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The Westie Rescue Story

            © by Suzanne Steward, 2004

Meet Joey – the first West Highland White terrier rescued by Stephen Di Giulian. Suffering from extreme neglect and cruelty, Joey had been chained to a tree for 24 hours per day during the week. By the time Di Giulian found the little Westie in a shelter, he was an unlovely sight: His teeth were worn out from chewing through his chain in order to escape (he was found by animal control dragging 8 feet of chain down a road in Maryland). He weighed just 11 pounds, and more than half the fur on his body was gone. For the first four days that Joey was with Di Giulian, he was carried around the house from sleeping spot to sleeping spot on a blanket without moving. But on the fifth day, Joey saw the neighbor’s dog, laid down in the grass, and slithered across the yard on his belly, then popping up to bark when he was about five feet away from  it. That’s when Di Giulian knew that Joey was going to make it. Now, the terrier lives with a clinical psychiatrist, and attends all her therapy sessions as a “therapy dog” for clients. Joey seems to know how bad it can be, so he just listens quietly and understands their pain.

Joey was one of 60 to over 100 Westies who each year benefit from the efforts of Westie Rescue - Mid-Atlantic, for whom Di Giulian is the president. “The goal of the Westie Rescue is to fulfill each dog’s dreams by finding the right owner and the right home,” he says, adding that 100 percent of the dogs rescued are adopted.

Di Giulian himself has owned one Westie for 18 years and has been involved with Westie Rescue for nine. He first learned about Westie Rescue, which covers D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and North Carolina, when he and his Westie spontaneously started marching with the Westie Rescue contingent during the Scottish Christmas Walk and Parade in Alexandria, Virginia.

Most Westies do not come to the Westie Rescue because of such extreme situations. For example if the owner is going through a divorce, suffering from an illness, has to go into a nursing home, or has a military transfer to a place that doesn’t allow dogs, the Westie will usually end up on the front doorstep of Westie Rescue. Sometimes Westies go to Westie Rescue because of health neglect brought about by incorrect diagnoses. The average vet sees only one to two Westies per year, and as a result may misdiagnose health problems. However, the main reason why Westies come to Westie Rescue is because their owners no longer have time for them. “Some owners have a toaster-oven mentality — the dog doesn’t meet their needs, so they eject it,” Di Giulian commented. He also noted that 99 percent of the Westies that he receives are good dogs that were in the wrong homes – a mismatch between dog and owner.

According to Di Giulian, Westie Rescue MidAtlantic does eight to 10 public outreach events per year. In 2004, the group participated in the Southern Maryland Scottish Festival, Anne Arundel Scottish Games, the Fair Hill Scottish Games and Festival, Tartan Day in Washington, DC, and the Virginia Scottish Games, Alexandria Scottish Heritage Festival, The Alexandria Lyceum Scottish Preview, and Alexandria’s famous annual Scottish Christmas Walk and Parade. Not so surprisingly, many Westies are adopted at these Scottish Highland games, because the people who attend are there because of their heritage and their family name. According to Di Giulian, ”You can usually find Westie owners in the McDougal, McDaniel, Young, and McDuff clans. Americans of Scottish descent look at owning a Westie as an extension of their heritage. Also, they understand the history and breeding of the Westie. They realize that the Westie is a working dog and needs to have a job.”

However many people do not realize that the West Highland White terrier was only developed as a breed in 1905.  In spite of its recent origins, the Scots -- and Americans of Scottish descent -- have grown to love the breed in a relatively short period of time. The West Highland White terrier, or Westie, is considered such an integral part of Scottish culture that it’s even featured on ads for scotch  (Black and White scotch whiskey). A West Highland White Terrier, McDuff, is the main character in The McDuff Stories — a series of popular children’s books by Rosemary Wells.

            Colonel E.D. Malcolm of Poltallock, Argyllshire, Scotland. is credited with developing the breed. Malcolm was using a Cairn terrier, which is typically a brown or wheaten color, in a small game hunt. Unfortunately, due to the color similarities, Malcolm mistook his Cairn terrier for a fox and accidentally shot and killed the dog. To ensure that this mistake never happened again, he vowed to breed only white terriers. Interestingly enough, it is documented that up to this time, any all-white colored terriers were destroyed as being undesirable. The West Highland White Terrier was seen in competition for the first time at the London Crufts show in 1907. In 1908 the American Kennel Club recognized the West Highland White Terrier as a distinct breed. And on October 1, 2002, cementing the Westie’s place in the canine competitive world, Belle Vista’s Flying Solo, a West Highland White Terrier, won the title for Versatile Companion Dog in an American Kennel Club competition.

Bred to hunt vermin such as mice, rats, badgers, and groundhogs, the Westie is a compact, hardy, white-coated terrier that is 10-11 inches at the shoulder and usually weighs 14-22 pounds. Unlike many pure-bred dogs, Westies are usually very healthy. Their most common problem is an allergic reaction to certain foods, fleabites, and seasonal pollen. With good care, a Westie can live longer than 15 years, and some have made it to 20 and even older.          

