We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lending a Helping Paw

By Lalida Sriyordsa

“Zach! No! Sit! Don’t bark at him like that! Be a good boy! That’s right. Sit there and mope all you want, big boy. Be a good boy like Riley.” The sound of numerous dogs barking within the vicinity caused a stir for the fellow Petsmart customers walking in and out of the store. The November sky has a tinge of grey, and the occasional sprinkles of water drop down, but it does not inhibit the 20 plus volunteers from putting on a happy face and promoting the dogs that are up for adoption. One of the volunteers pulls the leash for Zach, a large alpha male type who has begun barking at another dog. Zach finally pulls back, reluctantly lying down on the floor with a forlorn look on his face. The dogs are part of a regular campaign to place abandoned and mistreated dogs run by a local rescue organization. Many dogs like Zach are still living today thanks to the efforts of the German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County (GSROC).
The GSROC has been one of the first organizations dedicated to rescuing German Shepherds and finding them new homes and families. After starting as a branch of another rescue from Los Angeles, the dogs were eventually brought into Orange County where the GSROC was able to fully establish their own group. After finding their own 501c3 organization in 2005, the GSROC became a full-fledged development.
“I always wanted to be the best, not the biggest. Size isn’t always a great thing- it’s results that matter. We never want to become ‘volume driven’ in our dog placements. We want to be ‘quality driven’ and hand-select every new home with care and concern,” says Maria Dales, founder and main coordinator of the GSROC on being a large organization.
The GSROC depends on volunteers and sponsors along with fundraising events in order to provide shelter and money for the dogs. The organization uses their website to draw a multitude of volunteers, while others are referred through theirinterest in an event. By using numerous social media outlets like advertising on Community Volunteer network sites for animal lovers, and Facebook (the fan page has 3,816 fans), the rescue is able to recruit more people to volunteer and donate. Youtube videos have reached up to 6,000 views, sending out pictures and videos of the dogs for people to spread the word.
The GSROC also focuses on sponsors and the importance of using diverse marketing vehicles such as newsletters, mailings, etc. However, Dales makes it clear that the GSROC “does not offer paid advertising on the site, as [they] feel that undermines themain purpose, which is to showcase the dogs of course.”One interesting aspect about the GSROC is the way it is thoroughly organized by Maria. There are different ‘committees’ for each portion that relates to the rescue, whether it is through helping out by cooking baked chicken for sick or thin dogs, or baking goods for a fundraising bake sale, or even hosting a garage sale. “There is a tremendous amount to do when you are dealing with living creatures as many times a dog will need to be rushed to a vet, or moved from one facility to another. The greatest stress comes when we must rescue a dog from a shelter without much notice- then we have to find someone available to jump on the road and get the dog before the closing time. I myself contribute 40+ hours per week to the rescue in addition to having a full time job. Other volunteers contribute anywhere from 8 hours a week to 25,” explains Dales. Even though the number of volunteers generally varies, each volunteer is committed to his or her job. They know that even though it takes a large amount of effort and time, there is no doubt that the rewards are great.
One way to reward the volunteers is through coming up with names for the dogs. There is no reward in rescuing a dog, other than being able to help the dog find a new home. The organization allows for volunteers to feel connected to individual dogs by letting them name the dog according to the person who does the shelter transport. For the most part, although some volunteers find German names, others look to personality traits or characteristics that may define them.
Audrey Schaeffer, the main committee organizer for making baskets for the GSROC, has been volunteering with the group for seven years. She first joined the group after adopting her German Shepherd dogs, Bos (5 years) and Kota (7 years). After falling in love with her dogs, Schaeffer has now been an important part of the organization as a main volunteer and has seen the group grow throughout the years. She explains, “There is a lot of learning that goes into the way the organization was set up, regardless of whether it was a big or small issue. It is a lot of learning and what you most importantly realize is that you have to plan ahead and fill in the holes.”
However, even though the benefits of the organization are great, there are also difficulties that had to be overcome in order to allow for accomplishment. “We have overcome many difficulties- all those associated with any fledgling business trying to grow and mature, of course, but the current economy has the greatest challenge. We have to turn away from many, many dogs every single day. Since [approximately three Saturdays ago], we have had 22 calls from individuals wishing to give up their shepherds due to various and sundry personal reasons or due to finding a stray shepherd and not wanting to take it to the animal shelter. In light of our current number of dogs (83), we are not able to help any of them. This is very painful to me personally, as some of these situations were truly heartbreaking, such as the man who is too ill to care for his 10-month-old shepherd any longer. Under normal circumstances, if resources were more available, we might have been able to assist, but there is only so much that our all-volunteer infrastructure can support,” says Dales, as she explains the obstacles and heartbreak that exists within the more dramatic aspects of the organization. On average, approximately 14-15 dogs are brought out to events, and 1-2 are adopted. The dogs are kept in local kennels, including some in Newport Beach and Santa Ana, both of which make it a large effort to help. Still, the good in this case has outnumbered the bad and the organization is proud to represent numerous dogs that have been rescued and/or have had various success stories.
