Interview with Jenna Gates

Jenna was always surrounded by dogs as well as horses until she moved to NYC in the 1980s. Then, after over 15 years without a pet, she welcomed Snickers, a shiba inu, into her life. A couple years later, in 2006, she founded a shiba meetup group in NYC. Then after about a year, Jenna founded the NYC Shiba Rescue (NYCSR). She is a past president and a current member of the board of directors for NYCSR. In addition to her work in Shiba rescue, Jenna also educates the public about shibas and responsible pet ownership. She helped to establish The Anipal Times. As if this weren't enough to keep Jenna occupied, she also does therapy work with Snickers, and they are registered pet partners of the Delta Society.

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to interview Jenna.

1. How did you first become interested in Shibas?

Honestly, the breed choice was mostly my daughter's decision. Snickers, my first Shiba, was originally meant to be her dog. Like most kids, she wanted a puppy from a very young age. When she was about eight years old, we moved into a dog friendly apartment, so I told her to start researching breeds and we would get a puppy. My mom gave her a "dogalog" - a book of dog breeds with history, typical personality information, and info on grooming, energy level, etc.

She initially picked out 20 breeds that she thought were cute. Then she went through that list and eliminated breeds that (1) wouldn't do well in the city, (2) couldn't stand the summer heat or winter cold of NYC, (3) required a lot of grooming, or (4) wouldn't do well in a small apartment. That narrowed the list to about six breeds, so we went online and did more in-depth research on each of those six. She managed to cut the six down to two: the Cairn Terrier and the Shiba Inu - two very different breeds.

She made notes of pros and cons of the breeds, but she couldn't decide between the two. I have always had a strong preference for Spitz-type breeds and I particularly like independent-minded dogs, so I asked her if I could make the tie-breaking decision. She said yes and I chose the Shiba.
2. Why do you love this breed?

As I mentioned above, I've always had a fondness for spitz-type dogs. My first dog (who was mine as opposed to a family dog) was a Norwegian Elkhound my father gave me when I was a teenager. His name was cacci and he was my best buddy. I love Huskies and Malamutes and the other Nihon Ken breeds as well. I grew up around my mom's Pekingese dogs. After cacci came to live with us, my dad and I would say "Those (meaning the Pekes) are pets, but he (meaning cacci) is a DOG." That sort of explains how I feel about the spitz breeds; they're DOGS. They're closer to their genetic roots. So many of the "pet" breeds, and even many hunting breeds, display so much neoteny. The spitz breeds seem more real to me. When we were researching breeds, I was very enamored of the idea of an "apartment sized" spitz.
When Snickers came to live with us,
it was like a part of nature - something primitive -
had moved into our Manhattan apartment.
He changed our lives in so many good ways.

3. Are rescue shibas good for first time dog owners?

I don't think there is a single answer for this question because there is no single "rescue Shiba" personality. I believe that there are two reasons for this:

1. - Rescue Shibas are not clean slates like puppies. They've had experiences - some good, some bad, some horrible - before arriving in rescue. These experiences have already had an impact on their personality and temperament beyond their genetic breed predispositions.

2. - I haven't crunched any numbers to prove this, but my impression from experience with multiple rescue Shibas is that rescue Shibas are statistically less like the standard Shiba personality than Shibas from reputable breeders. My theory is that since so many rescue Shibas are mixes or poor representations of the breed from puppy mills and back yard breeders, they come from a much more varied (non-Shiba) gene pool, which results in fewer Shiba-like personalities.

NYC Shiba Rescue has rescued about 80 Shiba Inus and Shiba mixes over the past few years. A fairly high number of those were dogs that would definitely NOT have been good for first time owners. Rescues can be fearful and reactive - a combination that should only be handled by experienced owners. On the other hand, we've also had a number of incredibly well socialized, easy-going Shibas who were adopted out to first time owners with great success. We've also had a few older, more sedate, fosters who were perfect for first time and/or less active owners.

