“Our rescue center provides a safe haven for homeless dogs, giving them the time, care, and love they need to find the right home, not just any home,” says Georgia Obenaus, Founder and Executive Director of GO Rescue Pet Adoption Center in Norfolk, VA. A life-long lover of dogs, she has kept this passion alive, and it has led to the founding of the first and only homelike Dog Rescue Center in her region.
Overcoming Adversity for the Love of Dogs
In 2011, Georgia lost her home. Instead of worrying where she would end up, her mission became finding great forever homes for the dogs she’d rescued from animal control. It was through a generous donation from a stranger that she was able to rent a space to keep those dogs safe, but the space was a simple building with four walls and a cement floor.
Enter another charitable act. A local business stepped up to donate the work of their electricians, plumbers, and builders to get the space worthy for her rescues. As GO Rescue grew, they became a state-approved 501c3 Non-Profit, and needed a larger space, so they rented a portion of a boarding kennel in nearby Virginia Beach, Virginia where they resided for 3 years. “Then, in 2018, we were given only 8 weeks’ notice to find a new place (a certain death sentence for our then 50 dogs).”
Finding Their Forever Home
With the 8-week deadline hanging over her head, Georgia sprang into action, finding a commercial property for sale in their current home of Norfolk, Virginia. This purchase has given GO Rescue security and the ability to craft their region’s only commodious dog rescue center. The 4,300 sq. ft. space is cozy and filled with couches and furniture for the dogs to explore and relax on.
While the goal of GO Rescue is to provide a temporary home for dogs before they find their forever family, the atmosphere not only prepares the dogs for a loving home, but also lets them get comfortable, so they show their best sides to potential adopters.
How GO Rescue Finds the Right Family
GO Rescue exclusively works by appointment to meet their dogs, because her small team of two is often too busy. Plus, by speaking with each potential adopter in person, she can get an understanding of which type of dog would best meet the family’s needs.
It is important to Georgia that the personality of the dog match with the family’s lifestyle, because no dog should be returned to a shelter due to a mismatch. This process can lead to low adoption rates for her dogs, because she doesn’t consider fast adoptions a victory, only successful adoptions. To her, getting a home for a dog is second to getting the right home for a dog. She has, in the past, had to turn down adopters because she knew that the dog didn’t meet their lifestyle. GO Rescue approaches adoptions like a matchmaker and advocates for the dog first.
GO Rescue seems to specialize in dogs that other shelters considered unadoptable. A recent adoption out of GO Rescue was for a 12-week-old Lab puppy that had already gone through two homes. She was a high-demand, high-energy puppy that required a lot of activity. Georgia was able to find her a home with a young couple who hike and camp and wanted a dog to join them on their adventures. It was a match made in heaven.
Another recent adoption was for a Doberman mix who Georgia immediately knew would not make a good pet. She was extremely clever and active and was happiest when working, so she needed a job. GO Rescue received many calls about this particular pooch, and Georgia turned them all down until a search and rescue trainer contacted her for a new dog to train. Georgia knew this was the life the dog deserved, and she set up the adoption knowing that this Doberman would be the best search-and-rescue dog on the guy’s team.
There are no unadoptable dogs. There is always a good adopter for each dog, but it’s a matter of finding the right match. Georgia said, “a dog that’s a problem in one home is exactly what another home is looking for,” and because of that, she treats each dog individually and gets to know their personality and needs before considering them ready for adoption.
Georgia’s Advice for Potential Adopters
Before you adopt a dog, know what the dog’s expectations are. Regardless of age, a dog has a unique personality and their own needs. Get the dog that matches your lifestyle and be prepared for the change in life and budget. “People don’t think a dog will have their own needs. Dogs won’t automatically acclimate to a person’s lifestyle, but the right dog will. It’s a lot like dating.”
Do your research before adopting and be honest with how you live your life. It’s important to find the breed and temperament that matches your current lifestyle. Don’t adopt an active dog hoping it will encourage you to go for more walks. Instead get a low-key dog that wants to cuddle on the couch with you and you’ll both be happier for it.
The Struggle of a Modern Rescue Group
Modern rescues all face similar challenges. They start out to help dogs, but much like Georgia did, they soon realize that the biggest part of running a rescue is treating it like a business. GO Rescue is one of two rescues with an actual facility in her area, because the costs of running a facility are astronomical. She went 10 years without any kind of salary to keep the rescue afloat.
When she started GO Rescue, Georgia had a successful photography career. She had dogs of her own and knew there was a need to find other dogs homes, so she sacrificed her career to help. Since then, the rescue has continued, despite the financial troubles and struggles to keep it open. Georgia said she thinks about shutting her doors every month because of costs, but the need to find these dogs homes is still prevalent in her mind, and she will keep going until she no longer can.
The biggest hurdle small rescues face is the lack of community support. Despite being a non-profit, they don’t get grants or discounts to support the day-to-day needs of the rescue. With a facility, the bills are especially high, but the benefits of a facility make those costs a necessity. According to Georgia, the average rescue has 2 or 3 good foster homes, so a facility not only allows them to care for more dogs, but also to have all their dogs in one place when a potential adopter schedules a meet and greet.
What Does Georgia Wish More People Knew About Dog Rescues?
“It’s very hard. If it were only about fulfilling your heart [by helping the dogs], there would be dozens of rescues, but it’s hard. I didn’t realize how much it was like a business, and if you don’t run it like a business it won’t exist.”
The one thing she needs most: Monthly donors. Small amounts add up when enough people donate regularly. If half of her 20,000 Facebook followers donated $5 a month, she wouldn’t be in the predicament of worrying about closing her doors every month. She says, “Everyone out there is in need. It’s hard to express that you can’t stay open without the support. Caring isn’t enough. Pressing an emoji on your phone isn’t enough. If you care, do something. Take action.”
If you want to help GO Rescue Pet Adoption Center, follow them on their Facebook Page to get up-to-date happenings and their needs. Don’t forget to sign up as a monthly donor if you’re able!
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