Friday, January 28, 2011

Do. Not. Buy. A. Dog. From. A. Pet. Store.

If you believe that your life is too happy. If you really want to experience sadness and disgust. I suggest that you pick the name of any popular toy breed--Pekingese, Poodle, Pomeranian, Chihuahua--by all means Chihuahua--and plug it into Petfinder for your geographical area.

You will pull up pages of pictures of small, helpless dogs. Some are in private rescues; the lucky are in foster homes. The unlucky are in publicly funded "shelters" awaiting euthanasia.

Many breeds are being over-bred by irresponsible,thoughtless, greedy humans. Many breeds are being purposely mixed to sell to gullible buyers as "Designer Dogs."

But toy breeds are particularly vulnerable. Their diminutive size lends itself more easily to being housed in cages crammed into small spaces. Toys require less food--lower overhead. And unthinking, uniformed potential buyers are attracted to tiny puppies that, they believe, will be "less bother" than standard sized breeds.

The vast majority of Puppy Mill dogs live lives of misery from conception to death. For toys, whose only purpose is to be the close, adored companion of a human being, the misery is particularly acute.

Yesterday, when I received an email about the little Pomeranian needing a foster home, I was reminded of all this sadness as I explored possible rescues for her.

If you want a toy sized dog as a companion, you have a stunningly large number of desperate dogs to choose from--all ages--from puppies who were separated prematurely from mom, to seniors whose humans have died or have had to go to an assisted living facility that cannot accommodate even a small dog.

If you want a tiny canine companion, rescue one---or two. There are plenty to choose from.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy News!

I just received word that a foster home has been found for the little Pomeranian.

If you made an effort to spread the word about her, please accept my thanks and appreciation.

All paws are crossed that, eventually, she will find a wonderful forever home that will appreciate her for the brave little girl she is.

Foster Opportunity

A six year old, six pound female Pomeranian is in need of a foster home. She has spent several months in a public rescue because she is evidence in a hoarding situation. I really don't want to think about what this tiny mite has endured, but I understand that she holds no grudges, is loving and perky. She has a damaged eye, but it has not cost her her vision. Her other eye is normal.

If you can offer a foster home to this sweet creature, email me:

portiasmom at live dot com

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pure Bred Dogs

For two evenings next month, the eyes of the nation will be focused on the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show--The Holy of Holies of American Dog Shows. It is our national celebration of pure bred dogs.

The winner of Best In Show will be pictured on the front page of American newspapers and will be featured on morning television shows. For a few days, people will talk about the winner and their favorite contenders. Most people outside the dog show world will then forget about dog shows, only to remember and repeat their enthusiasm next year in February.

In view of the hundreds of thousands of dogs left homeless every year, many of whom are euthanized, there is understandable criticism of the entire pure bred/dog show enterprise. Why breed and pamper some dogs while other dogs live lives of neglect and abuse?

That's a tough question and one that cannot be answered to everyone's satisfaction. I won't pretend that I can even resolve my own ambivalence, given my passion for dog rescue. But I do think the world of pure breds and shows has something to contribute to the dog-human relationship, a relationship that goes back millennia.

To the distress of Earth First Purists, human beings are incapable of leaving anything in their environment alone. I doubt we will ever establish the date that the first selective breeding of dogs took place, but it's hard for me to imagine that it didn't occur very early in the human/dog relationship. However dogs assisted human beings, some were better at the task then others. Presto! Behold a litter of puppies parented by the male and female dog who performed the desirable task best. A few more generations of selective breeding and the first dog breed was created.

Bingley and Magic, my own canine companions, trace their ancestry to before recorded history, the products of refined selective breeding favoring sight and speed above all other attributes.

Breeds of dogs are a living history of human activities and needs: from Mastiffs who could intimidate any enemy to Pekingese who provided warmth and comfort, hidden in silken sleeves of Chinese nobles.

When a breed of dog disappears, so does a chapter of history.

Suppose for a moment that all breeding of pure bred dogs was outlawed. The only dogs born were those whose parents had not been reached by mandatory neutering.

Apart from the logistical--not to mention Constitutional--problems such a prospect presents, how would it ultimately serve the interests of dogs? Some back yard breeding would continue with all its attendant health and temperament problems. Eventually, distinctive breeds that relate to humans and the world in fairly predictable ways would disappear.

And I would bet a lot of money that before long, people who are fascinated with dogs would organize clandestine groups dedicated to the recovery of a favorite type or breed of dog.

So. While I will readily admit that SOME show breeders indulge in practices which are seriously detrimental, not only to a specific breed but to all dogdom, in the American Kennel Club and breed clubs, we have the advantage of a remarkably organized system which permits dog enthusiasts to pursue the continuation of any dog breed that claims their fascination and devotion. The A.K.C. also provides a framework for rare breeds or new breeds to become recognized.

The dog overpopulation problem comes from four sources: puppy mills, irresponsible breeding of dogs "with papers" by owners who are not involved in a breed club or dog shows but want to make money, "designer dog" breeders of mixed breeds, and negligent owners who permit intact dogs to wander freely.

The solution to the overpopulation problem includes low cost spay and neuter clinics, ongoing publicity about the cruelty of puppy mills, and education of prospective dog owners about breeds and the responsibilities of dog care.

Until the time these efforts reach a tipping point, only dog rescuers stand between hundreds of thousands of abused, neglected and homeless dogs and painful and/or premature death in an over-crowded shelter.

I have had the joy of bringing a beautifully bred puppy home from a careful breeder, of training the dog myself and watching him grow into a perfect companion.

