Rev. David and Kathy Hirtle are part of All American Dachshund Rescue, a group that takes in abused and abandoned dachshunds before finding them homes. The have two dogs of their own as well as a foster dog.
Rev. David Hirtle relaxed in a large easy chair as his two rambunctious dachshunds tossed toys at his feet, pleading for him to play fetch.
As he reached for one of the stuffed objects, a small head peaked around the corner from the next room.
And, just as quickly, disappeared.
“There she is, there’s Zelda,” Hirtle said, referring to his most recent foster dog. “She has a very difficult time with men — especially their feet.”
“What do you think that says?” he added, alluding to the abuse the small dog had endured.
Zelda, Hirtle explained, was rescued from a puppy mill in Missouri along with a dozen other dogs. In her first two years of life she had already been forced to deliver two litters of puppies. She had lived her life in a cage with no real human interaction, had never had a toy or been outside.
“The authorities in Missouri are cracking down on puppy mills,” Hirtle said. “They said find a home for these dogs, or shoot them.”
Hirtle is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Crown Point.
One of the dachshund rescue organizations Hirtle works with — All American Dachshund Rescue — agreed to take the dogs in and place them with foster homes in hopes they could be readied for adoption in a permanent home.
All American is in Tennessee, so once foster families were located for the dogs, they had to be driven by volunteers, each taking a leg of the 1,200 mile trip. The final dog was placed in New Hampshire, Hirtle said, with volunteers driving 21 separate legs to complete the entire drive.
When Zelda arrived at the Hirtles, she weighed just over 8 pounds. The first two nights she would not come out of her crate and howled throughout the night, but within a week she was beginning to respond to human interaction. And, she was the most social of all the dogs saved from the puppy mill.
“It breaks my heart to think what they did to her,” Hirtle said. “But she is slowly coming around with lots of love, and is putting on some weight.”
Hirtle has had dachshunds his entire life — between 10 and 15 in total —and just “loves the breed.” He and his wife Kathy decided 15 years ago to become involved in helping rescue dachshunds that had been abused, cast off or surrendered by their owner. He since has taken in more than 40 foster animals and helped screen and place them in “forever homes.”
Along with All American Dachshund Rescue, Hirtle also works with Coast to Coast Dachshund Rescue based in Jacobus, Pa., to help rescue and place dogs with adoption homes.
“I’m just glad to do what I can,” Hirtle said. “I just don’t know how anyone can abuse one of these little guys.”
Hirtle currently has two miniature daschunds of his own, a 10-year-old wire haired dog named Fred and a 2-year-old long haired dog named Emma. Squatting on the floor between the two, Hirtle spoke about how the family acquired Emma after their last dog Fritz passed away from a brain tumor.
“After Fritz died, Fred went into a deep depression and refused to eat,” Hirtle said. “He was circling the drain, as they say.”
So, Kathy and David took Fred to a breeder in Vermont to pick out a new housemate. When they arrived, 8-week-old Emma strolled over, took Fred by the leash and began walking him around. The couple knew they had found the newest addition to their family.
“It saved his life,” David said. “Never underestimate how socially bonded dogs become with one another.”
The Hirtles use that bond to help acclimate their foster dogs with their household, and help ready the dogs for their permanent homes that also may already have pets.
On average, foster dogs spend about a month with their temporary households “until the right family comes along.” They make a trip to the veterinarian where they receive any needed shots, are spayed or neutered and are microchipped. When adopted, they often come with a crate, collar and toys. The adoption fee — usually around $300 — just covers the cost of the rescue organization.
The foster families conduct a thorough screening of those who apply for adoption, do background checks, speak to veterinarians that may have dealt with the perspective adoptee and then conduct site visits at the family’s home.
“These dogs have had enough trauma,” David said. “We want them to go to a forever home. We don’t want to see them returned.”
And, it is often heart wrenching to give the foster dogs up, David said.
“They become a part of the family,” he said. “It is so hard to let go, so it becomes very important that we are comfortable with where they are going.”
Kathy, arriving home from her job at Gunnison’s Orchard, sat in another arm chair and Zelda immediately leaped into her lap, looking up longingly for a kind pat on the head.
Kathy took her in her arms.
“She is such a sweetie,” Kathy said. “She really needs another small dog that she can hang out with.”
If it were up to David, they’d have three dachshunds.
“And that would be the third,” he said, motioning to Zelda.
Diane Irwin, president of All American Dachshund Rescue, said her organization places between 300-350 dachshunds a year in new homes, nearly 90 percent of which come from southern states like Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee, where puppy mills flourish and the statistics of spaying and neutering are much lower.
“Dachshunds are literally raining out of the sky down here,” Irwin said. “We get 5-10 requests a day to take dogs in and there is absolutely no way we can handle that many, so they die.”
Irwin said breeders will attend flea markets and sell puppies for as little as $100 apiece. Then, new owners find out that the breed comes with its own unique set of challenges. Dachshunds can be very stubborn, can sometimes nip and bark and can be hard to housebreak.
“So, rather than take the time to understand the breed and teach them through consistency and reward, they dump them at a shelter,” Irwin said.
Irwin praised the volunteers who open their homes to foster the dogs as well as those who offer their time, vehicle and gas to help transport the dogs from the south to the north where they are much more apt to be adopted.
“If it were not for these generous people, a lot more of these loving little dogs would die down here, and they are not paid, they do it out of the goodness of their hearts,” she said.
There are any number of ways to help save the unwanted dogs from being put down, Irwin said. People can volunteer to take in foster dogs, can help deliver the dogs or can just donate a small monetary amount each month to help defray costs. Learn more by emailing Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit allamericandachshundrescue.org http://allamericandachshundrescue.org or c2cdr.org http://c2cdr.org .
Hirtle said the dachshund rescue has a simple motto when it comes to saving unwanted dogs.
“Until there are none,” he said.