Sheltered Shelties
Local woman opens foster home for Shetland sheepdogs

COVINGTON - Patsy McDaniel-Sirman has decided to become a foster mother. She wants to open her home to abused and neglected little ones with no where else to go, and care for them until they can be adopted.

The catch is, she had to get a special permit from the county for her particular type of foster care.

McDaniel-Sirman and her husband, Jim, will operate what the county terms a kennel, for up to eight Shetland sheepdogs, at their home on Elks Club Road.

Though special-use permits for kennels have been consistently turned down by the Board of Commissioners in recent years, this was a special case, District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said.

Special, for a number of reasons: Most of the dogs will only be temporary residents; all will live inside the Sirman's home, not outside in pens, and the end result, McDaniel-Sirman hopes, will be that they will be rehabilitated and turned over to loving adoptive families.

McDaniel-Sirman is a volunteer with Peach State Sheltie Rescue Inc., a nonprofit organization with the sole purpose of rescuing Shelties that have been abandoned, abused or neglected, and finding them good, stable homes.

Since it was founded in August 2006, Peach State Rescue has rescued more than 100 Shelties.

McDaniel-Sirman got involved with the organization after she adopted a Sheltie named Betty from a Tennessee Sheltie Rescue in March 2007.

Suffering from breast cancer that metastasized to her lungs, Betty died just four months after she was adopted.

"She was an absolutely life-changing experience," McDaniel-Sirman said. "She was wonderful. Because of Betty I had to do this. I had to save Shelties."

And so she did, starting with April, who was taken from a puppy mill in Missouri.

April was traumatized from the abuse she had suffered and was in poor physical condition.

She had 11 abscessed teeth that had to be removed, her uterus was partially disintegrated from a large abdominal mass and she had an ear infection that was so bad, her face was distorted

Peach State Sheltie Rescue spent more than $1,000 for medical treatment for April, and now McDaniel-Sirman is trying to heal her emotional trauma by teaching her how to socialize.

"She's still very terrified of the world. We've taken her on in more of a permanent status because she's not adoptable right now," McDaniel-Sirman said. "If she had not come into Peach State Rescue, she would have been euthanized by anyone else."

Peach State will only allow a dog to be euthanized if it has an untreatable disease or if it is aggressive.

After rescue, the dogs are spayed or neutered, undergo dental cleanings and get rabies shots, vaccinations and blood tests.

They are then handed over to volunteer foster parents who care for them until they can find a permanent home, and, in some cases, teach them "how to be a dog," McDaniel-Sirman said.

It's not uncommon for abused Shelties to be fearful and incapable of interacting with people or even other dogs, she said.

Often, they must be taught the basics, including walking on a leash, riding in a car or even accepting a treat or playing with toys.

Once an animal is ready to be adopted, its photo is posted on Peach State's Web site, www.peachstatesheltierescue.org.

The adoption is highly scrutinized.

The application process includes a home study assessment to make sure applicants will give the dog a safe place to live.

But ultimately, the Sheltie has the last word, or bark: If a dog has a negative reaction to a potential owner, then the applicant is turned down.

"We believe that the animals have already been through a hard enough time to just be throwing them into a home. We want to give them the right home," McDaniel-Sirman said.

Take Coleman, who was rescued from Athens-Clarke County Animal Control the day he was to be euthanized.

Coleman had a large tumor on his leg that was removed after his rescue and is now living in Atlanta with a family that includes two children and another Sheltie.

Then there's Colton, who, at age 14, was turned over by his owners because they decided they wanted a puppy. His coat was badly matted and he had trouble walking due to his long nails. He's now found a loving home and is well-groomed and in good condition.

"Shetland sheepdogs are wonderful family dogs," McDaniel-Sirman said, adding that the animals are not aggressive because they are bred to "take care of the flock."

In addition to April, McDaniel-Sirman has two other Shelties at home: Pippin, a stray from North Georgia she adopted through Peach State, and Tess, who was rescued from a puppy mill breeder in South Carolina.

Tess is a pet therapy volunteer at Heartland Hospice in Conyers, bringing cheer and comfort to patients.

"(Shelties are) the most congenial little characters," McDaniel-Sirman said. "They're so sweet across the board. They're very social and kind and they make the most wonderful, wonderful family pets."

To learn more about Peach State Sheltie Rescue, visit www.peachstatesheltierescue.org

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@ newtoncitizen.com.