“One very recent cute story is Elisa, who was selected 2 weeks ago by a professional training academy for her detection abilities. She is a funny, active, silly, energetic girl who is obsessed with chasing the ball. Well, they tested her for detection work and she passed with flying colors! She is being trained to detect bed bugs in hotels, theaters, schools, hospitals, etc! It’s the perfect job for our busybody Elisa!” Dales exclaims withenthusiasm. Other dogs have also been recruited for drugs and money and other substances.However, the one story that appears to embody the GSROC is that of Courage. As explained in an article from The Examiner, Courage, who was abused and neglected by his original owner was brought to the GSROC when he was only 37 pounds. When they had first found him, he had been on the verge of death, and had the organization not had the help of people who scouted him out, Courage would not be alive today. Furthermore, because of the support and influx of donations that were sent towards Courage, the GSROC was responsible for nursing the dog back to life and helping him find a new, happy home at the healthy weight of approximately 85 pounds. His story was featured in all sorts of news outletslike the Orange County Register and the LA Times, along with many others. Since then, Courage has become the face of the GSROC and a symbolic beacon to the organization of the life that may be saved because of the hard work and efforts from the volunteers and people.
Another story that has epitomized the GSROC is through the story of Zach and Riley. Zach, a German Shepherd, came from one household along with his friend Riley, a smaller mixed dog. The GSROC tries to raise as much money as possible to microchip each dog, meaning that if the dog were to get lost or run away and someone found it, the animal would be able to be tracked back to its owner, which would be the organization. Somehow, both Zach and Riley had ended up somewhere dangerously near the Midwest of the states and because of the microchip, the GSROC was able to have a volunteer safely bring the duo back home. Had it not been for the rescue team, Zach and Riley would have most likely been kidnapped, or become strays without a home. Fortunately enough, they were adopted in 2003 by Noreen Furubayashi, who is now a volunteer for the organization.
“The best part of being a part of the GSROC is knowing that you are making a difference. There’s also so much support coming from both sides. Had it not been for the people who donated money to get a microchip, Zach and Riley may not be alive today. There’s help coming from so many different areas- for example, Your Dog Trainer,in Santa Ana, allows us to house some of the dogs, but at the same time enter basic training classes so most of the dogs at least know the basic commands,” said Furubayashi who aids in transporting the animals but also in attending and bringing the dogs out to events.
Although known to be popular in their role as police dogs, German Shepherds may be viewed to the public as violent, yet intelligent dogs. They were first bred to be herding dogs in the late 1800s by Max Emil Frederick von Stephanitz, and although thought to ascend from wolves, they merely have the physical characteristics of them. According to a link on the GSROC site, the German Shepherd was first introduced through the media by Rin Tin Tin, the superhero dog. Afterwards, they became used for their intelligence as a police dog, able to hunt and track because of its wit, speed, and keen sense of smell. Even though they are feared for their supposed ruthless nature, the truth is, just like every other dog, German Shepherds are protective because of the way they are trained and brought up. According to Wikipedia, in 2008, the German Shepherd dog is the fourth most popular dog breed in the world. Still, they are most susceptible to stomach and digestion problems. It is generally because of their health conditions that owners question their ability to raise these dogs,especially after their 13 year average life span.
Although the GSROC is meant to exemplify one organization that helps to save the lives of different dogs, it is compiled of numerous aspects that represent people, their ambitions, dedication, and their goals. According to Dales, “Personally, the best part for me is the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve done everything I possibly can to save as many lives as possible. The dogs are the other best part of this- seeing them blossom and improve under our care, and then seeing them saunter off to their new homes without even looking back at us- it’s a true joy! [Furthermore] knowing that a group of dedicated, compassionate individuals can come together to make a significantdifference in the lives of animals that are depending on us. These are all the best parts of the GSROC.”

Reporting Notes:
4-5 hours of observation
3 hours interviewing2 hours research- online, via Facebook, Youtube, and GSROC main site


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