6 types of people who shouldn’t get dogs

Being friends

Pyrrha and our friend.

In all of my reading and all of my hours spent volunteering at the SPCA, I think one of the main lessons I’ve learned about dogs is this: Many people should not get a dog.

That sounds like an extreme statement. Let me qualify it.

The more I learn about dogs, the more I take them seriously. I used to think dogs were easy pets to have. Just grab a puppy anywhere, bring it home, and it’s your best friend for life! Turns out it’s not that simple. Dogs are complex animals who require a great deal of love, attention, and training. Temple Grandin’s book Animals Make Us Human even made me seriously question whether I should get a dog. Her recommendations for dog ownership are somewhat extreme in this modern age. Grandin seems to wish that all dogs could roam free around the neighborhood, like they used to do a few decades ago. Otherwise, she asserts, dogs are not enjoying a joyful life as they are locked up in a crate for 12 hours a day. She has a point.

A cultural misunderstanding of a dog’s complexity is why we have so many truly incredible dogs waiting in the emotional wastelands of our shelters and humane societies. Granted, the shelters are doing the best job they can with the resources that they have–but not even the best shelter can provide a dog with all of its emotional needs. Only a human family can do that.

But what kind of human family should get a dog?

It’s a difficult question to answer, and clearly, everyone has to make that decision for themselves, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m always dismayed by the number of people I meet who seem fundamentally unsuited to caring for a dog–the people who abandon that briefly loved dog a few months later. I probably see a disproportionate number of these people because I’m a part-time shelter volunteer, but I still think it’s an important issue to address.

It always breaks my heart when I hear about people giving up their dogs. I understand that, in this economic climate, many people can no longer handle the financial burden of a dog (or cat, or gerbil, or what have you). In this respect, it is wise to give up one’s dog to someone who may be better equipped to care for him. However, I am generally appalled by the pet ads on Craigslist from people who are abandoning their animals. These are common excuses that I see:

  • “We don’t have room in our apartment anymore for our Great Pyrenees.” No, duh. Maybe you should have considered that before you brought that white fluff ball home. That sweet, cuddly pup that looks like a stuffed animal is going to turn into a 130-pound yeti in a matter of weeks.
  • “We have to get rid of our dog because I’m allergic.” I understand that some people may not know they’re allergic to dogs before they bring them home, but test this one out a bit. Ever stayed at someone’s house and felt congested from their pet’s dander? Maybe dog ownership is not for you. Spend some quality time with some dogs before you commit to bringing one home.
  • “The puppy is nipping at my children.” Yep. That’s what puppies do.
  • “We’re moving and so we have to get rid of our dog.” I understand that there may be extenuating economic circumstances, but in general, I think it’s cruel to abandon your dog because you’re moving. I myself wouldn’t dream of moving into a place that wouldn’t allow me to bring my dog with me.
  • Or, the most infuriating: “We just don’t have time for her anymore.”

Frustrating Craigslist posts aside, here’s my amateur’s vision of the types of people who shouldn’t get dogs:

  1. People with young children who want a dog–or worse, a puppy–to be a playmate/guardian for their children. These people really make me the most anxious. I see them come into the shelter with their little kids and ask if we have any puppies available. My guard goes up instantly. There is nothing wrong with getting a dog so your kids can enjoy canine companionship. However, many young parents seem to underestimate the commitment that a puppy demands. It’s kind of like having an infant all over again. And your kids are not going to raise and train that dog for you, no matter how much they beg and plead (trust me. I was that kid once! My mom was the primary caretaker for our dog, and she wasn’t really keen on having that job in the first place). Parents buy a puppy for their kids and then realize a week later, “Oh, crap. This creature needs a lot of attention that I’m not willing or able to give it.” And the dog or the puppy ends up at the shelter, confused and bewildered.
  2. People who travel a lot for work or are never home. A dog will not have a high-quality life if she lives the majority of it in a crate. Dogs are social animals. They need our daily companionship and interaction.
  3. People who don’t have a clue about a dog’s emotional, physical, and mental needs.
  4. People who won’t take the time to train their dog or think that training is “cruel” or somehow makes the dog less happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. A well-trained dog is a happy dog, because she knows where she belongs in the family order. A well-trained dog is mentally balanced, content, and a respectable member of society.
  5. People who will neglect the physical health of their dog. The more reading I do about dog food, the more I am appalled at what we’ve been feeding our pets.
  6. People who won’t spay or neuter their dogs because they think it’s unkind or depriving. Unless your full-time job is a reputable breeder, please, please spay and neuter your dog. The world is filled with unwanted dogs who are the result of irresponsible humans. I see their sweet faces every day at the shelter. Think of them before you hesitate to spay or neuter.

