Sunday, June 18

An Interview with Frank Gavlak

Here is the first in a series of interviews with FBRN volunteers. We sent some questions to long-time FBRN booster, transporter, cement Frenchie maker, foster dad and adopter, Frank Gavlak, and he added some of his own! Here are his replies.

How did you hear about FBRN and how long have you been a member?
My wife, Kathleen came across FBRN on the internet in the summer of 2001. Actually, it was Cloey, who was rescued by the FBCofA and was in Charlotte's foster care at the time that caught my wife's eye. Shortly after, of course, FBRN was founded and we followed its progress ever since then. Kathleen and I became members in the summer of 2002. That's because we vacationed in New England for our 25th wedding anniversary and took Gabby with us. We stopped to see Charlotte [Charlotte Creeley, FBRN's founder] who actually "dog sat" for Gabby over the weekend while we toured Boston. Realizing that at the time there were no FBRN reps for Western Pa, we offered to become members and reps. Here is a picture of Gabby cooling off in the pool while we vacationed in New England. In the foreground are Stoney, Porkchop, Inky among others.

What do you remember about the first time you volunteered for FBRN?
It wasn't long after we had become members that we were called upon to rescue Rebel and Mattie. Being new to the game, I checked with Charlotte to see if we could actually take them since they were both "older dogs" according to the daughter of their owner. I'll never forget what Charlotte told me: "We'll take anything as long as they're Frenchies. Just go and get them!" I knew that I could foster Rebel because he was a male and Gabby would tolerate males (but she is very dog aggressive towards females). But I knew that fostering Mattie would have been a problem, so I called a very good friend of mine, Mary Smith, a long time Frenchie owner and asked her to go with us and to perhaps foster Mattie. She did and later adopted her and it worked out fine, although I remember at the time that Charlotte did not want me to separate Mattie and Rebel because they were mates. Yet, they've adjusted very well to their new lives and homes and still see each other on occasion.

How does your family feel about your involvement in FBRN?
My wife has pretty well adjusted to being a "rescue widow" since I spend most of my waking time either doing rescues or transports or home checks or I'm in front of my computer reading and sending e-mails about rescue situations and upcoming transports. Actually, my wife has been very supportive of my involvement in FBRN and is also involved with rescue. She was the one who rescued "Molly" a few years ago while I was at work. My adult son and daughter are no longer living at home but they both enjoy our three dogs when they visit.

Do you have a Frenchie now? What is/are his/her/their names? How old are they?
Currently, we have two Frenchies. Gabby is our almost 10 y.o. female and Rebel is our 11 1/2 y.o. male. We weren't really looking for either dog; both just "came" to us. Gabby came to live with us on Thanksgiving of 2000 when a lady who knew that our first Frenchie, Sweet Pea was terminally ill, offered her to us. Gabby was rescued by the FBCofA in August, 1997 when she was estimated to be about 1 y.o. I rescued Rebel (along with his mate, "Mattie") in February 2003 when their owner died. He was my first FBRN rescue. We also have an "honorary Frenchie", a little blind, approx. 10 y.o. male Boston Terrier whom I named "Mickey" since I also do Boston Terrier Rescue for Western Pennsylvania. I got Mickey last September when I rescued him from wandering the streets of McKeesport, a suburb of Pittsburgh. (Hence, "Mickey" from "McKeesport"). Gabby and Rebel were already named when they came to live with us. Gabby is short for "Gabriella", the name given to her by her foster mom.

What is your favorite memory of an FBRN dog?
I guess it's Rebel since he is an FBRN dog and my first rescue and foster whom I ended up adopting. I never planned it that way. We had Gabby and never even considered ever getting another dog. Rebel was slated to go to Dayton to a lady who, at the last minute, got cold feet and declined to adopt him. By then I had neutered him and fostered him for nearly two months, and we had "bonded" together in my den. I felt so bad for Rebel because when we first rescued him (and Mattie) they were not in the best shape having come from a "back-yard" breeder. Poor little guy looked so forlorn. So, to try to cheer him, I'd let him sit in an arm chair next to me while I worked on my computer in the den. This, in retrospect, ended up working out TOO well, because that is how we "bonded" and to this day, as long as I'm in the den, he'll "guard" it and not let anyone, including my wife enter! He's been like a shadow to me; everywhere I go, he goes. At first, he would even follow me down the hall when I'd go to the powder room and peek around the corner just to make sure I didn't "leave town". Now, he's a bit more trusting and will remain in the den until I return. In fact, all three dogs spend a lot of time together in the den while I'm working there.

