Shelter Dogs ROCK!

Today is supposed to be some shelter pet awareness type thing sponsored by the Shelter Pet Project. You’re supposed to cover Facebook with your adopted pets and let all of your friends and family know all about them. Most readers of this blog already know, but for those who are new here, I have three dogs. All of them are rescues. I am a passionate supporter of animal welfare and animal rescue. Of the seven Labradors I have owned, six were rescues. Emily, Reilly, Lucy and Mugen are gone now, but Jazzmin, Jet and Lexi are here and they bring me so much joy.

I’m here to tell you that shelter pets are not defective. Shelter pets end up in animal shelters because of human failure, not because there is something wrong with them. The most common excuses given to shelter workers when pets are surrendered are things like, “moving” or “don’t have time” or my personal favorite, “doesn’t match new furniture.” Does that sound like the pet is defective to you? Of course not. But, if you need further proof, these are the stories of my best friends:

Jazzmin came to us at the age of 11 on July 24, 2011. Her previous owners lost their home in the recession and left her in the care of a family member where she was not being treated well. We believe that she may have been left out in a back yard alone, but I’ve never confirmed this story. Suffice it to say that the life she had, was no life for a dog, especially not an old dog. Dogs are social creatures. They belong in the house with their families. So, when the mistreatment was discovered by her people, they got her out of there and put an ad on Craigslist in search of help for her. This is where my best friend found her. She emailed me the post and I contacted her people and the rest is history. When I picked her up, she was filthy and had a massive hotspot on her tail and she was overweight, but she had been so loved before that, you could tell. Jazzmin was the easiest adoption transition I have ever had because she was not afraid of us at all. I don’t think anyone has ever raised a hand to her in her life. After having adopted dogs that have been abused, neglected and abandoned, adopting a dog with no baggage is a blessing and Jazzmin has certainly been that for us, and I know that she was for her family before us too. I will never forget the look on the man’s face when we picked her up. He just wanted to do what was right by his girl and he clearly felt betrayed by someone that he had trusted his best friend to. I am so grateful to him for letting Jazzmin come home with us. We adore her. She has cancer now, but we’re fighting and the meds are working and she’s living every single day to its fullest. We just had a long game of fetch twenty minutes ago and now she is cuddling the top of my foot as I type. Few rescues have humans that love them the way Jazzmin has been loved. Thankfully, her circumstances with the mistreating family member were temporary and her people got her out before things got worse. Jazzmin has never been in a shelter, thank God, because someone loved her enough to make sure that she never would be. Every dog deserves what Jazzmin has had.

We adopted Jet at the age of 9 months on October 2, 2011. It had been nearly two months since my heart dog passed away (love you forever Miss Lucy!) and I’m sure that she led me straight to Jet. I was thinking about her when he barked at me and made me turn around and look into his eyes. I was hooked from the word, “Go!” Jet is a “life of the party” personality. He’s constantly on the go, he’s all about having fun and he is incredible. He’s a far cry from where he started over a year ago. Jet was picked up by county animal control running through a high traffic area, still wearing a harness and a leash. It looked like he’d gotten away from his owner on a walk. He was kept at the county animal shelter for five days, then transferred to the humane society, where I found him a month later. I think Jet suffers from PTSD, or something, because when we approach that shelter in the car, he freaks out.

As far as behavior goes, Jet was a mess when we adopted him and this is normal for rescued dogs of this age. Jet had zero obedience training. He is an escape artist. He escaped from my yard four times in the first week after we adopted him, but Jet is also terribly smart. He always comes when he is called. All I had to do was get in the car and drive down the block and call him to me. He hopped right in the car and was happy to go for a ride home. He also escapes from seat belt harnesses, martingale collars, regular collars and pretty much everything except his crate. 16 weeks of dog school later and Jet now has his first AKC title. He’s Jet CGC and we are starting AKC Rally classes in January. I expect you will see amazing things from him in the future. I’m very proud to call Jet my dog.

As best we can tell, Lexi has had about six owners before we came along. Lexi got bounced around in the shelter system because she wasn’t planned for. Labradors are busy dogs. They require walks and plenty of play time and tons of interaction. Lexi’s first family had a brand new baby and adopted her as a puppy around the same time that the baby was born. This is always a mistake. Puppies are a full time job and so are infants. Why on earth would you double the workload by choice? Lots of people adopt dogs without realizing what they are getting into. From there, Lexi was a victim of the common Labrador problem. Labs have this reputation for being incredible, laid back, perfect family dogs and they are. If they aren’t field bred dogs with an insane prey drive that causes them to obsess over watching squirrels to the point that they ask to be let outside if they think they hear something move outside your bedroom window at 3 am, that is. Also, Labs, as young dogs, aren’t so easy and if folks spent five minutes reading about this breed on the internet, they would know that.

