OAK HARBOR — Renee Carr remembers wishing she’d live with 10 dogs for most of her life.
Today, she wishes she lived with just 10 dogs.
Sharing a house with 19 dogs can be a lot, even for someone who has devoted the past 15 years to rescuing and fostering over 300 German shepherds. This is the most dogs she’s ever had at her house, and she’s reached capacity.
However, it’s a sacrifice that this Oak Harbor resident is more than willing to make.
As she sat on the grass, Carr surrendered for the fourth time to one of her foster dog’s silent pleas to be picked up like a baby, while other shepherds trotted joyfully in circles around them. The dog, Stella, sat on her lap, leaning backwards and abandoning herself on Carr’s arms in pure Michelangelo fashion as the woman giggled.
Carr has loved German shepherds since she was a child, when she watched the RV show “Run, Joe, Run.” The show was about a German shepherd in the military running away after being falsely accused of attacking his master, for which he would have been euthanized.
Years later, her mission is to save as many shepherds as she can from being euthanized in shelters.
Carr usually spends her days letting the dogs out in her yard in groups of six, scooping poop, preparing food, vacuuming hair, dusting and walking the critters around.
Though it feels like a full-time job, Carr does not make a living out of this. She used to work as an accounts receivable clerk but is now unemployed and is mainly relying on her savings.
“I’m going broke,” she said, estimating she spent about $100,000 to save all of the dogs.
“Do I want this many dogs? No. Do I want dogs to die? No. Can I save them all? No. But I’m gonna try my hardest,” she said.
Some have asked her how she does it, to which she says that, like some people who were born to have 20 children, she was born to rescue dogs.
German shepherds used to be rare, but after being overbred, they became one of the large breeds that is most commonly found at shelters, along with pitbulls and huskies.
“Four years ago, you’d get $800-900 for a German shepherd puppy, even as a backyard breeder dog, because there weren’t that many,” Carr said.
Carr has rescued dogs from Yakima, California, Texas and even Mexico, where many of the shepherd rescue pleas online come from. Whidbey, she said, has been handling its strays fairly well and shepherds are harder to find.
In Yakima, the reality for these dogs looks particularly bleak, as most of the pets in need of rescue are German shepherds. She said people who report strays to shelters are being told to leave them on the streets as they can’t take anymore.
Carr acknowledged that shelters are doing what they can with the space and staff they have. When dogs have to be euthanized, it can be a painful experience for staff.
Despite the overflowing shelters, many keep buying purebred dogs for cheap from backyard breeders.
“If you’ve got the balls, get your purebred,” Carr said. “Then come down to a shelter with me, with your little purebred at home, and tell me which one of these dogs goes home today and which one gets killed.”
Carr blames breeders for flooding the market. Purebred puppies are being dumped on the streets, and when breeding pairs are “too” old, they get dumped too because they’re harder to sell.
“What’s considered an old dog now is three, four years old,” Carr said.
Recently, Carr has been seeing purebred golden retrievers puppies being abandoned, despite their popularity. Just a few years ago, that would have been unheard of.
Scrolling through the announcements and the pleas everyday has been taking an emotional toll on Carr, who often just wants to cry.
“Adopt, don’t shop,” she said. “Everybody thinks that if you get a dog out of the shelter, it’s going to be this horrible mess. And honestly, there are some, but you can still go to a breeder and get a puppy and it still turns out to be a horrible mess.”
Many people buy dogs purely for their looks, but Carr believes adopting a dog should be like dating — based on compatibility. German shepherds are a high-energy breed, which can be overwhelming to an unprepared owner who might decide to give their pet away.
She explained that shepherds are known for going particularly downhill in shelters. Some become depressed, others aggressive, others are fine as soon as they’re out. Carr only rescues dogs with good temper that have a higher chance of finding a forever home, as she doesn’t want them to end up in shelters again.
Carr invites people interested in adopting dogs to reach out to her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Potential adopters go through a screening process. If approved, they have to pay an adoption fee, which can cost $500 and helps cover spaying and neutering costs — which can cost Carr up to $1,000. She also pays for food and transportation fees, though sometimes people will reach out to her requesting to rescue a specific dog and will reimburse her. Transporting a dog from California can cost $1,500, she said.
Carr also accepts food donations. Money donations can go to Save the Dals, a nonprofit she’s been partnering with.
“All I want to do is find homes for these dogs,” she said. “It’s insane that these beautiful, happy, well-adjusted dogs are dying. It’s just heartbreaking.”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling publication to The Herald.