Thursday, March 12, 2009

What I Do on Weekends

On Fridays, I go to the shelter, select some dogs from the Adoption Room and put “off-site” tags on their kennels, then on Saturdays and Sundays, I haul the dogs in the back of my minivan to various locations (PetsMarts, bookstores, pet-gift stores and the like) hoping to place dogs in good homes. Ideally, I am saving a shelter dog’s life by finding it a loving, forever home. The reality is that I’m doing the best I can NOT to rent puppies. In the dog-rescue arena, however, cute, cuddly puppies and small lap dog always win out over the adult dogs.

The big black dogs are ignored as people lift up the soft, floppy lab babies or the speckled beagle-mixes or the fluffy shepherd-hounds. The medium-sized brown dogs are passed over if there is anything—adult or puppy—that looks like a Chihuahua, even if that critter is too tall, long-backed, sickle-hocked and snappish. The nine-month old adolescent dogs—the ones who were smooched on and loved over as puppies—jump and bang against their crates, clamoring for attention because no one ever taught them basic manners.

People come in with amazingly detailed shopping lists—“I want a white female malti-poo.” Or “We’re looking for a black-and-tan dachshund puppy.” My personal eye-roller is “We want a dog that won’t get too big.” I generally ask the potential adopter, “Show me with your hand how big is ‘too big’.” The person may hold their hand at least knee-high, but they’ll often add: “I don’t want anything over 25-pounds.”

Meanwhile, my portable crates are filled with soulful eyed coonhound mixes, eagle-eyed Australian cattle dogs who need day-jobs, and, of course, the dime-a-dozen lab and retriever types who bring new meaning to the word “boisterous.” Not one of these dogs is close to weighing 25 pounds.
If they can’t find their shopping-list dog, people often fall in love with the puppies. And all too often those puppies end up in a shelter several months later as untrained, leggy, and wildly exuberant not-quite-adult dogs. These “teenage” dogs have it roughest—they don’t have the cuddle-currency of a puppy, and since they often are not quite housebroken (many owners take a lax stance on the potty issue, so the dog never quite gets the routine down) and lack even basic leash training, they’ll be passed up, again and again.

Even my best adult dogs don’t stand a chance against the puppies. Every shelter volunteer will tell you about the amazing, awesome, superb and wonderful adult dogs we have seen in the kennels. But it’s an uphill battle trying to match these animals with the right family—and those cute puppies don’t make the job any easier. Combine the puppy factor with the fact that many adult dogs enter the shelter system for shaky reasons (yard too small, schedules kids won’t care for the animal, people are moving, and it’s no wonder more animals than ever need loving homes.

So my weekends are spent with kennel-crazed shelter dogs. I put collars on them, spritz them with doggie perfume, then lavish as much attention on them as I can—walks, ear rubs, a little basic command-practice and lots of treats. And when an adoption match-up works, I know that I’ve at least done a small part in saving one dog. But I won’t rent you a puppy.

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