I Told You So, But I Won’t Tell You So

This is a story about a puppy who, through no fault of his own, missed the memo about not eliminating in the same spot where he’d be sleeping.

I love in a lovely neighborhood.  It’s a physically beautiful and fairly secluded cul-de-sac, surrounded on three sides by county park or forever wild land. Even more important than its natural beauty is its ‘vibe’.  It’s a wonderfully friendly neighborhood.  We know each other, celebrate each other’s up and downs, socialize together, and cherish our neighborhood as the life treasure it is.

One of the best things about our ‘hood is that we’ve got almost as many dogs as people.  Well, yes, that’s an exaggeration (although I’ve single-handedly helped to even up the numbers), but it is absolutely true that most families up here have at least one dog.  We have group dog walks, during three seasons, and occasionally even in winter.  It’s big news when one of us gets a dog, or is even thinking of getting a dog. 

During the past year, when I was active as a dog fosterer, I initiated many conversations with people in all spheres of my life about what kind of dog they already had, or thought they might want someday, whether they had adopted or would consider adopting a cat or dog, whether they were aware of how many dogs and cats were being euthanized internationally, nationally, and locally, and for what reasons, and other related topics.  I had thought that people might find my questions a little invasive, and was surprised to find that folks were not only willing to talk about these things, but eager, without exception.

People often asked me for advice about trainers, food, veterinarians, and all things dog, and occasionally, someone actually took the advice.  🙂  I was, and am, happy whether they do or they don’t, because I believe that people will make the best choices if they make their own choices, and I feel that I can help just by letting them know what options are available.

But if there were one thing about which I would like to be more persuasive, it would be on the subject of adoption versus purchase.  And there’s some recent dog news in our neighborhood which has inspired me to think about this a great deal lately.

Giovanni, meant for our family all along

This summer, the mom of one of the families in the ‘hood asked if I would begin to look around for a dog for them.  She and I had had many conversations about what I’d been doing lately, and, to the best of my ability, I’d acquainted her with the rescue gestalt.  The two kids in the family had been begging for a dog for a long time, and the parents,

Beauty's in the eye.

whose resistance was being worn down, were getting ready to agree.  I know the family quite well, and had bought lemonade several times from the kids’ stand, the proceeds of which went to our big local shelter.  I knew that the mom had grown up with dogs, and I felt that the family probably was ready for a dog, even though dad was a complete skeptic.  He had agreed, though, to fence in the one short area of the yard that wasn’t already fenced, and that was an excellent sign, and I felt he’d come around with the usual enticements–wags, licks, tilted head, attentive ears, all the loving cuteness that goes into making a dog.  Anyway, we all know that it’s usually moms who take care of dogs, in spite of all the platitudes to the contrary. 

The mom gave me a list of the family’s requirements.  The dog should be hypoallergenic and must not shed.  Having hair around the house was her one…well, it was almost an obsession, she said.  She just couldn’t tolerate that.  She’s a wonderful housekeeper.  In fact, if she hadn’t grown up with dogs I would have hesitated to help this family, because, in my experience, being what amounts to a clean freak and really loving your dog aren’t compatible attributes.  But we talked about it quite a bit, and I could tell she was making an informed decision.

They wanted a young dog, but not necessarily a puppy.  In fact, they said, a young dog would really be preferable to a new puppy.  I liked that, because lots of people want nothing but puppies.  And they wanted a small-to-medium-sized dog, twenty to thirty pounds, maybe.

They wanted the dog to be playful and energetic, but not needy, in terms of exercise and activity.  So, they said, a dog like a Border Collie would be out, even if it were hypoallergenic.  They wanted the dog to enjoy playing hard with children, especially.

There was no hurry about this, and, in fact, mom and dad needed time to prepare themselves mentally.  So I took my time, and began to visualize a dog who’d be perfect for them.

And I got an image, and darned if, within days of my having that image, a dog fitting it to the last detail came into the rescue organization for which I was fostering.

