Cherry is as Cherry Does

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.

Black mixed breed dog
What kind of jerk could reject this little guy for not looking enough like a Boston? A cherry picker, that’s who. (Photo credit: Author)

By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

10 replies on “Cherry is as Cherry Does”

I experienced this last year after we adopted 2 mini pinschers. The previous owner intended to breed them, but found she was allergic and we were told the female was weeks away from being in heat still. Unfortunately, it turned out she was already 2 weeks pregnant when we adopted her. We kept two out of the five puppies in the litter (and the parents of course, and we already had a border collie who isn’t going anywhere… We have a full house), but finding homes for the remaining three puppies was a nightmare.
I had people offering to trade tattoo guns and food stamps for puppies, or had perfectly wonderful homes take them for the weekend and bring them back because they weren’t potty trained. In the end I was very happy with the homes they were placed in, but the search was very discouraging and heartbreaking at times.

It is very discouraging and heartbreaking, in particular because people reveal themselves to be just so callous and awful sometimes. I feel really sorry for people like you who try to find responsible homes for desirable dogs. You end up so much more cynical than you started. My ability to screen applicants was a hard-earned skill for that exact reason, and despite all my time in the trenches people can still disappoint/surprise me.

I can’t imagine trying to find responsible adopters for not one but THREE MinPins. I’ve always thought those were difficult dogs to begin with, but when you add in that they have that “look”, I can see some people wanting them for all the wrong reasons.

I had to click tickled above just for the dog follow-ups. That’s awesome that you found each such good homes! It’s funny; my husband and I have a rescued Pomeranian, but she has alopecia, bum legs (fixed via 2 surgeries) and no front teeth! She’s adorbs, but all of these issues were discovered after we adopted her. I can’t imagine what a “cherry picker” would have done with her! Here’s a pic; the alopecia is on her rear so you can’t tell from the front.

This is really interesting as a cat person, because of the whole domestic cats being more similar to each other than dogs thing. When people seek out specific cat breeds, it’s almost only for reasons of vanity. I adopted one cat about five years ago and am fostering a kitten until next week. (I’m still debating adopting her vs. trying to let the shelter place her, if anyone reading has time to offer advice.)

The thing is, I could see some legitimate reasons for wanting a specific dog breed, like lifespan and activity level. Cats tend not to have the same variety. I’ve been curious before about how you can differentiate between people who want a specific breed because of their lifestyles and people who want a dog as a status symbol, so this was really enlightening.

There are tons of legitimate reasons for wanting a specific breed, or group of dogs! An older person might be more interested in a toy breed due to exercise concerns or transportation purposes. A person who loves dog sports might look for a border collie or an aussie. Or maybe someone had pugs growing up, and they’re just in love with that particular breed. I don’t want to step on Moretta’s toes here, but I suspect the differentiation process lies in asking the question, “Why are you drawn to THIS dog?” People who are just looking for a status symbol probably have a hard time answering that question satisfactorily.

That’s exactly it. A cherry picker’s focus will always be on the breed and they often won’t even mention the dog itself. Normal adopters never, EVER do that. Normal adopters ask questions about the dog’s personality and background. Cherry pickers ask questions about the length of the dog’s tail. Normal adopters will acknowledge past abuse, neglect or health problems mentioned in our dog descriptions. Cherry pickers, never. Cherry pickers frequently refer to the dog as “it” or get the dog’s gender wrong on the application. Regular adopters who are native English speakers and under sixty rarely do that. CP’s answer to “Why did you choose this dog?” often consists of “I have always wanted a pug!” Normal adopters would say, “I really like pugs because they have such confident funny personalities. When I saw Jojo and read about his antics, I thought he would fit right in to our family. I saw he’d like to sleep on a human’s bed at night. Well, he’d have four to choose from at our house.” TL;DR Cherry pickers are all about the breed and don’t care about the individual dog itself.

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