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.

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