ADOPT, DON’T SHOP

Here’s an amazing fact I learned recently from Kim Kavin, author of The Dog Merchants:

If just half of the people who decide to get a dog this year were to adopt one from a shelter or rescue instead of purchasing one from a breeder or pet store, we would empty out the shelters and rescues.

Problem solved. As Kim explained in an e-mail, what we have in the US is not a dog overpopulation problem, but a marketing problem.

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Kim’s a journalist and an engaging author who has now written two well-researched and yet from-the-heart books. The first (Little Boy Blue) tells the story of the rescue puppy she adopted and all that she learned when she decided to investigate the story behind how he landed in her home. The Dog Merchants is about the big business of dogs – not just breeders and pet stores, but rescues, shelters and consumers. As is always the case, where there is big money involved, there are generally people taking advantage and people being taken advantage of, and sadly, many times the dogs pay the real price. Both books are fascinating, entertaining, and will likely make you cry. Kim has been gracious and generous to me, reading the manuscript for a book I’m working on (aptly titled, Another Good Dog) and sharing her experiences and knowledge of the world of dog rescue.

One of the topics we’ve discussed is the wide range of rescues. She’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, but probably a lot more of the bad and ugly than I have. Her experience fostering dogs has been a bit different than mine. I’m very proud to say that the rescue I work with, Operation Paws for Homes (OPH) does rescue right, in a world where many well-meaning rescues get it terribly wrong.

I’ve tried to remember how I discovered OPH, but think it came down to dumb luck and Facebook. I just happened to see a post at just the right time and found my way into this amazing organization. Hearing Kim’s stories only makes me more committed to doing all I can to promote this fabulous organization that is not only passionate about dog rescue, but professional in how they treat volunteers, adopters, fosters, and shelters, but most importantly, dogs.

One of OPH’s mottos is “Together we rescue.” And there’s not a truer sentiment. Together we can rescue, but we need more people so that we can rescue more dogs.

Right now shelters all over the south are overwhelmed with a deluge of dogs. It’s also puppy season -the time when many dogs are giving birth and they and their offspring are being dumped at shelters daily. The brave people at OPH and other rescues who have the job of fielding the requests from shelters and then deciding which dogs we will pull, are receiving near daily emails asking for help. The more dogs we can pull, the fewer these shelters have to euthanize.

It weighs on a heart. I see the posts and the pleas and the pictures of these deserving dogs and I feel anxious. I want to do more, but right now my house is at capacity with Gala and Darlin’ and my own dog, Gracie.

I want so badly to take one of these mamas and/or their puppies, but I have nowhere to put them. I consider asking another foster to take one of my pups, but then I look at their sweet faces. Darlin’ has been here over three months and Gala nearly a month and a half. They have finally settled and feel like they are home, even though they aren’t. Both of these girls are sensitive souls- their next move must be to their forever homes. I feel my soul tap, tap, tapping impatiently. Time for them to move. There are too many dogs to rescue.

I used to hesitate to use the hashtag #adoptdontshop, but I’m ready to tattoo it on my forehead. Yes, I understand that sometimes allergies dictate the kind of dog you get, and yes, I know there are responsible breeders out there, and yes, I realize that sometimes a rescue dog needs more time to develop trust or requires an extra effort with training. But here’s the bottomline – until we no longer have to decide which dogs must die each week because no one wants them and no rescue has room for them and no shelter has the funds to continue to house them, we need to keep shouting it from the rooftops:

ADOPT, DON’T SHOP!

Please, please, please, adopt your next best friend from a rescue or shelter. Let’s fix this fixable problem. Let’s make the next problem be – we don’t know what to do about all these empty shelters.

If you’d like to part of the solution, get involved. If you’re looking for a dog, adopt. If you have room, foster. If you have time, volunteer. If you have money to give, give.

If you’ve ever considered fostering dogs for a rescue, I would encourage you to give it a try. The need for foster homes this time of year is huge. If you are in Maryland, Virginia, DC, or south-central PA, click here to find out how you can foster for OPH. If you live elsewhere check out a rescue or shelter near you – they all need foster homes.

OPH (and all rescues and shelters) always need more volunteers to check references, transport dogs, organize events, and a hundred other jobs, so if your home can’t hold another dog, but you’d like to help, jump right in. To volunteer for OPH, click here.

If you’d like to help OPH, consider making a donation. Adoption fees don’t begin to cover the cost of medical treatment and transport. In addition, OPH rescues pregnant dogs, litters, and heartworm positive dogs, but also pays to keep dogs in boarding when there are not enough foster homes available. Without fundraising, they could not do these things. Click here to donate to OPH, or look up a rescue near you.

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend! Go for a hike with your dog!

Blessings,

Cara

P.s. If you’d like to know more about my writing (or my next novel coming out JUNE 6!!), visit CaraWrites.com.

