescues specializing in ‘working dogs’ and familiar with the Search Dog Foundation (SDF) testing criteria since they provide a free webinar that teaches shelter staff and volunteers what the tests are, what each test is designed to do and how to perform them. The majority of SDF recruits come from shelters and rescues relinquished due to the exact behaviors SDF is looking for—extreme hunt drive, high energy, and laser focus on a toy. If becoming a disaster search dog doesn’t work out, another type of detection role (law enforcement, conservation, etc.) could be a match. They never go back to a shelter, they always have a home with SDF as a better match is sought. When they graduate the 9 to 12 month training program, dogs are paired with their handler and live in their home through retirement and beyond.

Jenn created a highlights reel for networking to people and organizations as well as submitting full videos of each test to SDF. With flying colors Travis passed a series of tests designed specifically for shelter environments to determine if a dog has a high enough ball drive to be a candidate: incessant fetch, look for a ball thrown out of view, ignore environmental distractions (unexpected noises, random people, other dogs), climb over unstable or slippery obstacles to get to that ball. Jeanne Perales, a working-dog lover, independent rescuer and friend of Jenn, saw the video that Jenn and Kristin made and sent it to SDF. Katie Brennan, SDF’s canine recruiter, called Jenn. Networking at its best.

These volunteers, these women, these sheroes, went above and beyond and Travis has them to thank by showing the world the possibilities that shelter dogs hold. Hope will not be drained from their spirit. They hold hope close to their hearts as they continue to step back into the shelter’s abyss of endless need and daily tragedy. A dog like Travis is their victory to cherish, a glorious example of what they’re capable of – a living, breathing symbol of the difference they make.

I came upon this Facebook post shortly after his arrival at SDF: “We couldn’t be happier to have Travis here with us! He arrived over the weekend and we’re told he slept most of the way here. Once he’s had some time to settle in we’re looking forward to working with this sweet boy and getting to know him!” Travis is on his way. Emily Belgard says it best “Travis now has a team helping to unlock his full potential and provide him with the opportunity to shine in the world of search and rescue.” His real, true life starts now, living by giving.

Pardon my shameless editorializing: Fostering a dog isn’t a lifetime commitment.
It’s a commitment to saving a life.


Note: Thanks to Kathie Fiorillo for title inspiration


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