We've heard that you have single-handedly developed a whole range of cement Frenchie colors. How did you get the idea for that? What's the process for making a pied Frenchie?
That too came about as sort of an "accident". I had seen the Frenchie statues that Kathy Clayton used to make for FBRN and finally decided to buy two; one for each of my brick driveway entrance ways. Much to my chagrin, by the time I tried to purchase them, I found out that they were no longer being offered. So, I asked Kathy (and FBRN) if I might borrow the molds and try my hand at making them. Kathy graciously consented to loaning me the molds last year and I began trying my luck at making cement Frenchie statues. At first, I had many problems with them breaking, chipping, and cracking. Normal "cement" is a mixture of 1 part cement and two parts sand and, of course, enough water to mix the two together. I eventually found out that using one part cement to one part sand actually works better and is stronger and similar to "grout". I also discovered that by making and inserting a wire "skeleton" inside the mold actually reduces the amount of cracking and breaking, because concrete and cement have tremendous compressive strength, but the "shear" strength is poor unless reinforced with "rebar" (in this case the wire "skeletons"). I also found that by liberally lining the mold with vegetable oil, it allows the statue to be removed more easily and without cracks and breaks. Since last fall, I have made over 50 of them including two hand painted ones which I gave to my wife for Christmas. I'm toying with the idea of offering "hand painted" ones this year for Christmas. But it does take a LOT of time to make. About an hour to make the "skeleton" and mix the cement and tint, if any, and pour it into the mold. And about another hour to remove the mold (it comes in 4 sections) and double pack them for shipping. The hand painted ones each took another hour at least.The colored ones are a good bit more difficult than the "Stoney Grey" or "classic" (natural) colored ones or even the plain "Chloe" white ones. The "Molly Brown" and "Inky Black" ones are made by adding either a brown or black tint mix to the cement. The "Sweet Pea Pied" and "Gabby Brindle" ones are the hardest because I must first pour a little bit of the black cement mix (for Pieds) into the portions of the mold and then pour the remaining white cement carefully on top of and around it. For Brindles, I simply pour some dry cement mixed with the brown tint directly into the mold and then pour the black tinted cement on top of it. After removing the mold, the Pieds and Brindles can be sanded until the right mix of black or brown is showing through. [Editor's note: Cement Frenchies can be ordered through the Shopping Mall on FBRN's site]

As an experienced French bulldog owner, do you have any advice for current or future Frenchie owners?
I think that anyone adopting a Frenchie should understand that they are a relatively "high maintenance" dog. By that I mean that physically, mine have always been prone to ear infections. And, "socially", they demand and require a lot of your attention..... attention that you must be willing to give them. Mine also tend to be picky in what they eat. Currently, I'm feeding them all a "homemade" dogfood which I make out of lean ground chicken, sweet potato, carrots, blueberries, and brown rice. (I add calcium supplements and other pet vitamins in it so that they'll have a balanced diet.) If you ever read about the ingredients that go into some commercial dogfood, you'll start making your own too.
Here are a few internet links about that; be sure to read about it on an empty stomach:

Any advice for someone going on their first pick-up/transport or fostering their first Frenchie?
When I do transports, I always make sure that I have a crate, both for the dog's safety and for mine. The last thing you want is a dog in your lap or face as you're trying to drive. I also always take some "treats" (i.e., dog biscuits) with me and use them to let the dog warm up to me before I pick up or transport. Also, when approaching the dog for the first time, do it with your palms out and facing upward; never "reach" for the dog; let him/her come to you if possible. I also do transports for all other dog breeds as well, and this advice works for almost any dog. As far as fostering goes, our house is full of baby gates and crates. We always make sure not to leave the foster dog with our dogs when we're not at home because we don't want fights to break out. If it's a female foster, we have to keep her entirely separated anyhow because Gabby is very dog aggressive towards other females. A good rule to follow is to always try to introduce the foster dog on "neutral ground", preferably outside and not on familiar turf with the existing dog(s) so that they won't have the upper hand.

