Finding the Perfect Dog For Friends and Family

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For the past few years, my son’s former sports teammates and co-workers have been a great source of adoptive homes for dogs in my local shelter – or, I should say, my local shelter and I have been a great source for them! My son is 28 and most of his friends are in the same age range. They almost all live in the east San Francisco Bay Area. One by one, they have been getting married, buying homes, and/or starting families. And many of them start their families with a dog! These are educated urban professionals with good incomes – and most of them are athletes who love having dogs to run with them, so they are looking for athletic dogs.

I live about 150 miles north of San Francisco. In this rural area, we tend to get a wide variety of dogs in the shelter. Like every shelter, we get a lot of “bully breed” mixes (which may be any thing with any amount of American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier in its pedigree) and Chihuahua-mixes. These are the types that are most frequently produced for sale by backyard breeders or accidentally bred by irresponsible owners – and the ones that are wildly over-represented in shelter populations across the nation.  But in this area, Labradors are also very common, as are Australian Cattle Dogs, German Shepherds, all types of hounds, and mixes between all of those. (In fact, DNA tests say that my 13-year-old dog Otto, adopted as a 6- to 7-month-old pup from my local shelter in 2008, contains all of those breeds except hound and Chihuahua! Ha!)

This north-state/Bay area dog connection started with the puppy who became my son’s dog, Cole, in late 2013. At the time, my son was in college and attending a semester abroad in Spain. But he had already signed a lease for a room in what would be his first dog-friendly rental house in Davis, California, where he would be returning to college in February – and, while in Spain, he frequently spent time looking at the pictures of adoptable dogs in my local shelter; he couldn’t wait to get home and adopt his first “own” dog. I kept getting emails: “Mom, could you go to the shelter and look at A546792? He looks nice!” and “Mom, what do you think about #A546804? How old is she? What breed do you think she is?” In this way, he spotted Cole before I did, from thousands of miles and an ocean away!

Finding the Perfect Dog For Friends and Family
Cole was about 12 weeks or so when I spotted him in my local shelter in late 2013. Someone had surrendered his American Black and Tan Coonhound mother, him, and a female sibling. The female was sick when surrendered and died in the shelter’s care. Cole’s dad may or may not be a Coonhound, but he’s 100% Good Dog.

I went to the shelter on my son’s behalf to meet two pups he had spotted: a black Lab-mix and Cole, a mostly black pup who had come into the shelter with an American Black & Tan Coonhound mom and an all-brown sibling. I immediately knew that the hound pup was “the one.” I snatched him up and fostered him for the six weeks or so it took my son to get home from Spain and learn for himself that Cole was “the one.” Cole is smart and sensitive, goofy and affectionate, playful and (mostly) very obedient. My son’s done a great job of training and managing him, too – such a great job, that the silky black dog with the long ears has been a terrific ambassador for my local shelter. Everywhere my son takes him, people say, “Hey, where did you get your dog? What breed is he? He’s such a good boy! And so handsome!”

Strangers and random passersby are on their own, but my son lets his friends and coworkers know that if they are looking for a dog, know what they want in a dog, and are willing to be patient, his mom will help them find one.

Over the past few years, since he graduated and joined the workforce, I’ve found dogs for several of my son’s co-workers. At one point, he worked in a dog-friendly office and, after asking about Cole’s origins, two of his co-workers asked me to help them find a dog. For a while in 2015/2016, there were three canine alumni of the Northwest SPCA coming to work every day in an office tower in Berkeley, California.

Finding the Perfect Dog For Friends and Family
Valentine and Stella at home.

The first of my son’s co-workers to ask for dog-finding help was Mapolo, who was looking for an “easy first dog,” as he had never owned a dog before! I found a mellow and affectionate 4-year-old Greyhound-mix whom I thought would be perfect. Mapolo adopted her on February 14 and named her Valentine – awwww! She was a big hit in the office, as she is a total love sponge, but she had one funny quirk: She would not enter the elevator on her own power. Just flat out would not do it. Mapolo got a certain amount of grief as he had to lift the big dog into the elevator several times a day until she got over her apprehension.