If you’re thinking of a Lab and have never owned the breed before, adopt an older dog from the shelter first! Lab puppies are not soft, sweet wondrous things, well okay, they are, but only when they’re sleeping. When they’re awake, they have nasty, sharp, pointy teeth. They chew on all your stuff, or they make piles of your shoes and leave them for you to find when they get bored, or, and this is my favorite, they run around your back yard with your brand new Victoria’s Secret bra in their mouths. No joke.

Labs don’t settle down and become the incredible dogs that they are reputed to be until they’re about six years old, which is where Lexi’s at now and she hasn’t settled down much. Some Labs never settle down. One of my Lab Board friends has a ten year old Labrador that has had two knee surgeries and has arthritis and epilepsy and he still steals her remote control and orders pay per view when she leaves the house, so be aware of what you’re getting into.

As for Lexi, she’s a very sweet dog, but she is a very active dog too and that energy level wasn’t getting channeled into positive activities. Lexi gets cagey if she doesn’t get out for a walk and has to have a long game of fetch with you before bed and I suspect she’s been like this for her entire life.

So, at last, when Lexi was 4, after being shuffled around through several different owners before finally getting surrendered to a shelter for the reason, “don’t have time for a dog”, she got picked up by a rescue and while she was being held in their shelter, probably awaiting a foster home, their shelter caught fire and burned to the ground while Lexi was still inside. Lexi managed to escape the fire unscathed and got sent to a rescue in Seattle where she was adopted by a lovely woman who had a significant lifestyle change take place early this year. Rather than just dump her, this woman was meticulous about making sure that Lexi was not going to end up in the shelter system again. Lexi was not going home with just any family. She was not going to accept less than what she felt was perfect for Lexi. I’m honored that she decided that her perfect home was us. On April 21, 2012, we brought Lexi home to our pack and she will be taking the CGC test at the end of February so that she can also earn her first AKC title, but most importantly, Lexi is here forever and for good.

Every shelter dog has a story. Most dogs that are owner surrendered to the shelter go through this between the ages of 6 and 18 months, or at age 10 and over. Why? Because puppies are cute and adolescent dogs are adolescents. If parents could drop their teenagers off at the shelter, I am sure that there are days when they would consider it. Seniors, well, and this is the sad part, people don’t have the guts to lay down in the floor with their dog and tell them they love them while their vet gives them an injection that sends them into the next life. They’re wimps. I’ve only had to do it once, and I know it’s hard. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I will do it again, because my dogs deserve to have me be there with them at the end and you know that yours do too.

So what can you do to stop this from happening to your family pet? That’s easy.

1. Spay and Neuter! Did I really need to tell you this? Did I? Honestly? There are low cost spay/neuter clinics all over Spokane, and even at full price, a neuter surgery at my regular vet set me back less than one hundred dollars. If you can’t afford to shell out a hundred bucks to get your dog fixed, maybe you should rethink getting a dog. Veterinary care for cats and dogs can run you about a thousand dollars per year and that’s for a healthy animal, if you can’t afford it, then don’t get a dog. Easy.

2. Research the various breeds before you adopt! The AKC breed standard is a great place to get general information about what kind of dog might suit your lifestyle and I promise, there is a breed out there that is perfect for your family and it’s probably in your local animal shelter.

3. Be prepared to accept that a puppy, or even a dog, might not be the best fit for you. Often times, older dogs are a better fit for families with young children, as long as you do your homework. Before you walk into the shelter, you should have an idea of what breed of dog you’re looking for. You should know what kind of time you will have to spend training a dog every day, yes, I said every day.

4. Once you adopt your dog, sign up for obedience classes! If Jet and Lexi’s first owners had signed up for puppy kindergarten from day one and committed themselves to a lifetime of training their dogs, odds are good that Jet and Lexi would never have ended up in the shelter system at all.

5. Spread the word. Pass the word along to your friends about how amazing shelter pets can be!! Just look at mine! I mean look at these dorks! Life doesn’t get any better than coming home to these clowns.

6. If you can’t adopt, foster. Fostering a dog on a temporary basis gets them out of the shelter environment, which is extremely stressful. You can’t really evaluate how a dog will behave in a home in a setting that isn’t anything like one. It also makes room in the shelter for another dog or cat to come in. Fostering saves lives!

7. If you can’t foster, donate. Volunteer your time at your local animal shelter. Donate old blankets and towels or cleaning supplies, your local animal shelter can always use these. If you have some extra cash, pick up an extra bag of dog food while you’re at the store and take it to the shelter. They will thank you for it.

That’s it! Seven Steps to Successful Animal Companionship For All!

I promise, anyone can do it.