By Josette Keelor
Members of the Virginia German Shepherd Rescue have a little joke for when they adopt the dogs they intended to foster.
"We call that Failing Fostering 101," said Lea Spickler of Sterling, who adopted Sister and Sasha from the rescue group and also fosters three more dogs: Bob, Jada and I'm a Good Girl.
The rescue group's mission is to find the very best home for each foster dog, which sometimes is with the foster family and sometimes isn't, said member Kay Fiocca of Middletown.
"They have been through enough," she said. "The last thing they need is a bad match."
The group's biggest fundraiser of the year is a golf tournament at Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club in Front Royal Oct. 4, where not only can participants raise money to help dogs rescued from abuse, abandonment or homelessness but also can meet some of the animals that will benefit from the funds and marketing.
"They meet and greet the players," Fiocca said. "They witness the hole in one."
"One day of the year, they let the course go to the dogs, and it's our dogs," she said. "We're very fortunate, we have a sold-out event each year."
The rescue, which Spickler founded as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2001, focuses on German shepherds but Fiocca said the group isn't snobbish about breeds.
Once members took in a Dalmatian and shepherd, not wanting to separate the two animals that had grown up together. Fiocca said they've had other Dalmatians too and Jack Russell terriers. They also take any mix of German shepherd.
"They come to us from a variety of sources," Fiocca said. Some are abandoned following a move to a residence that doesn't allow pets. Others have been surrendered to the rescue by soldiers returning to active duty. Most come from dire situations and require extensive medical treatment. All have stories that are unique.
Fiocca remembered arranging on a Thursday to pick up a pregnant dog that Saturday. On Friday she was told, "You're now picking up 11."
The rescue group kept the mother and puppies together for more than eight weeks before trying to place the puppies.
"We treat them as one of our own," she said.
Fiocca's 8-year-old purebred Smokey was a surrender whose elderly owner died. While family members would come and go, paying respects to Smokey's owner, Smokey remained by his bedside.
"She had become very protective," Fiocca said. "She took her job seriously."
Fiocca's other dog, Tyson, was 70 pounds and almost starved when he was rescued from Prince George's County in Maryland. Now, five years later, the shepherd-rottweiler-elkhound mix is 120 pounds -- "Which is what he should have been," Fiocca said.
Before she joined the group in 2007, Fiocca always purchased purebred dogs and raised them from puppies.
Now, she only adopts rescues.
"It's very addictive; once you start dealing with the dogs, it's so rewarding," she said. "You can really make the difference between life and death with a dog."
The group always needs more volunteers but screens applicants for placement suitability. Those who want to adopt a rescue dog must fill out an application, turn in three references and submit to a home visit, for the safety of the dog and anyone else living in the house.
The goal is finding a dog that's a good fit for an adoptive home, Fiocca said.
"It may be a beautiful dog, but it may not be the dog for that particular family," she explained. "Unfortunately people don't always think things through."
Spickler said she founded the group because Virginia didn't have one yet. She and other founding members were working with a Maryland-based rescue group before they formed their own.
In the beginning, they relied on their collective skills in law and accounting to get things going, she said.
"It's a diverse group that's for certain," she said. "Everyone loves the dogs, and that's the bond."
"We can save as many dogs as we have fosters."
Her dog Sasha knew nothing but a garage for the first year of her life.
Lauri Bridgeforth's dog, 6 ½ year old Moko, spent his first 5 ½ years of life in a 5-by-8 foot pen. She adopted him in December.
Another shepherd, Lilly, had been shot, beaten with a board and left chained up when Steve Schwalb of Front Royal found her. He learned at the vet that she was pregnant, and the bullets couldn't be removed until after she gave birth and the puppies were weaned.
"She turned out to be a great mom," he said. "I fostered her originally and we fostered her long enough to get her socialized with people again. Someone else fostered her with the pups."
The eight puppies were adopted out, he said, and Lilly went to a good home.
Dogs like that cost the rescue a lot of money, but Spickler said it's worth the money spent.
Once they take in a dog, she said "We are responsible for them for life."
The Sixth Annual Golf Tournament & Auction will be at 1 p.m. Oct. 4 at Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club in Front Royal. Registration is at 11 a.m. with dinner at 6:15 p.m. Auction items will be on display available for bidding throughout the day. The 50/50 lucky golfer will win $25,000, and the target hole No. 5 is $50,000 for a hole in one. Additionally No. 3 is golf clubs, No. 10 is a seven-day cruise and No. 12 is a $500 pro shop credit. Prizes also will be awarded for the closest to the pin, the longest drive and the first, second and third place teams.
The entry cost is $99 per person or $360 for a four-person team. For more information, call 540-409-7331 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com