A successful marketing executive for a Fortune 500 company by day, a tireless dog rescuer by night, Maria Dales of Costa Mesa, Calif., has built German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County into one of the largest and most successful all-volunteer rescue groups in Southern California.
After years of volunteering in rescue, Dales founded GSROC in 1998 as a small subchapter of a larger rescue group, then in 2005 it became a self-sufficient nonprofit, funded solely by private donations to rescue, rehabilitate, and re-home purebred German Shepherd Dogs.
“Since then, we have grown exponentially, thanks to the devotion and talent of our amazing volunteers,” Dales says. “(They) are the lifeblood of any successful rescue group, and GSROC volunteers are remarkable. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and strength to look past the sadness and stay focused on making positive changes.”
This Michigan native and daughter of a college track coach likens the structure and teamwork of about 150 GSROC volunteers to that of a large relay team. The dogs are housed in foster homes and private boarding facilities, putting a premium on smooth logistics and coordination.
“I feel as though I am the coach of a team of superstar athletes,” Dales says of the group’s large volunteer base. “They never say never.”
And like superstar athletes, GSROC volunteers must adhere to a strict training schedule.
“When you’re dealing with living creatures, you can’t afford to be slipshod,” Dales says, noting that GSROC requires training in dog handling and rescue theory/protocol for all new volunteers. “It takes clearly defined processes to ensure that all of the moving pieces sync up as they need to.”
Dales loves all breeds, but German Shepherd Dogs hold her heart.
“This breed is undisputedly one of the most noble, intelligent, loving, and loyal dog breeds,” she says. Her own pack includes a 6-year-old Labrador Retriever named Stella and two GSDs, Bob and Black Star, both 11. ” They are also one of the most overpopulated, with a disproportionate percentage ending up in shelters,” Dales notes. “The thought of such magnificent, trusting, intelligent creatures languishing in cold, frightening shelters is more than I can handle. It hurts me to the bone. I can’t sit by and do nothing when I know they are waiting.”
The rescue group has placed more than 3,000 dogs, but Dales says she doesn’t measure results based on mere numbers.
Sometimes the good her group does involves giving a down-on-its-luck family an unexpected happy ending.
GSROC volunteers found Sasha, a well-kept German Shepherd Dog with a badly fractured front leg, in a local animal shelter. Her personality and happy demeanor indicated she was someone’s pet.
GSROC dug around and discovered that Sasha’s owners had reluctantly relinquished her to the shelter. The GSD had managed to open a gate at her home to follow her constant companion, a special-needs boy and one of the family’s three children, and had been hit by a car. The family was unable to afford the $5,000 needed to repair her leg.
GSROC launched a massive appeal to raise the funds for surgery then reunited Sasha with her family, including the little boy.
“When he laid eyes on Sasha, I could see his mind working,” Dales says. “First, a look of confusion, then disbelief, then pure, uncensored joy crossed his face. He glowed with happiness! A very excited Sasha leaped and barked with joy. I was sobbing like crazy because I had never seen such true love before.”
For more information, visit the GSROC website at www.gsroc.org.
The efforts of GSROC to rescue German Shepherd Dogs inspired FreeKibble.com, a website dedicated to providing nutritious food to shelter animals, to donate 5,000 meals to GSROC.
Ways you can help
No matter your circumstances, you can be a hero for rescue dogs, helping them find forever homes. Here’s how:
Raise funds: Raid your office for plastic bottles and exchange them for money at a local recycling center. Host a bake sale or a garage sale. Sell unused items on eBay. At your next birthday party, forgo gifts and ask for donations. Cut back on pricey coffee drinks for a month and donate the money.
Donate products: Ask the group for a copy of its wish list, and donate some of those items. Certain types of food, leashes, collars, blankets, and shampoo are often requested. Both animal shelters and dog rescues have wish lists, which often include everyday items such as used towels and blankets.
Volunteer: Give your time, even if it’s an hour a month. Foster, walk or train dogs, work on the group’s blog, search shelter websites, transport dogs, or manage finances. If you have a skill, chances are a rescue group can use you.
Start at home: Make sure your own dogs are spayed or neutered; leave breeding to the professionals. Get your dogs microchipped, and make sure they all wear some form of identification. Secure your backyard, and teach your pups not to bolt out the door.