Monday, April 26, 2010

What We Learn from Shelter Dogs

Here’s a story about two shelter dogs.  In early February, an elderly woman surrendered two dogs to the Shelter.  She had had the dogs since each was a puppy, but was caring for her husband (who had terminal cancer) and he was becoming anxious when the dogs came to him for attention.  The woman wrote a one-page, single-spaced bio for each dog, including everything about how much food they ate, what toys they liked and so on. She attached their original adoption paperwork, health records and microchip information.

I did not witness this intake, but after reading the dogs’ bios, I didn’t get the feeling that this was a casual or easy decision.  It is easy to make a snap judgment and claim that we’d never do such a thing, but I prefer to err on the side of mercy.  I don’t know if this woman would have made a different decision if we could have offered her options—say if we could have found a temporary foster for her dogs. We all know that more needs to be done to help older people prepare for the time when they can’t care for their pets without help. 

I met “Hapa” (a Hawaiian word meaning half-breed), a fluffy Keeshound mix, and “Bear” (a black German Shepherd mix) on a Monday, the day after their intake while selecting dogs for a week-long PetsMart adoption event.  I immediately put them on my Off-Site list.  They clean, healthy, and extremely despondent.  Bear was particularly attached to Hapa.  Both dogs had impeccable manners—they walked at a heel, sat on command, and could sit up for a treat.

At the end of the Off-Site, I convinced a brand-new Off-Site helper, Jeff, to take these two dogs home so they didn’t have to go back into the chaos of the Shelter.  He had dogs of his own (don’t we all?) and could only keep them crated in his garage.  The weather was cool, so that was fine.

It took about a month to find a new home for Hapa and Bear.  Extremely bonded dogs can be adopted separately, but it was clear that these dogs –who were about six years old—would do best if placed together, so that that was the game plan.  Jeff was an awesome foster.  He spent his own money to have some Vet work done on one of the dog’s teeth (there was some rot) and did other things to keep the dogs healthy.  Several people wrote up ads and placed them on the local on-line sources and told our friends and acquaintances about these dogs.  The dogs eventually found a home.

When I heard the complete tale, I felt a bit guilty about encouraging Jeff—who a brand-new volunteer!—to take on these dogs, but it was his choice. I saw Jeff this weekend.  He has had other fosters since Hapa and Bear.  He is a great volunteer and is focused on what’s best for the dogs.  Here’s what he wrote me about his experience with Hapa and Bear: 

“I really did mean it when I said I wanted to thank you for getting me involved the first night.  To repeat myself, I learned a lot from Bear and Hapa in terms of what is really important in life-- in terms of what a person spends time on.  I gained some personal intestinal fortitude from the attitude of those two very strong dogs.

“They accepted their current circumstances and handled them very bravely and showed such gratitude with their unadulterated affection every morning when I went out to feed them. They were very brave and courageous dogs and deserve the loving environment in which they now live. I think of them every so often and will never forget their attentive look to me when I would say from 30 feet away – “Where are those two good girls?”

I hear stories like this from other volunteers.  We may be helping the dogs, but in so many cases, it is the dogs who help us the most. 


  1. The list of things we humans could learn from the 4-leggeds is endless.

    I am thrilled everything worked out in Hapa and Bears' favor. Thanks, Jeff, for stepping up, standing out and going above and beyond!

  2. It must have been awful for the lady to give up her dogs. That's what the shelter is for, though. Ideally the only dogs that come through the door would be strays (who are quickly picked up by their caring owners) and well-loved animals who need new homes through no fault of their own (or their owners).

    I'm glad it worked out well for those two.

  3. How lovely that they found a home :-)


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