The couple run the New Jersey Irish Setter Rescue center, which fosters stray or abandoned setters and tries to find suitable homes for them.
It all began 10 years ago Phil Cuchiaro brought home Brandy, a stray setter from the construction site where he worked.
“He was working at a job where they were just going to put her down,” Deanna Cuchiaro told the Irish Echo. “He brought her home and we tried to find her a home and then she ended up staying. She never left.”
Brandy remained part of the Cuchiaro family until her death in 2003. Long before that, however, Cuchiaro had decided she never wanted to be without a setter in her home. The couple’s quest to adopt a second dog led to the beginning of their rescue center.
Growing in numbers
“We went to a couple of dog shows and we had found a male Irish setter named Rocky who needed a home. He was in a rescue center in Connecticut,” she said. “I offered to help with the rescue. At the time, we lived in Mandel, New Jersey, in a small house with a small yard. We had Brandy and Rocky and then we could keep up to five dogs there. We would just help if a dog needed a ride or we’d foster a few dogs. And you know, you start putting your name on the Internet and you start putting your name on lists and tell people you want to help, and the word certainly gets out quick.”
Word of Deanna and Phil’s work spread; before long, the center joined up with the Irish Setter Club of Central Connecticut, then the Irish Setter Club of America. It is now a regional Irish Setter rescue center, covering the area from Maine to Virginia.
A couple of years ago, the Chuciaros moved to a home in Whitehouse, New Jersey that had 50 acres, in order to accommodate the growing number of rescue dogs they were fostering. The center is equipped with a lake, an outdoor exercise track and an indoor infirmary for sick dogs. In the time it’s been open, Cuchiaro estimates that the center has housed more than 500 dogs.
“Some of them will stay a couple of months, like, say if it’s an older dog, it’s not as easy to find a home for them,” she said. “Some of them are gone within hours.”
At any one time, the center can hold up to 12 dogs, but Cuchiaro remembers one particularly busy summer where they looked after 20 dogs at once. Nine dogs at the center are permanent residents whom the Chuciaros have adopted — Rocky, Andy, Patrick, Casey, Chester, Tara, Tino, Sam and Spin.
“They’re Irish, so most of the dogs end up Bailey or Reilly or Shane or something like that,” she laughed.
So why are there so many abandoned Irish setters?
“There are a lot of reasons,” she said. “Some people are getting divorced and neither of them can keep the dog. Some people are moving and can’t find a place that will take large dogs. A lot of times it is directly from shelters so the shelters do call us because they have lists for all breed rescues. So sometimes they’re strays, total unknowns where they just got away and nobody knows anything. We get so many excuses, we don’t know if they’re true.”
Many dogs are abandoned in the post-Christmas period, according to Cuchiaro.
“Usually May and June are busy,” she said. “People will get the dogs for Christmas, and then summer comes and the kids are going on vacation and then they call a kennel, which are like $50 a night and they don’t want to pay so they’ll just get rid of the dog.”
Her advice to anyone thinking of getting a dog, is to research their breeds and try to decide which will best suit their household.
“Meet them first,” she said. “Some people have in their mind that they want a particular type of dog,” she said. “You can’t just pick, you have to go meet them first and see them. In general the Irish setters are bred to hunt for around 12 hours a day so they need something to do. They need a job. Three of mine are therapy dogs that go to local nursing homes. You definitely need to keep them busy. They’re not your typical dog that can stay home alone all day.”
Running the center is volunteer work for Deanna and Phil, who both work full-time jobs. Looking after a group of hungry animals can be expensive as well as time consuming, she admitted.
“We’ve spent around $20,000 on veterinary bills,” she said. “The clubs will help with vet bills up to $300 per dog. Other than that, your time, the food and everything is all volunteer. The Irish setters are prone to bloat, they get nervous and their stomachs twist. We had one bloat, his surgery was $800 and that was cheap.”
So what is it about Irish setters that inspires such commitment in the Chuciaros?
“I just kind of like the big dogs,” she said. “My husband just kind of brought Brandy home and she had to stay. It’s just their personalities. Setters have a rollicking personality, since they’re Irish I guess. They’re very active, they’re a fun dog.”
For more information about the New Jersey Irish Setter Rescue center, log on to www.irishrescue.org.