I had been slated to foster a different dog, but when I saw this fellow I requested a switch, and all parties agreed.  I picked up the dog as soon as he’d had his neuter surgery.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw him.  He wasn’t my kind of dog at all, or so I thought.  He was, frankly, a bit of a mess.  He needed a bath pretty urgently, but, I was told, I couldn’t bathe him for ten days, until his stitches were out.

I could hardly see into his eyes, and the bigger problem, I’m sure, was that he couldn’t see out well, since his wiry gray fur was beyond unkempt, and was straggling every which way over his face.  That day he looked more like a big ball of gray yarn which was starting to unravel, than like a dog.

I can say all this now, because–can you tell?–this dog is mine now, and I love him very much, and think he’s utterly adorable, and wonder how I ever could have thought he wasn’t my type. 

I knew that he’d failed one part of his temperament test at the shelter, which was why my rescue organization had him.  He didn’t like being picked up too much, and didn’t like being hugged.  But they had felt that this was due only to shelter stress, and that he’d be fine once he was out.  I wasn’t tempted to hug him too much right at first, anyway.  I didn’t want to bother his surgery site; also, he did have that…odd scent…the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he probably didn’t like being dirty, either, and decided that, requirements or not, the little guy was getting a careful bath.

It turned out to be easy to bathe him without getting his stitches one bit wet.  He was still under twenty pounds at that time, and I held him carefully under a faucet and allowed no water to splash up, and his own little body protected the incision site.

I wrapped him in a towel, and cuddled him on my lap.  I knew, from years of having done it, that dogs love this post-bath time, and go into a kind of comfort trance.  This baby–because he wasn’t even a year old–didn’t just zone out, he fell right asleep, on his back on my lap, with all four paws splayed out and his little round pink piggy belly, the cutest dog tummy I’d ever seen, rising in a mound between them. 

I took the opportunity to trim his toenails, and then to cut off the mats which peppered his salt-and-peppery fur.  He slept through it all, and woke, groggy, only when I tucked him into a fresh dry towel and put him into bed, and then he went right back to sleep.

After he’d been settled for a few days, I walked him over to the family who’d given me the specs–hypoallergenic, youngish, smallish, playful, energetic but not obsessive about exercise, likes kids.  I’d named him Giovanni, so that he’d fit right into their family.  The name suited him perfectly, anyway.  I could picture him in a little beret, playing bocce in Central Park, going home to Mama’s lasagna.

I rang the doorbell, so excited at having found this family the perfect dog.  And mom came to the door, and…laughed.  She laughed at my Giovanni, and said he was homely, and cited his scruffy fur.  She wasn’t kidding.  I knew, from the way she said it, that there was no question about it–they weren’t going to be considering him, even.

Although I’m giving you the facts exactly as they happened, I may be getting the tone wrong.  There was nothing unpleasant about this encounter, since I didn’t have to worry that Giovanni was sad because someone thought he wasn’t cute (this was a moment when I was glad that dogs don’t speak English).  Because I wouldn’t have wanted Giovanni to go to a home where they thought he was homely, for goodness’ sake.  By then I thought he was the cutest thing on four legs (and since then, most people have thought he’s adorable).

I sent along to the mom, via email, a few more dogs who were up for adoption on Petfinder.com.  She was very interested in at least one, but the difficulties of transport made her hesitate, and she ended up deciding that, when the right dog came along, she’d know it.  It would be ‘meant to be’.  We left it at that.

A few months ago, I read on her Facebook page that grandpa had given the kids a pet rat, and she was tearing her hair out over its care.  A few days later, she had found the rat a new home with a nice friend.  Whew, I thought, good thing they didn’t attempt a dog, after all.  And really, really good thing they didn’t take my Giovanni, who’s got quite a little bark on him, and as much energy as a racing cheetah wearing springs. 

