The New Love of Your Life
The journey to meet the love of your life can be as daunting as it is exhilarating. There’s the undeniable butterflies when you first start spending time together. The intrigue as you get to know each other. And of course the joy of finding out what you have in common. And then the unsettling realization that your new Mr. Perfect has a past.
If you’re over the age of 15 it’s pretty likely he’s dated before, or even *gasp* been married! Do you immediately assume there MUST be something wrong with him? If he’s so great, why would anyone else ever give him up? Do you immediately walk away from any man who’s ever been rejected by another? Probably not.
Instead you get to enjoy all the lessons he’s learned the hard way- whether it’s apologizing with roses, calling when he’s running late, or cooking you a decent meal, and we wont even talk about what goes on behind closed doors. While you probably don’t give it much thought, all that life experience works out to your advantage. Would you really want to be with a guy that you have to teach literally EVERYTHING to? When you meet a guy who knows how to make you happy because he’s got a little life under his belt, do you disregard him just because he wasn’t a good fit for someone else? Or do you shrug and say, “well, he’s perfect for me!”
And yet, so often that’s how we talk about shelter pets. That if they were any good they wouldn’t be in the shelter. Why would anyone give up a perfectly good dog? They must be damaged, ill-behaved, or just plain worthless. Imagine if we thought about dating the same way?
Now, I’ll admit, it’s not a perfect analogy. Adopting a shelter pet is kinda like getting married after a first or second date. Once you take them home, you’re committed, or at least you should be. But also, let’s be honest, dogs are a LOT easier to train than guys! So the odds are in your favor.
Growing up, most of my family dogs came from someone in a grocery store parking lot with a box of puppies. When I got Shadow, she was an an 8 week old fluffball who would sit at the edge of my bed and howl until I picked her up and let her sleep with me. Then she would wake me up with her little puppy dream kicks and barks. Weeks went by with no sleep. And potty training took forever because I wasn’t great at keeping an eye on her. A few years later my sweet Yukon came from a local breeder. Determined to do it right with him, I was always on high alert for when to take him out, immediately after eating or drinking, or waking up. And every two hours just because. And again, not one full night sleep for weeks. Plus, arranging work and class schedules so that someone could be home to let him outside every few hours, young puppies can’t go 8 hours without a potty break. Having a puppy was equal parts joy and crazy hard work.
It wasn’t until maybe 8 years ago I got Swota from an ad on Craigslist. I wasn’t actually looking for another dog, but then I saw her sweet chubby mugshot. It was a legit re-homing. Her people had lost their home in the mortgage crisis and the apartment they moved into wouldn’t allow her. They were desperate to find her a home before they had to dump her into the shelter system. They told us about how they’d only had her a short time, and had gotten her from an elderly gentlemen who was just not physically able to handle her anymore.
And so she became a part of our family. She first joined my Mom’s pack, only to find out Mom’s dog, Grey Spirit, preferred to be an only dog. So when Shadow passed a few months later, Swota came to live with us – home number 4. When I tell people we’re home number 4, they often assume she had some issues. But really, none of her moves had much to do with her. Having always started with puppies, I braced for my life to be taken over with potty schedules and no sleep. But it didn’t happen. She came in, and aside from a few scuffles with Yukon, she settled right in to OUR routine. I was amazed at how easy it was. It felt more like making a new friend than raising a new baby. She had her own personality, her own history, likes and dislikes. And she’s one of the most loving dogs you’ll ever meet.
