Tony, Bau Bau, Barry and Grace are wheeled through customs at the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX on a recent Saturday. Barking in their crates, the four rescued retrievers are wheeled outside, where volunteers welcome them with food and water after a twenty-one hour flight from Taipei, Taiwan.
They're accompanied on their flight by Judy Sn, a dog rescuer from Orange County. She plans to fly to Taipei and back every twenty days this year, on her own dime, to accompany the lucky dogs -- strays who have been neglected in Taiwan and sent here to be rescued, in a collaboration between a rescue team in Taipei and another one here in Southern California, Indi Lab Rescue. "If you really love dogs you don't want to see them on the street suffering," she explains.
But the Los Angeles Animal Services department kills an average of 20,000 stray dogs per year. So why spend so much effort on saving the lives of animals so far away? Is it ethical, and does it even make sense? Even ardent animal lovers and rescuers have questioned this practice.
Donna Salvini, founder of Indi Lab, explains that the answer is funding. "We're not paying a dime," she explains. "There's grassroots fundraising in Taiwan by the Taiwanese people. No government money is involved. They love these dogs and there are no options for them there. So, they're sent here." Indi Lab does rescue local dogs as well, but when there's a need for a purebred retriever, these dogs from Taiwan provide the perfect answer in that they move very quickly into homes without draining Salvini's resources.
Rescuers in Taiwan raise $1,000 per dog to prepare them for transport to the U.S. The densely populated Taiwan has an erupting "puppy fad," but once dogs grow to be full-size they're often neglected or abandoned, because of overpopulation and the tight living quarters of most Taiwanese people.
With no animal rights laws to constrain them, state officials round up the dogs and kill them or they end up in the "asylum," the Taiwanese terminology for a shelter. Government pounds are full of neglect and horrible methods of death, and they sometimes put dogs back on the streets to fend for themselves.
Ten to fifteen percent of the dogs Salvini rescues are from Taiwan. "We don't care if a dog is from Ohio, Mexico or Taiwan," she says. "Our mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home purebred retrieving breeds."
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Getting highly adoptable dogs that move very quickly to adoption without taking up resources is a no brainer for a breed rescue. Each has been vetted to the nines, she explains. "They've been spayed/neutered, fully vaccinated, tested for heartworm and parasites, had blood work, hip x-rays. They've been pre-fostered for a minimum of six months, arrive groomed and trained."
Salvini has saved an approximated two thousand dogs in her seven years as a rescuer. She has 200 or so approved families at any given time on her waiting list, as the demand for purebred retrievers in California is often higher than the number available for adoption.
As of 2012, Labrador Retrievers remain the #1 breed according to the American Kennel Club. Highly valued in the U.S., the lucky ones find their way here with a helping hand from those in Taiwan who see their true worth.