Tails wagging and leashes tangling, nearly 100 golden retrievers gathered in the parking lot of the Weber’s Pet Supermarket in Fairfax Saturday, Nov. 12. Along with their owners, the dogs set off on a 3-kilometer journey around Fairfax neighborhoods as part of the Golden Retriever Rescue, Education and Training (GRREAT) charity walk.
"This is our single biggest fund-raiser," said Linda Kurtz, a Robinson Secondary student and GRREAT volunteer who started the walk last year. "I'm very excited. People seem to have a great time."
Linda, who grew up working with GRREAT dogs, said she wanted to find a way to help the 200 foster dogs that come through the program each year. She connected with Weber's, which conducts charity walks for other dog groups, and ended up raising over $5,000 for the rescue group. This year, she said, over 90 people pre-registered for the walk.
"It's a good social opportunity for dogs," said Linda. "Goldens are so friendly ... it's a good opportunity for people who have dogs to get to know other people who have dogs."
MOST OF the money goes to veterinary bills for the dogs taken into GRREAT's care, said foster home coordinator Allison Ward. The majority of golden retrievers that end up in foster homes do so because of owner neglect or changing household situations, she said. Ward's own foster dog, Penny, came from a military family that had been deployed overseas.
"Those are the sad stories, when people can't take care of their dogs," said Ward.
Currently, GRREAT takes in 200 golden retrievers per year, said president Kim Wiff. It is a foster home-based organization, meaning that foster families across the Washington, D.C. region take care of the dogs until they are adopted, she said.
For Joan Kirchner and her brother Tim, who live in Annandale, fostering sometimes becomes owning. Their first golden retriever, Cody, had been left in the back yard by his owners, who had moved away. They had only planned to take care of Cody until he found a foster home, said Joan Kirchner.
"But as soon as he walked in the door, we knew he was going to stay," she said. Cody died in September, and in early November Tim and Joan Kirchner had adopted Andy, a golden and Labrador retriever mix to keep their other dog, George, company.
"They still squabble over toys and run around the house," said Joan Kirchner. "But we have a large windowsill, and I came in one time and saw the two of them lying on the windowsill, nose to nose. It was so cute."
Golden retrievers are good dogs to own, said Tim Kirchner. "The two I've had were fantastic dogs."
"At the end of the day, they want nothing more than to please you, and sleep with their head on your feet," said Joan Kirchner. "With Cody, I never wondered where he was, because he was always by me at my feet."
— By Lea Mae Rice