East Haddam couple takes pleasure in finding forever homes for homeless dogs

EAST HADDAM — Michael and Janine Broe have a soft spot for homeless or abused dogs and they’re on a mission to rehouse as many as they can.

The reasons for these canines ending up homeless are many: they are found abandoned on the street, an owner dies or moves, litters of puppies in a backyard are unable to be cared for, or they’re runaways.

The couple, with six dogs of their own, teamed up with BarkTown Dog Rescue & Sanctuary in Georgia to bring canines of all ages, sizes and breeds to people in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Michael Broe said he recalls a particularly harrowing case of hoarding in Florida, where an owner passed away, leaving 50 Great Pyrenees in her home in a desperate state, he said.

It took eight other rescue groups to help save the dogs, which are very large.

“It really was an awful situation. The dogs were living in bathrooms and closets with no windows or doors. It was something I’d never seen before. They were all over the place. It was horrible,” he said.

It took two days to capture the animals, put them in vans, and transport them to rescue facilities. Volunteers working with them managed to take 20 of them and the rest were eventually all adopted, he said.

The majority of situations in which dogs are in need aren’t that dire, said Michael Broe, who added that most of these neglected pets are found down south and in that situation because they aren’t spayed (females) or neutered (males).

His wife loves to educate dog owners about how necessary it is to have their pets fixed.

“When you hear about hoarding cases, I want to knock on every door and tell people about spaying and neutering and the benefits of it and how we can get on top of the problem,” said Janine Broe, who prefers the term “dogs without homes” over “unwanted.”

“We could get farther along in the cause if more people understood the benefits,” she added.

A whole generation of Americans grew up with Bob Barker, host of the Price is Right game show, urging people at the end of every episode to have their female pets neutered.

The couple attributes the overwhelming instances of un-neutered canines to many factors —culturally, many Southerners look at animals differently, and many can’t afford the service. Also, there are a lot more shelters that euthanize dogs there, Janine Broe added.

“Maybe not enough people were watching the Price is Right. I know my grandparents watched the show, so I grew up hearing Bob Barker saying ‘Don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets,’” she said. “I guess it’s the same way with smoking: PSA are out there about smoking, but people still smoke,” she added.

Leeza Gutt of Glastonbury, who offers her home to foster dogs, agrees.

“There are so many dogs — it’s a never-ending battle, and [BarkTown] constantly needs to expand, because they have a better chance of being adopted in New England and up north,” she said, where there are more advocacy laws for animals.

The Broes, who have volunteered in nearly every aspect of rescue — fostering, transport, fundraising, events, marketing and others — chose to partner with BarkTown Dog Rescue after Michael Broe, executive vice president for Wireless Zone of Rocky Hill, interviewed between eight and 10 other nonprofits.

In hoarding situations, people don’t or can’t spend the money to spay or neuter their dogs or afford heartworm medication, a problem more common in the southern United States, Janine Broe added.

“People think they can make a living of backyard litters and then it just gets to be too much,” said Gutt, a paraprofessional with two rescue dogs — a lab mix and an Australian shepherd mix. She’s also fostering two puppies for BarkTown: a Shepherd/lab mix and pitt/ hound mix.

The Broe’s rescue organization is entirely volunteer-run — the two devote their time gratis to BarkTown.

Both the Broes have had dogs their entire lives, and own six dogs: two Bernese Mountain dogs, a German shepherd/husky mix and two Akbash dogs (which look like labs). Plus the couple is fostering a 2-year-old German shepherd.

They’ve offered their home temporarily to 50 to 75 dogs over the last couple of years, Michael Broe said.

Choosing which to adopt or foster is a gut reaction, he added.

“There are certainly ones that catch your attention and kind of grab you, and you say that one’s special for whatever reason. Maybe you had the breed before, maybe it’s the look it gave, maybe it’s the story behind them, or their physical condition is so rough, your heart goes out to them,” Michael Broe said.

In all, 7 million to 9 million dogs are euthanized in the U.S. every year.

“We just make a very, very small dent in the total problem, but we try to do what we can,” Michael Broe said.

The number of shelters that euthanize dogs is declining, “but there’s still a huge number,” he added.

The couple is licensed in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Georgia, and they’re looking to expand into other New England states.

Jeanine Broe’s family also had pet dogs.

“My mother recently reminded me that any time there was a stray dog in the neighborhood, I was the one walking around asking them, ‘Can you take this?’ This is a lifelong dream, what I was born to do,” she said.

Meanwhile, Gutt said her efforts are a big responsibility, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a lot, but I know they’re going to be going to a great home sooner rather than later, so I don’t mind sticking it out for a few months.”

Gutt makes sure each foster canine transitions into a healthy lifestyle.

“The dogs don’t always have the opportunity to come out of their shell, versus living in a home. They get to see what it’s like to be a real dog, and go on walks and be out in public, socialize and all sorts of things,” she said.

The Northeast group is looking for volunteers to help with various tasks. For information or to volunteer or view adoptable dogs, visit barktowndogrescue.org or BarkTownDogRescue on Facebook, or email info@barktowndogrescue.org.