For the Love of Goldens

Terming Golden Retrievers “America’s Sweethearts,” the American Kennel Club cites the breed’s beautiful, exuberant, and loving personality and devotion as companions as factors making Goldens among the three most popular breeds for family pets.

Story by Cathy Adams and photos by Mary Fehr

Seven years ago, retired banker John Sellers and his wife Deborah, longtime Golden owners, dreamed of starting a one-family Golden rescue.  “I consider them the greatest dogs in the world, and I had a vision of building a kennel in the back yard and going out every morning to feed a dozen dogs,” Sellers recalls.

Working on an unrelated fundraiser, Sellers was led by chance encounter to meet wine shop owner Lorraine Donald.  Donald had been in contact with Adopt A Golden Atlanta, an established group eager to start a Golden rescue in Alabama.

Sellers contacted non-profit strategic planner John O’Malley to set up a 501(c)(3) and by-laws based on the Atlanta model.

Since 2012, Adopt A Golden Birmingham, with its incredible volunteers,  has rescued more than 850 Goldens and Golden mixes, 121 dogs in 2018 alone.  The group boasts a “return” rate of only 3.39%, an astounding statistic in the rescue world.  Credit for “placing the right dog with the right family” is attributed to a comprehensive evaluation of both animals and prospective adopters.  “Orphans” are thoroughly vet-checked for health and behavior and temperament and go to new homes up to date on vaccinations, spayed or neutered, and microchipped. 

Adoption Counselor Ruth Henry, who was one of the first volunteers, continues to work seven days a week, sometimes 15 hours a day, to arrange the perfect placements.

Prospective adopters fill out an online application and submit a nominal registration fee.  Ruth checks veterinary references and does a telephone interview followed by a home visit with all family members.  Monthly “Meet and Greets,” held at two locations of Hollywood Feed, allow interested families to interact first hand with adoptable dogs. 

“The dogs pick their people,” Ruth Henry says.  “I have seen dogs light up and literally jump in laps.”  She recalls one Meet and Greet when a shy female immediately attached herself to a gentleman in a motorized wheelchair that would have intimidated many other dogs.  As part of a breed noted as exceptional service dogs, she simply recognized and responded to her mission.

Some rescue dogs are mistreated or abandoned. Henry cites two poignant examples.  Gabe, an adult Golden, and his bonded companion, Harley, a black Lab mix, were abandoned by owners who moved, leaving the two dogs chained to discarded furniture.  Fortunately, both found happy endings with devoted forever owners.

Through social media, adopters have come from 30 states, driving from as far away as Massachusetts and Utah, untroubled that Adopt A Golden does not ship or fly dogs. 

Foster care is critical to Adopt A Golden. Always in short supply and greatly needed, foster families reduce boarding expenses and provide behavioral evaluation and emotional support for the dogs.

Adopt A Golden relies on unpaid team efforts, from transporting dogs to participating in community events such as Belk Charity Days and Orvis holiday gift wrapping.  AGB is led by a board of 10 directors, including a practicing veterinarian, several attorneys, a CPA, business owners, and a retired U. S. Army colonel.  “It takes the whole group to make this work,” says Ruth Henry. 

Fundraising is paramount.  Veterinary expenses alone run well over $100,000 per year.  The average cost per dog from intake to adoption is over $1,000, with adoption fees generally averaging $350.  No dog is turned away for medically related issues.  To learn more or to foster, volunteer or donate, visit AGB at adoptagoldenbirmingham.com and on Facebook and Instagram.

“We are so grateful for the generosity of companies like Caliber Sports who allow us to use their names and facilities to bring awareness to our cause,” says AGB Community Events Coordinator Leanne Bains of Caliber’s “Adopt A Golden Day.”  “Community partnerships not only spread the word about AGB’s mission but also often result in individuals donating time or money,” Bains adds.

“Reviving the finer things in hunting and fishing as people who cherish the great outdoors and who feel most at home in rugged elements,” Caliber Sports would likely have the royal family as regular customers if located in London rather than in Homewood. 

Owners Chip Hazelrig and Robbie Pike founded the sportsman’s store in October 2017 to “bring something unique to the area,” says Caliber Assistant Manager Cameron Iverson.  “We are more than just your typical outfitter and offer services from gun safety training for women to our staff of experts’ years of experience in hunting and fishing.”

While Caliber stocks the highest end in equipment and clothing, including antiques and collectibles such as a $250,000 Beretta shotgun, Iverson is quick to point out that the store’s “middle ground” area of men’s and women’s clothing lines is affordable at all price points with something for everyone and gift options ranging from jewelry to books.

Caliber has a heart for the community, supporting charities from Baptist Health Systems Foundation to Muscular Dystrophy and Cystic Fibrosis fundraisers as well as sponsoring the Alabama and Auburn sporting clay shooting teams.  “Dogs have always been a big part of the world of outdoorsmen in general as well as hunters and fishermen,” Iverson says of the store’s promotion, through which a portion of store sales, as well as a generous corporate contribution, were donated to the dogs of Adopt A Golden Birmingham.

Transforming an older Homewood building into Birmingham’s arguably most elegant retail venue, a frequently heard shopper comment is a wish for Caliber to “bottle the essence,” luxurious scents of fine wood and good leather.

Visit Caliber at caliberxl.com, on Facebook and Instagram and at 2822 Central Avenue in Homewood.  205-917-5800.

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