Nearly 300 Sporting Dogs Rescued from Spain 

Thanks to A Virginia Woman’s Captivation 

Written by Dulcy B. Hooper

Tina Leone, founder and CEO of Sporting Dog Rescue International (SDRI), found her first Brittany in the back of a truck following an afternoon spent shooting sporting clays.  “A friend invited me to meet his new hunting dog, and when I looked in the back of that truck, there was the most beautiful creature I had seen in my entire life,” she said. “She actually changed my life.” 

Epi, a French Brittany hunting dog rescued in Spain by (SDRI) and adopted by Christian Bentley.

Leone said that looking into the back of that truck really did change everything for her.  “Her name was Gee Whiz, and I had to have her,” she said. “I had to do whatever it took. And I needed a house in order to make that happen.” Leone promptly went out and bought a house. “It really was love at first sight, and she’s still the love of my life,” she said. “I think about her every day.” Gee Whiz died at the age of 14 and a half.

“In some ways, they are 30 or 40 years behind In their view of dogs. It’s beginning to change — and I think that millennials will change everything — but they see them as disposable tools to do what has to be done.” – Leone

Captivated by the breed, Leone began doing volunteer work for American Brittany Rescue, eventually becoming a member of the board and serving as treasurer (she is a certified public accountant). She transported dogs, conducted home visits, and fostered around 30 dogs. American Brittany Rescue had embarked on a two-year pilot program to do international work, but when that program ended, Leone founded Sporting Dog Rescue International. She saw the need and felt that it was too important to not keep moving forward.

“There’s a different mindset in some other countries,” Leone said. “In some ways, they are 30 or 40 years behind in their view of dogs. It’s beginning to change — and I think that millennials will change everything — but they see them as disposable tools to do what has to be done.” Leone said that at the end of hunting season, thousands of hunting dogs are taken down. “They are sometimes taken down at birth, if there’s a thought that they won’t make a good hunting dog.”  

SDRI’s international efforts are most focused in Greece, Spain, and Serbia. Leone estimates that she has helped rescue nearly 300 dogs from Spain alone. According to Leone, there are over 100 individuals here waiting to adopt a Brittany or other sporting dog. “We have 10 in Serbia right now, all Brittanys except for one Pointer, waiting for us to get them out.” COVID has made the rescue efforts even more complicated, with restrictions on where U.S. passengers can fly and the need to have direct flights to cut down on complications for the dogs.

Leone has now been involved in rescue for around 15 years. The last group of dogs she brought to the United States occurred on March 8, 2020, when she landed with 11 dogs just days prior to COVID shutting down international flights and so much else. Leone has been funding her own rescues, as well as counting on donations.

With so many flight restrictions now, Leone has had to pivot to do what is right for the rescues. She has directed many rescues to the UK through ground transport and is in partnership with UK-based rescue organizations. She is also working on rescue arrangements involving the Netherlands, all of which allow SDRI to rescue even more sporting dogs and give them good lives.

So what is it about Brittanys that has elicited Leone’s commitment? “They are known for being excellent bird hunters,” Leone said. “But they are really just all-around great dogs.  She describes them as “intelligent, trainable, easy to care for. And good looks, it goes without saying!” Leone also commented on their high energy. “That’s a plus for some, but maybe not for everybody,” she said. “A ‘walk’ for a Brittany is a long jog.”  

As much good as Tina Leone accomplishes through her rescue efforts, that is only part of what is entailed in her busy life. She became the founding CEO of the Ballston Business Improvement District in 2011, winning awards for communications, media placements, public art, and support of the business community. Former positions included President/CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, President/CEO/CFO of The Lorton Arts Foundation, and other management, accounting, auditing, and business consulting since 1994. ML

Sporting Dog Rescue International was incorporated in 2019 and is a nonprofit charitable organization with 501(c)3 status, for anyone interested in offering their support to this mission. For more information, visit sportingdog.org.

This article first appeared in the November 2021 Issue.

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