the road to adopting a dog is paved with heartbreak

It's been several months since Allan and I decided we're ready to adopt a new dog. Cody left us at the end of last summer, and through her aging and illness, it's been a long time since Tala had a lively sister to play with. Allan takes Tala to the dog park at least once a week - both for fun and to make sure she stays socialized with other dogs - but she needs a sister. And we need another dog! Without two dogs, our family is just not complete.

For various practical reasons, we decided late April is the right time. We've been forcing ourselves to hold off on browsing through Petfinder until closer to that time, knowing that once we start, we'll be immediately smitten by any number of wonderful, needy dogs. Last week, we both crumbled.

Now once again we are faced with the dozens upon dozens upon hundreds of dogs who need homes. It's not that I don't know this. It's something I think about quite a bit. It's seeing their faces. I know many wmtc readers will understand this from personal experience.

In our area alone - as in all of yours - there are way too many. Even narrowed down by our preferred size and type - still too many. A combination of puppy mills, irresponsible breeding, lack of understanding about spaying and neutering, and sheer stupidity and thoughtlessness leads hundreds of dogs and cats to be left homeless in every town and city of North America. Another factor is poverty. As millions - literally, millions - of people in the US lost their homes, animal shelters were overwhelmed, as people surrendered animals in an effort to save their human families.

I was trying to decide if I could handle actually going to a shelter to look at dogs, as opposed to using Petfinder. We adopted our first dog, the amazing Gypsy, from a high-kill shelter in New York City (no longer in operation). That was way back in 1987, and it's still etched in my memory. Gypsy was on death row, along with many other dogs - big dogs, older dogs, dogs in very poor condition. You tell yourself you can only save one. Little good that does.

We haven't been to a shelter since. Of our other dogs, two we physically rescued from the street, and two we took from foster families, where other people had rescued many dogs and were now placing them.

Of course, every dog taken from foster care makes room for another dog to come out of a shelter and into a home. The end result is the same, but it leaves some of the hardest work to someone else. Foster care helps dogs stay - or become - socialized; the longer a dog remains in a shelter, often the less adoptable it will be. I want everyone to adopt dogs from foster homes, but for me personally, it feels like cheating. Taking the easier way out. Since we're people who can take an unsocialized, hard-case dog from a shelter, shouldn't we do that?

I thought using Petfinder would cut corners on the heartbreak. I was wrong. Petfinder is just as bad; in some ways it's worse. Where in a shelter you see a handful of dogs who need homes, Petfinder shows you a universe of homeless animals. It's crushing.

One foray into Petfinder and we instantly saw 20 or so dogs in Southern Ontario who fall into our general category. We are especially taken with two. One is being fostered in Mississauga. The rescue group said if we take her, another dog from an overcrowded US shelter, in danger of being put down, will take her spot in the foster home.

The other dog is with Toronto Animal Services. I asked if she was at risk for being put down, and was told that they don't euthanize adoptable dogs. They won't hold her for us - which is good, if someone picks her up before we're ready, it will be a great thing - but if she's still there on April 25, we may brave the heartbreak of the shelter for dog number six.


Amy said...

I know exactly what you mean about shelters. We found Cassie through Petfinders, but we still had to go to the shelter to meet her and pick her up. I felt so guilty walking past all the other dogs and leaving them there.

Will you try to meet both dogs, or will you try and narrow it down to one before you go look?

There is no way to avoid or stop the heartbreak of all those unwanted animals. The best we can do is adopt one and love it and treat it well while also educating others NOT to go to puppy mills and not to get a dog at all (or a cat or any other pet) unless they are willing to make a real commitment to keep that pet except in really extenuating circumstances.

I also lecture people on not adopting cats if they cannot keep them indoors. Too many cats are injured or killed by cars or predators. Domestic cats do not need to be outside to have a full and happy life. Just ask mine!

Dusty said...

Do you know if there is much call for fostering dogs?

laura k said...

Dusty, there is a HUGE need for foster homes! If you are interested, contact any animal rescue group in your area. They'll want to do an interview, see your place and such. IMO, it takes a very special person to foster animals. If you can do it, more power to you and best of luck!

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy. Of course I agree entirely.

We won't meet both dogs. We pretty much know that once we meet a dog, we will take her home. We have to decide in advance.

I'm hoping one of these two get adopted before we get there! :)

Also, if we keep looking, there will be even more decisions to make.

Amy said...

I had a feeling you would say that---that once you meet a dog, you would take her. I feel the same way.

(We did, however, once take home a dog that turned out not to be good around children---she was snapping at our daughters and their friends. We could not take a chance with that and returned her to the foster home within a day. I cried like a baby. I felt awful, and I was already attached, but I also knew I was doing the right thing. She was adopted within a week by an older couple without kids and did very well. But I STILL feel badly about it years later.)

laura k said...

