Probably the country’s most famous beagle is the precocious “Snoopy” of the Peanuts comic strip. While Snoopy has a loving home with Charlie Brown and his sister Sally, many beagles in Southern Maryland aren’t so lucky.
Beagles are often among the top 10 most popular dog breeds and “that means there are a lot in shelters,” said Ewa Rurarz-Huygens, a volunteer who manages communication functions for the nonprofit group Beagle Rescue of Southern Maryland, Inc. (BRSM). Mara Melton, an engineer in St. Mary’s County, founded the rescue nearly 10 years ago because of her love of the breed and the large number of beagles in local animal shelters. Today, there are “55 to 60 dogs in rescue at any given time,” said Rurarz-Huygens, with perhaps 120 to 150 being adopted per year.
Several Southern Marylanders who have adopted from BRSM take full advantage of the region’s many outdoor areas that are quite enticing for dogs. “I think Southern Maryland is a great place for beagles,” said Calvert Countian Mary Lerch who, with her husband John, adopted two beagles and financially supports the rescue. “[There are] lots of places to walk and enjoy a great adventure, too. We have a boat that we cruise the Chesapeake Bay with. Beagles are very adaptable and really love the boat. Beagles, being so curious, love to sniff and explore new places.”
A St. Mary’s County beagle adopter, Rebecca Whitaker, took on two beagles from BRSM three years ago. “I adopted from BRSM because I had decided I wanted to rescue a dog and liked that all the animals lived in homes,” she said. “I spent hours looking at beagles online, reading descriptions, looking at pictures, trying to decide which two I wanted to adopt. I met both of my dogs at different times at adoption fairs in PetSmart.”
BRSM operates a website and regularly hosts local adoption fairs at several commercial pet stores. Administrators of BRSM are all volunteers, said Rurarz-Huygens, but they take their jobs seriously. Adopting a pet involves an application, a home visit, and other evaluations about whether a certain dog and family/owner will mesh. “A 2-year-old [beagle] is still a puppy,” explained Rurarz-Huygens. She said BRSM works hard to avoid people who see a new dog or puppy as “eye candy, but then reality strikes and [they] realize this is a much bigger responsibility than they thought.”
“It’s a lot of work [having a dog],” she said. “The closer we get to Christmas, people get applications, but sometimes don’t realize a dog is not a gift, it’s a commitment - a 15-year commitment.” Rurarz-Huygens said the group screens very carefully and has been successful in selecting adoptive families who take the commitment seriously.
Some of the lives the beagles lead before being rescued are “heartbreaking,” according to John and Mary Lerch, who sponsored an older dog named Chessie who was found nearly drowned after a boater brought him into the Bay and dumped him. “We still give to the senior dogs each month,” said the couple.
The Friends of Winston is a special BRSM program for senior dogs that may need more care and medical attention than younger dogs. “The senior dogs tend to take longer to be adopted,” or they may never be adopted, said Rurarz-Huygens. “These dogs are mellower. They like sitting on the couch with you; they’re not too crazy about running around and chasing squirrels and rabbits.” BRSM aids those who adopt the senior dogs with extra help with some of the medical fees.
Other challenges for the group include finding foster homes. “We’re always on the lookout for reliable foster homes,” said Rurarz-Huygens. “We cannot say how long a dog will stay with someone. We can never tell when a dog will get adopted.”
Finally, Rurarz-Huygens said, “There’s a clear preference for females as opposed to males,” because people often think females are more affectionate and that males will mark their territory. However, she said she has found males to be more affectionate and she has never had a male who marked in the house.
Those who do find a perfect match with a dog are thankful. “I am very grateful to BRSM for saving my dogs and taking care of them until I discovered them and brought them home,” said Whitaker.
To start looking for your new best friend, contact Beagle Rescue of Southern Maryland, Inc., P.O. Box 983, Waldorf, MD 20604, visit the website at www.beaglemaryland.org, or e-mail email@example.com.