That was nearly six years ago. Early last year, in a new job, a new home, and along with his fiancé, Erin, Mapolo asked me if I could help him find a younger, more athletic dog to join the family and relieve Val from jogging duty. I found them a hilarious and mischievous young Shepherd-mix named Stella, who fit right into the family, worming her silly way into even Valentine’s heart. Repeat customers!

Finding the Perfect Dog For Friends and Family
Valentine and Ava

After Val joined the pack in the Berkeley office tower, I heard from another co-worker, Russell (who was also one of my son’s sport teammates). He and his then-girlfriend (now wife) were looking for an active dog who wouldn’t hurt or intimidate Jin’s older, small dog. I found them two candidates – an adorable but slightly over-the-top mini-Aussie and a calmer but larger Lab-mix. They drove up to meet both dogs but couldn’t decide, even after spending all day Saturday in the “get acquainted” area at the shelter with one dog, and then the other. They went home to think it over, and then called me with their choice: the Aussie. I pulled her from the shelter, and spent the rest of the week getting to know her and starting some basic training. They adopted her the following weekend and can’t imagine life without her now. She even has her own Instagram account: “Ava the Dog” @avaforcitycouncil.

Finding the Perfect Dog For Friends and Family
Wayne enjoying the wilderness.

Here is a crazy story: My son has changed jobs, but in January 2020, I received an email from another guy he worked with at his old job in Berkeley. Alexander was looking for a fun, active dog, not too big and not too small. I knew just the one! Just days before, I was at the shelter, taking photos of adoptable dogs for the shelter website, and I saw this absolutely gorgeous terrier who had come in as a stray weeks before. I thought he was just stunning, and looked a lot like a purebred Jagdterrier. I sent his pictures to Alexander, who was definitely interested. Since I was going to the Bay Area to visit my son and pick up a relative from the airport there in a few days, I offered to pull the dog and bring him down with me. Alexander met the dog and that was that. Yay! Another adoption. Alexander named the dog Wayne.

Finding the Perfect Dog For Friends and Family
Sam and Ladybird

Just six months later, I got another “Can you help me find a dog?” email. Like Russell, Sam is one of my son’s former teammates – and was hoping I could help him find a dog as nice as Cole and Ava, whom he had met many times after sports practices. In the midst of the pandemic, I hadn’t been to the shelter for months, but I looked over the prospects and saw… another Jagdterrier? What?! I made an appointment to go meet the dog (pandemic-era new rule) and fell in love with her. She looked nearly identical to the terrier I found for Alexander but seemed a little sweeter, less macho. I sent her pictures and a report to Sam, and BAM – he made an appointment to meet her, made the drive up, and made the adoption. He calls her Ladybird.

I’m trying to get Sam to meet up with Alexander so Wayne and Ladybird can meet; I want a picture of them together! Where did these TWO uncommon breeds come from, and how did they both end up as unclaimed strays in the middle of nowhere (as I affectionately call the place I live)?

Mapolo has since changed jobs, but now he, too, is promoting my dog-matching skills to co-workers. In October, I received an email from one of his new co-workers, requesting help with finding a nice family dog. Like every other family in the pandemic, stuck at home with no school to attend, his three kids were desperate for a dog to play with. Given that they’d be home for untold months, the time seemed right. I spotted a darling little hound-type who seemed to fit the bill, and BOOM- another adoption. They call him Arlo.

Finding the Perfect Dog For Friends and Family
Sweet Arlo

At the moment, I have a request for an athletic dog for a couple of my son’s former teammates – an actual couple, husband and wife. Like my son, both Adam and Claire have represented the U.S. (and won gold medals) in international competition, and they are looking for a dog who can accompany them on runs. But both Adam and Claire are also nurses and they work long hours, so the candidate dog also needs to be able to chill at home without tearing the house down. Making that task a bit easier: Sam and Ladybird live in the flat downstairs and will be their backup dog walkers. I have every confidence I will find the perfect dog for them.

Say, I should start charging for this service, shouldn’t I?

