Three local matchmakers seek homes for shepherds
Posted: January 19, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Three local women are busy playing matchmaker — for German shepherd dogs.
Kay Fiocca, who owns the Waterloo Service Center in Clarke County, and Sharla Ashby and Kim Zahorchak, both Frederick County residents, are local volunteers with Sterling-based Virginia German Shepherd Rescue Inc.
The 12-year-old organization is on a mission to find homes for members of the breed, and cross-breeds, that are in shelters, on the streets or survivors of abusive and/or neglectful owners.
The volunteers, said Fiocca, foster the dogs, learning their abilities and level of training, temperaments and addressing any medical issues. Then they try to find homes for the animals.
The 11-month-old pup was surrendered by her owner, who couldn’t cope with a young, bouncy animal.
Zahorchak is her foster mom, now nursing her through recovery from spaying surgery.
“She’s a sweet, sweet dog,” Fiocca said as Katie attempted to make friends with two older shepherds recently at the Virginia State Arboretum at Blandy Experimental Farm near Boyce.
Rescued dogs are placed in a home environment with their foster parents.
Zahorchak is “building a profile” of Katie so that when someone applies to adopt a shepherd, and fills out the “human” side of the profile, she’ll be able to determine if the candidate matches the dog and vice versa.
Zahorchak will also take the dog for a visit to a candidate’s home to evaluate how well the animal and potential owner hit it off.
“It’s rougher than a [human] adoption,” Fiocca said with a smile.
But, she added, whenever a dog is placed and then returned, “It’s a bit of a setback. We want a forever home.”
One reason a dog may be brought back, she said, is temperament. German shepherds are “a very social breed. They want to be part of your life.”
Since shepherds are bred to herd, Fiocca said, they do best when they have a firm grasp of what they can and cannot do. “They’ll adapt to any routine. If he’s doing what you’re doing, he’s a happy guy.”
But shepherds need a structured, disciplined environment. “You’ve got to tell them” what is acceptable or “they’ll figure it out on their own,” she said.
Most of the breed will prefer praise as a reward, even above food. And, while not particularly aggressive, “They protect their pack.”
They are also high-energy dogs, so it’s good to remember the motto, “a tired German shepherd is a good German shepherd.”
Rescue animals come in all ages and sizes.
Males generally weigh from 66 to 88 pounds and females 49 to 71 pounds.
Blade, a 4-year-old black male surrendered by an owner who could no longer afford his care, dwarfs Katie.
Having a dog “is a commitment,” Fiocca said, of time and money. “A lot of people just don’t get that when they get a dog.”
Blade has already found his forever home.
Ashby had lost her own beloved shepherd a while ago, and decided she would help to foster dogs until she was ready to own another.
And then she was asked to take Blade and “I fell in love again.”
He joined a household with a standard poodle and several cats.
Ashby is also fostering Mandy, an older female suffering from arthritis. “She was a stray from Prince William County,” Fiocca said.
The dog’s ailment has no cure, she added, but new medications are making her much more comfortable.
Fiocca said Mandy’s disabilities may mean she won’t find another home, but Ashby is prepared to care for her as long as she needs to.
However, Fiocca said, you never know. Another dog, shot by its owner and left for dead, was rescued, but left crippled.
She found a man who bonded with her and adopted her, and is “a totally different dog now,” Fiocca said.
These examples show what love can do.
Medical care is part of the work of the rescue organization, she said.
All dogs are spayed or neutered before being offered for adoption. And those that need medical care “one way or the other, we see they get what they need.”
That could mean fixing a broken leg or treating the animal for Lyme disease.
But, Fiocca added, it limits the number of dogs the rescue group can accept.
With the “easy cases,” where minimal medical care is needed, the veterinary bills usually cost $400 to $600, Fiocca said. The amount can increase substantially from there.
The association charges $250 for an adoption, which rarely covers the costs.
While all three women actively work with rescue dogs, the organization has many volunteer activities for those who can’t open their homes, but are willing to open their hearts.
Fundraising is a big issue, Fiocca said, because “we get no public assistance at all.”
Other volunteers help to pick up or transport rescue dogs from shelters as far away as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, although the Virginia organization focuses on the state and Maryland, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
To advertise the dogs available for adoption locally, the women work with Petco stores in Winchester and Front Royal. Adoption Day events let the public meet and greet the fostered animals.
Fiocca said the next event will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Petco store in Front Royal. Another will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Petco at Gateway Plaza in Winchester.
“Come get your German shepherd fix,” Fiocca said.
For more information about Virginia German Shepherd Rescue Inc., visit www.vgsr.org.
— Contact Val Van Meter at email@example.com