Rescue Me

Side by side photos of Rufus with dirty, matted fur and after his shave.

Photos of Rufus when he was first rescued (Photos courtesy of Jim Hines and Martin Wingerter).

When Lakewood neighbors Jim Hines and Martin Wingerter adopted Rufus, he slept in an unnatural position, contorting his neck so that it curved around and rested by his feet. To his new owners, it looked like he was cramming his massive body into a confining cage that didn’t exist. It broke their hearts, but it wouldn’t be the end of the story for Rufus. 

The beginning of Rufus’s journey to his forever home is not pretty. Two years ago, Dallas Animal Services picked him up on the side of Stemmons Freeway in rough condition. His matted hair was gone from much of his flea-ridden and emaciated body. 

Rufus was brought into Lakewood neighbor Leigh Sendra’s boutique, The Shop 706. When a desirable breed is turned into the kill shelter, they call rescue groups to see if the animal can be fostered instead of staying in the shelter, and Sendra was known as a rescuer. 

“My store immediately filled with a horrible smell of pure neglect,” Sendra says. 

A decision had to be made quickly about Rufus. He was anemic and needed an expensive blood transfusion, so Hines and Wingerter made the call to have it done and save his life. Rufus was no longer their foster. He was now their pet. 

When he was strong enough to come home, they gave what they thought was their golden doodle a bath. As the gold in his fur washed away, they realized they might have a different kind of doodle. 

Rescue dog before his transformation rolls around on the floor.

Another photo Rufus when they first found him.

Rufus recovered quickly and was one of four dogs in the home. He is curious, playful and energetic, easygoing and great with other dogs and people. He loves to swim in the pool, forcing Hines and Wingerter to buy an industrial strength hair dryer to dry off his thick hair after his summer dips.  

Wingerter and Hines’ adoption couldn’t have gone better, and Rufus knows how good he has it. “We are doing something good for a dog that is less fortunate,” Wingerter says. “Wherever we go he wants to go.”

Rufus is one of the many success stories for Sendra. She had been rescuing dogs for 12 years when she got a call in 2016 about a Corsicana labradoodle named Leroy with a mass on his leg. She put out the word through rescue networks, and she was shocked to raise $12,000 dollars, enough for the surgery and then some. Leroy only lived six months longer, but the seed money was the beginning of Doodle Rock Rescue. In March of 2017, Doodle Rock became an official nonprofit, a completely volunteer-run organization coordinating foster homes and adoptions for doodles across Texas. 

Doodles became popular because they are more intelligent, shed less and cause fewer allergies than many other dog breeds. So why would there need to be a rescue for such a trendy breed of dog? 

According to Sendra, their strengths also make them difficult for owners who aren’t ready for an animal that needs a lot of mental and physical stimulation. They can become destructive, aggressive and territorial if not socialized and engaged properly, leading to a lot of owner surrenders and doodle dumping after the novelty wears off. 

Rescue dog Rufus sit on the rug with his tongue out.

Rufus today.

Doodle Rock travels far to rescue dogs and isn’t afraid to call out what they see as unacceptable conditions. They uploaded a video to Facebook earlier this year depicting an animal shelter in Edinburg, Texas, and calling for the resignation of shelter staff. The video racked up over 50,000 views. A board member for the facility called the criticism “A hatchet job,” while other officials for the shelter told The Monitor the allegations were misinformed, and that the social media posts did not depict the nuances of the situation.

“The shelter is horrific – most dogs that go in don’t make it out,” Sendra says. “DDR has made it our mission to pull as many dogs out of South Texas as we can. Unfortunately, most come to us sick or injured.”

Fortunately for Doodle Rock, the popularity of doodles means most of the dogs she rescues are adopted quickly. With 2,000 applications on the waiting list, they can afford to have high standards for adoptive homes and fosters. They have adopted more than 300 dogs in the past year and a half. 

“Rescues are the way to go,” Hines says. “There is something about the relationship with the dog. They understand that they have a cushy life compared to what they had before and are so thankful. They pay you back in a thousand licks and kisses and hugs.”