So after we lost Yukon and felt we were ready for Swota to have a new friend I decided a grown dog was a better fit for our busy life style. I searched the shelters for weeks, knowing Swota preferred the company of other huskies, and knowing the high energy of a husky fit best with our lifestyle. Finally the day came when Floki found himself brought in by animal control. I walked into Platte Valley Animal Shelter in search of the two huskies they told me were there. As I walked by the rows of kennels a mass of black fur stood up against the door. I marveled at his size and though his cage card said 10 months, I thought for sure he was older. Robbie and I met him briefly, and Robbie was on the fence as Floki seemed disinterested in us, instead looking around at all the things in front of the shelter. Then it came time to meet Swota. We’d already agreed she was decision maker. At age 10, I wasn’t about to subject her to a housemate she didn’t like. But when they met it was PLAY at first site! I’d watched her grieve and mourn Yukon, and I’d watched her withdraw. And I worried we might lose her soon too. So when Floki walked into the shelter yard and they immediately began to play I actually cried tears of joy. And they played and played and played. I looked at the shelter staff and said, “guess he’s our dog now.”
When we brought Floki home he was enough of a grown-up to have learned some basics. He knew to potty outside, and sit, and down (sorta), and he loved fetch. It wasn’t a seamless merging. He had to learn to respect Swota’s space. That antlers are for chewing and shoes are not. Walking up stairs seemed to give him the most trouble, which was tough since we’re in a 3rd floor walk up. I’m not sure he’d ever walked on a leash before. And he may have had some trouble understanding how dog beds work. But he is healthy, happy, and loving.
Some common shelter/ rescue dog myths:
- You have to go to a breeder to get the breed you want.
- About 25% of shelter pets are purebred. Both Floki & Swota are full Siberian Husky.
- They all have behavior problems, why else would someone give them up?
- People’s reasons for surrendering their pets vary widely and often have little to do with the pet. Financial problems are the #1 reason. Other frequent reasons are personal or emotional problems for the owner, moving somewhere they can’t take the dog, a member of the family has allergies, or they no longer have time for the pet. While some dogs are given up for behavioral issues and some develop them due to the stress of shelter life, many shelters work hard to address these issues before and provide support after adoption.
- If I get a puppy it wont have behavior problems.
- This just isn’t true. A number of factors contribute to a dog’s behavior. Breed characteristics and individual personality are huge factors, but also parenting habits. Any dog that’s not properly socialized and given balanced guidance will develop issues.
- Pure Bred dogs are healthier.
- Also, just not true. While responsible breeders will often work hard to ensure a healthy bloodline, life is filled with uncertainty. And some common health problems are actually more prevalent in certain breeds. Also, if you do get a dog with health problems, most breeders will only offer to take the dog back and maybe give you a refund or replacement. They will not generally pay for treatment. And if you really feel like purebred dogs are better see no. 1.
- I know what I’m getting with a pure bred puppy from a breeder.
- Every animal will have their own personality that’s going to develop as they grow. Just look at your own siblings. You both have the same genes, raised in similar circumstances, but I’ll bet you’re still very different. In fact, if you work with a shelter or rescue group you might actually get more insight on the dog you want to take home. If your new dog has been there for a while they’ve probably undergone a temperament test or at least gotten to know the handlers or fosters. When we adopted Floki, we were warned that he was extremely high energy and tended to play very rough. That may have been a problem for another home, but he fit right in with our rough and tumble household.
- I WANT a puppy!
- While I love having grown dogs, there is something special about raising a new puppy. There are also A LOT of puppies in shelters and rescue groups. In fact Lifeline Puppy Rescue specializes in puppies.
My intention is NEVER to make anyone feel bad about their decision to buy a dog. Only to dispel some common myths about rescue.
Bringing a new animal into your home is a big commitment no matter where they come from. And there are no guarantees of health or happiness.
Whether you buy or adopt make sure you’re prepared for the needs of that individual animal.
- Don’t get a high energy breed if you’re not prepared to burn that energy off every. single. day.
- Don’t get a flat faced, short legged dog if you want to hike 14ers on the weekend. Or really hike much at all.
- If this is your very first dog, steer away from stubborn breeds. You may not have the skills necessary to make a happy home.
- Before you bring a dog home do your research and find out about breed quirks and health concerns, and make sure you’re prepared to deal with them.
Just like dating, find the right fit for YOU!
And if you’re ready to find your perfect match consider someone with a little life experience.
Rescue pets aren’t broken, they just have more life experience!
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