A Eudora woman commits her time and resources to be a ``doggie social worker.''
Kris Fancher didn't buy the computer sitting in her sparse living room to surf the Internet for fun.
She uses it primarily to find ``forever homes'' for the keeshonden her rescue group takes in from animal shelters and puppy mills. Open up an e-mail message, and it's likely to regard the efforts of Keeshond Rescue and Railroad, a national group dedicated to the keeshond breed.
For Fancher, acting president of the local affiliate Keeshond Lovers United, it really is a dog's life.
When extra money comes in to the Fancher household, it goes toward buying dog food and grooming supplies. It pays veterinary bills for the furry, bear-like dogs Fancher's group hopes to give a second chance. It pays for gas for trips ``railroading'' keeshonden to new homes across the country.
``Look at my house,'' Fancher says, gesturing to the lack of furniture and decorations. ``Do I look like I decorate?''
Group's goal: forever homes
Last week, 19 dogs -- 11 of them puppies -- filled Fancher's home and fenced yard. Only two, Molly and Paden, were her own.
Fancher and other members of the group drove to southwest Missouri on Aug. 30 to buy 11 dogs from a man Fancher says runs a puppy mill. Keeshond Lovers United spent about two months negotiating the rescue, Fancher said. The group paid the dogs' owner to take nine keeshonden and two American eskimos off his hands and now will work toward finding them permanent homes, which Fancher calls ``forever homes.''
There was a glitch, however: The ``puppy miller'' neglected to tell the group one of the dogs was about to whelp.
Social workers for dogs
Last Tuesday, the keeshond Fancher has named DeeDee gave birth to 11 puppies, a far larger litter than normal. Keeshond litters usually number four to six, she said.
Fancher, who took in five of the dogs from the Aug. 30 trip plus the surprise pups, has her hands full. She gets up at 5 a.m. for dog duties and spends about two hours after work feeding, cleaning and scrubbing. She also prepares special dog food for Heidi, an allergy-suffering keeshond the group rescued earlier from Topeka.
Fancher will keep the dogs and puppies for as long as it takes to find them homes. Already claimed: One of the American eskimo puppies, a 12-week-old keeshond puppy and the lone female puppy born last week. The American eskimo is going to a home in Minneapolis, the older keeshond puppy to St. Louis and the newborn to Leawood.
Fancher will keep the remaining puppies for at least eight weeks and will continue to foster the others until the group finds acceptable homes for them. Adopting a keeshond from the rescue group is an arduous process, Fancher said: People must fill out a six-page application form, provide three personal references, provide a veterinarian or groomer as a reference and allow a home visit. The group charges a $150 adoption fee to recoup some of its costs. Before leaving for their foster homes, the dogs receive vaccinations, are tested and/or treated for heartworms and are spayed or neutered. Fancher estimates she's spent $300 to $400 on Heidi alone.
The keeshond lover jokes that adopting a dog from her group is almost as strict as adopting a baby.
``My boss calls me a doggie social worker,'' Fancher said.
Education is key
Dr. Ron Lee of the Eudora Animal Hospital is Fancher's vet. She gives him plenty of business, though she is reimbursed for some of her expenses through the adoption fees and the national group.
Lee appreciates the efforts of Fancher and others who rescue dogs of any breed. He has worked with representatives of several rescue groups, including boxer, Doberman and Chesapeake retriever.
``We need all the help we can get,'' Lee said. `` They go in and they end up buying out these poorly managed puppy mill outfits and taking their breeding stocks and placing them in good homes. Any way we can get rid of these poorly managed puppy mills is great.''
A puppy mill operator, Fancher explained, is ``basically a dog farmer. They sell to a broker. They don't sell directly to the pet store. The broker transports the dogs, usually in horrific conditions, and they turn and sell them to pet stores.''
Puppy mill operators breed dogs their first season in heat and every season thereafter, which is against guidelines, Fancher said. They typically don't test the dogs for health problems before breeding, which she believes is unethical.
Responsible breeders sell on contract and agree to take the dog back at any time, for any reason, Fancher said. They stay in contact with the new owner, providing any needed assistance, such as socializing the animal.
Both she and Lee said education still is the key to ending the cycle of unwanted and abandoned pets. People need to be cautious about buying a dog and should ask questions to ensure the dog is a quality pet, they said.
Fancher readies herself for the long night ahead of her. She needs to whip up a pot of homecooked dog food for Heidi.
-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.