You’ve decided to bring another dog or cat into your home. You know where and how you’ve found animals before so you tend to gravitate to what has worked for you in the past. If you haven’t cared for a pet before, you may take advice from friends or family members on how best to proceed. There are plenty of options out there. You can buy from breeder, you can search through newspaper ads or you can go to a local pet store. Or you can take a long, hard look at why you really want to bring an animal into your home and into your life and find that adoption from a shelter or a rescue group is your best option.
It has been said that “adoption could in theory replace all population control killing right now – if the animals and potential adopters were better introduced.” When the time comes for you to bring a "new to you" animal into your life, I hope you will seriously consider making adoption your best option. If you were planning to purchase a purebred animal, think realistically about whether you plan to enter the animal in professional dog or cat shows or if you are more focused on the companionship of the animal. If the animal will be a pet and will not compete in breed competitions, you can find a wide variety of animals at your local shelter or with a rescue group. Shelters and rescues help both mixed breed animals and purebred animals. You can use web sites like Petfinder.com or AdoptaPet.com to search for homeless animals by location, breed, gender, size, age and temperament to find a homeless animal who is perfect fit for you and your family.
Which is exactly what my family did recently. Our dog Aspy passed away on July 4th of 2016 under what we consider traumatic circumstances. His passing was nothing like we had hoped and while it sounds theatrical, we both had problems with flashbacks for a very long time. I knew we would wait quite a while before we brought another dog into our home and we did. The search began in earnest a few weeks ago as we talked about the size of dog we were looking for, basic temperament, how much time we are willing to devote to training and rehabilitation. Our tool of choice? Petfinder. As I have written before, I have a love/hate relationship with Petfinder. I love it because it’s a wonderful way for animals in need to find new homes. I’ve described the site as being like an online dating site, but to connect humans with companion animals instead of humans with humans. I hate it because there are so many animals in need that going on the site can be both depressing and sensory overload. And I find it somewhat addictive also. Once I start looking on Petfinder, I almost feel like I can’t stop. Looking at so many faces compels me to look at even more in the search for that next creature who will spend the rest of his or her life in my home. I ended up spending hours at a time staring at my phone, looking through listings and then handing my phone to Rich to say, “here. Look at this one.” He sent me links for dogs he was interested in and we went back and forth over a period of time before we agreed on a small group of local dogs we wanted to meet.
The first dog we met was being held at a local animal hospital which holds the contract for a local city. “Boudreax” was cute, but he was a puppy and was practically uncontrollable when we took him outside on a leash. I know that’s not his fault. I fully realize that most dogs do not behave in a shelter environment in any way remotely like they behave away from that environment and in a home. Boudreax went on our “to consider” list. Because of where he was being housed, we felt he was less at risk of being destroyed.
The second dog we met was being housed at a dog sanctuary/shelter in another city. Our visit there was so shocking that I have still not quite processed it. I have never been to a place like that and as we walked around, I found myself thinking that I could easily be shooting B roll video footage for the HSUS or the ASPCA. There were hundreds of dogs on the property, three to each outdoor kennel. There was waste everywhere and flies everywhere. “Lindsay” was nothing like the dog we saw in the Petfinder listing. I know it was the same dog, but three years at what I consider a dog prison had clearly taken a toll. She was so withdrawn that we really could not engage with her in any meaningful way. Even the volunteers (who seemed oblivious to the conditions in which they were working) were not really able to get a positive response from the dog. I cried when we left. I have put the wheels in motion to try to have some positive changes made at the outdoor shelter, but have no idea if they will do any good or not. That is another blog for another day.
The third and fourth dogs we met were being held at a county animal shelter a couple hours away from where we live. Rich was interested in a dog listed as “Shaggy” and I was also interested in another dog named “King.” King had been surrendered because his owner had cancer and could no longer care for him. He was house trained, neutered, could walk on a leash and had clearly been someone’s pet.
I knew Shaggy would be “the one” from the moment I saw his face. His Petfinder listing said that he had been found running loose with a chain around his neck and the chain was so tight it had to be cut off. We were told he was 2 years old and the shelter staff thought he was a German Shepard mix. He did not do well on a leash and when we tried to walk him around the “meet and greet” yard, I ended up with poop all over my shoes and my pants. But that didn’t matter at all. We talked for a few minutes to make sure we were ready. I was torn, much like I was while looking at all the images on Petfinder. Part of me wanted to adopt Linsdey just to get her out of the terrible place where she had lived for three years. But we also did not want our adoption to be motivated by guilt and we wanted to make decisions for the right reasons. Shaggy went home with us that same day.
Shaggy became Rusty. He has been in our home for just over two weeks and is doing really well. He’s been crate trained and we’re working on house training. He’s much younger than we were told and still has a lot of puppy in him which makes him somewhat of a wild child. He has some of the behaviors of a formerly chained dog. He is easily distracted by sounds – other dogs barking, children at play, birds. The leash training is a work in progress. He will go in circles if he’s on a lead that’s too long and we have to keep him focused (chained dogs often go in circles out of boredom and as they explore the diameter of the small areas to which they are confined). Rusty now has “sit” down pat and is doing better with “down” (which we use to get him to lay down to have his feet wiped before coming inside). He loves, loves, loves to run and play. Thankfully, Rich has years of experience in training dogs who come from bad circumstances. It helps that we had a fenced exercise area put in our yard at the same time we were doing perimeter fencing recently. We can take Rusty off leash to let him run and chase a ball. We actually think someone may have tried to do agility training with him before. He will fetch a ball and when he brings it back, he jumps in the air like he expects to be caught. Rusty is goofy and sweet and silly and full of energy. We have no idea what breed he is. Some have said he has some type of snow dog in him based on his face and his tail curls up like a Samoyed. In the end, his breed doesn't matter to us at all. He was the perfect dog for us. It will take time for him to decompress and to learn how to behave as we teach him our language and he learns ours. But he will live a great life in our home and is now a family member.
I talk a lot about animal shelter reform and about No Kill philosophies on my site for a reason. Rusty is but one of millions of dogs in our country who have done nothing wrong and who just need a new start. I shudder to think what would had happened to him had we not just happened upon his Petfinder listing one day. Would he still be alive? We’ll never know. The director of the shelter from which we adopted him freely told us that she does destroy animals for space. Which is simply a tragedy as far as I’m concerned. With very few exceptions, every animal entering our animal shelters either was or could be someone’s beloved pet. We owe it to all of them to treat them as the individuals they are and to not judge them solely by the circumstances which led them to be in the shelter. Or even by how they behave once they are in the shelter.
King went to a rescue group run by a contact of mine last week. Boudreaux was adopted two days ago. I’m working to get a rescue contact to pull Linsday and put her in a foster home so she can be socialized to people again and can overcome whatever trauma she has experienced in the last three years.
October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. When the time comes to bring a new companion animal into your home, please adopt. Please. There are so many animals in need and there is surely one “out there” who will perfect for you.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson