Basking in Sunshine

Finding just the right dog to join your family can be a challenge today. Here is how WDJ's Training Editor went about the task and brought Sunshine home.


It’s been a rough year. In the space of six months, my husband and I lost three of our beloved animal companions, with each death coming quite unexpectedly. First we lost our pot-bellied pig, Sturgis; a week later, our 14-year-old Corgi, Lucy, was diagnosed with and died from cancer. In my grief I turned to Bonnie, our wonderful 13-year-old Scottie/Corgi/Poodle-mix, and only half-jokingly told her she would have to live forever.

And then we lost her to cancer, too – also suddenly and unexpectedly. That left us bereft, with only our four-year-old Kelpie, Kai. He was young and healthy, but for the first time in over 40 years we were living with only one dog. Our house felt sad, quiet, and empty.

I had just started thinking about looking for another dog a few weeks before Bonnie died. I had also just started to realize how challenging it might be. For 40-plus years my husband Paul and I have worked at or with animal shelters. We never had to go looking for a dog; sooner or later one would arrive at the shelter and clearly say, “I’m yours.”

Starting the Search for A New Dog

In the past, we would have looked no farther than our local shelters for our next dog; I have long been a vigorous proponent of shelter adoptions. Today, though, most of the shelters in our immediate area are so-called “no-kill” shelters. While the goal of reducing euthanasia is a great thing, it often results in shelters housing too many dogs who are highly unsuitable for adoption, and we had no interest in supporting this. Our preference is to support open admission shelters (and we did eventually make the trip to a good one).

Additionally, most shelter kennels in this area are filled with pit bull-type dogs, and while I am not anti-pit bull and I vehemently oppose any breed bans, they are simply not the dog for us.

Which Type of Dog is Right for Us?

In past articles in Whole Dog Journal, I have advised people who are thinking about adopting a new dog to develop a list of attributes that they must have, would like to have, would prefer not to have, and really do not want at all – and then to use these lists as search criteria. And yet, here we were, not really sure of what we were looking for. Another herding breed? We already have a Kelpie, so maybe, or maybe not. A Bonnie-type terrier-mix? Maybe, but they didn’t seem easy to come by.

Trainer friends in the surrounding area promised to keep their eyes and ears open for a candidate for us, but since we couldn’t give them much information about what we wanted, this wasn’t very helpful. One friend contacted me regarding her neighbor, who was looking for a home for a great 4-year-old German Shepherd Dog. “Yay!” I thought. We had a terrific shepherd in the past (Paul’s dog Smokie, many years ago when we first met). But Paul said no; I’d sold him on the benefits of smaller dogs over the years, and he didn’t want a big dog.

1 year old pomeranian mix


We tried Petfinder and other adoption websites, but photos on a computer screen don’t do much for me – even cute ones. I did click on one photo of a Cattle Dog-mix, supposedly with a rescue group just five miles from us. Funny, we know all the rescue groups around here, and I would swear there’s not one within five miles. Sure enough, when the site opened I read, “All of our dogs are in foster homes in Alabama…” You had to adopt sight-unseen, pay the adoption and transport fees (over $500), and when the dog got here, he was yours, whether you liked him or not. Obviously, that is not something I would ever do.

I looked on Petfinder for a couple of weeks, getting more and more disillusioned. I found ample evidence that a scam that I have heard about many times was still in frequent use: so-called rescues that post pictures of cute dogs that they don’t actually have, and when someone contacts them about a particular dog, they say, “Oh shoot, that dog just got adopted, but we have another just like it!” Then they find a shelter dog (often procured at no cost to them from a self-proclaimed no-kill shelter eager to place any dog to any so-called rescue), and then charge you an outrageous adoption fee for their very low investment in acquiring the dog.

