• Dogs are at home here, by the dozens
    By Evan Popp
    Correspondent | August 15,2014
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    Stefan Hard / Staff Photo

    Don and Sindi Blanchette relax with Gabby, a 5-year-old German shepherd with multiple health problems, on the deck of their Berlin home, where they run Almost Home Dog Rescue and Rehab. Besides Gabby, they are caring for 46 other rescued dogs.
    When visiting the home of Don and Sindi Blanchette, a half mile up a dirt driveway off Junction Road in Berlin, it’s difficult to mistake your destination.

    The sound of 47 dogs is the giveaway that you’ve found your way to Almost Home Dog Rescue and Rehab.

    The couple said they started the center in 2012, after they became more aware of the problem of dog abuse, specifically in the Southern United States. “In Vermont we’re kind of shielded from a lot of this because people take care of their pets here,” said Don Blanchette, 57. “In the South, it’s a different mentality. Dogs are disposable. They’re used for breeding. The dogs are bred to hunt, and if they don’t hunt they’re thrown out.”

    He also said many dogs are bred to fight for sport, and some are used as bait dogs. According to him, bait dogs with worn-down teeth are thrown into the ring so fighting dogs can practice.

    Sindi Blanchette, 59, said all of the dogs the center takes in have been neglected or harmed in some way.

    “Some of them you don’t know, you can only guess what happened to them based on their reactions to hand movements,” she said.

    The couple said one of the hardest things is deciding which dogs to take in.

    “We’re exposed to hundreds and hundreds of dogs each day,” Don said. “We get pictures sent to us, saying, ‘Please help this dog.’ And you can only help so many of them.”

    He said they take the ones for which they think they can actually make a difference. “The ones that everybody else has turned their backs on and it’s the eleventh hour. Most of our dogs are scheduled to be euthanized at 6 in the evening, and at 5:30 we pulled them out of the shelter. We’ve actually had some in the killing room that we’ve pulled out.”

    They work with a network of people in the South who identify dogs that need rescuing and help facilitate the animals’ transport to Vermont.

    His wife said the couple will take dogs regardless of their health issues. But she said they know at some point they won’t be able to keep taking in more, and may have already reached the center’s capacity.

    As is, the couple said it is difficult to keep up financially with the needs of all their dogs. Sindi Blanchette said the organization is a nonprofit and sometimes receives discounted services from veterinarians.

    “The bottom line is we spend in excess of $100,000 of our money every year,” her husband said. “And we’ve got over $40,000 in vet bills alone this year.” He said outside funding such as donations covers only about 5 percent of operating costs.

    Caring for nearly 50 dogs introduces another problem: time. Don Blanchette said he needs to grind 80 pounds of chicken every night for the next day’s feeding. That is on top of owning a business, DB Design, which designs and builds custom interiors. Recent projects have included the Blanchard Block and the Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen in Barre. “Our day starts at around 4 or 4:30 in the morning and it ends around 10 at night,” he said. “And that’s seven days a week. We don’t get to go out to dinner, or go to a movie, or hang out at the lake.”

    But they aren’t complaining, he said. “This is what we chose to do.” They would, however, be open to some volunteer helpers.

    Sindi Blanchette said the feeling of knowing the dogs are finally safe is reward enough.

    “The satisfaction that we get every night when we close our eyes and we know these guys are safe is great. Nobody is going to come in and kick them in the head. They may not be the cutest things that have ever walked down the pike, but they’re living, breathing souls.”

    The couple have had some success finding families to adopt some of the dogs so they can take in more. Three have been adopted in the last couple of weeks, they said, compared with four in the previous two years.

    They said it’s often challenging to find people willing to adopt their dogs, because many are older and have serious physical and emotional problems. The organization charges a $300 adoption fee as a demonstration of the adopter’s commitment to the dog. The center also sometimes does fundraising for specific dogs, such as a 5-year-old German shepherd named Gabby, whom they adopted from Florida. They said Gabby lived in deplorable conditions there, locked in a crate for long periods. As a result, Gabby’s leg muscles didn’t develop properly, so she couldn’t walk.

    The couple started Gabby’s Challenge on the center’s website, www.almosthomedogrescuevt.com, to gather donations for a series of surgeries.

    Overall, both Blanchettes are surprised at where their simple desire to help has led.

    “I used to say I wanted 25 dogs, but that was long before I thought about rescue,” Sindi said. “... We thought we’d save a few dogs. But then you become more and more engrossed and passionate about it.”

    Her husband added, “Obviously we love what we do, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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