All The Puppies

Shelter Dog by Steven L Johnson, under a Creative Commons License. (not one of our dogs)

A post or two ago, I mentioned that I would start volunteering at the local pet shelter. Today I spent my third half-day there and, well, what can I say… It is fulfilling work. I come home tired and filthy and happy that I’ve made the world a little bit better with the help of  disinfectant, scrubby brushes, bowls of kibble and some well-placed rubs, pats and scratches.

I’ve also learned I like dogs. I used to have reservations about the dogs that I thought I would like. I used to tell myself that I’m not a terrier person, or that many shepherd-type dogs are just not a good match for me. Now that I get to interact with a pretty wide variety of dogs (among which a fair amount of as-of-yet intact males), it turns out I think Jack Russels can be adorable and cuddly, pittbulls can be goofy and silly and shepherds can be insecure and needy. It is an eye opener to see that there are very few dogs that I do not feel affection for and do not, as far as I – a relative stranger in their lives – can, get along with. Just today I had a very stressed, neurotic, older Belgian shepherd crawl under my arm to find some peace. After that, I spent time with an male pitbull (built like a fighter, I think his head is 50% of his total weight and he’s all muscle) who was so happy someone gave him attention that he did the silliest little dance while trying to get as many rubs as he could.

Another lesson is that life as a shelter dog just isn’t fun. Even in our shelter, where they get high quality food, private indoor kennels, shared outdoor kennels (if they like other dogs, otherwise they alternate) and four trips a day to one of several fenced-in fields with play equipment, the dogs are bored and starved for attention. It is lovely to see how a dog perks up when he gets his weekly weighing moment and gets to spend some fifteen minutes in the kitchen with the staff. He gets called and talked to, he gets petted, he gets some treats and some play with a toy. When the next dog needs to be weighed and this one needs to return to his kennel, the ears droop, the tail sags and all the joy seems to evaporate. Back to the incessant barking of his under-stimulated neighbors, back to a concrete box with nothing to do but bark or sleep. It makes me want to cry and I’m not even the one who gets locked away as if I were an inmate who had committed a crime.

Obviously, the staff works hard (with help of interns and volunteers) to give all dogs attention. Quieter hours are often spent with some extra grooming, a walk off the shelter terrain or play time. It’s just not enough for most of them. It becomes a cycle quickly: a dog that is harder to handle stays in the shelter longer where he does not get enough training, enough attention and enough exercise. The dog becomes bored and starts acting out. Barks more, may become possessive of food, starts jumping, displays overly dominant behavior. Then, of course it becomes harder to adopt the dog out.

Anyway. Dogs love humans. They love you, reader. If you have some love to spare, please consider volunteering, fostering or adopting a shelter pooch. I promise it’ll make you filthy, sore and very, very happy.


2 Responses to “All The Puppies”

  1. 1 Amanda January 14, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    I love this post….
    All of it 🙂 Might repost it, animals need love, attention, and for the world to understand the need for adoption and sterilization.
    From my (little) experience at the clinic, I found Jack Russels and Dachshund quite moody? They are the most prone to bite you out of the blue, withouth much of a previous signal. It is also true that those were dogs in acute pain, which explains it, but usually a dog gives you signals before it will attempt to bite you.

    • 2 thesmittenimmigrant January 15, 2013 at 10:58 am

      There is one dachshund who can be a little nippy, usually as you try to leash her. I have the idea she mostly feels intimidated, which is why she’s on the defensive. If I have some time, I’m going to grab some treats and just make a little game out of ‘put the leash on, take the leash off’ to see if I can make her a little less scared.

      No bad experiences with Jackies so far but then, I only get to handle them when they’re not in pain. I’m sure your experience with dogs far exceeds my own, in any case 🙂

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