German Shepherd Rescue, Rehabilitate and Re-home is a non-funded, non-registered German Shepherd rescue centre that is based in Co. Down, Northern Ireland. We have been operational now for six years and have an ever-growing number of supporters and volunteers. We take in dogs both from council pounds and owner surrenders. We also work with various local councils to help rehabilitate dogs that have been involved in cases of severe neglect or cruelty.
We are what is known as a “closed” rescue. We are not open to the public and work by appointment only. Our dogs are not individually kennelled and are housed together as a pack. As well as sleeping together, they eat together and they run together. We find that letting our dogs form strong, and safe, bonds with each-other has one of the most important, if not the most important, impact on their psychological well-being.
Any dog that comes through our gates is given whatever time he or she may need in order to recover from any of their experiences. We are in no rush to re-home any of our dogs. Some have stayed with us for only a day, others for weeks and others for years. Some will spend the rest of their days with us at the kennels as we have a strict no-kill policy when it comes to behavioural issues. We believe that when the time is right, each dog will find their right home, even if that home is ultimately with us. Our re-homing process can take a long time and is strictly based on the needs and the welfare of the dog(s) involved.
At GSRRR we work on a system based entirely on trust, both in our relationships with our dogs and with each-other. We call ourselves a therapeutic community and each individual you will see at the kennels is generally not only there for the dogs, but for themselves.
Most of us involved with the GSRRR project have suffered, or are suffering from some kind of mental health issue, physical health issue or stressful experience. We work closely with individuals who are suffering from various kinds of traumas, addictions, mood disorders or displacements. While our priority may be the needs of the dogs that come into our care, we find that a place of respect, care and understanding amongst each-other is paramount in enabling us to do the work that we do. We strive ourselves in creating a place of safety for those, canine or otherwise, who may find life outside of the rescue one of extreme difficulty.
A therapeutic community at is base level is one that is a parcipative, group based approach to long-term mental illness, personality disorders and drug addiction. The concept of “community as a method” uses active participation with groups to drive individual change and the attainment of therapeutic goals with an emphasis on social learning and mutual self-help. Individual participants of the community take on some of the responsibility for the recovery of their peers. This aid to others is seen as an important par in the changing of oneself.
We believe that a feeling of purpose is paramount to an individuals well being and as various mental afflictions can very quickly strip a person of the ability to find purposeful and meaningful interactions in their life, creating an environment that is safe, controlled and meaningful is one of extreme importance.
As we are working kennels, there are a number of physical tasks that need to be carried out on a day to day basis and the work that we do with dogs carries great meaning and brings people together in their aim to achieve a better existence for something other than themselves.
The rehabilitation work that we do with dogs has a very obvious and almost linear point of progression. Changes in how these dogs are when they first come to our rescue and how they are after a few weeks with us are extremely clear and this brings with it a sense of achievement.
At the time of writing, we are looking at ways of expanding GSRRR, especially in regard to the therapeutic community that we offer. We are looking to reach out on the human aspect in order to benefit others who have found that the various mental health services available are either not beneficial to them, or have let them down. We offer a place of a safety and understanding, and our ethic is that in order to begin caring for yourself, you need to first learn to care for others and that through that care of others, purpose can be gained. To date this has been very effective and in recognising this we have an ardent desire to build on and expand the work we do.
Through rescuing, rehabilitating and where possible rehoming, we have seen first hand what can happen when organisations work together and how communication between all involved is effective. Our Facebook page, and our website shows just a few of our success stories. When we receive word of a German Shepherd that is in need of rescue, we draw up a plan of rescue and utilize our network of volunteers in order to secure the safety of that dog. Once rescued, vet checked and assessed we set about the rehabilitation process with our extensive knowledge and experience with the breed. Ultimately when the time is then right, we set about rehoming if possible and if not, the dog becomes one of our “lifers” and as such will live out their days at the centre.
We see first hand what time; care love and commitment can achieve in turning around these dogs. Dogs who would otherwise have been regarded as having “problems” or “beyond help.” We do what we do, and the feedback and success we have had in rehoming shows that we do it well. As such we wish to extend our services and become more involved with the public and our local community.
There has been extensive research which has proven time and time again the therapeutic benefits of animals of all shapes and sizes. At a basic level, research has shown that blood pressure can be lowered from watching fish swim around a tank and that watching fish in an aquarium can be effective in reducing anxiety in patients awaiting dental surgery (Katcher, et al., 1985). Guide dogs are well known for transforming the lives of the blind (Whitmarsh, 2005), with service dogs also being used for mental-health problems such as PTSD (Johnson, et al., 2013), physical problems such as epilepsy (Dalziel, et al., 2003), diabetes (Wells, et al., 2008) and they have also been found to be of benefit to individuals with autism (Pavlides, 2008). Horses are also used in various therapies with an example being that someone who is wheelchair bound can independently handle a horse and can very easily become a competent rider.
