In rescue, I used to really dread getting certain breeds of dogs because I knew they would be difficult to place. But the dogs that really ground my coffee were the purebred toy dogs. We didn’t get them very often, but when we did, we’d invariably get applications from people who shouldn’t have been allowed to have a houseplant, let alone an animal.
Some of the ones I remember:
- When we had a litter of Boston Terrier mix puppies, there was a couple who traveled all the way out to the country after going through the entire application and home visit process, only to walk in the door, take one look at the puppies and leave because they didn’t look enough like Bostons. They were there for fewer than 30 seconds. We’d always made it clear they were Boston mixes, and the pictures we had made it very clear what they looked like, but these people wanted to see if they could get a bargain Boston terrier at rescue prices.
- The time we had a tiny, cream-colored Pomeranian a Good Samaritan was trying to rehome. The only picture we had of the dog, though, was a side picture that captured some of the dog’s body, but was primarily a picture of a large feathery tail. That’s right, it was a picture of the dog’s butt. Well, we got dozens of emails from people saying how they had seen that picture and felt such an immediate bond with the dog and that they knew it was destiny and blah blah blah. We definitely got emails like that about other dogs (and we didn’t rule out those sentiments, by the way), but we’d never actually seen people who’d felt a profound connection with a dog’s hindquarters before. Clearly, they felt a profound connection with the idea of owning a Pomeranian, and it didn’t matter what the dog looked like.
- We had a little pug who was a neglect case and whose picture we didn’t put on Petfinder right away for reasons I might go into in another column. The terse description we put on Petfinder was that the dog was terrified, in immense pain due to his grotesquely overgrown nails which were going to need to be cut while he was being neutered because they were so bad. However, we wrote, because he was a pug and pugs have inner reserves of self-confidence, we hoped he would rally with love and groceries. We got dozens of applications and calls about Benny where the applicants never asked any questions about how Benny was doing or expressed any sympathy or even acknowledged that he would have special needs. Instead, we got so many people who had always dreamed of having a pug but never thought they could afford to buy one from a breeder. We didn’t want someone who was swept up in the drama of Benny’s circumstances, but not to even ask?
I hated those people — rescues call them cherry pickers — with a passion. In fact, even years after these events, my contempt for these people returned as I was writing this, as strong as ever. Given my attitude now, you can imagine that going through their applications at the time really took a toll on me. After doing rescue for a few years, I prevailed upon Victoria about these cherries and after that, we always tried to downsell the dog. Even if we knew that the dog was a purebred, we’d always list it as a mix, and our descriptions and pictures would emphasize how the dog differed from the breed standard. That helped a lot. I got some objections from people who thought I was stigmatizing people for wanting a purebred dog, but I didn’t care. We got stellar adopters for all of our dogs using that method.
Recently, there was an article making the rounds by a woman who said she’d never get another dog from a shelter again. The purebred toy dogs she had gotten there all had major health problems, and it was too expensive and heartbreaking. She decided to buy a dog from a breeder instead. That woman was a classic cherry picker. She had wanted glamorous toy breeds that would get her attention and status (her article even alludes to that), but she didn’t want to deal with the realities of getting a dog like that through a shelter, which were 1.) that the dog was likely to be a puppy mill discard with serious behavioral or health problems, and 2.) purebred toy dogs have many more health problems that mixed breeds. It would have taken her all of five minutes of research to find out that was what she was facing. I’m not saying that this woman didn’t love her dogs, but she was a cherry picker first and foremost, and her attempt to turn her experience into a cautionary tale that might deter good adopters makes me want to projectile vomit.
I know some of you always want to know what happened to the dogs I mention in these stories, so here we go: the little Boston mix was adopted by a woman who wanted him for exactly who he was. One year, we got a picture of him wearing a tiny Christmas hat, a clear indication that he was being spoiled rotten. The Good Samaritan was terrified by the low quality of the applications we were getting for the Pom and kept her. The pug was adopted by a first time dog-owner, a recently divorced mother with two kids whose thoughtful, humble, and caring email and application warmed our heart, even though on paper she didn’t sound like the right match at all. Benny the pug DID rally very quickly (hurrah for puggly self-confidence!) and is a cherished family dog. The adopter sent us several cards where she thanked us for letting Benny join her family. She said in one that she could never believe how lucky they were to get such a great dog. It’s funny, but the best adopters always say things like that. Little do they know how rare they are themselves.