Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Capacity reached at Galveston County animal shelter

GCARC did a press release a few weeks ago announcing that they had max'd out their capacity with six hundred and forty five (!!) adoptable pets in residence.  I would have posted about this sooner had I been aware of it. 

Distinguished GCARC alumna:  our dog is a constant source of public admiration and people frequently ask us what breed she is and which breeder we ordered her from.  Her breed is that superior lineage known alternately as "mixed" or "Heinz 57", and the "breeder" (or at least the breeder recipient) was Galveston County Animal Resource Center (which is a euphemism for "animal shelter"). 

Yes, in most cases, it's goofy to put clothing on dogs.  However, because she's an inside dog, we have her shaved and groomed on a regular basis, so she is terribly vulnerable to cold weather (this pic was taken in December).  Without her insulating under-coat of fine fur, she'll shake like a leaf when taken outdoors in winter if we don't dress her up like this.   
GCARC is wonderful and I highly recommend it.  Their staff is very helpful with each stage of the adoption process, and we could not have gotten a better dog. 

But let me go one step further than that endorsement, and explain an animal shelter reality that nobody likes to talk about or ask about or even think about, given that it is an overwhelmingly emotional subject. 

Many people are afraid to adopt from an animal shelter because they're worried that they'll get stuck with an animal who was abused and who behaves neurotically and dysfunctionally as a result.  Or they're afraid that they'll get an animal who is set in his or her ways, who they later discover was not properly socialized, or whose temperament and energy level is simply not a good fit for their family.  To be "on the safe side", they would rather order a young animal from a breeder whom they trust to do a good temperament matching on their behalves.

Well, here are my observations on that stereotype.

First of all, the "safe side" isn't always so safe.  Breeders don't always make the right calls about the temperament of their stock.  I have a couple of friends who ended up with purebred dogs from hell because of this (I personally don't care if I ever see another Jack Russell again in my life, after seeing the likes of what a few acquaintances purchased). 

Second of all, most shelters will give you a chance to properly evaluate your animal.  Most have ownership grace periods of a few weeks to 30 days during which you can return an animal and you won't be judged if you do this.  You'll probably lose your adoption fee because that may have covered your candidate's shots and spay/neuter, but that's small potatoes compared to the overall costs of owning a pet, so who cares?

But this idea of returning an animal utterly horrifies many people.  Pets have become so personified in our culture that people feel as if returning a dog to a shelter is tantamount to abandoning a newborn baby to die in a ditch somewhere.  People get so acutely emotional about pets that they experience tunnel vision when presented with a potential reality like this. 

I know what of I speak, because this happened to us and I was very surprised at the ferocity of the response I received.  When I announced that we had to return our first canine candidate to the shelter whence she came, members of my own extended family positively snarled at me, "How could you simply kick that dog to the curb?!" as if the entire pet overpopulation problem was solely my personal fault.
This was the first beautiful dog we brought home from the League City Animal Shelter with the sincere hopes of integrating her into our family.  She was two to three years old and she obviously had been socialized prior to entering the shelter, but unfortunately, we came to understand that she had not been raised around children.  She absolutely refused to relate to our then-younger child, whose dreams of having a best-canine-friend relationship would have been crushed if we had decided to keep her.  In the few weeks that we had this dog in our home, mostly what our child did was cry and cry and cry because she felt so rejected by her. 
The folks who snarled at me were suffering from emotional tunnel vision and were only seeing one side of this equation.  The fact is, the rates of euthanasia are extremely high in our local shelters - some estimates put them as high as 85%.  We were only in a position to save one dog's life, and it had to be a dog that fit with our family.  When we took that original dog back, I was very careful to explain to the shelter that she had no behavioral problems but needed an adult owner.  I also made sure I had taken her to a supplemental vet visit and had wormed her and begun heartworm preventative, thus paying some of her bills in advance to maximize her appeal to a future adult owner.

The League City shelter is much smaller than the Galveston County shelter and, at the time, they did not have a large number of dogs to choose from, so we decided to try our luck at the County shelter.  And that is where we found the likes of this:
Little Red Riding Dog, the single most playful and foolish mutt on the planet.  An absolutely perfect companion for a child.  All the neighborhood kids just love her.  Even a few of our neighbors who dislike dogs are receptive to her. 
If we had kept that original yellow dog, chances are excellent that the totally lovable creature shown in the photo above would have been euthanized.  The week we went to GCARC to make our selection, the place was positively overflowing with dogs.  I spoke to a volunteer there and it was suggested to me that this dog had about 48 more hours before she would have been put down.  Given the volume of dogs, it is unlikely that another family would have come along to choose her in the intervening hours. 

There are three morals to this story. 

First, never underestimate the value that a public animal shelter can offer to you.  They do have good dogs, and you will find one if you take the time to vet them, as you are entitled to do.  Good shelter personnel will not scorn you the way my family scorned me.  They will instead be kind and understanding in helping you with every step of the selection process, which they will realize is an imperfect and difficult process at best.  The GCARC personnel treated us with complete understanding and respect - they know full well that the adopted animal has to be the right fit or it won't work for the family.  And that fit doesn't always happen on the first try.  That's just the imperfect reality of it. 

Second, don't be intimidated by anyone else's emotionalism as you do what's best for your own family.  If someone can't parse the bigger picture in a situation like I just described, that's their problem, not yours. 

Third, this story is a parable of life, and it has been one of my daughter's most important learning experiences growing up.  Life is not perfect and it sometimes requires us to make wrenching decisions.  One day, it's not going to be an unsuitable dog from whom she must decide to separate - it's going to be some immature boyfriend.  She was heartbroken at having to send that first dog back, but she also realized that we didn't have a real choice in the matter, because it just wasn't the right situation.  It takes guts to make a decision like that.  How many people do you know who persist in a relationship with the wrong person because they just can't muster the courage to move on and grow as healthy adults?  My daughter now has a powerful precedent.  She separated from her first canine candidate as compassionately as she could, and then went on to find the right permanent canine match for her ('til death do them part, without question).  May that extraordinary lesson stay firmly with her as she now begins to transition into her young womanhood. 

You almost certainly save a dog's life if you choose from a shelter.  If we had been emotionally unable to make the uncomfortable decisions I described above, this perfect foolish red-caped dog would have died.  Maybe we would have found a breeder able to get the temperament call correct on his or her first attempt, but knowing what we know about the euthanasia rates at animal shelters, that would have been a hollow victory for us.  Too hollow to accept as an option. 
Recent neighborhood scratch-a-thon from this post which was tweeted by a well-known journalist and read with amusement by folks all around the whole world. 

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