I first met Gail de Rita at an adoption fair in Concord, CA. Huskies adorned her sweater, her earrings were dangly huskies, and she had a husky tote bag hanging from her shoulder. My boyfriend and I were planning on adopting a husky—his dream dog—and I found NorSled, Northern California Sled Dog Rescue, online. I knew after seeing Gail that we had come to the right place.
Huskies were obviously Gail's life. I felt an instant connection—Gail exuded warmth and passion (I think she bleeds husky hair!). I could tell she loved what she did. She showed off each adoptable dog with pride. "Delco is such a sweeatheart! He's excitable, but soooo sweet!" Each dog was like her child—and she expected the best for them.
It's not difficult to fall in love with huskies. Their cute faces, tendency to howl in an adorable an hilarious manner, and their fat, pointed ears. But while many of us are drawn to these dogs, Gail de Rita has formed her life around rescuing, rehabilitating, and caring for needy and homeless northern breed dogs. While some give money to the animal-related charities, Gail works from the time she wakes up in the morning until the time her head rests on her pillow at night, to make the world a better place for these wonder-furry creatures.
Amazed by her sacrifices and passion, I interviewed Gail how she discovered her love of huskies.
Do you remember the first time you discovered northern breed dogs?
I sure do! My former partner and I were looking for a dog since we had just bought a house. We thought we wanted a cattle dog so went to the big dog show at Cow Palace 13 to 14 years ago. We asked who had cattle dogs and they recommended a woman in the Siberian area who had both. We went, saw, and fell in love. That was the beginning of my slippery slope downhill.
What was the name of your first husky/malamute, and can you tell us a story about that dog?
Juno was my first Siberian husky. What a revelation that was. We got her as a puppy and learned a lot. I made up lullabies and sang to her when she was a baby. She was quite a character. Once she found some baby possums in an old out building at our house and had to be quarantined when she got them. Another time we were at a secluded beach and she ran into a huge male seal. She and the seal started playing and she swam with him way out into the bay. I was afraid I’d never get her back. Was so angry with her I didn’t speak to her for two days. When she had TPLO surgery I made a little apartment for myself in the basement so that she and I could sleep together and she wouldn’t have to take the stairs. I have a hat, scarf and many other warm winter items knitted from her fur.
When did you first get involved with norsled? Tell us about your journey to your current job.
I had always been a political activist all my adult life but when I met Juno I became so enamoured of huskies that I wanted to find a way to channel my energy to saving them. Working to save the world is frankly a bit of a lost cause. I googled all the rescue groups, went to a Norsled fair at Petsmart in Concord at least a decade ago and from there… Working to save each dog is a really finite and visible change.
What does a typical day at Norsled entail? (if such a thing exists).
No TYPICAL days but “Typical day”, 6 am - roll out of bed, let out my dogs. Make coffee. Do emails – I usually have at least one crisis: a dog is due to be PTS tomorrow can we save her, my dog just ate a chocolate cake what should I do, who do you recommend as a trainer, I have two cats and a golden retriever why can’t I have a Husky. Etc. that takes at least a few hours. Then I usually have a few vet appointments to I head to Cottage Kennel or the foster home, pick up the dogs and take them for vetting. Talk to the docs and pick up meds. On the way back I stop at a potential adopter’s home and do a visit to ensure fencing is adequate. I take about 7 phone calls on the way to and from. I have to stop at Pet Food Express to purchase some special food for a disabled dog which I then take to the foster home. I head back home and madly scramble to complete a contract, make copies and head back out again to do an adoption. I meet up with the adopters at Cottage, we talk, they meet dogs, they fall in love, sign papers and we say a temporary farewell. I head back home, enter the adoption information in the database, copy for all who need, register checks, make a list for Treasurer, and do more email work, phone calls and yet more email. Work on a proposal to send to a foundation to cover vetting expenses for a special needs dog I just pulled. I didn’t have to do any travel for rescue today but I have put 40,000 miles on my truck in the past 15 months! The dogs are clamboring for dinner. OOPS I didn’t get to walk my own dogs. Okay kids Point Isabel tomorrow. By 10 pm my eyes are blurring over and the pups and I retire for an hour of Home and Garden TV or Animal Planet with Icy and Gypsy vying for a spot at my head.
How many dogs do you currently have?
Six dogs live with me including my most recent “foster failure” a totally blind Husky named Skky. I also have another infamous Siberian named Vesta Louise who is in sled dog training (reform school!)
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
The dogs I help save and the people who become my friends and whose lives are changed because of the dog they adopt
What is the most difficult thing about your job?
Realizing that many little beings’ lives are in my hands. Daily I have to make choices and decisions as to who I save and who I have to forego. Working transport and meeting scary deadlines is very stressful. If I mess up, a dog could die.
If you could choose any other job, what would it be?
Not to sound too dramatic but this is the work I was put here to do. I am such a lucky person to have found my passion, and have the ability to do this work full time. I cannot imagine any other job.
What keeps you so passionate?
Every single dog I am able to help makes my heart sing. The ones I get to know better are of course even more inspiring. People come back to fairs with their dogs – I hardly recognize them they are so improved and well cared for. It’s a series of miracles every day. Northern Breeds are the most challenging, entertaining and teaching animals I’ve ever had the honor of knowing. Every single day I learn.
With the economy in the dumps, it comes as no surprise that there are more homeless and needy dogs than in pervious years. This poses a new challenge to those who already work on a tight budget. Norsled dog rescue has faced the challenge head on. Gail estimates that, during her time with Norsled, about 1,500 dogs thoughout the San Francisco Bay Area and California have been rescued. Norsled and northern-breed dogs everywhere are lucky to have Gail in their lives.
If you are interested in volunteering, fostering, adopting, or donating, please visit www.norsled.org. NorSled is a 501C3 non-profit so donations are tax deductable.