12 COMMENTS

  1. Great story! After searching Pet Finder and several of my trusted dog rescue websites for more than a year, I finally found a dog that met my requirements. By the way, he came from Butte County, not too far from Oroville. And he looks like a bully breed mixed with Beagle, and weighs only 35 pounds. He was in foster care for 18 months with no inquiries from prospective adopters until a rescue group in Davis, CA did a courtesy post on their website. That’s where I saw his picture. It’s difficult to know why he was passed over for so long. He has been with us since August 2019. I love this dog. Maybe I should email you for my next dog… 😊

  2. Since my husband and I are elderly, we chose an older 10 yr. old dog from Alabama Boston Terrier rescue, and she
    is a delight, full of energy and just perfect for us. Encourages daily walks, and time out and inside. She is part Chihuahua, but looks like a small Boston. She idolizes my husband. We chose a ten year old and she is such a joy.
    She was fostered by a couple with two dogs, and enjoys canine company. Sadly, we lost our 15 yr. old Josh, a 15
    yr. old shelter terrier last January. Do we ever stop missing them?

    Of course I adore Otto, and look forward to his antics and pictures. Thanks for all your articles, which always
    bring information and pleasure in the reading!

  3. Great job! Speaking of rescue. I have a mixed breed we adopted 11years ago.Love her. My other dog is a shepherd. I wanted to rescue a shepherd but GS rescue REFUSED to let me have a dog because I did not have a fenced yard which is not allowed where I live. I think that is sad. Many dogs miss out on a good home because of this. I wound up buying a dog which wasn’t my first choice. She did come from a responsible breeder. I will probably be looking for another dog in the future. Too bad we didn’t live close. You sound like the perfect picker. LOL

  4. So awesome, Nancy. Great stories all. I found Esmé on Pet Finder almost 9 years ago when she was about 2 yo. Still going strong but as she slows down I’m sure I’ll be back on Pet Finder to find an active hiker/walker. Sure sounds like you have the matchmaking knack!

  5. Valentine sounds and looks like many dogs from down here in Baja, California, Mexico. That brindle pattern is quite common here. Working with many rescues, and placing them for adoptions, there are quirks that must be worked with, but really only take patience and consistency. One is sticking your hand out, for the dog to “smell” you upon first meeting. Hands are often used for hitting down here, so of course the dogs are scared and shy away. Simply let him “check you out” at his own speed. Secondly, most Mexicans don’t let their dog inside a house. The dog is used to being yelled at, and often kicked outside, literally. So getting some dogs over the threshold, and into the house (or elevator,) takes patience and understanding. Even from room to room, he must go through that doorway, that used to signal a kick in his direction. Give him time. The best part is, housebreaking is usually unnecessary- as they are used to going outside already. And these Baja Blends make the most forgiving and loyal friends ever! Our rescue adopts out dogs and many puppies to the U.S.

  6. How generous it is to help people find wonderful dogs. You could easily charge for such a service or msybef the shelter would pay you as a family counselor, since your counsel is helping create even better families with a wonderful, well-suited dog!

  7. I love these stories of success. Alas, I have not had that good luck with finding dogs for friends. They tell me what they are looking for, and I look at the shelter I volunteer at and at other shelters. In the meantime, however, they adopt on impulse a dog that is nothing like what they told me to look for! It is frustrating to have me waste my time and to see folks adopt something that might not work out. I tend to handle these requests a little differently now.

    • I have definitely had that experience, more than once. With another of my son’s friends, in fact, it worked out. They were looking for a VERY small dog that they could take in a bag on public transit, but also who was tough enough to go hiking and backpacking with them. They found one before I did, and it’s worked out great. But I’ve seen some real failures, too. One family, a couple, got in a hurry and adopted a darling small dog with some noted behavior issues. On his second day in his new home, he bit one of my friends’ mom, when she tried to take a tissue from him. They were sitting on the sofa together, and he punctured her leg with all four canines. I urged them to return him – but he was so cute! And they felt it wasn’t fair, since he was so newly adopted and their mom shouldn’t have tried to take the tissue. Ahem. About a year later, thousands of dollars spent on trainers, lots of education about canine behavior, and many bites, he got out the front door and *raced* to bite their neighbor, who finally forced their hand with legal threats and they had to return him to the shelter. It broke their hearts. After that very difficult year, they DID wait for me to find them a behaviorally more normal dog. I did find them a really cute, smart, cattle dog-mix, only about 20 pounds, whom they adore.

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