Special pooches getting a party of their own

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 17, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

It’s apt to be a rowdy party.

At least some guests attending Jack and Robin Gray’s gathering today may take a nip or two.

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And rest assured, they won’t hesitate to raise their voices or jump each other.

The special guests – more than 40 four-legged yapping bundles of fluff – are bichon frise dogs that the Grays have rescued and placed into new homes over the past five years.

The Whaleyville couple, whose love affair with the tiny pooches began three decades ago, started the Tidewater Bichon Frise Rescue, an organization to save physically abused and abandoned bichons, in 1998. Today, they are holding an invitation-only Bichon Bash for the rescued dogs and their adopted &uot;parents.&uot;

&uot;This is going to be an afternoon of oooohing and ahhhing,&uot; Robin Gray said. &uot;This is my chance to see all my babies again. I can’t wait!&uot;

Most of the rescued pups taken into the Gray’s home – White Dog Cottage – were homeless and in dire need to care.

&uot;While the term rescue implies that a dog has been saved from imminent danger and destruction, animals involved are usually just homeless,&uot; said member Judy Hallenbeck. &uot;Some animals are strays found wandering the streets, some are obtained from shelters prior to being euthanized.

&uot;Others are obtained from puppy mills where conditions may be incredibly inhumane, but most are signed over by their owners or deceased owner’s families who cannot or will not care for the dogs.&uot;

Although the organization follows standards of Bichon Frise Club of America, Tidewater doesn’t receive any funding from individuals or organizations, Robin Gray said.

&uot;We are unpaid volunteers motivated only by our love for these dogs, and our goal is finding the best possible permanent home for our bichons,&uot; said Gray. &uot;We are also controlling the pet population through spaying and neutering the dogs before they are placed in their permanent homes.

&uot;In some cases, we must rehabilitate a dog before it can be placed.&uot;

Animals receive a veterinarian’s seal of good health before they are placed into adoptive homes, Gray said.

The pups are given vaccinations, heartworm tests, grooming and, in many cases, surgeries and treatments to make them as healthy as possible before they adopted out, she said.

The rescue group invests a lot of time into finding the bichons a loving &uot;forever home,&uot; Hallenbeck said.

&uot;These dogs have previously been through the trauma of losing their homes,&uot; she said. &uot;An inappropriate placement means the animal will come back to the rescue and again have to make another adjustment.&uot;

To prevent such situations, prospective owners must fill out a written application, providing information that rescuers can use to match up the people and the pups. Rescuers spend hours talking with potential adopters, getting acquainted with their individual situations and visiting prospective homes to make sure they are &uot;bichon-friendly&uot; and provide healthy environment for dogs with special needs.

&uot;Special dogs need special families,&uot; said Gray. &uot;For example, a dog may need a family without children or other dogs and cats. They may need someone home with them the majority of the time, or they may require ongoing medical care.

&uot;The home visits help determine if the new family is willing and able to accommodate their prospective bichon’s needs.&uot;

Once the home and the new bichon’s owners are approved, the adoptive family and dogs are introduced. If the match is good, adoption papers are signed and adoption fees paid.

&uot;Some people do not understand why they are required to pay for a rescued dog,&uot; said Gray. &uot;After all, they think, shouldn’t the dogs be free to good home?&uot;

But the fee is needed, Gray said. First, an adoption fee is assigned in order to place value on the dog by the adoptive family.

&uot;Free items are usually throw-away items, certainly nothing that is treasured,&uot; she said. &uot;In addition, the food and medical care for these dogs comes out of our own pockets.

&uot;We could not continue to do this work if we are not reimbursed for at least part of what we spend on each dog. The adoption fee is usually less than it costs to vet the dog for the first year.&uot;

The Bichon Bash, which organizers hope to make an annual event, is an excellent opportunity for adopters and the formerly abused, abandoned or neglected pups to come back &uot;home&uot; to White Dog Cottage for a day of food and fun, said Hallenbeck.

For more information on the Tidewater Bichon Frise Rescue, call 986-BARK or log onto www.virginiabichonrescue.petfinder.org.