Prisons in the USA have gone as far as allowing inmates to care for rescue dogs at a ratio of two adults to one dog. The research from this has shown that the improvements to mental health have been astounding. Just by giving prisoners something to care for and look after has effectively given them a purpose in life and as some of them have put it, has “given them a reason to get up in the morning.” (Walsh & Mertin, 2015)
We at GSRRR want to recognise the research that has been done into pet and animal therapy and use it to help those within our community, however we recognise that this is not something we can do alone. We cannot use our current facilities as we need those to continue with the work we are doing with rehabilitation of rescue dogs, but these facilities would not be appropriate due to size, location and access in regard to human therapy.
In recognition of this we have done our research and feel that the Prison Service site at Millisle would be perfect for our needs. Mainly because it is in a tranquil location, getting potential service users away from the hustle and bustle of the city and big towns. It is easily accessible and already suited for the public with car parking, disabled toilets, fire exits, small rooms to interact and most importantly completely enclosed and extremely private which would provide safety and security for some of our more vulnerable users. Facilities in the shape of kennels are already in place for the dogs.
Northern Ireland for the 2nd consecutive year has recorded the UKs highest suicide rates (Office for National Statistics, 2016) (Samaritans, 2017). Whilst we would not begin to comment on the reasons behind this, we do know from suicide charities that those affected by the troubles benefit greatly from just getting out of the area they live in for a few hours. Millisle would be a profound change of environment as it is in a tranquil setting that is close to the sea and to combine this with the therapeutic benefits of interacting with our dogs, it would be a win-win situation for everyone.
We wish to take some of our dogs and effectively put them to work. They are a working breed, are highly intelligent and need a lot of stimulation. With their loyalty that is second to none, we want them to help others in the same way that we have been able to help them.
Currently there is over £7 million allocated annually to suicide prevention in Northern Ireland with 297 taking their own lives in 2016 (Office for National Statistics, 2016). With such high numbers and such a major investment, we at GSRRR feel we have a part to play. Local charities that could avail of our service would include services such as the Lighthouse Charity of PIPs.
Northern Ireland Action Mental Health (NIAMH) tells us that one in five adults in NI will show signs of mental illness at some point in their lives so we suggest that everyone has a part to play. Let us work together, bring together the vulnerable people that are identified by care/support workers as those who could benefit from animal therapy. Let them “escape” for a short time, let them sit on a sofa and pet a dog in what would be a homely environment. Even the act of talking to a dog can have calming effects and walking the dogs adds to the known benefits of exercise on mental health. Not everyone can afford or has the space to keep or a dog, nor the confidence in themselves to look after one so we can help by providing the dogs, some of whom will have overcome their own history of neglect, abuse and lack of proper socialization.
The list is endless for charities that could benefit from our proposal: Autism NI, Woman’s Welfare, Substance Abuse, Young Offenders, Rape Crisis, Disability Action and Positive Futures to name a few. As the service would expand, so too would the number of charities and services that we would be able to support.
Personal statements from support workers for those children/adults with autism or on the spectrum, state that one of the main problems they encounter is a place in which they can take their clients in order to give their primary carers some respite. As they say there are so many shopping centres, leisure centres and cinemas you can visit and most of these are not accessible of suitable because of the noise, lighting and their unpredictability. In stark contrast Millisle is a calm, tranquil, well maintained and controlled environment that would be beneficial to these individuals.
Vulnerable people exist throughout our society for whatever reason, and we at GSRRR like so many others, wish to help. We know our dogs and what they are capable of and the therapeutic benefit that they could pass on to others. We want to expand on this and provide with support and funding a service thjat we believe could help bring charities together and help many people in the process.
Dalziel, D. J., Uthman, B. M., McGorray, S. P. & Reep, R. L., 2003. Seizure-alert dogs: a review and preliminary study. Seizure-european Journal of Epilepsy, , 12(2), pp. 115-120.
Johnson, A. L. et al., 2013. Potential benefits of canine companionship for military veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Society & Animals, , 21(6), pp. 568-581.
Katcher, A., Segal, H. & Beck, A., 1985. Comparison of contemplation and hypnosis for the reduction of anxiety and discomfort during dental surgery”. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 27(1), pp. 14-21.
Office for National Statistics, 2016. Suicides in the UK: 2016 registrations. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2016registrations#suicides-in-2016-by-country-and-region
[Accessed 29 01 2018].
Pavlides, M., 2008. Animal-assisted interventions for individuals with autism. ed. (): Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Samaritans, 2017. Suicide Statistics report 2017. [Online]
Available at: https://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Suicide_statistics_report_2017_Final.pdf
[Accessed 29 01 2018].
Walsh, P. G. & Mertin, P. G., 2015. The Training of Pets as Therapy Dogs in a Women’s Prison: A Pilot Study. Anthrozoös , pp. 124-128.
Wells, D., Lawson, S. W. & Siriwardena, A. N., 2008. Canine responses to hypoglycemia in patients with type 1 diabetes.. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, , 14(10), pp. 1235-1241.
Whitmarsh, L. E., 2005. The Benefits of Guide Dog Ownership. Visual Impairment Research, , 7(1), pp. 27-27.