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Along the Highway

A Dog's Story
     By Brian DiMaio

Not all dogs go to Heaven. Some go to Anney Doucette, a 20-year-old University of Florida pre-vet student with a love of animals and dogs and the Beatles that is unmatched throughout Gainesville. She also is in love with Teddy Dupay and Travis McGriff, but that's another article.

Anney works with rescue dogs. Not the big St. Bernard dogs that trounce through the Alps with vodka and gin in a brown container around their necks, but dogs that come from homes with bad owners who would otherwise by euthanized and just another statistic. Anney mostly rescues Golden Retrievers, but on occasion takes on other breeds, and she is a member of the Mid-Florida Golden Retriever Club.

Anney spends about 12 weeks with each one, mostly adult dogs, retraining and resocializing them around people and other animals. But she doesn't completely retrain the dogs.

"Most adult dogs don't need training," Anney said. "They just need a few lessons in manners."

The most common problem that needs attention is getting the dogs' medical work up to date.

"It's really sad how badly the dogs have been treated by their owners" she said as she petted her own pooch, Tucker, an 85-pound Golden she has had for seven years. "That's what takes the most time and money."

A lot of the vet work is done free by doctors Anney know and who are involved with the rescue groups. What costs are not free come from Anney's own pocket, but she is reimbursed when the dogs find good homes. She is compensated by a $100 adoption fee paid by the family that gets the dog Anney works with. Good homes are usually found by working with other dog organizations and vets and friends to find nice families who really want an animal the animals she has just brought back to good health and good disposition.

But finding a good home takes more than just liking the way a family looks. Anney spends time talking with each family she puts her dogs with, to understand their reasoning for getting a dog, and to find out how they plan to care for the dog.

"I don't let my dogs go to families who only want a dog to give to their kids to keep them occupied," Anney said. "They have to really want to make a commitment and want another member of the family. These dogs are more than just pets."

Anney said she has turned down more families than she has given dogs to. "If I don't think they want the dog for the right reasons, I'll tell them so."
You wouldn't think it to look at her five-foot-four frame, but Anney is one hell of a disciplinarian. Tucker does precisely what he is told when he is told, and any dog within earshot knows who's in charge when Anney voices her commands at them.

Anney joined the All-Breed Rescue Coordinating Council in Leesburg five years ago when she was in high school. She has worked with about 30 dogs in the past five years, dealing mostly with dogs she got from shelters, and others she got from families who couldn't handle the responsibilities of an adult dog.
Between 8 and 12 million cats and dogs in the United States enter shelters each year, and between 4 and 6 million are euthanized. There are only 6,000 animal shelters in the country, and 25% of the dogs in those shelters are purebreds like Tucker.

Anney said most of the dogs work out and go to good homes. Other cases are not so happy. Then there is the tale of one dog who she just fell in love with and kept for herself.

Maguire, a flat-coated (black, like a Labrador) Retriever was a great rescue dog after she was done resocializing him. It didn't take too well at first.

"Maguire was terrified of men," she said. "He had been beaten by men, and wouldn't go near my dad." But Anney worked with him over a whole summer and Maguire opened up more and became more responsive.

"But after some more training and socialization, he became a whole different dog," Anney said. "And he and Tucker get along all right."

One of Anney's less happy stories happened this past summer. Anney got Paisley, a small female Golden from a family who lived near her parents in Atlanta. Paisley's family decided they needed to get rid of her after she bit a neighbor's child. So Anney took a weekend to go up to Atlanta and bring Paisley back down to her apartment in Gainesville. Anney noticed that Paisley was a little grouchy and touchy around Tucker, but she saw no reason to think the dog would hurt anybody.

After about six weeks, Anney found a family down in Fort Lauderdale who was interested in Paisley. Anney took another weekend to go down to South Florida to meet the family. They seemed nice and right for Paisley, and Anney told them about her history. They still were interested. Anney went down the next weekend, bringing Paisley with her.

A week later, things were still going all right with Paisley and her new family. But after another two weeks, Anney got a call that Paisley had turned on the family and was constantly growling at them when they came by her or pet her. "There wasn't much that could be done for her," Anney said quietly. "She just had something wrong mentally."

A few days later, a friend of the family took Paisley to a vet Anney knew in Fort Lauderdale. "They wanted me to come down to get her," Anney said. "But I just couldn't. I felt bad, but there was nothing I could do."

Paisley was the only dog Anney ever worked with that had to be put down.

Anney stressed the importance of getting dogs and cats spayed and neutered.

Tucker is neutered, so he will never know the joy of hearing the pitter-patter pitter-patter of four little puppy paws running about the dog house.

She said it makes her angry when people try to breed just for the sake of having a lot of dogs around or worse, for the money. Anney said a real breeder breeds responsibly and mostly breeds for show dogs, like Tucker used to be before he got too big.

And overbreeding leads to overpopulation, which fills up thousands of shelters like the Lake County Animal Control, with whom Anney has worked since high school. "People adopt about ten dogs a week out of there, and other families reclaim about fifteen a week," she said. "It holds about 80 dogs in any given week," she said.

But Anney said she thinks that is 80 dogs too many. She often goes by just to look at the dogs in there to see if there are any she can help.

She wants people to understand about the proper way to train and work with dogs. "Every dog should be trained properly and fairly," she said. "People need to know the importance of taking good care of dogs and keeping up with their medical records."

It makes her mad when people blame the animal control or shelters for having to put dogs and cats down. They don't understand it is the public's fault, not animal control. If people kept the population down and trained their pets so they would not be given up to shelters, fewer animals would need to be killed.

Anney is a big proponent of educating the public about spaying and neutering and proper treatment of pets.

She knows she can't help all of the dogs she sees in kennels and pounds, just a lucky few. She knows not all of them will turn out like Maguire, and she hopes no more of them turn out like Paisley.

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