Founded in 2009, Blind Dog Rescue is dedicated to helping and advocating for blind and visually impaired dogs by rescuing dogs in shelters, assisting blind dog owners, and educating the public about these wonderful, capable animals. BDRA is a 501(c) non-profit organization run by a group of dedicated volunteers spread throughout the United States and Canada. Blind Dog Rescue has rescued over 100 visually impaired dogs, and have found forever homes for over 70. Blind dogs see with their hearts!
We had a great time interviewing and learning from the President of BDRA, Karen Belfi, and we’re excited to share with you her experiences, knowledge and mission in helping dogs.
Blind Dog Rescue Alliance – http://www.blinddogrescue.com
Facebook: Blind Dog Rescue Alliance
Interviewee: Karen Belfi / Interviewer: Rufino Cabang (PackPeople)
How did your adventure in dog rescue begin?
In 1999, I went to a shelter with my sister-in-law to help her adopt a dog. While we were there, I saw a gorgeous Siberian Husky. I asked the shelter about her, and they told me that she’d been there for a long time, and they were getting ready to call husky rescue about her. I’d never heard of husky rescue, so they gave me the contact info. I called them, started volunteering, and have been involved in rescue ever since!
Why did you decide to help blind and visually impaired dogs in particular, and what continually fascinates you about them?
After we adopted Sasha, a Siberian Husky, in 1999, we realized she needed a playmate. She was full of energy! I went on Petfinder.com to find another dog. There was a dog named Ray Charles, a blind from birth husky mix, and I fell in love with him. He’d been looking for a home for 2 years. We brought Sasha to meet him, and knew immediately that we had to bring him home. We were surprised at how well he adjusted to our home. I am constantly amazed at how resilient they are. We take our blind foster dogs everywhere, and they just adjust so well!
Approximately how many dogs do you have listed on your site?
We have around 50 dogs available for adoption right now!
Approximately how many dogs have been adopted through BDRA?
So far, we have taken in around 165 dogs. We also crosspost and network blind/visually impaired dogs in shelters, dogs in homes that can’t keep them, and dogs that are having a difficult time in other rescues. Many more were adopted that way, even though they didn’t come into BDRA’s program directly.
What happens to dogs that don’t have the chance to be adopted?
All of our dogs are in foster homes for as long as it takes to find them a home, be it weeks, months or years. 🙂
How do you find and rescue dogs?
People find us via the Internet mainly. We get lots of emails from individuals and shelters about blind dogs in shelters. We also get many calls and emails from people needing to rehome their personal dogs. Also, people frequently post on our Facebook page. When we find out about a dog needing to come into BDRA, we post to all the volunteers and ask if anyone would like to foster.
What are the most common reasons for people giving up their blind dog?
There are lots of reasons, largely financial. People can’t afford eyedrops, or surgery, or they lost their job and can’t afford a dog anymore, or they’re moving and can’t take their dog with them.
What can people expect from a blind dog, compared to a sighted dog?
Really, it depends on the dog. My blind dog Pete doesn’t know he can’t see. 🙂 He does everything a sighted dog does: goes for walks, runs around the off- leash dog park, plays, and jumps on the furniture. No difference! Also, many of our dogs aren’t entirely blind. Quite a few have some vision.
Generally, they just need some time to adjust to their new surroundings and they do fine! 🙂
Difference between dogs born blind and blinded later?
Sometimes dogs born blind adjust better, because they don’t know the difference. Some dogs who become blind later have a period of adjustment. To others, there is no difference.
Again, it depends on the individual dog. Some dogs need people around a lot, others are more independent. Some need another dog around, others prefer to be the only dog.
If the dog is totally blind, people generally need to be careful not to leave too much out in the way. The tops of stairs should be blocked so they don’t fall down. People need to be more aware of their environment when they have a blind dog.
How is your adoption process?
If someone sees a blind dog they’d like to adopt, they first need to fill out our adoption application. We will check personal and vet references, and talk to the potential adopter about the dog they are interested in. If the application process goes well, we will then schedule a home check. If the home check goes well, we will proceed with the adoption. We have a follow-up team who checks with each adopter on a regular basis to find out how things are going.
We are always available for the adopter/new owner for any questions or situations that may arise, and we love hearing their stories, too!
Do you have a favorite tip?
I think the best thing is to join the Yahoo group for blind dog owners. When someone finds out their dog is going blind, they may be terrified and heartbroken. It’s so helpful to hear from other people who have gone through the process and whose dogs are doing so well.
How do blind dogs communicate with sighted dogs?
Honestly, I don’t know! They do fine in general. I keep several noisy tags on my dogs so the blind ones can find the others. We take our blind dog to the dog park and he has a ball with the other dogs. Occasionally there are problems, but that’s really a risk with any dogs interacting.
Can you describe a rescue experience that has moved you?
Recently, we were notified about a senior blind and deaf Siberian Husky in a shelter in Texas, set to be euthanized. I knew had to do something, so we had one of our Texas volunteers pull this poor dog from the shelter and hold him until we could arrange transport to Philadelphia, where Eric and I would become his foster parents. He arrived in Philadelphia on June 11th, and we named him Keurig. He was a wonderful, sweet boy. On June 29th, we received an email from the shelter in Texas where Keurig came from. A woman had come in looking for a 16 year old blind/deaf Siberian who had escaped from her yard six weeks before. A storm broke their gate and he got loose. She was looking all over for him, and hadn’t heard of this shelter before (she lives one county over). The shelter gave us her contact information, and I gave her a call. She cried when she realized we had her dog, named Kody. She thought he was gone forever. She and her husband had had him since he was 5 weeks old, and he turned 16 on June 15th. Her husband is a pilot, and immediately started making plans to come to Philadelphia to bring Kody home.
