For so many hunters and their families, hunting season marks a joyous occasion, a time when our best four-legged friends join us afield and help create memories that will last a lifetime. Hunting season is a time for bonding, growing closer to both loved ones and nature. We look forward to the thrill of the flush and are thankful for every bagged bird and our canine companions that help put them on the dinner table.
Each subsequent hunting season builds upon the unique relationship that exists between a hunter and his or her bird dog. However, for the volunteers and foster families of Great Plains Pointer Rescue
, hunting season means an entirely different experience.
“This time of year, we get a lot of calls for dogs that don’t hunt,” said Great Plains Pointer Rescue founder and president Janelle Ford.
Great Plains Pointer Rescue (GPPR) originated as “German Shorthair Rescue of Nebraska” in 2008, when Ford, who had been rescuing other breeds for years, noticed a large number of pointers were ending up in shelters at a greater rate compared to other breeds. Ford took out an ad in her local newspaper to raise awareness and recruit volunteers. She started with one woman, Jessica White, as a director in Omaha. The two traveled to various events to promote their cause and gather more volunteers.
“Pointers are a high energy breed,” Ford said. “A lot of people don’t do their research, and the dog becomes too much for them to handle. They don’t put time into training.”
It became clear to Ford, in order to better serve her mission, she and her volunteers would need to expand into Iowa and Minnesota. As a result, “German Shorthair Rescue of Nebraska” soon became known as “Great Plains Pointer Rescue.”
A German shorthaired or English pointer’s iconic point—rigid back and tail, nose and crook of a paw aimed at its target—is easily recognized by most, even non-hunters. The Westminster Kennel Club has been using a pointer’s silhouette as its emblem since 1877. There is a rich tradition behind both breeds, but a lot of people don’t realize how much work goes into owning a pointer.
“One of the issues is separation anxiety,” said Pat Nelson, GPPR’s Minnesota director. “If an owner didn’t understand pointers or separation anxiety, a lot of dogs get abandoned because of this.
“If you crate them for 8 hours a day, then just feed them, they will become destructive,” Nelson said. “They are great dogs. If they have a job, they are wonderful.”
“In rural Nebraska or mid-Iowa,” Ford said, “there is this livestock mentality. Dogs are not pets. Owners want them to hunt. It’s a heck of lot different than the city, where people will drop everything for their dogs.”
“You almost can tell when hunting season is ending because people will abandon their older dogs,” Nelson said. “Some will literally abandon, drop on a dirt road and leave. We might get a call then from the county or a sheriff.
“Some of those dogs are so sweet—it is hard to believe someone just left them,” Nelson said. “I’ve had a couple that kept looking out the window, down the road, for someone to come pick them back up, since they were picked up in car not far from where they were dropped off.”
The GPPR takes in pointers, purebred or mixed, of every age—seniors down to puppies. They accept dogs with special needs and will make certain every dog receives all necessary veterinary care prior to placing a dog in a home. Since its formation in July 2008, through the hard work of approximately 50 volunteers and 30 foster families, GPPR has successfully placed 760 pointers in adoptive homes
Quick math: one homeless dog has found a new, loving family nearly every 4 days for the past 8 years thanks to GPPR.
They also microchip every dog should it get loose or lost. “If ever there is a bite incident, we take them back into rescue,” Nelson said. “We stand by them their entire life.”
Adoption fees serve as reimbursement for veterinary costs. Because GPPR and its volunteers care so deeply for its dogs, they conduct a thorough adoption process for every family, which can take anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks or longer.
“We can tell people about dogs before they adopt, and we do a lot of narration to feel out families,” Nelson said. “We tell them the good, the bad, the ugly.”
An adoption application requires one vet and two personal references.
“Approval takes 4 to 6 days,” Nelson said. “Once we approve applicant then they continue with foster family and have discussions back and forth. “Some dogs have to be in the program for 10 days before we adopt them out,” she said. “Longest was over a year. We don’t rush the adoptions because we stay with them for life. We want them to go with a good family.”
GPPR makes use of social media to recruit volunteers, advertise adoptions and keep members and volunteers apprised regarding the progress of dogs within the program. “Every story is what it is—not always sunshine and roses,” Ford said. “If we do get a dog that gets hurt, then has to go to vet, I want people to know that.”
Ford notes the perfect dog for the perfect family doesn’t just happen overnight—it is the result of putting in the necessary time, providing love and affection, and learning how to properly train the dog.
“If you break their heart by not paying attention, they’ll fire back two times harder,” Ford said.
Both Nelson and Ford and other volunteers receive many inquires regarding a foster dog’s ability to hunt, though GPPR does not guarantee any dog will hunt to the standards an owner might expect.
“We do have some fosters that take dogs out and hunt test them,” Nelson said. “Even if they hunt for a foster family, they might not for an adoption. We get quite a few surrenders because they won’t hunt.”
“If we have dogs that have hunted,” Ford said, “we would like to test them in a more positive environment.” A foster family that hunts remains an invaluable asset for GPPR, as that family can determine if a dog still wishes to hunt after being rescued, if that is something the dog may embrace in a new home environment.
“A foster home knows the dog the best,” Ford said. “Take one out and fire over them, determine if they’re gun shy—that is always helpful. Dogs can be picky that way. They might have a nose until the gun is fired.
“People with that type of hunting knowledge are helpful,” Ford said. “We don’t want to take a dog that is hunting and put into a home where it will be bored.”
GPPR works alongside other national pointer rescues in Illinois and Kansas. Through their growing number of volunteers and foster homes, GPPR continues to grow and successfully place pointers in adoptive homes throughout their three-state region. However, in Ford’s mind, there remains one overlooked area: South Dakota.
“In South Dakota, with reservations, it gets pretty heart-breaking, a little bit overwhelming,” she said. “There are a lot of dogs up there that could use help. If there is any state I could expand to, it would be South Dakota.
“But with reservations, they don’t vet dogs,” she said. “Dogs are everywhere. There are tons of strays, some hunting breeds in there.” Additionally, Ford noted the lower population numbers, which means fewer homes available for foster care.
“The more homes, the more we can help,” she said.
Because, for Ford, the best part about working with rescue dogs is the transformation. “I like having the ability to see the wonderful that wasn’t seen as wonderful,” she said, “to see the transformation—physical and emotional—from lonely dogs in kennels going crazy to having a happy family. That is pretty cool.”
Any family or individual interested in adopting or volunteering can visit the GPPR’s website
, or their Facebook
Story by Jack Hennessy. Jack is the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” Follow him on Facebook: Facebook.com/braisingthewild and Twitter and Instragram: @WildGameJack.
Photo credits: Main image: Harold Meerveld; Remaining images: Great Plains Pointer Rescue