Canine ‘social worker’ gives strays a second chance

Canine ‘social worker’ gives strays a second chance

From The Shreveport Times
By Alison Bath • This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it • August 23, 2009

They’re mangy, dirty and diseased. They wander Shreveport’s streets hungry, disoriented and desperate. They seldom draw even the briefest glance from passersby, and when they do get attention, it’s usually from an irate home or business owner, who quickly shoos them away.

They often are viewed as the scourge of the city. Yet, they’re Andy Shaw’s best friends.

“I am not a dog rescuer. I am a dog social worker,” said the Shreveporter, who estimates he’s helped as many as 175 needy dogs over the last 23 years find suitable homes. “I love on them until they realize humans are going to be fine.”

Andy Shaw, owner of Fairfield Fencing, plays with Jacobs, a dog he
recently found emaciated and rescued. (Greg Pearson/The Times)

Shaw’s work with abandoned and lost dogs started with a fateful 1986 excursion.

A Temple University graduate with a degree in social work, Shaw and a companion were walking near New York City’s Lincoln Center when the pair spotted a dog wandering the streets.

“He was the worst looking dog,” Shaw said.

The sight was unusual in Manhattan where pooches are seldom seen unescorted by their human beings. Shaw remarked to the woman that he hoped someone would do something for the animal.

It was a pivotal moment for the native New Yorker, who soon found himself getting an abridged lesson in social responsibility.

“She said: ‘What do you mean somebody?'” Shaw recalled. “‘If you think that dog needs help why don’t you do it?'”

It only took a few moments of self-discovery before Shaw sprang into action, begging a bakery shop owner for some string to fashion a makeshift leash, catching the dog and then attempting the arduous task of convincing a cab driver to take him and the dog to a veterinarian’s office.

The dog — a shepherd mix later named 66 because he was found on 66th Street — soon became a loyal companion, moving with Shaw to New Mexico and later to Los Angeles.

“He lived 10 more years,” Shaw said.

Since then, Shaw always has a dog or two or three. Some, such as 66, he keeps. Most he nurtures and places in loving homes. All — 25 from the Shreveport area alone — are memorialized in a thick binder containing pages of photographs, flyers and stories.

“I’ve caught so many interesting dogs,” said Shaw, who owns Fairfield School of Fencing in central Shreveport and can easily recite the circumstances of finding each dog, the medical attention they required and who adopted them.

Jacobs, a pit bull mix recently found on Jacobs Street, was just “laying in middle street.”

Judge was found on Creswell Avenue and named after Judge David Creswell. The dog, who needed surgery on his eyes and was badly infested with fleas, was hobbling down the street.

“He just stopped and stood there looking at us,” Shaw said. “I touched him, and he gave a sigh of relief.”

Wally was found one July 4th at the Walgreens at the corner of Line Avenue and King’s Highway.

“She was absolutely terrified,” said Shaw, who names most of the dogs after the location where they were found. “My wife didn’t think Walgreens was a suitable name for a girl so I named her Wally.”

Then there’s the case of the kickball dog.

Walking several years ago near Venice Beach in California with two of his dogs, Shaw heard the screams of some women, who were asking for help. The women were concerned about a puppy that was being used by “some drug addict guys” as a kickball.

Shaw sized up the situation and quickly determined confronting the men wasn’t going to work so he tried a different approach. He asked the men if there was anything he could do that would convince them to give him the puppy. One replied that they’d take money in exchange for the dog.

“I asked ‘how much?’ and he said ‘$20,'” Shaw recalled. “I said ‘You got it.’ I took the dog, and that’s the kickball dog.'”

Shaw keeps a binder of all the dogs he has rescued over the
past 25 years or so. Included are photos of the dogs, flyers,
and photos and letters from the families they went to.
(Greg Pearson/The Times)

The brindle pit bull later was adopted by a Los Angeles attorney.

That commitment to helping needy canines can find Shaw dropping everything, including a date for dinner who wasn’t thrilled about being dumped, to help a lost canine.

With a handy supply of leashes and collars, Shaw always is on the ready to stop traffic or pull his car over — in one case quickly opening the passenger side door to allow a dog to hop in — in order to save a distressed animal.

He acknowledges it’s a mission that takes careful consideration and keen insight into what makes a dog tick.

“If a dog barks when you go near it you don’t go near it — it means it’s on its turf,” said Shaw, who credits much of his knowledge and understanding of dogs to Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz. “I’ve never had a dog growl at me because they know they need help.”

Most often the dogs Shaw finds only are suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and heart worm. Sometimes they have mange, a parasitic skin infection, and other ailments. A few need surgery.

Shaw, who has spent thousands of dollars in veterinary care, usually pays for the first $200 and the adopting family is responsible for the rest.

Those families usually are found through flyers — boasting a prospective adoptee’s photo and hobbies, such as chewing shoes or toilet paper, and special talents, such riding in cars or chasing balls, posted at area businesses.

Prospective adopters have to prove they have the financial ability and personal commitment to care for a dog, Shaw said.

“If they don’t have the money (to properly care for the animal), forget about it,” said Shaw, who uses newspaper advertisements seeking a dog’s owner before making it available for adoption. “And, they have to adore the dog.”

Many of Shaw’s fencing school students are his best adopters.

Jemma Sloan said her family recently adopted Ginger, a German shepherd mix with big ears and a gentle disposition, after her 13-year-old son, Hunter, spied the animal during fencing lessons and fell in love.

Ginger, who is completing heart worm treatment but otherwise is healthy, is a perfect addition to the family, Sloan said.

“The kids are really taken with her,” Sloan said. “She’s brought a lot more happiness into their lives. It’s had a really positive impact.”

Hunter Sloan (from left), 13, Jemma Sloan and Sydney Sloan, 15,
with their dog Ginger, which they adopted from Shaw.
(Val Horvath/The Times)

Occasionally, an adoption doesn’t work out, Shaw candidly admits. Sometimes an adopter will give a dog away or lose it, which can find Shaw spending time to track the animal down.

In one case, Shaw warned one man to take steps to ensure his recently adopted pet wasn’t able to get outside the house or yard during the first few weeks after adoption. The dog needed time to realize he belonged at his new home and not with Shaw.

Unfortunately, the man didn’t heed Shaw’s warning and the dog ran away.

Luckily, Shaw found the dog, which he subsequently named Boomerang because he “found him twice.”

“I told him you can’t have him back — you failed,” Shaw said.

His exacting standards impress prospective adopters.

“He really works hard at trying to find a family that is going to be able to take on the responsibility,” said Sloan, who described Shaw as a positive and caring person.

Shaw doesn’t want praise or rewards for his work — his satisfaction comes from knowing he’s helped put a smile back on a dog’s face.

“I get all the love back from these dogs,” said Shaw, looking at a photograph of one of his dogs. “See that expectant look? That’s exactly how I want them to look.”