I remember when I first “met” Dawn Restuccia on the telephone a little over four years ago. I came away with the impression that here was a woman who truly loved the breed. She wasn’t in it for what the breed could do for her………fame and glory; no she was in it to see what she could do for the betterment of the German Shepherd Dog. Dawn got in touch with me after I wrote one of my articles on the list. She had asked me if I could write a story about a pathetic little female dog that had acid thrown all over her body and wondered if I could help get the word out about this horrific story. So I wrote a story called, “Mooie” which received the attention that Dawn was hoping for and so began a warm friendship between us. I finally got to meet Dawn in person at a futurity a couple of years ago. Here was this unassuming woman with the big personality. I am now glad to be able to call her friend.
Me: How long have you owned German Shepherds and why did you decide on this breed?
Dawn: I have had dogs of one sort or another my entire life. When our last dog (a Lhasa Apso) passed away, I purchased Krunch#1 for my husband’s birthday gift. He had always wanted a GSD. We took great care in selecting our newest addition, interviewing several breeders and visiting quite a few kennels. We settled on Krunch from a Rhode Island breeder and could not have been more pleased. His intelligence was astounding. When he was 6 months old, we brought him back to his breeder for evaluation. A video of Krunch was sent to Billy Rossi and the rest is history. That was more than 15 years ago.
Me: Most people, who have heard of you, associate you as the founder of Last Hope, Safe Haven. Can you tell us how you got involved with this? When did you start trying to help shelter dogs and why?
Dawn: I do not remember what led me to the Petfinder link for Willow; a beautiful throwaway GSD in a Chatsworth Georgia shelter. All I remember is her eyes, staring out from behind the chain link. She had such a quizzical look...as if she were asking "What did I do wrong? Where are my owners?" The thought of this beautiful creature being destroyed for no reason other than the lack of a rescue or a home made no sense to me. I went to our national chat list and posted her need where I was met with people offering to go to pull her and drive her great distances to another GSD lover in NC where she remained until she was adopted. One dog after another followed; all in desperate need. I was in awe of the number of German Shepherd breeders and AKC competitors who were willing to assist either financially; with transport or temporary fostering. In speaking with the Rescues, I realized that many had foster homes available but did not have the money for the altering and vaccinations for the dogs. There was also a lack of any emergent care funding; another thing that LHSH provides when our finances permit. We have covered the expenses for heart worm treatment and many types of surgeries for dogs who otherwise would have had to been destroyed. Our initial motivation for LHSH was to provide rescues with the necessary finances required in "pulling" a German Shepherd facing an uncertain fate in a kill facility. In the beginning we had hoped to have a Sanctuary for those dogs that were not adoptable and the seniors. While we have not eliminated that ultimate goal, it is on hold until we have the funding to provide for such an enormous undertaking. To date, together with the many Rescues we work with, LHSH is honored to have assisted more than 450 German Shepherds on to new lives of hope and love.
Me: Just what is it that Last Hope, Safe Haven does?
Dawn: LHSH is a 501c3 national German Shepherd Rescue assistance organization, bridging the financial gap between shelter and Rescue for German Shepherds in critical situations. We cover the cost of spay/neuter, HW testing, age appropriate vaccinations and up to three days of board while transport is arranged by an LHSH approved Rescue. Typically, this represents a cost of approximately $150. We work with both purebred and all breed Rescues. When the dog is adopted, we only ask that any money realized be utilized to save another life. We do not deduct the adoption money from whatever is paid out to the Rescue. We also raise funds to assist GSDs who are in crisis already IN rescue, such as in the case of Lukas in North Carolina. Found tied to a bumper of a fire truck, weighing a mere 47 pounds and covered in bedsores, A Shelter Friends' founder Krista Hansen called on LHSH to assist with his medical care (which was extensive). Through donations, we were able to cover $700 of Lukas' care; the difference between life and death for a dog who only wants to love someone.
Me: What are you most proud of with your organization?
