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Tom & Kathleen Sawyer, Kerry Activists and Canine-Humanitarians


© 2009

No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from .

After a lifetime of living and working overseas in exotic locals such as Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, England and Singapore, Tom Sawyer was ready to embrace retirement in Texas. A big part of his retirement plans included a dog, specifically a Kerry Blue. Motivated by cherished childhood memories of a stray Kerry who followed his sister home in 1947, Tom researched the breed online. He found the Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation Website and bought his first Kerry, Murphy Blue, from a responsible breeder.

Tom describes Murphy Blue as "a very handsome Kerry with a great personality --very smart, sometimes a bit too smart." Although the show ring beckoned, serious allergies prevented him from competing. So, Tom put Murphy to work educating the public and helping local police with fund raisers. What child could resist learning about wearing seat belts and other safety issues while Murphy was wearing his prison outfit during the presentation?

As Tom learned about the Foundation, its work and the many issues surrounding the breed, he decided to get involved. He figured that if he contributed some of his time and others would do the same, many Kerries could become part of loving families, not just used as stock by puppy mills. That was the year that Mick won Best in Show at Westminster and puppy mill "breeders" began taking notice of the money that could be made without concern for the intelligence, faithfulness and inquisitive nature of the breed.

The KBTF Rescue Program saves neglected, ill-kept dogs, mostly from puppy "millers" who confine Kerries to cages with little positive human contact. Tom and his wife, Kathleen learned first hand what this kind of rescue involves when Tom acquired three Kerries from an Oklahoma puppy mill.

While Tom cleaned and groomed, Kathleen worked with the Foundation rescue coordinators, set up vet appointments and also helped with grooming. With new homes arranged for by the Foundation, the Kerries boarded flights to their forever homes -- all of this accomplished in just four days.

Last year, Tom and Kathleen, did it again. "The Dallas Express" rescue liberated three Kerries from a puppy mill, leaving no Kerries behind. These lucky Kerries were then cleaned, groomed, checked out by a Vet and sent on their way to foster homes arranged for by the Foundation.

One little female had apparently spent three years living in a cage with a wire bottom. The ability to walk on a solid surface was a newfound experience for her. Tom and Kathleen savored the knowledge that they were instrumental in sending this girl on her way walking toward her new life.

Sometimes rescue takes on a different form. For a variety of reasons, such as a death in the family or grave illnesses, Kerries are surrendered to the Foundation for placement. As foster parents, the Sawyers have helped several Kerries, in particular Sassy Sue, a nine-year old whose owner had Alzheimer's Disease. Even though Sassy Sue was hard of hearing, blind in one eye and needing constant medical attention, they describe her as a jewel that won their hearts and became a much-loved member of their family. She remained in their loving home until she crossed the Rainbow Bridge, just shy of her 14th year.

Kramer, a Kerry who had grabbed a puppy and refused to let it go, was literally rescued from Death Row. This three-year-old neglected Kerry was living in a very stressful environment with numerous dogs and children. His two previous owners didn't seem to understand that Kerries need structure, training and love.

When surrendered to the Foundation, Kramer was in sad shape, infested with hookworms and weighing just over 25 pounds. Tom and Kathleen took him into their home when just about everyone else had given up. They evaluated, monitored and spent hours re-training Kramer, who now lives happily in his forever" home where his new owners understand and love his Kerry spirit.

Tom, who also serves on the local Animal Services Advisory and Appeals Board, gives educational presentations on puppy mills to local groups in the community. He says that education is an important part of his work and the Foundation's.

Education can also be an affective form of rescue. After the explosion in Kerry popularity following Mick's victory, puppy mills advertised Kerries throughout the United States and Canada. New puppy buyers enamored with Mick, often didn't spend time researching the breed or the breeders.

With the help of a network of volunteers who read ads in their local papers and forwarded them to Tom, counter-ads were placed in each paper as a way to inhibit puppy mills from selling their Kerry stock. The counter-ad reflected the same wording as the millers' original ads, but contained the verbiage, 'know before you buy" with a phone number of a local volunteer, usually recruited by Tom, who shared Kerry knowledge with the uniformed perspective buyer.

Tom was responsible for placing more than 400 counter-ads that reached the right audience at the right time - before a puppy was purchased.

One of the most rewarding experiences for Tom and Kathleen has been fostering Kerries in need. The Shelbina Rescue in March 2006 brought thirty-four Kerries out of a single puppy mill. This represented the mill's entire breeding stock, thanks in part to the Foundation's proactive newspaper counter-ad program and the public education provided by the website.

This rescue brought Katie Drew to Tom and Kathleen, a female used strictly for breeding and not let out of her crate for three years. Katie required very delicate training as she apparently had to fight for everything in her previous world. She now had to learn that human touch was good and that she didn't need to live in fear anymore.

Tom says that watching a Kerry gain confidence and experience in its new world could bring tears to your eyes. He recalls seeing Katie jump for the first time, something she hadn't been able to do in a crate, and watching her joy in discovering new rooms, foods, smells and all those things we take for granted in our homes. He says these moments are the intangible rewards of fostering a Kerry. Then there is the greatest reward -- receiving unconditional affection from your foster dog. It's no wonder Katie Drew became one of the pack at the Sawyers.

Tom proudly wears a hat labeled, "Pack Leader," which he undoubtedly is. He firmly believes a pack leader must be consistent, self confident and always in control. Add the qualities of caring, love, persistence, and concern and he becomes a "Pack Leader" fully committed to improving the lives of Kerries through the Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation.

Tom's "Kerry" heart is always in the right place as he urges each of us to become involved and do whatever we can to help Kerries in need.

Tom and Kathleen Sawyer now share their home with Murphy Blum, Katie Drew and the loving memory of Sassy Sue. "Kerries are really leprechauns!" Tom says. "The rest are just dogs!"

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