Rescue Work Overload & the Difference a little Trust Can Make

Every now and again, the dog-thing gets a bit overwhelming. This weekend was one of those times. It makes me pause and wonder if I’m doing too much, asking too much of my family, my own pets, my own heart.

It’s so easy to anthropomorphize dogs. (I toss that big word out there as if I didn’t have to look up the spelling and be sure I was using it correctly. It means to attribute human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects, plants, and animals.)

We imagine we know a dog’s motives, emotions. We think we can read its expressions, sense its moods, understand why it responds the way it does, even interpret its feelings. (I’ve been anthropomorphizing Gracie for years — but who knows what really goes through that little head of hers.)

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This week confirmed for me once again that dogs, like people, are mysteries. It is nearly impossible to know another person’s heart, let alone a dog’s, and twice as easy to imagine that we do. We assume based on our own experiences and bias, but in reality we’re wrong as much as we’re blessed with a lucky guess or two.

Yesterday morning, for the first time in weeks, Gala and Darlin’ had a nasty fight. Continue reading Rescue Work Overload & the Difference a little Trust Can Make

The Pee Wars

I’ve had about enough of the pee wars. Unbeknownst to you, this quiet war has been waging in my kitchen for three days. I don’t know who started it. I don’t know how it will be ‘won,’ but I’ve had entirely enough of it.

So today I armed myself. I bought a doggie diaper. I’m not sure yet which dog will be wearing it, but I’ve decided to place blame on the dog who should know better, so here she is modeling it for you:

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Let me back up.

On Friday evening, I brought home two new fosters. Continue reading The Pee Wars

Second Chances

Now that I’m back to walking (YES! MRI revealed lots of damage, but nothing to stop me from moving forward and continuing to heal on my own!) I’ve had a chance to catch up on my thinking. So much was backlogged in my brain – ideas, worries, dreams, questions, stories. Lucy and I have increased our walk time each day this week and this morning we wandered the back roads for nearly an hour.

I’m still mulling over the book Rescue Road and pondering the enormous challenges to dog rescue in the US (and in the world). I had begun to feel the same way I did when my elementary school science teacher explained how far away Pluto was – it seemed like an insurmountable distance.

My teeny, tiny part in rescuing dogs couldn’t possibly put even the idea of a dent in the problem. Probably my thoughts were colored by my inability to move without pain. But now, the world looks different. I’m ready to get back in the game. I’m ready to save some more dogs.

I’ve had my moments of frustration with Lucy these past few weeks. She has come so far – she’s no longer scratching and her beautiful tri-colored coat is coming back in, her energy levels are rising (and rising!), and her happiness quotient somehow went even higher.

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Here she is playing with the filling for the Frank bed.

My frustration springs from the fact that she is not accustomed to living indoors. It hasn’t been an easy transition. Part of me wants to put her on a line outside. She’d probably be more comfortable. That’s what she’s known. Instead, we keep her in the kitchen and walk her frequently. We reward her when she pees outside and admonish her when she pees inside.

I think she finally understands she shouldn’t pee on our floor, but this morning when she evidently couldn’t hold it a moment longer, she peed on the Frank bed. I was so angry! Why would she do this? Why? Why? Why? I took her outside and then I closed her in her crate. Continue reading Second Chances

A Fixable Problem

WARNING: This is not a happy or funny post. It might bum you out, or maybe it will inspire you. I’m taking my chances sharing my grief and frustration.

IMG_3629Today is the day Ginger will leave. I feel unprepared. Every other time, when a dog was leaving that I knew would break my heart, I had a plan in place. A new foster on its way or already in our house, or I had somewhere to go or be that would distract me. Not today.

Because I’m still waiting to see a doctor who will have the answers, I can’t commit to a new dog/puppy. I’m not a good patient or a patient person, so my hurting knee is dragging me down. Lucy is still here, but we’re finding our routine and she’s ready to go to a forever home as soon as her people find her.

Today is different than other adoption days. Without my usual props in place, I already feel the tears gathering and I hate that. This is the hardest part of fostering. This heart-cratering pain that is so completely unavoidable- if I just didn’t foster dogs. It’s self-inflicted, preventable, and yet, I know it’s nothing compared to the pain of all the dogs that never make it out.

I’m currently reading Rescue Road, the story of a man named Greg Mahle, who drives a tractor-trailer full of rescue dogs from the deep south, to foster homes and adopters in the north twice a month. He’s helped rescue over 30,000 dogs and driven a million miles.

I’m trying to read it as fast as I possibly can because it is unbearable. Every time I have to close the book and move back into my world I feel sad, unmoored, frustrated. How can there be people in this world, in this time, who would dump a litter of newborn puppies in a trashcan or worse yet, set that trash can on fire?

How can there be state-run ‘shelters’ that are no more than concrete holding pens completely exposed to the elements where dogs are dumped all together (young, old, sick, neutered or not) to wait for no one (or maybe a rescue) to claim them before they die of preventable diseases or state mandated euthanasia? This book breaks my heart. Reading it this weekend, knowing it was our last with Ginger, made for a sad, sad few days.