Dawn: I am continually amazed at the outpouring of support from so many wonderful people. We have raised well over $30,000...no small feat in this economic downturn. Fully 99% of every dollar donated goes to direct care of a dog. The remaining 1% is for administrative expenses such as brochures. I am proud of the people who have helped make LHSH what it is, our Board members both past and present. I am very proud of those volunteers who have trudged out to dog shows in downpours to raise much needed funds...I am proud to know so many wonderful people in Rescue, who give their life's blood each and every day to save just one more dog. They are the real hero's here.
Me: OK, so now that people know about Last Hope, Safe Haven, I bet not too many people know about your small breeding program. Can you tell us about that and what is the name of your kennel?
Dawn: The name of our kennel is Laxfield. It is in honor of a dear friend who raised Connemara horses in Weston, Massachusetts. It was the name of his farm and where we lived for several years. Eleven years ago, we lost our precious Shandrani at 3 years old to mesenteric torsion. Krunch #1 was inconsolable, so we set out on a journey to add yet another GSD to our band. In came Kizzy (Red Rock's Champagne Kisses ROM), the light of Krunch's life and the show dog I had always hoped for. Due to my declining health, I was unable to finish her (she lacks only a final major). We did however; succeed in breeding her two times to Dallas, resulting in 6 AKC Champions which gave Kiz her ROM. I kept four of the resulting progeny; Krunch #2, Vinnie, Arwen and Gracie. Krunch and Vin are both "finished". Krunch is currently being shown in Juniors with his co owner, Chris Martin. Vinnie (Ch. Laxfields Hit Man) has multiple group wins and placements as well as an Award of Merit which he garnered at the 2008 Westminster Kennel Club show. Gracie and Arwen are both AKC pointed.
Me: I know you have told me several times that you prefer showing in the All-Breed ring rather than in the Specialty ring. Can you explain this to our reading audience?
Dawn: I have shown in both venues successfully. Vinnie and Kizzy both had Major Reserves in the specialty rings. That being said, the camaraderie you experience with the exhibitors in the all breed ring is a better fit for me. The atmosphere is different; how can I say...less stressful? There are also a great many more All breed shows here in the northeast.
Me: Do you show any of your dogs in obedience work? How about therapy work?
Dawn: Krunch was certified by Therapy Dogs International as a Therapy dog. His younger sister Esme is a Service dog in Ohio and Vinnie is my Service dog. Vinnie's brother Cash is not only an AKC Champion, but is a herding dog as well. Four other siblings live in homes with small children.
Me: What are you most proud of with your own dogs?
Dawn: The temperaments. Some of my best memories of showing are the times when people ask if they can pat my dog and I can comfortably say yes. I remember one time at the Cape Cod shows when a small child was sitting on the ground eating his hotdog. Vinnie calmly went over and washed his face in a half hearted attempt to grab some crumbs. Vinnie is my "dog of a lifetime"; he continues to take my breath away. Watching him "work the crowd" at Westminster was a sight to behold. He always looked for the camera and seemed to know where his light was best. He is the quintessential ham.
Me: Who is your favorite German Shepherd dog of all time and why?
Dawn: That is a hard question to answer. Kizzy has given me the ride of a lifetime. I never could have imagined having 6 Champions, competing at Westminster or finishing two of her progeny within one week of each other...those are feelings I will never, ever forget. She was the beginning, my foundation...and I cannot imagine living without her. Dallas has always had my heart since the day I met him. His character was beyond reproach. Not only was he physically beautiful outside, he was a true gentleman inside. Together, they gave me the stuff dreams are made of.
Me: What are you most proud of in the breed today?
Dawn: I have a very limited view here in my little corner of the world. It appears that the males are looking more masculine; a pet peeve of mine. People seem to be concentrating on temperament more and more. Without stability, you have a potentially loaded gun.
Me: How would you like to see the breed improved upon?
Dawn: I would like to see people breed for the TOTAL dog and not just side gait...which is what appears to be the case. What good is a fluid side gait on a GSD that is physically unappealing? Or worse yet, unstable?
Me: What's the one thing about the breed that really bugs you?
Dawn: Unstable temperaments and GSDs that are shaking ringside or tucking their tails in the ring. I have had SO many people contact me attempting to place their dog who "only bit one time"... In my opinion, breeding a dog with an unstable, unpredictable temperament is unethical.