A friend who works at the open-admission shelter run by the Frederick County Animal Control contacted us about a young Cattle Dog-mix there. We went to see him, but he wasn’t “the one” – too big and rowdy to be a good companion and playmate for our 30-pound Kelpie. All the other dogs at this shelter were pit bull types, Labs, and hounds. Not for us. I cried for Bonnie, missing her sweet presence, and wondered where else to look.

An Unlikely Source

Then I thought of Craigslist. Look – I have warned people about the very real and significant dangers of trying to sell or adopt pets through Craigslist. Scammers get dogs for free or cheap from unsuspecting owners, and then charge exorbitant fees to adopt them to others as “rescues.” Or worse, hoard or abuse them.

But I would be at the other end of the equation. I would be a responsible human trying to adopt a dog for our legitimate home, perhaps even saving a dog from one of those awful fates. I went on Craigslist, looking for dogs in our surrounding area.

I found an 11-month-old intact Pomeranian listed four days prior, in our town. We had two wonderful Poms (Dusty and Scooter) in the past. Perhaps we needed another? I sent an email to the person who posted the dog and she answered. They were giving him up because her 15-year-old daughter had wanted to breed Pomeranians but had changed her mind. However, another woman was coming to see him tomorrow. If she didn’t take him, the lister would contact me back.

1 year old pomeranian mix


When I didn’t hear back, I emailed again, just in case. Sorry, I was told, the other woman did take him. “But,” she said, “I looked at your website, and if he doesn’t work out there, I would really like you to have him. I think you’d be perfect for him.”

I checked Craigslist over the next couple of days, but nothing interested me. Mostly puppies for sale, at retail puppy prices. Nothing on Petfinder. Then, an email. “She doesn’t want to keep him. Are you still interested?”


Meeting Our New Dog

The Craigslist poster said she would bring the dog to meet us the next afternoon. She was picking him up from the other lady and didn’t want to take him back home if she could help it. She arrived the next afternoon and exited her car in Mennonite dress, with the dog in her arms – only, he is clearly not a purebred Pomeranian. He is at least twice the size of a Pom (or four times the size of a tiny Pom!).

She carried him into my training center (her daughter had not succeeded in teaching him to walk on a leash) and set him on the floor. His nose was longer than a Pom’s, his body was twice the length of a Pom’s, and his coat was straight and long rather than Pom-fluffy – but he was beautiful.

I sat on the floor, and Paul sat on a chair. The little dog eyed me warily and was clearly even more worried about Paul. He warmed up to me quickly but continued to be suspicious of Paul. My heart sank. Paul surely wouldn’t want him, since the little dog was barely approaching him. I was certain his decision was going to be “no.”

After a time, the owner cleared her throat and said, “So what do you think? I do have an appointment I need to get to…”

I looked at Paul, and he smiled at me and nodded. Really? I expected the owner to ask for money, but she smiled, stood up, thanked us, and left. He was ours.

1 year old pomeranian mix


It took us a week to name him. Sunshine is wonderful. As I write this, he’s been here just two weeks. He hung out at last week’s Academy and did his first work for Peaceable Paws one evening, socializing perfectly with a fearful Maltese/Poodle-mix. He starts training class tonight, but has already learned to walk on a leash, sit on cue, and lie down for a lure. He’s cheerful and brave, learning not to chew cords or lift his leg (and will be neutered soon), and is making peace with Paul.

Kai seemed a little put out at first (I think he was enjoying being an only dog) but now the two of them happily romp, play, chase, tug, and wrestle. I love that Sunshine is not all Pom and that he’s bigger than a Pom (16.2 pounds at our vet visit this week). He’s probably Pom and American Eskimo (we call him a Pomskimo). He’s getting better about not barking when left alone, and he’s going to be just fine. He brought sunshine back into our world. I keep singing songs with “sunshine” lyrics, smiling all the while. I just told him he has to live forever.

Author Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT‑KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. She and her husband Paul live in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Miller is also the author of many books on positive training. Her newest is Beware of the Dog: Positive Solutions for Aggressive Behavior in Dogs.

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.