About a year ago, I was surfing the Pet Ads thinking about adding a pit bull to my collection. Charmed by a photo of a brindle boy named Hugo at a nearby Humane Society, the synapses connected and I signed up to volunteer walking shelter dogs.
I’ve walked lots of dogs during the past year (see all their pictures here), and pretty much fantasize about adopting each one. As I work my way up the mile-long trail, I imagine how they would fit in with Mia and Leo. I tend to call all girl dogs “Princess” and all boy dogs “Buddy,” but sometimes I think of what I might rename them if they were mine. One sweet Dutch shepherd didn’t have a name on her kennel, but on our walk she became Heidi. At the time, the shelter was having a promotion where you could pay $5 to name a dog. I got quite excited about naming her, but it turned out she’d already been named Arlene. By my next visit, she’d been adopted.
I make an effort to walk dogs that have been there a while, not the easy dogs that everyone loves to walk. Those dogs get adopted quickly anyway. A lot of the dogs I walk can only go to homes with no other pets, which is a problem, because most experienced dog owners already have dogs, and the dogs that can’t be around other dogs often have other challenges requiring an experienced owner.
Whenever I hear of one of the dogs getting adopted, I note it in my Facebook album. Unfortunately, I don’t hear about every adoption, and even more unfortunately, not every dog is adoptable. The first dog who broke my heart was Maverick. I could tell he was losing it. After our walks, he wouldn’t let me leave his kennel. I’d go in with him to take off his harness, and he jumped and grabbed my arm in his mouth and blocked the door, trying to make a break for it as I attempted to exit. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he bit a staffer and had to be moved to the old building. What happens there we don’t like to talk about, but that’s the reality of dog rescue. Not every dog can be saved. Some dogs go “kennel crazy,” becoming less and less adoptable the longer they’re confined to the kennel.
Part of me wanted to say, Wait, wait, I’ll take Maverick. But I didn’t even know if Maverick was house-trained. He lifted his leg and peed in the corners of the shelter halls as I walked him outside. I hadn’t been able to clicker-train him to sit. I had to stand on his leash to keep him from jumping up and head-butting me. He also sat in my lap and kissed my face. I loved him.
But animal rescues have a responsibility not to adopt out dogs who might be dangerous. A woman in Tacoma has come under fire for her efforts to save all the dogs.
That’s something I’ve had to come to terms with. A few other dogs I’ve loved have gone to the old building. Some of them I think I could have adopted if I didn’t already have dogs. The other day as I walked a one-year-old girl they’re calling Sassafras but I’ve decided to call Kiki, a song started running through my head: Katy Perry’s The One that Got Away.
In another life, I would be your girl.
In another life, I could save them all.
The good news is that most of them do find wonderful homes. I’d pretty much lost hope for a heeler mix named Evan, who bounced off the walls of his kennel when I walked by, and a Lab-Dane named Clarkson, who’d been returned twice and had been there almost a year. Evan and Clarkson both got adopted on the same day in September.
So I will not lose hope again. There is a home for every dog!
Walking shelter dogs is one small thing that I can do every week to make a difference in the lives of homeless pets. It hurts too much to think of all the dogs that don’t find homes, and sometimes I feel guilty because I can only walk, at most, three or four dogs each time I volunteer. I can’t bear to look at the big picture, so I think of the Starfish Story, and know that I made a difference that day for those three or four dogs.
It made a difference for that one.
This post is part of the Blog the Change for Animals Blog Hop.
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