Ginger Luke, Seattle, Washington
Dog Rescuer of the Month, August 2006
Ginger Luke is living proof that one person can make a difference in the life of
a dog. In the seven months since she started rescuing dogs in Washington, she
has saved the lives of 107 dogs—and counting. “You can’t save them all,” says Luke. “It’s one dog at a time.”
Unlike many dog rescues, the organization she started, Ginger’s Pet Rescue, focuses entirely on dogs that have the shortest time left—the ones on “death row,” with only weeks or days to find a home before they’re put down.
Ginger gets angry when she even thinks about it. “These dogs are put down because they don’t have a home—not because there’s anything wrong with them!”
One Dog at a Time
Though an animal lover all her life, Ginger is relatively new to the dog rescue scene. For the last 30 years, she has owned and operated the Rickshaw Restaurant in north Seattle. The restaurant keeps her busy seven days a week, but “Dog rescue is what’s completing my life,” she says.
Her success comes in large part from her high level of personal attention: She carefully reviews foster homes, and takes the time to meet every dog and every prospective owner. (She requires a five-page application and a home visit to ensure a solid match.)
Also, she focuses on saving one animal at a time. (She recognizes that people who go to a shelter to find a pet can get overwhelmed by the sheer number of needy dogs they see.) Ginger creates an electronic flyer detailing each dog’s story, and then sends it out to a dedicated network of friends. She started by sending emails to 40 of her friends, but her reach has grown to include thousands of networked dog lovers at Microsoft, Nintendo, Washington Mutual, Boeing, and Seattle Starbucks stores, among many others. People in Ginger’s network either forward the email to others, or print it out and post it around the city. What represents a small expenditure of individual effort makes a huge impact. (Visit Simple Ways to Help a Dog.)
Like many things in life, starting a dog rescue wasn’t something Ginger planned. It actually came about as the result of a food delivery. Her husband frequently made deliveries from the Rickshaw to a house in Seattle where he could always hear a dog barking. Hearing this story, Ginger went there herself and asked to see the dog. The owner replied that “It isn’t a very good dog” and that it needed to be put down.
Ginger offered the man $50 for the dog, so the owner opened the bathroom door and out ran a dachshund—the animal, as it turned out, had been living in the bathroom for two years. He was infected with fleas, his collar was so tight it had become embedded in his neck, and he had ear mites, to name just a few of his woes. After racking up a $1,800 vet bill to restore him to health, Ginger found the perfect home for the dog; he’s now the beloved service dog of a woman who is deaf.
Ginger has dozens of happy endings like these to report. A few months ago, she found a home for Annie, an Australian cattle dog who had been found running along the freeway. Now Annie is employed as a narcotics- and bomb-sniffing dog for the government. “She passed the test with flying colors!” Ginger proudly relates.
She herself has two cats and three dogs, including a Chihuahua named Maxwell that she found bouncing around on Craigslist who couldn’t seem to find a permanent home.
Ginger’s Pet Rescue focuses on finding homes for last-chance dogs in five shelters around Washington, including Ellensburg, Yakima, Ocean Shores, and Wenatchee. These smaller towns have a low adoption rate for dogs, so by focusing on these towns and arranging transportation for the animals to Seattle—a city with a large population of dog lovers—Ginger is able to connect the dogs with new families. This strategy has been so successful that one of the shelters she works with has gone from a 70 percent kill rate to a 10 percent kill rate in only nine months.
Her rescue work has expanded to include testing and training service dogs, as well as involvement in a prison program where inmates learn to train dogs—and get a lesson in empathy and compassion in return.
And while she gets upwards of 400 emails a day from people with dogs that need homes, people who have lost dogs, or people looking for a new pet, Ginger says what she needs most to help her efforts are foster homes for dogs in transition. Reliable foster homes are critical to the rescue process: They provide a place to put the dog immediately after it is picked up from the shelter, and Ginger can learn more about the dog’s temperament before finding it a permanent home. Some of the things she looks for are whether the dog can walk on a leash, whether it is safe to be around kids, and whether it gets along with other household pets.
Like many nonprofit rescue organizations, Ginger’s Pet Rescue always has a need for financial help to meet vet bills. Many of the dogs must be spayed/neutered and vaccinated before they can be placed in homes; others require major surgery and care after they’re rescued. The Rickshaw Restaurant often chips in to help offset the cost, but the need is ongoing. (For example, right now Nickel is in dire need of eye surgery.)
Usually, basic vet bills are covered in the dog’s adoption fee—something Ginger says is critical for reasons beyond just medical care. By charging a nominal adoption fee, rescuers can make sure they exclude people with bad motives (such as animal abusers, people who sell animals to labs for profit, or who use animals as bait for dog fights). In addition, the fee assures that the dogs are going to families who can really afford to take care of them. However, Ginger emphasizes that “It’s not about how nice your house is, or how much money you make—it’s about your heart. So many people have no money, but they have a heart.”
To some, saving dogs at death’s door may seem emotionally draining, but Ginger keeps the same positive attitude that she has used all these years in the restaurant business. “You have to be a people person, you can’t be selfish. You have to love what you do.” And there’s no denying—she does.
If you're interested in helping Ginger's Pet Rescue with donations of time or money, please visit her website.