I talked to the mom a couple of days ago.  I called her when I read the following status update on her Facebook page, and I quote, broadly:  “WHY did I ever think we should get a dog???  I can’t believe I thought a rat was too much!  Will I ever have my life back???”  A friend had answered her, offering sympathy in a joking way.  She’d written back and said, “I’m not kidding!  I’m barely fighting back tears!”  I wrote and offered help and a shoulder to cry on, and the next day, I called to say I’d drop off some crate-and-potty training pamphlets from Burberry’s puppy kindergarten teacher.  And I got the story from her of how they’d acquired their new dog.

Two or three weeks ago, they’d gone to an Amish puppy mill and bought a Shih Tzu puppy.  She told me all about the smelly farm, the multi-dog, multi-dog-sized barking coming from the barn, inside which they were not invited, of how the puppy was brought out in a small crate, cowering, filthy, etc., etc., etc., ai yai yai.  And she knew it was one big ai yai yai, she said, but, “well, you know, he was cheap”. 

Cheap!  They went out and got a dog who differed in all respects from what they’d said they wanted (except that I think Shih Tzus may be hypoallergenic, but the chances are, if you know anything about Amish puppy mills, that he’s not even a purebred Shih Tzu), for Christmas (a famous no-no, a red flag for dog rescuers), because he was cheap??? 

Could the little guy have cost less than the adoption fee at a shelter?  No.  And by now I know that there are so many dogs needing homes that one can find wonderful dogs even for free (although that’s not something to be encouraged in the population at large, and is a kind of ‘perk’ for rescuers, but I would have passed that bonus along to her, since I never charge anything for whatever I do to help with dogs or cats).

It’s not as if she ‘wanted to be sure of what we were getting’–a common reason people give for buying an expensive purebred puppy.  If you rescue a dog from a shelter, you’ve usually got some unknown quantities to deal with, things that no one at the shelter can tell you, because no one there knows.  So you’re taking a chance (and my experience has always been that I’m pleasantly surprised–not the other way around).  In actuality, you can never be ‘sure of what you’re getting’, because each dog is an individual, and will develop in his or her own way, and you yourself will affect the dog in ways you won’t even necessarily realize. 

My neighbor didn’t, apparently, want to take the risk of adopting from a shelter, and she didn’t want to spend the big AKC bucks.  And in a strange twist, what she ended up doing will, in a negative way, let the family be fairly sure of what they’re buying.  Because she went to a place where one’s chances are excellent of getting a poorly bred, often inbred, puppy from an overbred mother dog living in filthy, cramped conditions.  How does that make sense?  Wouldn’t anyone rather take a gamble at a shelter, assuming they didn’t want to pay top dollar for a potential AKC champion? 

She saw what it was like at that puppy mill, and she must know that a puppy kept in a crowded cage in filth isn’t getting a great start.  Why is she surprised that, not only does he hate his crate, but uses it as a litter box and then sits in his own waste?  He had no choice, at the place he came from–that’s why.  And it sounds like his housetraining is going unusually slowly, and that’s because he never got outside, and so doesn’t even understand that inside and outside are two different places (and no wonder he’s terrified when she tries to walk him on a leash–‘what is this bright light?’, he wonders, just for starters).  And she was so worried about shedding…  

I certainly don’t begrudge them their dog, and can’t wait to meet him.  Anyone who loves a dog, any dog from anywhere, and gives it a good home is OK by me.  But I am truly puzzled about how people make these decisions, and I hope someone can tell me, sometime.  I have a fantasy that, after her hair-tearing phase is over (and I did take her my entire collection of puppy-raising pamphlets, and offered to help in any way I could, by walking the baby, giving him clothing–he shivers when she tries to walk him, she said–‘spelling’ her if she’s starting to lose it…anything), I’ll interview her about her experience and post it here on my blog.  In my fantasy, I learn why she decided against taking a small risk with the strong likelihood of a positive outcome, in favor of a pretty well guaranteed negative.

But I’m sure I’ll never be able to ask her about it, unless someday we become very close friends, instead of friendly neighbors and sociable acquaintances.  Even with an intimate friend, one has to be careful when discussing these topics–and that’s a thing you’ll read much more about in this blog, as I catch up chronologically.

