“It has to be a puppy. Shelter dogs can’t bond with you and aren’t as trainable as puppies. An adult dog isn’t as loyal.” Friends, it is a good thing we were at the bar and I was a couple drinks in, so that I had something on which to blame my slight frustration and raised volume.
Okay, fine, I got downright belligerent and said something along the lines of, “F**k you! You clearly don’t know sh*t about dogs,” and some other assorted insults with other four letter words attached. When I had this conversation, I had spent a year working at one of the oldest animal rescues in the United States, and had a rescue of my own. Meet Thor:
Thor could be the poster dog for the awesomeness of animal rescue. Admittedly, we did not go searching for him, nor did we adopt him from a shelter. He found us, he adopted us, and he refuses to leave. Thor was a stray who showed up in our backyard. For a few days in a row, Mom saw a brown animal run through the woods while taking our other dog, Loki, for a walk. One day when she got back, the brown streak was waiting by the back door without a collar or tag. (We later found out that he chews off his tags, so we had to get him a special one.) He was skin and bones.
We tried to find his owners. We went through our rural area knocking on doors, asking if anyone knew this dog. No one did. We went through the neighborhood again, asking if anyone wanted to take this dog, since we already had one. No one did. No one wants an adult dog. Everyone wants a cute, roly poly puppy, and this mangy animal seemed to be at death’s door. We called the shelters. They offered to take him, but said they were at capacity, and he would probably have to go to Animal Care and Control. We didn’t want him put down. So we kept him.
This is where people expect the punchline of how awful and untrainable he was. But that wasn’t the case. Thor just wants to be around the people he loves, and he wants desperately to be loved back. This is the case with many adult dogs. They’re so eager for the human companionship for which we have bred them that all they want is for their companions to never leave them behind. As for trainability, Thor is smart as a whip and often picks up on things before the other one. He has recently learned the command of “Everybody Dance Now” in which he tap dances around the kitchen, smiling at everyone he can see.
Of course, not all rescues are just like Thor. But the personalities of animals are as endless as humans, and they all need different things. I’ve seen a dog so scared that she couldn’t bear to be in human company, until the humans around her noticed that what she opened up in the company of other humans. I’ve met a pit bull so starved that he couldn’t lift his head, but with the help of a great human, Oscar is a sweetheart who loves to be twirled on the other end of a tug rope. I’ve seen cats that will quite literally reach out and grab passersby. Thor has his issues, too. His constant need for attention can be exhausting, but at least his humans are not the only ones who can fill it.
So don’t tell me a rescue can’t be trained, and don’t tell me an adult dog can never bond with new owners. I’ve seen the so-called “impossible” happen and if you’re really lucky in life, so will you. Before you skip to “puppy” or “kitten” as default, think about the forever friend who is just waiting for you to walk by. The perfect pet might look like an unlikely choice, but he might just show up in your backyard and make himself at home.
Usually I write about etiquette, but sometimes I like to write about other things that are important to me, like animal rescue. If you do have an etiquette question, email me at email@example.com, message me, or drop a note in the comments!