You said that you also do Boston Terrier rescue. How do the two rescues compare?
I've always said that FBRN is the "premier" rescue organization and that all rescues should pattern themselves after it. The BT rescue groups are much more "regionalized", i.e., there is no single strong national group like FBRN or even FBCR or FBCofA. I think that FBRN is very well organized and very well run and makes it easy for potential surrenderers to find help, and for folks like me who can only do short term fostering to find someone to take over. Since joining FBRN in 2002, I've rescued 7 Frenchies including Rebel, whom I adopted. Since becoming involved in Boston Terrier rescue in 2004, I've personally rescued, transported, and placed or assisted in the placement of over 20 BT's. There seems to be a disproportionate number of BT's requiring rescue compared to Frenchies. Because I really believe in the organization and want to help increase the profile of FBRN's role in rescue, I decided to "advertise" a bit by personalizing one of my PA license plates:

Between the two rescue groups, it sounds like you are very busy. What do you do in your "spare" time?
Actually, I have very little of that. In addition to the two breed specific rescue groups, I do other volunteer work with our two local "No-Kill" shelters, Angel Ridge and PetSearch. I also do home checks and transports for other rescue organizations and have amassed a database of "rescue contacts" well into the hundreds. I can usually get a home check done or a transport set up anywhere in the Northeast using my rescue associates' help.

Anything else you'd like to add? What would you say to potential "would-be" volunteers or people contemplating getting into rescue?
The rescue "business" is very rewarding, but also very draining on your mental, physical, and monetary resources. If more persons would do it though, then it would be easier for all of us. There are so many unfortunate animals out there just waiting to come into rescue. Sure, there are "shelters", many of them purporting to be "no-kill" shelters, but when a dog (or cat) can come into a breed specific rescue and be integrated in and around other people and dogs, the better life that dog will have. I'll never forget that when Rebel's adoption in Dayton fell through and I was first contemplating adopting him, Charlotte told me "dogs depend on us to make all their important 'life decisions'. They can't make those for themselves so we have to help them by doing it for them." This certainly is true and encompasses all decisions for dogs in shelters, dogs in foster care or even our own dogs. The other thing I've learned is that once you're contacted by a person potentially seeking to surrender a dog, you have to act QUICKLY. I made the fatal mistake once with a potential Boston Terrier surrenderer. The lady called and said that "her mother had a 9 y.o. female and wanted to give it up." I asked her if it was urgent or if I could try to first find a suitable long term foster home for her and call her back. She said that there was no urgency, but when I called her back a few days later she told me that "we'd just come from the vet and had the dog euthanized". I wanted to reach in through the telephone and smack her, but after hanging up, I just wanted to smack myself for not getting the dog first and asking questions later. In the rescue business, you have to be like a volunteer fireman. I.e., you have to go when there's a fire, not a week, a day or even an hour later because it will be too late then.
Back in 2001, when our Sweet Pea was terminally ill with cancer, and I was literally beside myself, someone told me "I know this sounds silly, but some day, somehow, some good is going to come out of this." I think the person was right, because it was shortly after her death that I was inspired to get into rescue. I realized that even though I couldn't save Sweet Pea's life, there were many, many other deserving dogs out there whose lives I could save or at least make a little bit more pleasurable. I would certainly encourage others to spread the word about rescue and invite any potential qualified people to become involved with rescue.

In closing, I'd just like to pass along a little quote (below) that I received from one of the transport coordinators that I work with. I think that if everyone thought like the philosophy described in the quote, we'd have a lot fewer dogs in rescue today.
Thanks for your time in hearing my views. If anyone has any specific questions, they can always e-mail me at
There is an Native American legend which says,"when a human dies there is a bridge they must cross to enter into heaven. At the head of that bridge waits every animal that human encountered during their lifetime. The animals, based upon what they know of this person, decide which humans may cross the bridge....and which are turned away...."

FBRN exists only because folks like Frank and Kathleen are willing to volunteer their time, effort, homes and money to rescuing French Bulldogs in need. We thank Frank for his willingness to be our very first interview, and for all the other work he does for FBRN. Feeling humble and proud, The Frog Princess

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Frank and Kathleen! The Frenchies and BTs are lucky to have you to look out for them.