The beauty of adopting a rescue dog from a foster organization - for first time owners especially - is that, for the most part, you know what you're getting. These dogs have been living in foster homes, interacting with others, being observed and trained and socialized. I actually believe that a Shiba Inu puppy is a terrible choice for the majority of first time dog owners, but the right rescue Shiba can be a fantastic first dog.
4. Why should someone looking for a shiba consider a rescue?

Other than the advantages of rescues that I mentioned above, most Shiba puppies are EXTREMELY CHALLENGING. Unless it is a special needs dog or a dog with behavior issues, getting a rescue will be much easier than raising a puppy.

Saving a life is always a good thing.
Every time a rescue dog is adopted,
a foster home is freed up for another dog at risk.

The wait for a puppy from a reputable breeder can be long. Buying from anyone other than a reputable breeder is directly supporting the ongoing abuse and neglect of dogs in puppy mills. There are rescue Shibas all over the country looking for someone to love. Why wait?
5. What would you tell someone who might be interested in helping out with a shiba rescue, but doesn’t know where to start?

Start by finding the Shiba rescue nearest you. There is an up-to-date list of Shiba rescues in the US here -> Contact the nearest rescue and find out what they need. Rescue groups are all run by every day people volunteering their time to do whatever they can. They'll be grateful for your efforts.

Fostering, of course, is the cornerstone of rescue work. I understand that some people can't do it, but I'll never understand the people who simply won't do it... the ones with excuses like "I'll get too attached." I've never quite understood how letting a dog die in a shelter is better than getting "too attached." Fostering is an incredible experience for humans and dogs alike. Anyone who really loves their dog, should be able to spread that love and squeeze in a temporary resident every now and again! A rescue group without foster homes is basically spinning its wheels. You can help to some degree, but not very much. Foster homes are CRITICAL to saving dogs from shelters and abusive/neglectful owners.

That said, yes, there are jobs for people who can't or won't foster. Anyone who cares can help with whatever skills they have and should contact their local rescue group. If they don't HAVE a local group - and they're really motivated and ready to work - they can start their own! All it takes is a few people who want to save Shibas and some will power and motivation.
6. What are the best and worst aspects of rescue work?

The single BEST aspect of rescue work
is knowing you've made a difference.
I am proud to have helped every dog that I have assisted with rescuing - by evaluating dogs, doing home visit, processing adoption applications, training volunteers, driving transports, fostering dogs... each task has directly affected dogs at risk and made their lives better. There is nothing better than getting an email from a past adopter with photos of a happy, spoiled dog who WOULD HAVE DIED if not for the efforts of rescue. Honestly, it just doesn't get any better!

There are other benefits as well. I've made some of my BEST friends in rescue. When dynamic people with a shared interest and goal come together, awesome things can happen and that's a rewarding experience. I've learned more about dog training, health, veterinary care and nutrition than I would have otherwise and I put that knowledge to use for my own Shibas every day.

The worst aspects are (1) knowing you can't do it all and (2) learning to accept that some people just aren't going to help. It's hard to come to terms with the fact that we can't rescue every dog (Keiko for example) and can't necessarily rehome every dog we rescue (Lola for example). It's also really difficult when you're working your ass off and people around you aren't willing to do anything. (I don't mean people with different causes. My own parents, for example, have never made a donation to NYCSR, a 501(c)(3) started by their daughter! Dogs aren't their thing though; they give all their money to their church, which I understand. Another friend of mine understands my obsession for saving dogs, but he spends his time and effort helping runaway kids and female victims of domestic abuse. We have different causes and I can respect that.) It's the people who claim to love the breed but then make no effort to help who will make you CRAZY after a while in rescue. You just have to learn to let it roll off of you so you can keep going.
Each dog saved is worth all the frustration.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Thank you for providing the interview and the insights. mfromdc

Masako said...

Fantastic interview. Thank you!!!!

jenna said...

Thank you Vi for interviewing me. It was an honor and a pleasure!

Leigh-Ann said...

It's always wonderful to learn more about someone whose work I admire, so thanks for the great interview with Jenna!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Some props to a genuine hero, for once; nicely done.
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