By Amy Brase
It’s difficult to resist the charm of a lovable Golden Retriever puppy. The breed is not only beautiful but is famous for being loyal, playful and smart.
According to the American Kennel Club, Golden Retrievers are among the top three most popular dogs in the United States. This makes it hard to understand the need for a Golden Retriever rescue organization.
The reality is that those same sweet puppies grow up to be large, energetic dogs. Some owners underestimate the time and commitment required to care for them.
Patty Larson, director of operations for Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota (RAGOM), has had a soft spot for Golden Retrievers since the first one joined her family. She spent a great amount of time researching friendly dogs after a bad experience with a dog of a different breed purchased from a pet store. Patty began fostering Golden Retrievers and volunteering with RAGOM in 2009.
“I love all dogs, but Goldens have captured my heart. It’s an amazing experience to help them transition from a bad situation and find a perfect home.”
From Sophia to 7,000
It was 32 years ago when Hank and Jane Nygaard unexpectedly welcomed into their home a 9-month-old Golden Retriever who was scheduled for euthanasia in a shelter that afternoon.
A family soon adopted the Golden they named Sophia, and the rest is history. Jane became known as the lady to call if there was a Golden in trouble and she also became the founder and director of RAGOM.
RAGOM (ragom.org) serves Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and western Wisconsin. It is one of the largest Golden Retriever rescues in the country and has been rescuing and rehoming since 1985.
RAGOM’s mission today remains the same: To rescue and re-home unwanted, abused, neglected and displaced Golden Retrievers and Golden Retriever mixes, and locate permanent homes for them. They advocate for responsible pet ownership and support animal abuse and neglect prevention programs, as well as spay/neuter initiatives.
Seven thousand Golden Retrievers and Golden mixes have found their forever homes thanks to a team of volunteers. Their rescue efforts include fostering, training, transporting, visiting prospective homes, fundraising and organizing events.
How Ragom Works
If an owner of a Golden Retriever is unable or unwilling to keep him or her, RAGOM is the place to call. Whether it be the discovery of allergies, lack of time to train an energetic dog, or an upcoming move to a place not suitable for a Golden, RAGOM has a “no judgement attitude” about stepping in to help.
RAGOM strives to find an ideal home for each dog. They may be able to offer solutions to help an owner keep their pet. Whether the dog stays or is surrendered, volunteers do everything they can to ensure the dog is healthy, happy and loved.
Dogs receive comprehensive medical care, including updated vaccinations, spay or neuter, and a microchip. Foster families provide loving homes, basic manners, and temperament assessment to determine what qualities should be present in an ideal forever home and then match the dog with an approved adoptive family.
Adoption is taken very seriously. RAGOM works to match each dog’s needs to the best home situation. That may mean children or no children, plenty of safe room to run, no other pets, etc.
“People coming to RAGOM are not looking for puppies,” says Patty. “They want to rescue dogs, and their hearts are in the right place. We have amazing adopters. There’s nothing like it, knowing that the dogs are going on to live in these families. You get addicted to it.”
RAGOM BY THE NUMBERS (2016)
71,277 Miles driven by volunteers to transport 309 dogs
90 Veterinary partners that provided discounted services
36 Homeless dogs transported from Turkey
259 Dogs found new, loving families
6 Dogs received gentle, loving hospice care
The “Turkey” Dogs
Watching the forklift gently deliver the pallet of dog crates from the plane is always an emotional experience for Patty Larson, who has coordinated every transport. Rolling out the welcome mat for these furry immigrants from Turkey has become her passion.
After traveling 5,473 miles from Istanbul to Chicago, they are anxious to stretch their legs and take a potty break.
First introduced to Turkey by those who could afford to import Golden Retrievers from neighboring countries, they are now sold on the streets for as little as 50 Turkish lira (about $20 US dollars) and have become common dog throughout Turkey.
While the puppies are popular and often given as holiday gifts to children, the adult dogs are not as beloved. Hundreds are now found living on the streets of Istanbul, dodging cars and depending on scraps to survive.
There are not enough shelters for all the homeless dogs and adoption is not popular, so many are spayed or neutered, given rabies vaccines and released into the streets or forests.
Golden Retrievers do not thrive in the wild because they are not good pack animals and don’t fight back when attacked by other dogs. There is a law against euthanasia in Turkey, so the ones in shelters simply live out their lives in shelters. International adoption may be the only hope for some Turkish Golden Retrievers.
“A Golden in need is a Golden in need,” says Patty Larson. There are at least 1,000 homeless Golden Retrievers in Turkey and not enough shelters for them. Meanwhile, there are many hopeful adopters in the United States.
“The surrender of Golden Retrievers in the United States has dropped dramatically in the past five years,” she says. “Because of this decrease, we began to look internationally. We simply don’t have enough dogs for all of our potential adopters. We might get 15 to 30 families applying per dog.”
How did the rescue effort get started?
A traveler from the United States discovered the problem of so many street dogs in Turkey and contacted Adopt a Golden of Atlanta (AGA). AGA mobilized and began rescue efforts in 2013. RAGOM reached out to AGA in 2015 and has been helping ever since.
How do they get here?
It’s an extraordinary effort by hundreds of volunteers in both Turkey and the United States. About two weeks before a scheduled transport date, RAGOM receives emails with basic information about the Golden Retrievers who have been through the shelter system and are living on the street or in municipal shelters.
Once 18 are chosen, the dogs stay in an area pet hotel and receive full vetting and health certificates to travel overseas.
“On the day of departure, each Golden is given a loving parting gift—a handmade beaded collar made with love,” from the Turkish volunteers, for luck, says Patty. “Tucked into their extra-large airline crates, they are transported to the airport and ready to make the long journey to America in climate-controlled cargo planes.”
What happens to them once they arrive?
The dogs go directly into foster homes to decompress and adjust to their new surroundings. That’s when loving hands and hearts come together to find a perfect match for adoption into a forever home.
Does it cost more to adopt a Golden Retriever from Turkey?
The adoption process is the same but the
fees are different.
$475 Regular adoption fee for a Golden Retriever in the United States
$600 Turkish dog
$800 Turkish puppy under one year old
How can we help?
“The biggest thing is donations,” says Patty. “It costs $1,800 per dog to bring him or her over. That covers the flight, customs and duties, shipping the crates back, paperwork, vetting, boarding and pet hotels. There are amazing people who dedicate their lives to this and nobody gets paid.”
Amy Brase is a writer who loves to tell the stories of people who live with heart. She and her husband have three children and a mini Goldendoodle who thinks he’s the fourth.