 So, you want to adopt a Westie? How can you determine if a Westie is the right dog for you? Di Giulian suggests that if you are considering getting a Westie, your children should be over 7 years old. Westies do poorly with small children because they treat the children like litter playmates instead of humans. Also, it’s important to spend a lot of time with your Westie and to make sure that your Westie gets lots of exercise. Westies can’t be left alone both inside and outside for long periods of time. They get bored easily and might dig under your fence. You should take your Westie on a one-mile walk per day and Westies need to be outside three to four times per day.

It’s important that you have a strong personality and be mentally tough. Stephen mentioned that, “Westies are envelope pushers — they always push the envelope.”

If you don’t have small children under the age of 7, if you’ll be able to spend lots of time with your Westie, ensure that your Westie gets an adequate amount of exercise, and if you have a strong personality, the rewards of adopting a Westie can be endless.

“Westies are just wonderful dogs. They’re extremely loyal and I think of them and love them as my children. I treat them better than I treat myself,” Ron Porter said. Ron Potter owns 5 Westies. He went to Westie Rescue MidAtlantic 3 years ago to replace a Westie that he had lost. He takes his Westies everywhere with him, even on vacation. He has been involved with Westie Rescue for 10 years and he provides foster care for Westies in Westie Rescue.

Sue Young and her husband, who are involved in Clan Young, adopted their Westie after visiting Westie Rescue several times at the Scottish Games. Neither she nor her husband had ever owned a dog before adopting their Westie. “I would adopt another Westie in a heartbeat. Duncan is everybody’s friend — he’s a friend to adults, children, and animals,” Sue Young said. However, she still recommends that people with young children not adopt a Westie.

“Reilly came into my life just as my father passed away. Our long walks together helped me to overcome my grieving. A Westie gives you unconditional love, but you have to take the Westie out for a walk no matter what the weather is!” Bridget Murphy declared. She adopted her 10-year-old Westie from Westie Rescue three years ago.

“I wanted to adopt two adult Westies. Because they’re adults, you have minimal training up front. The rescue group tells you the details about your Westies and informs you of any potential problems up front. Adoption is good because you’re giving dogs that really need a home a home,” Kimberly Park said. Kimberly Park adopted both of her 6-year-old Westies from Westie Rescue.

However, not all adoption experiences get started on the right paw. Kimberly Orr who adopted her Westie, Riley, from Westie Rescue mentioned that Riley started out as an aggressive dog who bit her once and her husband once. Now she loves him, but she mentioned that, “You need to show the dog who’s boss.”

The Westie Rescue adopters give specific tips and advice to ensure that both you and your Westie are happy together. Kimberly Orr says that it’s important to spend time training your Westie and taking your Westie to obedience school. Also, you should never leave your Westie alone with small children. Kimberly Park advises, “Make sure you have a physical fence in your yard. Don’t use invisible fences because the Westies get so caught up in their job of chasing a squirrel that they will right run into the fence and think that the pain is worth it.” She also mentioned that it’s really a good idea to research the breed and make sure that the Westie’s traits are a good match for your family’s needs, wants, and desires.

It’s easy to adopt a Westie from the Westie Rescue. Just go to www.WestieRescue.com , go to the “Westie Rescue Adoption Form”, and fill out the entire application. The more general your requirements are regarding the age and gender of the Westie, the sooner a match will turn up. Westie Rescue is a nonprofit 501c3 organization. Instead of paying an adoption fee for your Westie, you will be asked to pay a donation of $200 to $500 per adopted Westie.

These donations are tax deductible and are pooled together to pay for expensive medical care for newly rescued Westies when it is necessary. Each Westie goes to the vet first to make sure that the Westie has no medical problems. If the Westie has any medical problems, the Westie is treated and cured before it goes into an adopter’s home. The average Westie with no known behavioral and medical complications is kept with Westie Rescue for less than three days. A Westie with an unknown history is kept in foster care for 1 to 3 weeks.

You should plan on a budget of $400 - $700 per year to keep your Westie healthy. Westies often have allergies to wheat and soy as well as to airborne allergies. Because of their allergies they require the better quality food that is sold in pet supply stores, but not in grocery stores. They also need antihistamines for hay fever and other allergic reactions. You should also plan on having your Westie groomed professionally four to six times a year and on visiting a vet twice a year to keep up immunizations.

You will receive a home visit prior to the adoption and then a follow-up visit within 24-48 hours of the adoption. The follow-up visit can be a physical visit or contact that is made over the phone. After that you will receive periodic follow-up visits every week for the first thirty days after the adoption.

 If you own a Westie, you will have a loyal devoted companion who is constantly by your side. But you will have so much more than that — you will have a proud, independent, strong-willed dog that was bred to be a diligent working dog, a dog whose very personality is in fact, similar to the spirit of the Scottish people and Scotland itself.

by Suzanne Steward, 2004


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