Dr. Turkan Ertugrul wants to save all the dogs and cats she can. The founder of the Virginia Beach-based Saver of Souls Pet Rescue, she is slowly, but surely making a dent in the number of homeless pets that cross her path. For the past few years, she and her volunteers have saved nearly 200 dogs annually. Specializing in small breed dogs, the 501(c)3 non-profit identifies canines in need and pairs them first with foster families and then compassionate owners who will love them for a lifetime. No dogs under her watch will be euthanized. When she’s not working tirelessly for her charity, Dr. Ertugrul, DVM, is a full-time veterinary with Hope Springs Veterinary Sajo Farm in Virginia Beach.
When and why did you decide to launch Saver of Souls?
I’ve loved animals my entire life. When rescue animals came in through my work, I would take them in, fix them up and find them homes. I really saw the need for establishing a rescue group when I got my first Chihuahua in 2013. I wanted a second Chihuahua to play with him, and I was having a hard time finding one locally.
I started getting on the Internet and seeing dogs that were available. I’d go back a few days later and find that some had been euthanized because there were too many. Finally, I saw one and said, “You’re the one. I’m going to save you.” So I arranged for ground transportation to route him from California to Virginia.
Then I started thinking, “There are so many people looking for small breed dogs this way.” I saw that the best way to help was to establish an official rescue group so that no dogs would die, and I launched Saver of Souls in 2014.
How do you identify the pets in need?
In high risk shelters, if the dogs have the slightest imperfection, the shelter puts them on death row. Those are the ones I save. Some may have behavioral issues or medical issues. A lot of them are terrified in shelters, so they appear to be hiding and unsocial. I think that every dog deserves a chance to have a happy life and a family that loves them. Unfortunately—until there are better spay/neuter laws and puppy mills are shut down—there will always be too many dogs and cats and not enough homes. I realize I can’t save them all, but I save as many as I can.
What happens after you take them from the shelter?
If the animals are from an out-of-state shelter, we arrange for them to go to a nearby veterinary clinic first to see if they have any health issues that need attention. If they are from a local shelter, I check them out to make sure they are healthy. Afterwards, I assess their behavior and match them, based on their personality, with a foster who will keep them until they are adopted. When the foster hands the dog over to a forever home, it can be an emotional roller coaster. But we’d rather deal with the heartbreak of giving them up to a good home than knowing they died in a shelter. I heard a foster once say, “My heart breaks so that theirs never has to break again.”
Aside from your fosters, what other groups provide services?
I’m a veterinarian, so I do a lot of the work myself to help save money for Saver of Souls. I have a lot of surgeries done through local SPCAs and other shelter groups. It’s more cost effective for the shelter to handle the surgery than it is for me to do it at my own practice. Veterinary clinics are businesses and have to pay their bills too, so it’s hard for them to give a discount on routine surgeries. If we have dogs with eye issues, we take them to Dr. Heather Brookshire at Animal Vision Center of Virginia. She’s amazing. We also have worked with other specialists who give discounts. It’s tax exempt for them if they donate the services.
Is there a particular challenge your organization faces?
It’s been hard to get our dogs in to have them spayed and neutered. The shelters are so busy and understaffed. You have to wait a month or two. Every rescue group in the area is dealing with the same problem. We sometimes get people that complain about our adoption fees, when it’s cheaper to adopt from a local shelter. I wish they would realize that big shelters are subsidized and have lots of big donors that enable them to charge less of an adoption fee. We barely scrape by as it is and generally spend way more on a dog or cat than we ask for as an adoption fee.
What are your requirements for those who foster and those provide forever homes?
Our fosters are required to have their own dogs spayed or neutered, if they haven’t already, and to be up to date on their vaccinations and heartworm prevention. It’s important that the pets are well cared for, and they should have a secured yard area. If they live in an apartment, they will need to leash-walk the dog. We also require our fosters to attend at least one adoption event a month, so that the dogs can be seen and hopefully adopted.
Those who adopt our dogs have the same requirements as the fosters. We inspect the home. If they already have dogs, we will do a meet and greet first to make sure all the dogs get along. We also encourage age-appropriate adoptions. It’s important for people to be able to fully care for the dogs.
What advice do you have for individuals who are adopting foster pets for the first time?
Give the dog time to adjust. A lot of people want the dogs to love them instantly, but you have to remember that they have been through a lot. They’re nervous, and they don’t know their new owners and what they’re trying to do. Give them time to decompress.
What needs do you have at this time?
Monetary donations are always helpful to pay the bills. We have needs for fosters and adoptive homes. If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, then network to let people know about us. If you can, come to some of our adoption events. We try to attend all of the big local events in Hampton Roads, and we host events of our own through partnerships with breweries, the Zoom Room and the Virginia Beach Farmers’s Market. Just coming out to meet the dogs and help get them socialized is great. Some people really go out of their way to help. We’ve had flight attendants help us fly the dogs from their locations on their time off, and other people who are willing to pay for the dog’s flight or stay with them in the cabin.
Anything is something.