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Grant helps Shiba Inu rescue thrive


by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI -  Denise Roelke holds Jewel, while Tony Roelke encourages Oso to give Jewel a doggy kiss.With their meltingly adorable dark eyes, inquisitive snouts, curly tails and butterscotch-colored coats, these dogs look more like foxes than wolves.

Yet the Shiba Inu’s origins are closer to the gray wolf or dingo, said Denise Roelke, who with her husband, Tony, is the founder of N.W. Shibas4Life Rescue in Beavercreek. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to saving the lives of Shiba Inus and finding homes for the dogs.

“We have partnered with shelters and humane societies all over the Northwest; they will call us and tell us they have a new Shiba in or they’ll tell us they have a special-needs dog, and ask if we can take it, and we’ll say yes,” Denise Roelke said.

Recently the Roelkes received a $1,000 operation grant from the Pedigree Foundation, in partnership with the Petfinder.com Foundation.

The Pedigree Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the makers of Pedigree food for dogs, supports shelters and dog-rescue organizations, while the Petfinder.com Foundation, another nonprofit, helps save the lives of homeless pets.

The $1,000 grant will help pay general operating costs for the shelter and will also defray the cost of medications for special-needs dogs, Roelke said.

“We are so pleased they recognized our work; without their help, we wouldn’t exist,” she added, noting that even with discounts from local veterinarians, special-needs medication costs and vet visits are expensive.

Special breed

The Roelkes first came across a Shiba Inu 15 years ago, when they agreed to foster a dog that had been thrown out of a car on purpose.

“We saved him, and fell in love with the breed,” Denise Roelke said, adding that she and her husband like the dogs’ independent, “catlike” personalities.

But they really became hooked on Shibas 12 years ago when they began working with a woman who ran a Shiba-rescue organization. When she left to take another job in Texas, the Roelkes took over.

“For the first few years, we weren’t sure we could do it,” she said, noting that both she and her husband have full-time jobs.

But the pair developed a nonprofit model, formed a board and found a big support group in the Northwest. Two-and-a-half years ago, the Roelkes moved to Beavercreek, where they designed and constructed a building with five private rooms and five outside kennels. In addition, the dogs enjoy a two-acre fenced-in dog park, where they can run, play and relax.

In addition to finding permanent homes for the dogs, other goals include providing a high quality of life for the dogs in their shelter and caring for senior and special-needs Shibas; they never have more than 10 dogs at once, Roelke said.

Another of their goals is to work with breeders to reduce the population of Shibas and re-home retired show dogs.

Educating people about the breed is key, Roelke said, noting that people are attracted to the dogs’ looks, and don’t do the research ahead of time to figure out if the dog will fit into their family unit.

“In many homes, people let their children and dogs roam freely at all times, and Shibas are not made for that. If they are not properly trained, they can nip small children, and the dogs tend to get stressed out in a noisy environment,” she said.

Mama, Jewel and Oso

Where there are rescue dogs, there are tales, and three of the shelter’s dogs have compelling stories.

Mama, now nearly 8 years old, was raised as a breeding dog, and was sold to a volunteer who bought her and brought her to the shelter. The Roelkes didn’t know Mama was pregnant, so it was a bit of shock when they went out to the kennel and discovered two puppies.

They were both very small and Noah died a week later, but Noel thrived and was adopted.

When the Roelkes took Mama in for an extensive physical, they found out her hip was broken and she had bone grinding on bone. She also had an embedded collar, where her skin had grown over, that had to be surgically removed.

After several surgeries, Mama is doing well and is just starting to trust people, Denise Roelke said.

“Even though she was in pain, she still delivered two puppies and took care of them. It just goes to show how incredible animals are,” she added.

Jewel, now 6, was rescued from a backyard breeder in Washington state who did not want her because she was too small to breed.

“She had rusty chicken wire wrapped around her leg, and the breeder did not want to take the time to have it removed,” Roelke said.

Luckily, the people who purchased Jewel’s brother, also took Jewel, and brought her to the shelter.

Because the chicken wire caused an infection, the dog’s leg had to be removed, so Jewel became a three-legged dog.

At first the little dog was depressed, but once she settled into the shelter, two of the other dogs befriended her; she ultimately thrived and now Jewel is the shelter’s “spokesdog.”

Her story has been written up online, and Jewel has her own Facebook page with more than 2,500 friends.

And then there is Oso, named because he is “oh so handsome,” Roelke said.

Oso had a family who turned him over to the shelter, because his glaucoma was so bad that his care had become prohibitively expensive.

“In a normal dog’s eye, the pressure is 35 to 40; Oso’s pressure was 102 in one eye and 109 in the other. The pain level was like he had a severe migraine with glass in his eye. One time he scratched his own cornea, and now the scar tissue is so thick the eye never healed properly,” Roelke said.

But now, after four months of treatment, Oso’s eye pressure is down to 35 in one eye, and 62 in the other, and it looks like he will be able to keep both eyes.

“He’s an amazing dog,” Roelke said.

Donations to a dog

People can help the organization by going to the dog rescue’s website and donating money, which can always be used for operations costs and medical supplies and treatment, Roelke said. But people can also help by donating dog food, treats and toys.

She is also grateful to local veterinarians, like those at Southgate Animal Clinic in Milwaukie, for their support.

The shelter’s dogs have an active social life, and they will even host a Halloween party through Facebook and will attend a Shiba Fall Ball in November; all of these are fundraising activities.

“For donations and fundraising, people would rather ‘talk’ to a dog,” Roelke said.

She and her husband described board members Jean and Scott McTarnahan as the “backbone” to the rescue organization, saying it is a “two-couple” venture.

The McTarnahans “don’t ask for recognition, but we are so lucky to have them,” Denise Roelke said, noting that the other couple has taken in senior Shibas.

“There is nothing more rewarding than to see a senior dog live out its life, as happy as it can be.”

Roelke also noted that her son, Riley, 21, and some of his friends help with the dogs.

She added, “It takes a small army to run a rescue.”

Fast Facts

N.W. Shibas4Life Rescue

16924 S. Buckner Creek Road, Beavercreek

Call: 503-358-1068

Website: shibas4life.us

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Facebook: NW Shibas4LifeRescue

Learn more about Petfinder at petfinder.com

Learn more about the Pedigree Foundation at pedigree.com