Camden couple rescues goldens from China

By Susan Mustapich | Aug 20, 2019
Courtesy of: Together for Animals in China Golden retrievers transported from China by volunteers with Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue are cared for at the organization's facility in Hudson, Mass., while awaiting adoption,.

Camden — A Camden couple's travels to China to rescue golden retrievers is a natural evolution of their love of the breed and their long history with dog rescue.

Peter and Susan Fitzgerald have completed four rescue operations to date, traveling to China together twice, and returning separately, so each can bring back five dogs, the limit set by Chinese regulations for each flight. Working with Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue in Hudson, Mass., where the dogs are cared for prior to adoption, and the Chinese organization Together for Animals in China, the Fitzgeralds were part of a group of nine American volunteers who flew 16 hours each way to Beijing, to transport 45 goldens to the rescue organization before the summer heat in China made rescue missions impossible.

The Fitzgeralds' first golden retriever came from a rescue operation in Florida, where they lived at the time. Since then they have adopted seven goldens, and fostered others. Susan was actively involved in transporting rescue dogs from one area to another in Florida. Peter, who has a distinguished career as a professor of law, has recently written about the demographic, economic and cultural trends behind the international rescue of dogs from China. Both Peter and Susan are familiar with the equation where there is a surplus of dogs in one area or region of the country, and an unmet demand for those dogs in another. In Florida, dogs belonging to an aging population no longer able to keep the, produced a supply. After the economic crash in 2008, those who lost their homes and had to move to apartments or could no longer afford their pets, were also giving up their dogs.

Following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the network of shelters and organizations expanded to move dogs between regions of the country, according to Peter. In the United States, that typically means that a lot of dogs in the South, which shelters and organizations have trouble placing locally, are transported through a coordinated national network to the Northeast, Great Lakes and Northwest regions. PAWS in Camden is a local example of a shelter that accepts dogs from the South.

The same type of movement occurs internationally, Peter said. China is an example of a country where there is a "surplus of dogs that need to be re-homed," he said.

The Fitzgeralds are very happy to have found Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue, where Peter is now a board member. The 21-acre property, with a 4,800-square-foot facility contains 19 private indoor and outdoor runs, medical isolation kennels, accommodations for 11 senior and special needs dogs, outdoor play yards, a grooming room, a pool the dogs can walk into, and a home simulation room, where those adopting dogs can meet their new family member. They make the point that no golden retriever from the United States in need of rescue is ever turned away.

Living in New England, where the demand for golden retrievers is higher than the supply, and with Yankee a distance from their home in Maine, Susan first thought of international rescue. The Fitzgeralds' first foray was to JFK International Airport in New York City, where goldens arrive from Istanbul,Turkey. In Turkey, goldens were once status symbols, then the economy crashed and people could not take care of them, Susan said. As a consequence, the dogs were turned out into the streets, and let loose in the forests.

At JFK, Susan saw the dogs in carriers taken off the cargo plane on a pallet, and brought into a bonded warehouse. They were released into a pen, where volunteers snapped on a leash, fed them, put them back into their crates, and shuttled them to the rescue in Massachusetts.

While she was skeptical about the idea of international rescue, she was won over at the airport, she said. When the dogs came out of their crates, they were friendly, and she thought, "OK, I'm in. Goldens are goldens. I can do this."

The Fitzgeralds decided to try rescues from China, which is more difficult, because the dogs travel as excess baggage, and are limited to five per flight. In China, it would be very expensive to transport dogs as cargo, and also difficult to get Chinese export approval, Peter said. Logistics also limit transports to two or three flights a week which are not too long for the dogs.

There are numerous conditions in China that place golden retrievers in need of rescue. Pet dogs were once reviled by the Communist Party, and banned until the 1970s, Peter said. They are now in huge demand by young urban professionals, a demand possibly increased by the one-child law. Because of the ban, many people had only seen work dogs and guard dogs, and had no experience of dogs coddled at home, he said. When a huge problem with rabies developed in China, it led to fear of large dogs, and the creation by the government of prohibited breeds, including goldens.

A goal to reduce rabies by reducing the numbers of dogs by 2025 led to kill shelters. A crackdown on dog registration regulations meant dog owners could be stopped in the street, and their dogs taken away. Prohibited breeds led to larger dogs, such as goldens, being turned loose or brought to the countryside. Strays, dog theft, a dog meat trade and the absence of animal cruelty laws have exacerbated the problems.

Together for Animals in China does not take any money for the goldens, Peter said, and the standards of TAC and Yankee are very high.

On the U.S. side, volunteers arriving with goldens at JFK are driven to Yankee. Once there, the needs of the dogs are paramount, Peter said. Beginning with medical exams and a behavioral review to understand the type of environment each dog is best-suited for, the goldens are given virtually everything they need to prepare for their eventual adoption.

Those interested in adopting a golden from Yankee first fill out an application, and if accepted, receive a home visit from a volunteer and their golden retriever. That visit is an opportunity for the applicants to get all of their questions answered, and learn about rescue and rescue operations. If all goes well, that can be followed by a visit to Yankee's home simulation room, where applicants and dogs get to know one another.

Demand is high, and there is a waiting list of about 100 people, Peter said. "When the dogs come in, it's really matchmaking." His current work, writing for national publications, involves explaining rescue and international rescue, the amount of thought and care that goes into it, and hopefully, dispelling misinformation about international dog rescue spread on the Internet.

Another point he made is that "The value of a life doesn't change across a border. And that's humans or animals," he said. "There's a strong sentiment that says this is a situation where YGRR's mission is to help goldens. There are goldens in need, and we're going to try to help them."

Peter Fitzgerald at the airport in Beijing, China, in May 2019, with five rescued golden retrievers in their crates, heading for the United States. (Courtesy of: Susan and Peter Fitzgerald)
Susan Fitzgerald is assisted by an airport worker at JFK International Airport in New York with five Golden Retrievers she helped rescue from China in December 2018. (Courtesy of: Susan and Peter Fitzgerald)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Aug 15, 2019 15:59

Wonderful! God Bless!


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