Me: Who have been some of the most influential people who have mentored or helped you in the breed?
Dawn: First, it was Debbie Hokanen (sp). We were taking Krunch#1 to handling class in Attleboro Mass (an hour each way to drive, two nights a week) and working hard to get him ready for the show ring. We had joined one of the local regional clubs only to be told by "those who knew" that he "was a pet"..."far too large".. "didn’t have good pigment"...etc. We were feeling very down when we ran into Deb and Sam at the handling class. I told her of our encounter with "those who knew"...she responded with a resounding, "Do you believe in your dog? Do you love your dog? Then go and have fun with your dog and don't listen to anyone else"...Who knows what would have happened had she not offered those words of encouragement? There were many who offered advice and guidance along the way...Dallas's owners, Angela and Colin Howells, Sally Robbins and Billy Rossi, (our very first handler and the one who introduced us to the wonderful world of double handling) to name but a few. I feel blessed to have had these people in my life.
Me: In your opinion, what needs to be done so we don't see so many German Shepherds in shelters?
Dawn: As breeders, we need to insure that when we place a puppy, we do so with utmost concern. Perhaps offering cash incentives for spay/neuter or obedience classes taken. Sell your puppies on limited Registration. Insist that the potential puppy buyer have a Puppy Kindergarten class set up before that pup leaves your hands and follow up with them to see how it is going. Check to see if the trainer of that class has had experience with GSDs and if they use positive reinforcement methods of training. Ask what their plans are for a puppy if they have to work and do not sell pups to people who work full time and who cannot afford either a dog walker or to send your puppy to doggy day care. Puppies left alone are puppies that get into trouble. Let your puppy buyer know by contractual obligation that you have the right of first refusal for the life of the dog; offer them back their purchase price if necessary...whatever it takes to get your dog back. Make it a habit to contact your puppy people at least once a year to see how they are doing. Let them know you are in that dog’s life FOR its lifetime. You breed it...you own it...until it dies. You are the reason that puppy is here; it was by your choice. Not your bitches, nor the dogs. If you cannot take a puppy or dog back that you bred, assist the owner in re-homing the dog; up to and including the paying of boarding for him/her. Educate people about (dare I say it) pet overpopulation. If you can stop just one person from breeding the neighbors GSD Spike to their little Juliette, you may be eliminating a lifetime of misery for a puppy who did not ask to be brought into the world. Breeding should be left up to those who have ethics, can afford the financial cost and are breeding to improve the breed...not to get those few extra bucks for a new bauble or to entertain the children with "the miracle of birth." I recently had someone ask me about breeding. After reading my diatribe about the potential horrors of a whelping gone wrong and the resulting $3,500 vet bill, I got a quick reply..."you scared me straight"...I could not have been more pleased. Most people do not consider the cost of an emergency c section at 2 am on a Sunday morning for their beloved family pet or the possibility of losing her in the process. Try explaining THAT to the kids.
Me: What's your hope for the future in the breed?
Dawn: I hope that ethical breeders continue to breed sound, stable, BEAUTIFUL German Shepherds who can be ambassadors for the breed in ANY situation. Dogs with brains as well as brawn...dogs that are built to do the job they were bred for; either herding sheep or taking down a felon. The German Shepherd is a dog that can do it all when bred correctly and properly socialized and trained.
Me: Is there anything that you haven't achieved in the breed that you still want to do?
Dawn: Sure....win Westminster! lol...All kidding aside, I have achieved SO much more than I could have ever hoped for. I followed my heart; it didn't lead me astray. I am truly blessed.
Me: What are three things that people don't know about you, but would be surprised if they did?
Dawn: Probably that I am legally disabled for one...I have fibromyalgia syndrome and suffer from chronic migraines. I have 6 kids and 8 grandchildren. I bear a striking resemblance to Shamu...or Quasimodo.
In 2008, Dawn was awarded the much deserved Presidents Award by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America. Whether she’s showing one of her beloved dogs or helping a forgotten or abused German Shepherd find its forever home, this is a woman whose heart is truly in the right place! The breed is better for having her in it!
Thank you Dawn for giving me permission to do this interview and to use your pictures for this article.