If there’s one aspect to Weehawken Councilman Robert Zucconi’s life outside of public service – and outside the confines of a golf course – it would be Zucconi’s love for animals, especially dogs.
Zucconi is constantly asked to be a dog-sitter for his friends and neighbors, because they know how much the former Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor and former Deputy Director of Public Safety in Weehawken just adores the canine sect.
For most of his life, Zucconi has owned at least one dog, usually a Great Dane.
“I’m a dog lover and the members of my family are all dog lovers, too,” Zucconi said. “We always had Great Danes, but there are problems with Great Danes. They have a short life span and they slobber a lot. The last Great Dane we had died right before I became the police director in Weehawken, and we never got another. I just love big dogs.”
Last summer, Zucconi sat down with his wife, Loretta, and their two daughters, Erika and Laura, and told them that he wanted to purchase another dog.
“They were all for it, but they said, ‘Not another Great Dane,’ ” Zucconi said. “So they decided on getting a German shepherd.”
Zucconi did a little research and went to the American Kennel Club’s website to find the best breeder of German shepherds in northern New Jersey, when his daughter came up with an idea.
“She said, ‘There are enough dogs in the world already. Why not try to rescue one?’ ” Zucconi said. “I thought it was a great idea. So I started to look into rescues.”
Again, using the Internet as a tool, Zucconi stumbled across the Garden State German Shepherd Rescue (GSGSR), a New Jersey-based organization that finds adoptive homes for unwanted German shepherds before they face euthanasia.
“They find German shepherds that have been abandoned or placed in shelters and find foster homes and eventually adoptive homes,” Zucconi said. “Their website had pictures of the dogs that were available for adoption. Most of the dogs are between 2 and 6 years old. So we all went to the site and looked at the dogs. We all got involved in the process.”
Going through the process The Garden State German Shepherd Rescue doesn’t exactly just hand its dogs over to prospective owners. There is an extensive process that has to take place.
The German shepherds are first subjected to a series of tests, then brought into the rescue, as space permits. They are fully vetted, brought up to date on vaccinations, and spayed or neutered. The shepherds then live with rescue volunteers in a foster home, in order to evaluate the dogs before they are offered for adoption.
There is also an in-depth process for the prospective adopting family.
“The first thing I had to do was fill out an application form,” Zucconi said. “They really go into detail, wanting to know our history with dogs. They even asked for three references and they called each reference.”
The final piece of the process included an in-house interview with the Zucconi family.
“They wanted to see where the dog would live and whether it was going to be fitting for the dog,” Zucconi said. “Believe me, I think it’s easier to adopt a child in a European country.”
Zucconi said that he began the adoption process with the Garden State German Shepherd Rescue in July. By September, he still hadn’t heard a word.
“After two months, I was worried,” said Zucconi, who was unopposed in the municipal election last month, enabling him to finish out the unexpired term of former Councilman James Terlizzi. “I thought perhaps we weren’t worthy.”
But Zucconi finally received a call. The GSGSR located the dog the Zucconis wanted, a male shepherd named Gunther.
“Gunther was originally found roaming the streets of Newark,” Zucconi said. “How he got there, no one knows. He then wound up in Newton and was cared for by a woman who worked at the Newton Animal Hospital. A man in Stillwater then took Gunther home, but couldn’t keep him.”
So Bob and Loretta Zucconi traveled to Stillwater in Sussex County to see their future pet in person. “We got our dog,” Zucconi said. “We were really happy. He turned out to be a good dog.”
Of course, to play it safe, Zucconi took their new family member to the training school, which Gunther passed with flying colors.
“He’s well-behaved and he gets along with our two cats we already had,” Zucconi said. “He’s a good-looking dog. We don’t have his exact age. We think he’s somewhere between 18 months and two years old. You’re always concerned when you take in a rescued dog, whether there’s baggage, whether the dog was abused beforehand. He was a little hyper at first, but now, he’s extremely friendly and outgoing.”
The GSGSR actually gives the adopting family a period where they can change their mind and return the dog if things don’t work out.
“But he’s been great,” Zucconi said. “He’s a real sweetheart and everyone who’s met him loves him. We even included him in the latest campaign literature, and Mayor (Richard) Turner said that maybe Gunther should have run instead of me, because everyone loves Gunther.”
So it’s a story that worked out wonderfully. The Zucconi family has a new member, thanks to the GSGSR. “The thing is, Gunther would have ended up back in the pound,” Zucconi said. “The owner couldn’t keep him anymore. If he went back to the pound, who knows what would have happened? So it gives you a good feeling that there’s one less dog being put to sleep. And this dog is a lovable dog. He’s a good companion for us. We got lucky. He’s a good dog.”
And one other thing – Gunther doesn’t slobber.
If anyone is interested in adopting a German shepherd, visit the Garden State German Shepherd Rescue Web site at www.gsgsr.org. There are plenty of pictures of prospective adopted dogs on the site.