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HOW IT ALL BEGAN

by Mary Jane Shervais

Originally published in the July/August 1997 issue of GRREAT News
in celebration of GRREAT’s 11th Anniversary

I don’t know how many of you remember–or ever knew–that GRREAT as it currently exists is actually the second effort at establishing a rescue arm of the Potomac Valley Golden Retriever Club (PVGRC). Mary Louise Gabrielle and Peggy McCurdy were the heart and soul of our first effort, which lasted just over two years, as I recall. They were also, unfortunately, almost the only hard working members of that group, and were so inundated with rescue calls that their funds and their energy were soon exhausted. At that time, about 1982-3, I was serving as Secretary of PVGRC, an office I held for four years. It seems that I became the contact phone number for the club, and began to get a lot of calls about Goldens needing help.

I found myself having to be the one to turn rescue requests away because we had no operation in effect to deal with them. It became very hard to answer certain questions, like “what can you do for this golden who will be euthanized if no one can help?” Practically without realizing it, and certainly with no heroic intention on my part, I began taking in these unfortunate dogs…first one, and then dozens I was fostering them in my home, and caring for them as needed at the hospital where I worked (and still work), and placing them in new homes.

The Early Years: a small-scale operation

My hospital gave me an employee discount for my orphans, but even with that significant help, the financial commitment to these dogs was substantial. The emotional commitment was even more overwhelming. My friend and partner, Donna Hammond, pitched in to help foster some of the dogs, and between us we found we were easily dealing with upwards of 30-40 dogs a year. That doesn’t sound like many compared to current standards, but there was no organization behind us, and the number of rescue calls was increasing all the time.

After several years of this, with no sign of it letting up, I decided to ask for help. So, in June of 1986 I went to the summer PVGRC meeting, an outdoor event and picnic hosted by the Armstrongs. I took three of my latest rescue dogs—a young adult male and two puppies—and introduced them to the fun things that Goldens can do with their people. Then, during the meeting which was held on the Armstrong’s deck, I waited for the ‘New Business’ part of the agenda to come up. At that time, I told the club what I had been doing since the first rescue effort had folded, and asked if the club would consider giving me any help.

Support from PVGRC

I was totally unprepared for the incredible response. There were a few seconds of silence, and then Chris Zink raised her hand. “I’m really glad to hear this” she said (or words to that effect), “because one of the things I have been concerned about was that there was no avenue for rescuing Goldens in our club.”

Chris and Kathy Carbone enthusiastically supported my request, and the membership unanimously voted not only to help me in my limited one woman effort, but to actually form a new group, which would have better backing from the club in order to avoid the hard lessons learned the first time.

The Armstrongs (as they so often do) volunteered their home for our first meetings. Kathy Carbone, Chris Zink, Sue Armstrong and I were the first committee, mostly by virtue of the fact that we were the ones at the first meeting.

Picking a Name

The seeds of this fantastic organization took root around Sue Armstrong’s dining room table, and we set in motion the beginnings of one of the strongest organizations I have ever known, and of which I have ever been privileged to be a part for more than a decade. I remember in one of those early meetings we were trying to come up with a name. I said something about wanting to create an acronym with golden retriever as part of it, and goldens being such grrrreat dogs, like Tony the Tiger says about breakfast cereal. Well, we landed on that suggestion like fleas on a dog’s back (to coin a phrase), and within minutes the name Golden Retriever Rescue, Education, And Training was adopted. The name contained all of the elements that we felt were critical to the mission of our new group.

From that point on, members and friends kept coming forward to help, and we began the work of forming a sound organization. Rescues calls kept pouring in, and for the first couple of years, I was still the main coordinator. My husband was very patient through all of this, but I think he sort of lost it the night I was called out in the middle of a January snowstorm to rescue a Golden from a terrified owner whose husband was threatening to shoot the dog if I didn’t get her out of the house in thirty minutes. Steve was more than mildly concerned about this guy’s stability and was afraid he would shoot me, too. (But that’s a completely different story, and only one of many.)

In terms of putting an anniversary date on record for GRREAT, I have always marked that June 1986 meeting as our founding month, when PVGRC so enthusiastically and ably responded to my plea for help. As an organization, we owe a great debt to the first members of our planning team, including Kathy Carbone, Chris Zink, Pat Scahill, Carol Windsor, and Sue Armstrong (and me, too) for laying the groundwork—incorporation, constitution and bylaws, and administrative efforts—that has proven to be so strong.

The list and the deeds go on….I couldn’t begin to name them all. I hope you have found this brief history interesting; it was certainly my pleasure to write it and reminisce about how it all began. My heartfelt congratulations and thanks go to you who now run the organization that is very dear to my heart, and which I point to with pride and say (with maybe a little exaggeration, but forgive me….) “I started that group.”

Editor’s note: And we thank you too, Mary Jane, for your tireless devotion to our favorite breed of dog, the GRREAT Golden Retriever. Happy Anniversary to us all.

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