Dogs’ best friend

A rescued survivor of abuse introduced Dawn Freiburger to a second career finding safe havens for dogs in need

Dawn Freiburger of the Town of Fredonia has adopted three dogs from White Paws German Shepherd Dog Rescue and handles finances for the organization. Her furry creatures are (from left) Mack, Riley and Belle. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Dawn Freiburger’s retirement plan didn’t include a full-time volunteer gig, but then her family got Belle.

The German shepherd from Tennessee had weighed 13 pounds at 8 months old, when she should have been nearly full grown. The dog was so malnourished she ate rocks. A rescue organization found her and took her to a veterinarian.

The vet said Belle didn’t have six hours left to live. She stayed in intensive care for three weeks before being moved to a foster home in Wisconsin.

That was the Fredonia home of Dawn and Mike Freiburger. They adopted Belle through White Paws German Shepherd Rescue. Belle joined Riley, who came from the same organization.

Belle is now a healthy 70 pounds and enjoying life. She is so gentle she would have been trained to be a therapy dog for hospitals, except for issues with her hips.

Dawn soon got to know White Paws founder Nancy De Moulin and before long was putting in long volunteer hours to help save dogs.

De Moulin, who is stepping back from White Paws as she gets older, convinced Dawn to become one of five partners to run the organization.

“Nancy is picky about who to turn the rescue over to,” Dawn said.

She made the cut.

Each partner handles a different task between intake, medical, applications, finance and the tiebreaker (in case of a tie vote on an issue). Dawn is the finance person whose work mostly consists of paying vet bills and managing vet relationships.

Volunteer work for the 60-year-old retired project manager from M&I Data Services’ includes handling emergency vet visits, which means she can be on call 24/7.

“It can be eight hours a day. My phone rings constantly,” Dawn said.

Heartworm diseases is the No. 1 killer of dogs, she said. Wisconsin doesn’t allow dogs to enter the state with it.

The organization doesn’t have an office or any housing for dogs. “We can’t bring a dog up until we have a commitment of a foster,” Dawn said.

Dawn and Mike fostered a number of shepherds, including some who had medical problems that wouldn’t allow them to be adopted.

Soon after one of their shepherds died, the family wanted to take a break, but De Moulin wouldn’t allow it and sent them a big white male.

After just a few days, Mike knew he couldn’t let go of fluffy Mack, who tips the scales at around 90 pounds. Mike proudly wears his White Paws “foster failure” T-shirt.

Animals have been part of Dawn’s entire life. She grew up in Reynolds, Ill., a town similar to Fredonia, she said.

Dawn got her first dog after she was married. One of her two sons had asthma, so they got a Bichon who “thought he was all that and a bag of chips, but he wasn’t,” Dawn said.

Mike eventually wanted a canine “that wasn’t a poof dog,” Dawn said. “We bought a farm. We needed a true farm dog.”

They adopted Riley, who was born in the White Paws rescue, which started their journey with the nonprofit organization that has saved more than 4,000 dogs.

But it’s not as easy as just moving shepherds from one house to another.

“Our goal is not to get the dogs out the door,” Dawn said. “Out goal is to get dogs to the right homes.”

Finding those homes takes several phone calls to landlords and references, along with home visits, have gone virtual due to the pandemic, which Dawn is OK with. She used to log long miles to meet with potential adopters.

The need is there. The rescue gets 25 to 30 requests per day from people seeking to rehome pets.

“Owner surrenders are our biggest nightmare,” Dawn said, adding people aren’t honest about the issues with their shepherds.

Dogs from shelters, usually from the South, are easier to handle since workers and volunteers can see what the dogs are like and pass along accurate information, she said.

Stories like that of Belle, Dawn said, are all too common. One litter of dogs got bitten by a snake -— all but one puppy survived — and others come with porvo, a contagious disease with a high mortality rate that can be prevented with a vaccine.

“Those are the stories that we see all the time,” she said.

As a result, medical costs can pile up.

Many veterinarians partner with White Paws and provide discounts. Foster families, who are paid for food, supplies and medical care, also keep costs down.

“Most of our fosters are awesome. We don’t get a lot of bills back,” Dawn said.

Fundraisers, such as the recent Ruff Riders motorcycle event in Fredonia that Mike helps organize -— their house and garage is chock full of items from the effort --— are vital, Dawn said. Last year, White Paws only held one fundraiser before the pandemic canceled the others.

Interest in adopting dogs is also high, but Dawn said a lot of it can be impulsive. White Paws put has a $10 adoption fee to help weed out those who aren’t serious about having a pet.

Proper training is another requirement to adopt.

“People are not willing to put the work in,” Dawn said as her three furry loves calmly laid down or strolled around the house.

“These dogs didn’t get like this overnight,” she said.

Her family’s dogs are put in kennels at night so they don’t react to seeing deer or hearing noises on their 18-acre property. Dawn said Mack and Belle would mostly be fine, but Riley, the oldest of the bunch, would be naughty.

“It keeps them in their safe space,” Dawn said of the kennels.

They are also fed in their crates and are fine with it.

“We eat when they eat,” Dawn said. “I’m not sure who taught who, but it works.”

Teaching German shepherds is different than other breeds. Dawn said one trainer once told her she wouldn’t get one because “They’re smarter than we are.”

Shepherds, she said, are “busy dogs” that want to be doing something and “They’re talkers.” Their whining reminds humans that they’re here and they want something.

Difficulties aside, the more than a decade of work with White Paws is worth it for Dawn.

“It’s savin’ these guys,” she said of her trio of furry friends.

The family also has a long-haired orange cat named Fred, who sits where the dogs get their treats each night to partake in the deliciousness of turkey jerky. The dogs are calm with their feline roommate, although for Mack each morning with Fred is “wild time.”

Dawn would like to see fewer strays needing homes. She is astounded that so many owners don’t get dogs spayed. “Spay and neuter your dogs,” she said. “End of story.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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