Yes, I know, Ginger is going to a GREAT home. It’s the only happy thought available for me to hold on to. Only that great home isn’t mine. It can’t be. Technically, it could be, but reading Rescue Road this weekend underlined again for me exactly why it can’t be—there are too many dogs still down there. Too many dogs dying every day because of ignorance, cruelty, apathy, and lack of resources. This is a fixable problem. Maybe that’s what makes me most crazy. Parvo, mange, heartworms, overpopulation—these are ALL preventable or treatable.

All of my mixed feelings and sadness is complicated by the fact that my knee is not healing. It limits me. Just this morning, I fell, once again. Even though I had on my brace and my new super grippy shoes that my husband insisted I buy, my unstable let still slid out from under me on a stick that fell in last night’s storm as I made my way down the hill with Lucy. Ouch.

And then there’s Lucy.
Continue reading A Fixable Problem

The Grave Consequences of Being a Slow Learner

I’ve fallen down a lot over the past year and a half while we’ve been fostering dogs. I’m talking about physically falling down, though certainly I’ve mentally and emotionally taken my tumbles.

Carla was the first to knock me over when she darted in front of me while we were running. A 75-pound coonhound is not something you can hop over, so instead she took me out like a football player making a clean block. Luckily (for me) she broke my fall. I only suffered a few scratches and started running with a longer leash so the next time she’d have the leash length to clear me if she happened to notice a squirrel on my opposite side.

Then Frank pulled me over twice. Frank wasn’t huge, but he was 50+ pounds of solid muscle. When he slipped into the chicken pen as I was closing the gate, I chased after him and stupidly grabbed his collar while he was in full flight. You can imagine the rest. A skinned elbow and bruised knee were my penance for my bad decision. (Frank didn’t get a chicken, though, so perhaps it was worth it.)

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The second time I was walking down our steep hill in smooth-soled shoes and my feet slid out from under me. I’m not sure he had anything to do with that fall other than happening to be on the other end of the leash when I clumsily lost my footing. The result of that fall was only a few grass stains.

DSC_9923Tennessee took me out while running. He had been the perfect running companion, incredibly obedient and sticking close to my side for weeks. Until something behind us startled him and he slammed into me in his panic and sent me sprawling. I ended up with two skinned knees and one skinned palm on that one.

After that I had a long run of not falling over, nearly a year and then Whoopie yanked me over when her bloodhound nose picked up the scent of a cat and I couldn’t keep up. I did a lovely belly flop on the grass, but was no worse for wear.

And then this past Monday night, I hit the ground again, only this time I didn’t get up. I was walking Bambi and Lucy at the same time in wet grass, in the dark, in sandals, down the hill. So, you can already see all the mistakes I made going into this. The two of them both lunged forward at the same time and I’m not even sure why. I think Bambi was only excited, as she is a puppy, and I believe Lucy, who is not a puppy but has a puppy-spirit simply joined in the fun. Continue reading The Grave Consequences of Being a Slow Learner

Our Present Pack of Pups

My trusty co-pilot and helper (read: the only kid without a driver’s license or a job this summer) and I met the Lucy train in Hagerstown last Wednesday and picked up our latest charge. She’d been riding shot-gun for the last leg with a very nice person named Terri. When I opened the hatch of my SUV, she hopped right in, settled in the crate we’d brought and went to sleep. Obviously, she wouldn’t be a high-maintenance guest.

This poor pup has been through it—I can’t say exactly what, but she is riddled with scars, the worst one being a permanent necklace from where a collar was embedded and/or she was left chained up for a long period. Despite all that, she is a happy, friendly, easy-going girl. The resilience of dogs is something to behold.

Thankfully, she doesn’t appear to be pregnant. As exciting as that would have been, the last thing this sweet girl needs is puppies. Her skin is inflamed and hot and covered in some form of eczema that requires us to keep a cone on her 24/7 so she won’t chew herself bloody. It’s a testimony to her good nature that she handles her misery so well. She scratches at the cone trying to get to her neck and chest, where the rash is worst. She chews at her side, biting the plastic cone that prevents her from a reaching her itchy skin. It may not help, but maybe the effort brings a mental relief. I remember scratching at my riding helmet covering my itchy head when I was in the middle of a competition or lesson. It’s psychological; you feel like you’re doing something. I would shake my head, too, which I’ve seen Lucy doing.

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If you’ve ever had poison ivy or hives covering your entire body, you might have some sense of what this pup is going through. The urge to itch is all-consuming and yet—she can’t reach it. She’s headed to the vet on Wednesday to confirm that she isn’t pregnant and hopefully get a prescription for some serious drugs to help her out. The vets that examined her before she came north diagnosed a flea allergy. While there are no fleas on this girl now (I’ve given her enough oatmeal baths to verify that), I would assume at some point she was infested with them. Continue reading Our Present Pack of Pups