On Thursday, June 30, John flew into Pennsylvania, and the next day, he picked up Kody.
There were lots of hugs and tears….and a very happy ending!
What are the biggest challenges your rescue faces?
The biggest challenge we face is probably financial. Since our formation in 2009, we’ve paid over $73,000 in veterinarian bills.
Many of the dogs we rescue come to us with other health issues besides blindness. For example, we currently have a dog who needs bilateral knee surgery. A few of our dogs are completing heartworm treatment. We also often rescue seniors with medical issues, such as diabetes. If we have a foster home available, we do not turn a dog away, no matter what the health issues. And we will keep him in a loving foster home and living as a member of the family until an adoptive home is found, no matter how long it takes.
Another challenge is that we simply cannot rescue them all. We receive several emails and phone calls a day, sometimes as many as 15 or 20, often with tragic stories of dogs in shelters or dogs needing to be rehomed, sometimes by the very next day. It’s heartbreaking not to be able to rescue every one.
What do you need most for your mission, and how can people get involved?
We need volunteers! Our rescue would not be able to operate without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, and the more volunteers we have, the more we can do! It really is a group effort. You do not need to be in the Philadelphia/New Jersey areas. In fact, we have several volunteers in Canada and even one in New Zealand! We’re organized by teams, and we have many teams that need help, including transport, adoption, application, events, intake, owner surrender, and fundraising. You can do as little or as much as you have time for. We also welcome new ideas! If anyone is interested in volunteering, please go to our website (www.blinddogrescue.org) and click on the VOLUNTEER link to fill out an application.
We also need donations, and every little bit helps.
What kinds of things do you do to raise awareness?
We try to attend events every weekend through the summer. Many of the events we attend are in Philadelphia/New Jersey areas, but we also attend events in other parts of the country where we have volunteers, including New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.
We feel it is important to show the public how well blind and visually impaired dogs adjust! We also try to help owners of blind dogs by answering any questions they may have about training, etc.
We are also on Facebook and Twitter.
In general, why should people adopt from a rescue?
Most of the dogs sold in pet stores are from puppy mills, and when you buy from a pet store, you are keeping the puppy mills in business. Puppy mill dogs are generally treated very poorly. They live their lives in cages, many never walk on grass, and are shot or drowned when they are done breeding.
A rescue will have evaluated the dog and given him medical care, so you know exactly what you are getting. He will be placed for adoption only when he is medically and behaviorally ready. Rescue dogs are living in foster homes, with the family. They get basic training-housebreaking, crate training, basic commands. They are socialized as much as possible. Rescues work very hard to place the right dog with the right family. We know our foster dogs and can tell you if they will or won’t be a good fit for your family. Pet stores will sell you anything, they just want your money. Rescues will take the time to talk to you and find the right dog for you.
Do you have any upcoming events you want to share with our community?
We are we are hosting a Dinner Fundraiser in the fall in Manahawkin, NJ. We will be holding raffles for gift baskets and door prizes to help raise money for BDRA. We are at Cutter’s Mill in Chalfont, PA regularly, on the second Saturday of every month. We’ll be having a Yankee Candle fundraiser in the fall, with all orders to arrive prior to Thanksgiving. Please check our website for more details. We have an event calendar there. We also post upcoming events on Facebook.
If you could give pet owners one piece of advice, what would it be?
Please spay and neuter your pets!
How do you spread the word about animal rescue?
We attend as many events as we’re able to, including state fairs and benefit walks, to help spread the word about rescue. Our volunteers are also advocates for rescue in their own communities.
What makes rescue so rewarding? What keeps you going?
Following the story of a dog from its time in the shelter, where he is frightened and upset and close to being euthanized, to his time in one of our foster homes, where he gets the love and care and attention he needs, to his adoption into a forever home, is truly what keeps us going. Most of the dogs we take in would have been euthanized if we didn’t take them. When I feel upset or down, I really do go to our website and look at our adopted and alumni updates pages. They never fail to make me smile, and I remember that we really do save lives.
We often hear from many of our adopters, weeks or even months after their adoption. The pictures and stories they tell are what keep us going.
I also think about the many people who were involved, from our Intake team, to our fundraising team, to our transport team, to our foster team, to our adoption team, and I realize that it is truly a group effort. People can make a difference.
Do you have pets of your own?
We have two dogs – Isis, a 10 year old Siberian Husky who was a foster for Siberian Husky rescue that we ended up adopting, and Pete. Pete is a 3 year old beagle/something mix. He was a foster for Blind Dog Rescue Alliance that we adopted. He was found on a highway in South Carolina. He was shot in the face, and his eyes were so badly damaged that they had to be removed.
Do you want to share websites and links with PackPeople?
Of course I recommend our own website – www.blinddogrescue.org
Also, the blind dog owner support group – http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/blinddogs
Spreading the word can help save lives! If you liked the interview please share it with your community by clicking the Facebook and Twitter icons at the bottom of this article or feel free to leave a comment. Thank you!