WINDER, Ga. -- Bulldog owners often are drawn to their pets because of their trademark droopy jowls, wrinkled faces and sometimes-bullish demeanor, but for too many bulldog owners, that excess of character turns out to be too much to handle.
Responsible bulldog owners have to wash their dog's face folds daily, wipe their bottoms and always be on the lookout for the skin and eye irritations that the breed is prone to.
"If somebody wants a dog that they can just leave in the backyard and play with from time to time - then a bulldog is not for them," said Kelly Hollowell, a member of the Georgia English Bulldog Rescue, a network of bulldog-lovers who have taken on the task of caring for orphaned bulldogs - the iconic mascot of the University of Georgia and especially its football team.
Although bulldogs are fairly pricey - between $1,500 and $6,000 for a registered pup - some folks don't do their research before bringing one home, and they're shocked at the work and commitment their new pet demands.
Consequently, dozens of pure-bred bulldogs and bulldog mixes end up in shelters across Georgia every year, said Ruth Ann Phillips, who organizes the foster homes that make up the bulldog rescue.
If they're young and healthy, these prized dogs get adopted in record time. But by the time a bulldog reaches a shelter, it oftentimes has been neglected or has medical issues that make it nearly unadoptable.
Hollowell, Phillips and a group of other bulldog rescuers in Georgia got together in January to form Georgia English Bulldog Rescue. While lots of individuals have run bulldog rescue operations, there hasn't been an organized effort focused on rescuing and rehabilitating unadoptable bulldogs.
Phillips' Barrow County home has become ground zero for these rehabilitation projects, with four previously mistreated bulldogs now calling her living room home.
These dogs spent months locked in crates and were severely malnourished or completely bald and scabby from mange when Phillips found them. Now, they've regrown their fur and put on weight, and spend their days lounging together.
"They're all a little quirky," Phillips said. "It's like having little 2-year-olds running around all over the place. They're very sensitive, and they want your attention. If you're not paying them enough attention, they'll let you know."
Phillips' current crew of convalescing dogs have been at her home for several months, but they are almost well enough to be adopted, she said.
"We've got so many dogs in that have taken a long time to heal, that we haven't had many for adoptions lately," she said.
So far, the rescue has gotten much more business than the founders anticipated. Not only have they been finding more dogs who need help in animal shelters all over Georgia and Alabama, but overwhelmed bulldog owners have started surrendering their dogs directly to the rescue group.
"The main problems we're seeing is with the economy," Phillips said. "Like with other rescues, we've seen an increase in people who just can't care for their dogs right now. They've either had major life changes, and they've had to downsize, or they just can't handle the vet bills, because they didn't know what they were getting into."
These surrendered bulldogs usually are healthy and pretty easy to adopt out, but the increased numbers still have put a strain on the rescue's few foster homes, she said. The rescue now has a waiting list of owners who want to surrender dogs to the rescue because there are not enough foster homes available, she said.