I’ve been volunteering at the SPCA for about a year and a half now, and I’ve noticed something–puppies get adopted quickly, but all too often I see those same puppies come back about six months later, when the pups are well into doggie adolescence.  This breaks my heart.

I remember one little pittie puppy I photographed last spring. She was adorable, her name was Lucy (not really, but for the sake of this story it is), and she was very sweet, too.  I had a piece of fabric draped over the fence for a backdrop, and a gust of wind blew the fabric right down in the dog. But Lucy was nonplussed–she just looked at me, and the picture of her sitting beneath that fabric was just too cute.

Lucy got adopted, and six or seven months later I was walking by the kennels and a young pittie whined at me.  I stopped to talk to her, and something about her seemed familiar. So I went inside and read her intake papers–she was Lucy, the same dog I had photographed.  But the admitting medical report said she was suffering from fleas and had urine burns on her feet.  Which meant–well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Our shelter got Lucy healthy and happy and she was adopted again.  A few weeks later I was selling greeting cards I’d made from some of my doggie photos.  A couple came by, saw the picture of Lucy sitting under that draped backdrop, and the man said, “Hey! That’s our dog! The one we took back.”

Yeah–I was tempted to climb over the table and be unladylike for a few minutes. But I managed to restrain my impulses and remind myself that it was a good thing he HAD taken her back where she could find another home. He could have kept her wherever it was that he was keeping her . . .

I said all of that to say this:  dogs bond to their owners just like children do. They become part of your family. Now we know that sometimes disruptions occur because of situations beyond our control, but you can do a lot to prevent those disruptions by knowing exactly what you’re doing when you go to adopt.

Years ago I discovered a wonderful book: The Right Dog for You. My copy is dog-eared and well-loved, but this book thoroughly analyzes each of the standard AKC breeds and reports on everything from emotional stability to their ability to be patient with children. For instance, did you know that only ONE of the toy breeds is naturally good with kids?  That’s right–the Pug.  All of the others tend to be a little high-strung and don’t do so well with unpredictable children.

I know that most of the dogs at shelters are mixed breeds–and some are fairly difficult to decipher. But you can learn how to tell what breeds a dog is made of, and if you want a quiet indoor dog, then don’t get a puppy that’s from the sporting group!  Beagles and hounds want to be outside sniffing when they’re not inside with the family.  Herding dogs want to herd things, including your children (and the neighbor’s, too).   The working dogs (shepherds, mastiffs, St. Bernards, Boxers, etc), want a job to do, and they’ll be happiest when you train them to do a job well. And ALL dogs want to be near their families, and in an urban/suburban society, that means they want to be in the house with you.  That’s why we call them companion animals. 

Cuteness (memorize this) is overrated.  Besides, ALL dogs are beautiful.  🙂

Know what that cute puppy is going to grow into, and understand the breed before you bring him or her into your home. THE RIGHT DOG FOR YOU actually has little quizzes that you can take to see what breeds are best suited for your lifestyle–and you can find the same sorts of quizzes online these days.

So do everyone a favor, and before you bring home that snuggly puppy, do a little research. I support rescue shelters in all kinds of ways, but I also support good, responsible breeders because they understand how important it is for each breed to be an example of the best of its kind in health and temperament.

The holiday season is approaching, and some folks may be thinking about getting a puppy for Christmas.  Good for you! But don’t even go LOOK at a puppy until you know what breeds have gone into the mixed dog, or what the characteristics of a purebred dog are.  You’ll spare yourself and the puppy a great deal of heartache, and you’ll keep another dog out of a shelter.

Every Lucy who gets adopted deserves to find a permanent home. 🙂


1 Comment

  1. Kathy Cassel

    With puppies you can never be quite sure what you’re getting. There are advantages to adopting a little bit older dog. There are less “surprises” like when the 17 pound dog they told you was done growing ends up at 50 pounds!

    LOve shelter animals. We are volunteering tomorrow so Jasmine can get her volunteer hours for 7th grade civics.


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