1. How did you start rescuing dogs?
I once participated in a sea turtles conservation project in Cyprus back in 2004 when I was still a biology student. Our work naturally took place on the beach and we repeatedly came across 3 pups. Long story short: we found these 3 amazing dogs each a home, amongst other things, in our home and that was the beginning. On top of that, in order to learn more about canine behavior, I trained as a dog trainer in 2009 in parallel to my PhD in behavioral physiology.
We do not rescue dogs in that sense, but support a very well run British shelter in Cyprus to find families for their dogs.
2. Where do the dogs come from?
From Cyprus, but we have also fostered dogs for an organization that rescues discarded dogs from puppy mills in Belgium, and for an organization that rescues dogs from the streets in Italy.
3. What is the difference between foster and adoption?
For the dogs, this shouldn’t feel any different. For them, their foster family is often the very first family of their own. Therefore, the transition into the adoption family ideally happens as slowly as possible, comparable to a children's daycare acclimation.
For a foster family, it is definitely nice to be able to accompany the development of their protégé and the merging of the new family. At the same time, this may sometimes lead to feelings of grief. Yet, we have always said to ourselves: to love also means to let go.
4. How are rescued dogs different in character than bred dogs?
How are rescued dogs different in character than bred dogs? I have not had the chance to experience living with any bred dogs, but differences are certainly multi-layered and individual. The reason what makes the dog a rescue dog plays an important role. What I can say with relative certainty about many stray dogs is, that they or at least their parents have been exposed to certain survival adaptive processes and certain behavioral traits have therefore developed stronger correspondingly. A profound problem-solving behavior (e.g How do I best obtain food?) is often well recognizable in street dogs. I would even go so far to say that their social competence is potentially more distinctive, as it helps to integrate into a pack. Moreover, conflict solving behavior keeps one safe from getting into fights. This is just my opinion, not scientifically proven. It is generally very fascinating to see how adaptable these dogs are even to a mature age and how the majority of them would just like to be part of a two-legged family.
5. What traits do you like most about dogs?
I appreciate their sensibility and courtesy and of course their humor and cleverness.
6. Is there anything everyone should know about dogs from animal shelters?
Dogs from animal shelters, more often than not, did not receive sufficient nutrition through their mother’s milk during the early phases of their lives. Supporting your rescue dog’s immune system with high quality food as needed is rather important. I would advise you to pay attention to where meat and ingredients come from and how the food has been processed. A good food manufacturer will make this clear.
Likewise, healthy amount of sleep is important to support their immune system — dogs sleep up to 18 hours a day (not continuously).
As mentioned previously, it’s fascinating how adaptable dogs are and they can become great family members even after a long time being in a shelter. Yet, it is important, especially if you’re inexperienced, to get to know your dog at the shelter or at their foster home, these people will be able to tell you a lot about the dog. Take your time to get to know each other, so the transition will be easy for the both of you.
It is also possible, that after a certain time behaviors that make life a bit more difficult appear. If you have not already consulted a trainer/behaviorist at the time of adoption, then now is your chance. This will help you gain some understanding and strategy for coping. It is important to remain honest to oneself to avoid further difficulties and preserve one’s quality of life.
7. Have you got any advice for the adoption of shelter dogs?
Always approach with patience to find your perfect match (in character). This I can’t stress enough; look at the dog’s character before adopting, rather than its superficial look. For example, if you are a highly sociable person who likes to be out and about a lot, you will have to bend a lot in the long run with a very sensitive, timid dog who prefers to be out in nature and is most comfortable with a lot of quiet and routine. Without question, the dog’s self-confidence and robustness can be worked on with a lot of training, but his individual character will still remain.
Please, don’t adopt your dog with a certain expectation or purpose. The dog should become a part of the family for its own sake. Patience, flexibility and creativity are still important virtues after adoption. It is okay to look for a professional support promptly when problems arise, and when possible one without violence and psychological pressure.