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Charles Brunt '95-now
Friday, November 26, 2010
Labs = Love
By Charles D. Brunt
Journal Staff Writer
Marita Spees and Colleen Wyatt named their Labrador retriever rescue service Luvin' Labs for a simple reason: It's what they've been doing for years.
The women, who first met through their businesses, soon discovered they were neighbors and fellow dog lovers. So it was no surprise when, while driving home one evening, Spees received a frantic call from Wyatt, whose Lab had wandered off.
"I calmed her down and told her I'd be driving the neighborhood in a few minutes and that we'd find her dog. We did," Spees said last week.
That began a friendship and, in a roundabout way, Luvin' Labs.
Wyatt, now a resident of the East Mountains, lost her beloved chocolate Lab Dawhoo to cancer in May 2008. Wanting to post a memorial to Dawhoo on a website dedicated to dog rescues, she came across Lodestar Dog Ranch, situated in the Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque.
Wyatt started working with Lodestar founders Tom and Jean Payne to find homes for homeless dogs, and was joined in her efforts by Spees.
When the Paynes decided to retire from the nonprofit they started, they asked Wyatt and Spees if they were interested in taking it over — which the two women eagerly did.
"Tom advised us to concentrate on a single breed of dog," Spees said. "Otherwise, he said, we'd be inundated with calls and dogs."
Trying to save every dog that comes along, Payne told the women, would quickly lead to frustration because there would be too many dogs and not enough money to save them all.
"Because we both had Labs, and because Colleen had lost her Lab Dawhoo, we decided that was the breed we wanted to focus on," Spees said.
Donations can be mailed to:
Lodestar Dog Ranch/Luvin' Labs
P.O. Box 52212
Albuquerque, NM 87181-2212
Donations can also be made via PayPal or credit card at the nonprofit's website
Luvin' Labs is a Web-based rescue service dedicated to finding loving homes for Labrador retrievers. The website — www.luvinlabs.com — lists the stories and photos of dozens of adoptable Labs.
Luvin' Labs volunteers stay in touch with shelters, veterinarians and rescue agencies statewide so they know when a Lab is looking for a home.
The all-volunteer service does not have a kennel: It relies instead on foster homes where the rescued dogs live until they're adopted. Luvin' Labs also boards some Labs at existing facilities until fosters are available. And there's always a need for foster families, Spees said.
Through persistence and genuine care, Spees and Wyatt have formed a network that finds homeless Labs — many within days of being what Spees calls PTS (put to sleep) — gets them needed medical attention and into the homes of foster families. Usually within two weeks, the Lab has a new home.
"People who adopt from us spread the word," Spees said. "They like the fact that we're very particular about who gets the dogs."
Before an adoption takes place, Spees or Wyatt visit the prospective home to ensure the would-be Lab owners and their residences are Lab-ready.
"Labs need human companionship," Spees said, as well as plenty of exercise and large helpings of love.
But even if the home and adopter look good, a trial period is required.
"We want you to take the dog for two weeks to make sure the dog's right for you, and that you're right for the dog. ... It takes that long for owners and dogs to adjust to one another," Spees said.
"Half the time, within a week they'll call and tell us, 'You aren't getting this dog back, we love him!'
"We want our fosters to know that, just because you take a dog, you're not stuck with him if it doesn't work out," she said. "If things aren't working out, we'll do something else."
Adopters are required to sign a form stating that if they ever have to give the dog up, Luvin' Labs gets the first chance to find the dog a new home.
Sadly, there's been an increase in the number of Labs needing homes, in part because of the sluggish economy.
Abandonments and "owner surrenders" can be the result of divorce, illness, a financial downturn that makes it impossible to afford dog food or vet bills, and even deportation.
"Sometimes we get calls from people, especially Lab owners, who say they want to give their dog up, but who don't really want to give them up. Maybe the dog just chewed up the computer or dug up the yard or something, and they've just had it.
"We'll talk to the owners and try to determine what the real problem is," Spees said, with the goal being to find a solution that will keep the dog in its home.
Bad behavior could be a training issue, undiagnosed illness or a change in the dog's routine.
If all else fails, Luvin' Labs will post the dog on its website with a story explaining why the dog needs a new home.
Often, people are more willing to adopt from Luvin' Labs than from a shelter, Spees said.
Because the goal is to save as many Labs as possible, Luvin' Labs does its best to make sure its dogs are in good health before they go to their new homes. Before being adopted the dogs are spayed or neutered, given all required immunizations and microchipped. They are provided with collars, leashes, toys, food treats and "anything else we can give them to feel wanted," Spees said.
TLC Pet and Uptown Cat Hospitals and Good Shepherd Animal Clinic have been valuable partners in that effort, Wyatt said, adding that both give Luvin' Labs discounts on vet care.
Chevy, a honey-colored Lab mix who was extremely shy when he first came to Luvin' Labs, needed a few sessions with a dog psychologist before he was ready for adoption, Spees said.
"Now he's a sweetheart," she said. "He's never going to be the cuddly little lap dog, but he's a very loving dog waiting for that perfect match. We have a couple of people interested in him."
Spees and Wyatt, who own 10 dogs between them, say rescuing Labs is sometimes heartbreaking, but always rewarding. Whether it's nursing an abandoned puppy back to health or turning a clown like Chevy over to a new home, the reward is seeing the wagging tail of the new family member and the joyful faces of his new owners.
"People need to understand that when they adopt from a shelter or a rescue service, they're saving that animal's life," Spees said.
The formula seems to be working; in the past year, Luvin' Labs has rescued and placed more than 150 Labs and Lab crosses in homes, as Spees says, "one dog at a time."