Dogster Hero: Happy Tails Rescue Has Saved More than 500 Small-Breed Dogs

A breed-specific Canadian rescue group is showing that great things come in small packages.


Imagine falling terribly sick and then being abandoned to die alone. That’s what happened back in 2005 for a Bichon Frise battling an aggressive form of cancer who was surrendered to a shelter in Toronto, Canada. The little dog was thought to be about 10 years old, but was likely much younger and had suffered from years of overbreeding before being dumped at the shelter. Cancerous mammary tumours were taking over her body, and it was thought that she wouldn’t have much longer to live. Taken with the fluffy white dog’s endearing personality, the shelter staff decided to find a way for her to finish her days in a loving home and not alone in a shelter cage.

The sweet but sick Bichon was taken in by foster mom Judianne Keep from Happy Tails Rescue, a registered nonprofit in southern Ontario for small non-shedding, hypoallergenic breeds — principally, the Bichon Frise and Maltese.

Happy Tails is a very small rescue group with two volunteer directors helping President Carol Thorpe. This team of dedicated women work with a handful of foster families throughout southern Ontario to save and rehome small dogs.

In Keep’s care, the sick Bichon -– now named Fuzzi -– began to thrive. Completely won over by her vivacious character, Keep decided to adopt Fuzzi and take on all her medical expenses. Fuzzi’s sweet nature and determined spirit inspired Happy Tails Rescue to name her as their mascot and dog ambassador.

Fuzzi’s cancer did come back, and sadly, she passed away in 2010, but thanks to Keep and Happy Tails, the little dog who had been left at a shelter was able to enjoy the last years of her life surrounded by love.

Happy Tails Rescue was founded in 1999 by Leslie Remenek, who, when searching for a Bichon Frise rescue group in Canada and not finding one, started her own with a friend’s help. Since then, Happy Trails has been able to find loving families for more than 500 small breed dogs, with an encouraging 99 percent success rate in placing these dogs in their new forever homes via listings on Petfinder’s nationwide “Adopt a Homeless Pet” program.

In addition to listing their fostered dogs on Petfinder, Happy Trails Rescue likes to participate in local events to promote its group, find new foster families, and visit with former adopters and their dogs. They recently set up a booth at Woofstock in Toronto, the largest outdoor festival for dogs in North America, which attracts up to 300,000 dog lovers during the event’s two-day run.

And while Happy Tails will make exceptions for “shedding pups” in great need of help, they remain a rescue group focused on fostering and rehoming Bichons and Maltese (purebreds and crosses) who come to them as owner surrenders (or following an owner’s death), as strays, from puppy mills, and, like in Fuzzi’s case, through the collaboration of local shelters and SPCAs who reach out to find foster families for as many dogs as they can.

“Rescues are often breed-specific because different breeds exhibit specific traits. Happy Tails Rescue tends to attract members who are dog lovers, but who also tend to have allergies to shedding dogs, and have discovered the joy of non-shedding, hypoallergenic breeds,” Keep notes.

Many of the dogs who come to Happy Tails Rescue are seniors or in need of palliative care, and the small network of volunteers and fosters will often pay all food, grooming, and medical expenses out of their own pockets if donations cannot cover these costs. According to Keep, Happy Tails’ adoption fees rarely cover the costs of vetting (dental work in particular) and rehabilitation, but the group remains completely committed to dogs they rescue and each one is given medical attention if needed, and is spayed/neutered and immunized before being placed in a pre-screened, carefully chosen adoptive family.

Unfortunately, most rescue groups find it difficult to adopt out dogs like Fuzzi who require ongoing care, and so Happy Tails tries to encourage potential adopters to look past a dog’s age or special needs and see what a wonderful pet he or she could make.

“These dogs can give so much love and companionship. The older dogs might not be with us for long, but that time can be priceless,” Keep says.

And while rescue work can certainly be daunting and overwhelming at times, Happy Tails Rescue has many happy tales to share.

Keep remembers Luna, a Bichon Frise that Happy Tails saved from a high-kill pound when it was discovered that she was full of bladder stones. Keep ran to pick up the little dog who was “a matted, smelly mess” and rushed her to a Toronto vet. Luna had to have emergency surgery to remove the 39 stones in her tiny bladder, and the vet told Keep that the dog probably wouldn’t have made it another day had she been left at the shelter.

But little Luna bounced back and went on to be adopted by a child psychologist who wanted a family pet, but also one that could act as a therapy dog for his young patients. “Luna is now loved and cared for, but also goes to work with her ‘dad’ every day and lets kids who have had something traumatic happen to them hug and pet her,” Keep says.

Along with saving dogs from kill shelters, finding new homes for the beloved pets of the elderly is another aspect of Happy Tails Rescue’s efforts of which Keep is particularly fond. “It’s devastating for an elderly person having to go into a nursing home, but to have to give up their dog is horrible,” she says.

When Keep and her team take in one of these dogs, they make sure to keep in touch with the previous owner and let them know how the dog is doing in its foster home. When the dog is adopted, “we beg our new adopters to always keep us updated on our babies so we can also send the information to the former owner, too,” she says. “It’s a warm feeling being able to help in this way.”

If you’d like to learn more about Happy Tails Rescue and ways to help, please visit the group’s website.

About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found blogging over at Crystal Goes to Europe.

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at

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