My young adult son lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his girlfriend, a couple of roommates, and his all-black Black and Tan Coonhound, Cole. Cole is sweet, friendly, calm, and well-behaved, so anyone in the household who walks Cole is constantly fielding compliments on the handsome dog, and asked “Where did you get your dog?”
My son always tells people, “My mom volunteers at a shelter north of Sacramento, and she finds great dogs there.” He’s repeated this so many times that several of his friends have asked if I could help them find a dog, too!
It’s actually one of my favorite things to do – to help people and families find appropriate pets – and I’m pleased to say I’ve had a few terrific successes at this job. At one point, my son was working in a dog-friendly office where two of his co-workers had dogs they had gotten from my shelter with my help, giving the office a total of three dogs from my little local rural shelter.
Looking for two perfect dogs
At this moment, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for four more of my son’s friends in the form of two different young couples.
One couple is actually looking for a second dog to join their family; the young man adopted a dog – his first! – from my shelter in 2015. Because he had never before owned a dog, I was looking for an “easy” dog for him: a calm, adult dog with as few behavior issues as possible. I found a beautiful brindle female who looked like she was possibly a Greyhound-mix, who got along well with other dogs and didn’t seem to have any issues that a novice dog owner wouldn’t be able to handle. Though she didn’t seem to know any cues whatsoever (not even the basics of “sit,” “down,” “come,” etc.), she was very affectionate and loved being petted – perhaps to a fault. Demanding affection and attention by pawing at people may have been her biggest behavior “problem.” I fostered her for a week, gave her some basic training, and then the young man drove three hours to adopt her, as it turned out, on February 14. Inspired by the date, he named her Valentine.
At some point, he and Val were joined by a human female – and the three of them pursued training so that Val could do work as a therapy dog! I recently got an email from them with this report: “Val is living her best life. She still comes with me to work. She also now volunteers as an Animal Assisted Therapy dog with the SF-SPCA. She visits an emergency shelter for domestic violence survivors where she gets petted by a bunch of kids and their moms. I think Val gets more enjoyment out of her visits than the kids!” I cried when I received that note! A job where she can be petted and petted is absolutely what that dog wanted and deserved.
But the real reason that Val’s family wrote to me: Today, they are looking for another, smaller female dog to join their family, one who must absolutely get along with the older, very submissive, sweet Val, but who might also be a jogging companion for the active couple.
The other couple/friends of my son are looking for a very small breed puppy; they’d prefer a female who will mature to about 10 pounds, so they can take her on their travels in a small bag, but who will be athletic enough to join them on hikes. (My son is an athlete, and so are most of his friends!) There is a darling litter of Chihuahua/Dachshund-type pups at my shelter that will be ready for adoption soon, and I’m hoping that one of them will fit the bill.
Consider Likes AND Dislikes
When I agree to look for a dog for someone I know, I always ask them for information about what they really want and need in a dog as well as what they absolutely do not want, and I try to stick to that criteria, and encourage them to do so, too. I beg people not to get into a rush and bend too far from what they know they need, but to take their time and get the dog who will fit most seamlessly into their lives and homes and hearts. After all, there are more than enough dogs who need homes! The right dog is out there, as long as people take their time and don’t take home a dog they have misgivings about because they are in a rush to adopt on a certain timetable. It can be devastating for some dogs to get adopted and returned a number of times (note that other dogs may be happier to take breaks from their shelter stays and don’t show signs of increased stress or “shutting down” after failed adoptions).
Some people don’t care much about sex or breed or coat, but the dog’s size is an issue – especially in urban areas where people may live in housing with maximum-size rules for pets. I have known several people who are allergic to dogs, but who are able to deal with the symptoms presented by smaller dogs with very short, thin coats. Some people are willing and able to deal with any sort of behavior issue that might arise; for others, a dog-aggressive dog or one with serious separation anxiety might be beyond their ability to address. And, of course, I always keep in mind that young couples, in particular, should be looking for dogs who love kids.
Here’s the hardest part of going to the shelter to look for dogs that meet a potential adopter’s checklist of “wants” and “don’t wants”: Finding dogs that I adore but that don’t meet my potential adopters’ selection criteria. Take, for example, the little guy who caught my eye more than six weeks ago, when I started my on-and-off-again search for these two couples. There were actually two dogs I liked – obvious littermates, an estimated two or three years old – and I spent about an hour with the energetic little guys, teaching them to sit for treats (instead of jumping all over me) – but they didn’t appeal to either one of my adopting couples. Val’s family really would prefer a female, and the other needs a smaller dog; these boys were 15 and 20 pounds and too tall to travel in an under-the-seat bag on an airplane. I wasn’t worried, though; the boys were so cute, and I thought they would get snapped up in a hot minute.
Taking a break from the search
I had to take a few weeks off from my search. I was on deadline, we sold a property and there was lots of last-minute moving and cleaning to do, and then we took a week off to travel to the East Coast for Thanksgiving and family visits. So when I went to the shelter yesterday, I was really surprised to see the larger of the two brother dogs still there! No takers after six weeks! It’s true that he barks and jumps in his kennel – but when I gave him a treat through the cage bars, he quickly remembered me and sat in order to get me to give him some more treats, just like that. Super smart! And so cute!
Dang it! I had no choice but to bring him home for fostering; perhaps with some training and decompressing out of the shelter, I can find him a home while continuing my search for a different dog for my son’s friends. Or, breaking all my own rules about selection criteria, perhaps I can see if Val’s family would consider a male dog after all. To me, gender seems like the least important criteria of all – what about you? Maybe it’s more important to other people than it is to me.
I’ll keep you posted!