Shelter Sadness

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I spent a half day at my local shelter recently, working with a half-dozen large, adolescent dogs who have been languishing there for two or more months. Not one of these dogs knew the cue “sit” but they were friendly and healthy and in need of homes.

Being at the shelter for even just a few hours a week can get me down. I’m hopeful for the animals there – especially the ones who just learned to sit and lie down on cue, and sit politely by their doors. No, it’s humanity I sometimes get depressed about. This morning’s depression came after the following:

As I toured through the kennels with the shelter’s veterinary technician, looking for a dog to feature as the “Adoptable Pet of the Week” for our local newspaper, we came across two German Shepherd-crosses, probably siblings, lying entangled in each other’s legs. The tech explained that they were two of three dogs who were picked up as a little tight-knit pack by the county animal control officer, and that the older dog had an implanted microchip. The shelter staff called the owner, who came to pick up the implanted dog (paying a fine, of course), but who claimed not to know the other two dogs.

A woman with a little boy, perhaps three years old, was sitting and petting a dog in one of the outdoor runs. When she saw me working with one of the dogs, she asked “Are you a trainer?” I hesitated – I’m not a trainer – but for her purposes, I guessed, I could be. “Yes,” I said. “Can I help you?” She said, “Well, this dog, he’s got so many bad habits. He play bites sometimes, too hard. And he knocks my son over.”

I said, “Well, we have a lot of really nice dogs inside. Perhaps you should consider one of the older and smaller dogs.”

She responded, “Well, this dog – he used to be my dog. I got him from here when he was a puppy. I brought him back about a month ago. But I’m so upset that he’s still here; no one has adopted him!”

I was sort of stunned. Then it occurred to me that even if she surrendered him, she came back; she must actually care about the dog. I said, “Are you thinking about taking him home again? I could recommend a training class . . .”

She said, “No, he’s trained, he can sit and all that, it’s just that he chews everything, and knocks my son over, and he barks if he’s left alone.” She hesitated, and then said, “Maybe we should just get a new puppy.”

Later, I saw the vet tech in the parking lot with a middle-aged man and what looked to be a very senior Airedale. The dog was emaciated, three-legged lame, and covered with matted dreadlocks. My first thought was that the man had rescued the dog. No, said the tech told me later; the man brought the dog in for euthanasia. He said the dog didn’t get along with his other dogs.

I know that shelter staffers have to deal with irresponsible and ill-informed pet owners every day, and I bless them for their hard work. I know that I couldn’t do it with a smile on my face.

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