So I’m fairly sure I won’t get any answers from my neighbor, and most likely won’t even ask her anything, but will just love her little dog along with all the other dogs in the ‘hood, as the neighbors love mine.  And maybe, if I’m lucky, one of you reading this will be able to tell me what in the world is the appeal of Amish puppy mills to even an intelligent, thoroughly educated customer.

My next few blogs will be, unless something urgent comes up in dog rescue land, about the further adventures of Giovanni.

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2 Responses to I Told You So, But I Won’t Tell You So

  1. Allison says:

    This makes me want to throw up. Oh I feel your anger boiling and yet you still stay so polite and well spoken. I want to help. I want to pitch in, even if it is in the tiny ways you suggest. I feel they are not enough, never enough. I do know that I do not want to EVER contribute to the problem. I know by adopting and fostering I have done the right thing, but even my lack of attention at times to the problem bothers me. Do you know what I mean? I try to forward your urgent messages to the best I can, when I can.

    Maybe this will cheer you. I had a similar thing happen to me this summer but I managed to convince the woman, who was a high school science teacher similar to what you describe, to adopt from a local shelter. She was going through the newspaper as her older girl took her summer lesson from me- she was looking at different dogs and circling in pen….it made me sick. We had a nice chat about shelters and I threw around some numbers of all the beautiful dogs that are in shelters…..in hopes she would change her mind. She went to the local shelter and adopted, that next weekend. They brought the new dog to the next lesson. and the next. Now…I see this family with a lovely young dog in facebook photos with the family…with two loving little girls, on a run with mommy, hiking with the family on their large wooded property, in cute Halloween costumes, etc…..so ONE happy ending. One dog rescued. One lucky girl named Fergie. I cannot take credit for it, I can’t but I hope that maybe that one conversation changed her mind from a pet store to a shelter…I hope. Not an older dog, but still…a dog saved.

    I wish there was some way I could give you a hug and make this better. We can only continue to use our words and the means we have to communicate this message to have a better outcome. Keep it up, whatever your do. From one of your biggest fans, Allison

    • cellopets says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful, supportive comment.
      First of all, don’t worry that sometimes you don’t pay attention to the problem. Everybody does that–otherwise it would be overwhelming, and you have to live your life and go to your job, or you won’t be any good to the animals. And anyway, you’ll find that thinking about the animals will gradually become a permanent habit, and it’ll change the way you look at everything. Even the fact that you wrote what you did tells me that you’ve already formed, or are forming, that habit. Every garage sale you go to this summer, you’ll be hunting for things you might not have looked at in the old days.
      Secondly, there’s no doubt in my mind that the family you wrote about DID adopt because of that conversation you had. C’mon, it’s pretty obvious, and you should be proud! Maybe you can come and talk to my neighbors. 😉
      And last, the weird thing is, although of course I’d like a hug, I don’t NEED one, and I’m not as upset about these things as it might sound. That’s not exactly right, either…what it is is that, I’ve been working for years to get myself into the mindset where I could dive into this without drowning in sadness. I’m actually a lightweight when it comes to pet rescue, and things do get to me, but little by little I’m able to handle more and more. I bet it happens to everybody. The people who are my heroes are the ones going into shelters and spreading the info about pets whose time is almost up. I can’t do that yet, and I know that for sure. I don’t know how they deal with the pain of seeing a dog one day, trying like crazy to save it, and then seeing it gone the next day. I can’t even write about it without crying. But it’s not that they’ve become hardened to it, not at all. They’re actually MORE sensitive to it, and yet they can work with it. That’s really something. Maybe I’ll get to that point, or maybe not–I have no one to tell me what the ‘progress’ is really like, or, so far I don’t, anyway. And I’m sure it’s different for everyone.
      But one really cool thing is that Facebook HAS really changed the world of pet rescue, and it’s a fairly recent development. So who knows how far it could go?–maybe it WILL help us arrive at a long-term, broadbased solution, and there just won’t BE so much sadness surrounding this issue. And you’re right, what we have to do is keep on doing. You go, girl! I go, girl! Everybody GO!

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