That must have been awful! But the most important thing is that she was adopted into a forever home. You have nothing to feel about. Which clearly doesn't stop you!

We fostered a dog, the wonderful Puppy, for a crazy, stressful, wonderful month. The toughest part of that is we never got 100% confirmation that she found her forever family. We have every reason to think she did, but I wish I had spoken to the family myself.

Puppy story: parts 1, 2, 3.

laura k said...

You have nothing to feel about.

^ bad

Amy said...

I had never heard the Puppy story. I am glad it had a happy ending. I can't say that I checked back six months later with the dog we gave back---I was content knowing that she had been adopted and at least for the time being, in a good home. I comforted myself by assuming it would be forever.

When we adopted our first dog Zapper, he came from a home that could not afford to keep him. The owner was heart-broken to give him up, and I told him he could always call us to check on Zap. He never did. I think he also just wanted to assume all had gone well (and it had).

So...be a Pollyanna on Puppy and assume he lived a full and happy life with the New Family!

laura k said...

I'm not big on Pollyanna-ism, but I can live with the measure of uncertainty.

David Cho said...

You have my deep admiration for going forward with it.

My experiences with two private greyhound adoption agencies soured it for me. They summarily turned me down because I am a single guy who rents rooms to people.

So I thought I could just volunteer for awhile just to get my "dog fix." It is too heart breaking walking through the shelter and seeing all these dogs.

I will get myself a dog soon or later, and when that happens, it will have to be the city shelter. That is where Noah came from! And there's been many times I ran into people walking their dogs from the very same public shelter. They all said that is where the best of dogs come from.

laura k said...

David, I've also found private animal rescue organizations to be a very mixed bag. But my contact with them will be limited.

I was so annoyed that the Greyhound rescue turned you down!

ou know, I had talked about Greyhound rescue, too. I had forgotten about it. My hesitation is that the dogs are older. I do like Greyhounds, though. Those sweet big eyes. :)

johngoldfine said...

I'm excited for you, laura-k. Me and all six of my dogs (two rescues, the others puppy-raised.) All dog stories turn me on, and my cannier students know how to push my buttons....

P.S./OT or Old Topic: This afternoon after fucking around with MLB for about a half-hour (as if I had never ordered anything online before on a credit card), I finally managed to get my online radio subscription for this season. But they sure were about as difficult as difficult could be about taking my $19.95.

David Cho said...

Yes I agree that their eyes are beautiful.

At least around here, Petfinder is what private adoption agencies use to post their dogs' profiles. Isn't that the case up there too?

johngoldfine said...

It's true: to see a dog is to adopt a dog. There isn't much choice or weighing of alternatives or even common sense--why do you think I have six dogs?

laura k said...

At least around here, Petfinder is what private adoption agencies use to post their dogs' profiles. Isn't that the case up there too?

Both city shelters and private groups post their animals' profiles on Petfinder.

Both the dogs I mention in this post are through Petfinder. One is at a Toronto city shelter, the other is with a foster family, arranged through a private rescue group.

I don't mean to suggest I'm anti- private rescue group - not at all. They do the most amazing and important work, getting dogs out of shelters and into foster homes - saving lives.

I've had some less-than-stellar experiences with some animal rescue people, but that's bound to happen. I wouldn't let it stop me from adopting a dog through a group.

laura k said...

why do you think I have six dogs?

I wish I could, too. It's definitely a lottery dream of mine.

Sorry about your MLB troubles! You've reminded me I have to get my radio subscription before Saturday. Yay!

Dharma Seeker said...

I have nothing but praise for Toronto Animal Services.

Toronto Humane has adopted an (in my opinion) unfortunate policy of only taking in owner-surrendered "adoptable" dogs. This did not used to be the case. The dogs turned away by THS, and any truely homeless dogs now end up at TAS. They were superb during the Wellseley fire.

I found Riley and Chelsea on petfinder, both were in foster homes. I too have seen too many dogs mentally and psychologically deteriorate after long stays in shelters which are extremely high stress environments for animals, in spite of near-heroic efforts by underpaid animal care workers and health technicians to give them the best possible lives while in a shelter's care.

If anyone is considering fostering and happens to love bully type breeds please check out the Bullies in Need website (easy to find on google). Pit bulls are virtually the only dogs from Ontario that will be euthanized if not pulled out of shelters to be fostered or adopted.

Laura if you want the low-down on any local rescues feel free to e-mail me. Keep me posted on your search! :)

laura k said...

Thank you DS! I was hoping you would weigh in soon. :)

I'm very glad to hear TAS gets high marks from you.

tornwordo said...

So true. Our last shelter visit netted us Georgie, though I wanted to take them ALL home with me of course.

laura k said...

Yay Georgie!