Downeast Dog News

For the Love of Goldens

By Susan Spisak | Feb 01, 2018
Mariah - Rescued from Turkey

Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue, Inc., or YGRR, serves the six New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, and it’s clear they revere their favored breed. While YGRR takes in young and healthy Goldens, they also excel in re-homing not only seniors but those with orthopedic needs--and in recent years their efforts have gone global to include rescues from the countries of Turkey, China, and Egypt without hindering their stateside mission.

Allyson MacKenna, YGRR’s Executive Director, said to her knowledge this Hudson, Massachusetts based 501(c)(3) rescue, incorporated in 1985, is the oldest breed specific non-profit still in operation. And because there’s been a steady decline of Goldens needing rescue since about 2008--especially in New England--they began accepting Golden mixes in the summer of 2015.

They boast a kennel/headquarters named “Riverview,” complete with runs and a quarantine area, where their much-loved dogs live comfortably until they’re placed in their forever homes. The staff and volunteers search to find perfect adopters, and to date, they’ve rescued over 5,500 dogs, including 161 international Goldens.

Homeless Turkey Dogs

There have been reports that roughly tens of thousands of dogs roam Turkish streets…and it’s been estimated that at one time, upwards of 2,000 of them were Golden Retrievers. Golden pups were once a Turkish status symbol, imported and also bred through local puppy mills, but as they aged and owners lost interest, they were discarded at shelters or onto streets.

The shelters spay/neuter, vaccinate for rabies, and ear tag to not only identify the dogs but to indicate they’ve been altered and vetted, but because Turkey’s shelters are no-kill, when they’re full, dogs are released into streets or forests and must fend for themselves. They beg for food or eat mud, rocks, or garbage. And there’s a great risk of being hit by cars.

An American in Istanbul noticed the shocking number of stray Goldens and contacted Adopt a Golden Atlanta, or AGA. AGA squared away logistics with Turkish rescuers, shelters, and street volunteers, and they began bringing the Goldens to the states for adoption in 2015. MacKenna was aware of AGA’s efforts, and she also spoke to the National Rescue Committee president, a committee of the Golden Retriever Club of America, which supports the Turkey project. So, in late 2015, YGRR delved into the Turkey mission as did many other US and CAN rescues.

The Goldens chosen by participating rescues are quarantined prior to travel, given a medical exam, rabies shot, and receive a passport. They’re transported safely in their own disinfected crates, on pallets of 18, via cargo airlines. MacKenna said for that first rescue, they banded with three other East Coast rescues for cost effectiveness to split one pallet of dogs (it’s roughly $2k per crate/dog). Unsure of what to expect and with a small quarantine area in their kennel (they’ve now expanded it to hold 22), YGRR requested only three dogs.

MacKenna was nervous when they met that first plane. How would these dogs behave, especially after a long flight? Her fears were quickly dispelled. “Basically these 18 dogs arrived and they all walked out of their crates, [and it was as if they said], ‘Oh, we love you. We’re going for a walk? Another car ride? Great!’ They were just Golden Retrievers.” When YGRR’s board met them, they couldn’t believe what loving personalities they had and resolved to continue rescuing Turkey’s homeless dogs.

“That’s why we started this mission in the first place. For the love of this specific breed.” They had the room at their kennel, and adopters willing to take them. “Seemed like a win-win.” They’ve brought about 120 Turkey dogs to New England, and MacKenna even adopted Mariah, a beautiful cream gal that stole her heart on sight.

China & Beyond

With many other rescues aiding in Turkey, they looked for other international rescue possibilities. They turned to China because of the millions of dogs that vanish to dog meat slaughterhouses, meat markets, and dog meat festivals, or are euthanized in shelters. And according to MacKenna, this breed is a popular one in China, with plenty of puppy mills, so more Goldens are at risk.

She talked to Jill Groves, President of Golden Bond Rescue in Portland, Oregon as they have an Asian rescue program. Groves told MacKenna about her visit to a shelter in China, “‘No lie, there were nine Goldens in that shelter alone.’” Municipal areas have dog height restrictions--14” and under at the shoulder. So if an adult Golden is discovered, authorities will seize the dog and dump the dog in a shelter, where they’re euthanized on day seven. And there’s fear that they may be “adopted” for resale to the meat market trade.

Independent local rescues pull dogs as they can, including Together for Animals in China (, with whom they and other rescues have a partnership. China rescuers often look for Goldens as they know US groups will accept them--making room in their own local rescue for other dogs in need.

The illegal dog meat industry is a focus for China’s rescuers as well. Stolen from families or pulled off the streets, dogs are carted off in trucks to slaughterhouses. Activists watch for the trucks and alert the authorities and notify other rescuers via social media. They converge on these vehicles at rest stops or stoplights and attempt to save the dogs. They’re often loaded with 400 or more dogs, and MacKenna said that some are in such bad shape that they must be euthanized on the spot.

Rescued dogs awaiting transport spend 30 days in quarantine in a Five-Star boarding facility (there are plenty of dog-loving people in that country that pamper their pets). YGRR’s Adoption Coordinator Devon Spirka and Kennel Manager Lucille Brooks made the first trip to Beijing to rescue their initial dogs. The duo met their friend, Groves from Golden Bond, as well as the vets who examine, vaccinate and spay/neuter their dogs. They learned about coordinating travel paperwork and mandatory permits, making future trips for their other volunteers smoother.

Instead of using high-taxed cargo shipments out of China, they depend on flight volunteers to escort their dogs (who are crated and travel in the baggage compartment), and navigate them through customs. Including vetting and ticket for escort and crate, the cost per dog is roughly $1,500. They’ve rescued 17 dogs so far and agreed to take in 20 more from a slaughterhouse rescue. MacKenna said that 50 Goldens could be sent to the US every day for a year, and there’d be plenty more who’d need saving.

Their foray into Egyptian rescues is reflective of YGRR’s soft hearts. A foster-based rescue contacted them about Seela, a Golden with serious orthopedic problems. With no available home, they reached out to YGRR, who couldn’t refuse. They’ve taken her to an orthopedic specialist and neurologist, and it’s believed she may have a rare condition that’s caused her hind end issues. While there’s still hope, MacKenna indicated that her back legs may have to be amputated at the knees--but they’ll fit her with prosthetics for ease of mobility. They’ve also accepted three more Egyptian dogs, two pups and a dog without a paw.


Anniversary of the Breed

Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks was interested in hunting and sporting dogs, so in 1868 he bred Nous, a Wavy-coated Retriever, to Belle, a Tweed Water Spaniel, at his historic Guisachan House farm and kennels in Scotland. Their pups, three yellow wavy-coated puppies named Crocus, Cowslip, and Primrose were the foundation litter of the Golden Retriever breed. (Marjoribanks is commonly referred to as Lord Tweedmouth, the title he took after elevated to nobility 13 years after that first litter.)

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Golden breed and the celebration in the Scotland Highlands is called “The Guisachan Gathering,” which is hosted by the worldwide non-profit, Friends of Guisachan. Interestingly enough, this non-profit was founded by YGRR member and one time board member, Joy Viola.

The celebration is July 13 to 22, and YGRR is selling tickets including airfare to the event, which is open to the public (

Of course, MacKenna, Viola, and other YGRR members are attending, joining others from across the world, because they have a deep love for the Golden Retriever breed.

For more info on YGRR, including the trip to Scotland and their international rescues, visit