But as the writer of Ecclesiastes said, "There is a time for every purpose under heaven."

John's and my love of dogs motivated us to adopt our first rescue after the death of our second Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier.

We honestly had no idea of the challenge we were taking on when we brought Daphne into our home. Nothing in our experience of well cared for pure bred puppies could have prepared us for a three year old mixed breed who had been abandoned on the streets of L.A. when she was less than a year old, had been "bounced" twice from prospective adopter's homes, and had spent two years in a rescue kennel. She was a terrier-sight hound mix. Not a combination that "kennels well."

But Daphne, with all her "issues", gave us back so much, we never will buy another pure bred puppy. We will always adopt a rescue.

However, not every person, not every family is in a situation or a place in their lives where a rescued dog is the best fit for them.

There is a time for every purpose under heaven.

And if it weren't for the world of dog shows and serious, dedicated pure bred dog breeders, the world would be without the great delight and fascination of the amazing variety of dog breeds.

So yes. I will watch Westminster. I'll try to catch a quick look at the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier breed winner. They rarely get much t.v. time. Only one Wheaten, the legendary Andover Song and Dance Man, has ever won the Terrier Group at Westminster.

And when the Hounds take the ring, I'll pull for the Greyhound and the Scottish Deerhound.

But my heart belongs to the abused, the neglected, the homeless dogs in need of rescue. Those are the ones that I root for every day. Those are the ones that I will bring into my home.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

True Magic

Meet The Steel Magnolia. No. We do not have a new dog. As is the case with many rescued dogs, Magic, who has lived with us for more than a year, continues to share with us who she really is.

Magic might have been born and spent her early years in an outdoor cage in the High Desert of California, but she is letting us know that she is truly a Steel Magnolia--that unique product of the South: sweet and soft on the outside, tough and determined on the inside.

Magic faces a dilemma every morning: She wants to be the dog next to me on the living room sofa while I read my Prayer Book. She also wants to be the dog occupying the love seat in my study when I move to my computer. If she sits next to me on the sofa in the living room, it gives Bingley the opportunity to co-opt the love seat in my study. If she goes directly to the love seat in my study, Bingley just might stay in the living room and soak up all my attention: a possibility which Magic does not wish to contemplate.

In this contest, Magic has a distinct advantage: Bingley is highly distractable, a common characteristic of Greyhounds--reinforced by his racing career. Magic, on the other hand, is contemplative and deliberate.

This morning she chose to stay with me on the living room sofa--nudging my hand with her nose if I stopped patting her. Bingley lay for a while on the adjacent love seat until some sound required investigation. But--for once--he was ahead of the game and settled on the love seat in my study. When I moved to the computer, Magic discovered that she had been out-foxed and was not pleased.

When this situation is reversed, Bingley might protest at first, but he will eventually find something else to do--patrolling for the rabbit that has taken up residence in our backyard, for example--or settle on the cushions on the floor and drift off to sleep.

Not Miss Magic. This morning, Magic remained totally focused on getting the prized place on the love seat. She stayed in close proximity, never compromised by settling in the "second best" cushions. She just waited.

And sure enough, something distracted Bingley. The second he jumped down from the love seat, Magic was there. She is now resting with her head on a bolster pillow and shows every sign of staying where she is for as long as she wishes.

Steel Magnolias can also be remarkably stoic. Yesterday, as usual, John and I stopped by a little park about two thirds of the way along our walk route. We go as far as the trash can, deposit poop bags, and turn for home. The park contains a number of mature liquid amber--sweet gum--trees, which drop spikey seed pods perfectly designed to inflict maximum pain in a dog's paw pad.

When Bingley steps on a sweet gum pod, he whimpers and lifts the afflicted paw.

Yesterday, we left the park and started down the hill for home. Magic stopped. She seemed to be looking off in the distance. I assumed that she was frightened and urged her on. She took a few more steps and stopped again, looking off in the distance. But this time, she refused to move. No whimpering. No crying. Just absolute determination.

For want of a better idea, I started to examine her paws. Nothing in the front right. Nothing in the front left. Then in her right rear paw I found it: an embedded sweet gum pod. I pried it out. It must have been a painful procedure, but she let me do it with no protest.

Steel Magnolias do not complain. But they always get their way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Zephyr Remembered

Yesterday, January 2 2011, was the third anniversary of the death of one of the Great Dogs of my life: Zephyr, aka Parasol, aka Bella Rita Pita.

When John and I adopted her in September 2005, I assumed that she would grow into old age with me. But aggressive osteo-sarcoma intervened and she died a month before her seventh birthday.

I have loved dogs ever since receiving a Cocker Spaniel puppy, Lucky Penny, for my third birthday. (No, I do not advise giving dogs as gifts to pre-schoolers--or to children of any age, for that matter. But my parents were clear that Penny was my sister's and my dog in name only. They took complete responsibility for her care, so that my sister and I were able to bond emotionally with her without the burden of responsibilities that no child can meet.)

From the time Penny entered our lives, my sister and I learned by the example of our parents--practically by osmosis--that having a dog in one's home is a privilege and that dogs are to be treated with care.

It's wonderful to have a well cared for, pure bred puppy, train them to be an integral part of your family, and watch how the personality traits that you saw while they were still with their litter mates blossom as they mature.

But it wasn't until John and I began to adopt rescued dogs that I began to experience the greatest rewards of having dogs in my home. It was an honor to have known Zephyr. No dog looked just like her. No dog acted just like her. No dog has ever died with more dignity and grace.