Shaggy Dog Soft Touch

Rescuer never turns away breed in need

By Monica Davis
Special for The Republic
Oct. 13, 1998

The phone call comes every few weeks and each time propels Victoria Kremer into action. She snatches an extra food bowl from the closet, grabs the area rugs off the tile floor, then hops on the computer to spread the word to her Web site readers. She’s expecting another house guest.

In the next couple hours or days, the shaggy guest will arrive, almost always scared and unkempt and sometimes covered with fleas, ticks or worse. No matter the condition or circumstances, no Old English sheepdog is turned away from the Kremer home.

Since 1997, the Scottsdale woman has made it her business to help the less fortunate members of her favorite breed, the strays, castaways and abused, by forming the Southwest Old English Sheepdog Rescue.

She’s found homes for about 20 sheepdogs.

“You don’t make a lot of money. You don’t get a lot of recognition. I guess I just do it because someone had to do it and I love the breed,” she said.

Kremer, who owns three Old English sheepdogs, didn’t intend to start a rescue group. It just sort of happened.

In early 1997, she assisted in the rescue of some Old English sheepdogs and golden retrievers from a Cave Creek home. The Arizona Humane Society assumed ownership of the dogs and put the animals up for adoption.

The Humane Society next asked Kremer to talk about the breed at an adoption fair. After that, she thought her rescue work was over.

But, shortly afterward, she got a call about a stray sheepdog. Later someone told her about another sheepdog in a local animal shelter.

The phone calls never stopped, so she and a friend, Lorie Van Daele, started a rescue group in September 1997.

The dogs, which can weigh up to 90 pounds each, come to them from all corners, private homes, animal shelters and the streets.

“We get a lot of owner turn-ins,” Kremer said. “Sometimes, we get calls about dogs in the pound.”

Kremer always takes the dog into her home or puts it with one of her volunteers for a few weeks to ascertain the dog’s personality, good habits and bad habits.

Does he like children? Is he housebroken? Can he get along with other dogs or cats?

Also, while in the care of the rescue group, the dog is vaccinated, spayed or neutered and groomed.

Kremer said she and the volunteers work hard to give the animals plenty of love and care while searching for a new owner, hopefully the dog’s final owner.

Kremer is picky. She is never in a rush to place a dog. And any potential owner must fill out a questionnaire and meet with Kremer and the dog. Why is she so selective?

“I want these dogs to have a good home,” said Kremer, a construction products saleswoman who works out of her home. “I want it to be for life.”

Kremer is surprised by the number of unwanted Old English sheepdogs. She views them as a perfect breed: outgoing, friendly, good with children, yet also protective of their family and home.

But she recognizes that what she sees as positive trademarks may lure some people into buying the sheepdogs, then deciding later on that the dog is not what they want.

“Old English sheepdogs are not for everyone,” Kremer said. “They’re high maintenance with their coats. They are constantly following you around. If you open up a cupboard, they’re there.”

Kremer said people give up their dogs, not just sheepdogs, for all kinds of reasons. They didn’t realize the dog would get so big. They didn’t realize the dog needed so much attention. They just had a baby. They don’t have time for a dog. The list goes on and on, she said.

“Most of these people buy on impulse,” she said. “And they don’t do research.”

Dog lover Kathy Painter agrees that too many people don’t do enough research before buying a dog, purebred or mixed breed.

Painter, a West Valley resident, owns and shows Shih Tzus. She also runs a Shih Tzu rescue group and is president of the Coalition of All Breed Rescue of Arizona (CABRA).

Of the 140 or so recognized breeds, CABRA members represent about 60 breeds, such as the golden retriever, Scottish terrier, German shepherd, Weimaraner and poodle.

Painter said CABRA members are doing their part to find good homes for unwanted purebred dogs.

“We realize our little bit isn’t going to solve the overpopulation problem, but we are trying to help out in the area where we have the most experience,” she said.

Painter has 25 dogs in rescue right now; 15 purebreds and the others a mixture of Shih Tzu and some other breed.

“This year has been particularly bad (for CABRA rescue groups, other rescue groups and animal shelters),” she said. “I don’t know why.”

Kremer and her crew have been busy, too.

Since December, Kremer’s only had about two weeks when she didn’t have a rescue sheepdog. In the past 30 days, she placed two Old English sheepdogs, Nicky, a 6-month-old, and Max, a 3-year-old.

Kremer now is trying to find a home for Jake, a dog lucky to be alive.

Jake, about a year old, was found roaming Eagar, a town in eastern Arizona, with his mouth bound by rope and rubber bands.

Jake managed to loosen part of the cruel muzzle to forage for food in the woods, but the days alone and the muzzle did their damage, ripping away part of his lips and leaving him mere skin and bones, his coat so matted that it had to be shaved off.

“He was a mess when he got here,” Kremer said. “He was filthy. He reeked of urine.”

Jake’s case, the worst she’s seen, brought Kremer to tears. But then again, she says, they all do.

Jake is doing well in Kremer’s home. He’s friendly and gets along well with Kremer’s dogs. He will need obedience school to improve his manners, she said laughing.

“He’s very, very sweet.”

Kremer charges a $225 adoption fees, which basically covers her expenses. She relies heavily on donations to keep the rescue organization afloat.

She is pleased, but also a little sad the day one of her rescue dogs is adopted.

The emptiness seldom lasts long. Another dog soon will be arriving at the front door. And Kremer said many people keep her well-informed on the dogs they adopt.

“We get a lot of pictures.”

copyrightThe Arizona Republic