I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental or cynical, even though it probably does. This post stems from my deep wish that people took dog adoption more seriously. I think dogs in America would be so much better off if their humans took the time to do a little more research. I’m always very encouraged when I do meet other dog owners–like many of the incredible dog bloggers that I link to on my site (on the right sidebar)–who understand, even better than I do, the tremendous commitment we must make to our dogs. I hope I will carefully and judiciously consider all of these elements before my husband and I bring a dog into our home. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. And that’s the main thing I’ve learned.

How about you? What kind of people make the best dog owners, in your opinion?

The unconditional love of dogs

Elizabeth

On Friday, I volunteered for the Charlottesville SPCA during an adoption promotion event on the downtown pedestrian mall. It was the 35th anniversary of the mall’s creation and the streets were packed with people. I was helping walk dogs (including Elizabeth, featured above), handle kittens, and talk to people about adoption.

When I got there, I was feeling kind of uneasy about my role as a volunteer. My husband walked me over there and as we walked, he mentioned that one of our mutual friends harbors some disdain toward me for my dog obsession (OK, that’s fine; it is a bit out of control) and for being a volunteer at the SPCA. This person thinks that pets are frivolous and unnecessary and that people should never own domesticated animals. Accordingly, this person believes that it is silly and wasteful for me to give my time to dogs at the SPCA.

Naturally, I disagree, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty as I went over there. Should I be volunteering at the homeless shelter instead? Serving food at the soup kitchen? I do believe that people are more valuable than animals, but I’ve never felt called to work with the homeless. I don’t think I’m gifted in that kind of ministry. Thankfully, there are many people around here who are capable and motivated to work with the many homeless people in our community. I’m just not one of them.

Somewhat troubled in spirit, I arrived at the SPCA’s table and was handed the leash of a large, placid lab/hound named Thurgood (not pictured, because I think he was adopted this weekend!). Our area was mobbed with people, especially parents with children. Animals act like magnets to most kids. The cat pen was packed with little kids who were squeezing kittens and the three dogs that we handled were constantly being hugged, petted, and ambushed. Thankfully, the shelter staff made a good choice by bringing Thurgood and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a senior hound who is extremely patient and slow-moving; she’s friendly to everyone, especially those who smell like food. Thurgood is a youngish, steady lab/hound mix and I worked primarily with him for a few hours. He was stubborn, but very gentle and submitted to the attentions of every type of person who rushed up to him.

The dogs were showing signs of exhaustion and stress–especially the third dog, Benny, who was unable to cope with the crowds and had to be walked away from everything–but they never showed signs of irritation or aggression. This alone taught me a lot about patience. I think I would have snapped at someone if I had armies of squealing children sticking their fingers in my eyes and mouth. But the dogs took it all in stride.

One of the biggest lessons the dogs taught me that day was about unconditional love. As I’ve already mentioned, our table was very popular with all of the children on the mall that day. But I also noticed that we drew a steady crowd of homeless and mentally handicapped adults. These people were more or less ignored by the other booths. It was assumed that they weren’t capable of supporting any of the neighboring causes or even carrying on a rational conversation about a business or a fundraising campaign. Other people would just look right past them when they approached, as if they weren’t there at all. No one paid them any attention. Except for the dogs.

The dogs treated them like everybody else. These socially marginalized people found attention, respect, and love from these animals, who did not discriminate against them based on their appearance, mental ability, or class. I will particularly remember a mentally handicapped woman who stayed at our table for almost half an hour. She kept stroking Thurgood’s head over and over, bending down to hug his neck, and kept excitedly saying to me, “Look, he likes me! Look how much he likes me!” I reassured her that he did like her. Because dogs don’t lie.

If I ever had to give an answer as to why I love dogs, I’d tell this story. The unconditional love of dogs is one of the primary reasons why they matter. It’s the motivating reason why I think we should do everything in our power to give these homeless dogs the best life possible. They have done so much for us and we have done so little for them. Just watch a dog lavish love on a complete stranger. I think that should be proof enough that dogs are valuable.

A dog’s bill of rights

A majestic collie. Source: Flickr, user KerrieT

Anthrozoologist John Bradshaw, author of the new book Dog Sense, recently posted a thought-provoking “Bill of Rights for Dogs” on The Bark blog. I quite enjoyed reading it this afternoon.

Bradshaw joins the likes of Patricia McConnell, Temple Grandin, and Alexandra Horowitz, who are actively promoting their important research on the relatively new science of canine behavior and psychology.

Much of what we are learning about dogs is that they are far more intelligent and attuned to the human world than we previously thought. Many widely perpetuated myths about dogs are also being broken down, like the repeated assertion by people like Elizabeth Marshall Thomas that we should think of and treat our dogs as wolves.

Bradshaw has this to say on the topic:

Wolves, which have generally been portrayed as vicious animals, constantly striving for dominance over every other member of their own kind, have been held up as the only credible model for understanding the behavior of dogs. This supposition leads inevitably to the misconception that every dog is constantly trying to control its owner—unless its owner is relentless in keeping it in check. The conflation of dog and wolf behavior is still widely promoted in books and on television programs, but recent research on both dogs and wolves has shown not only that it is simply unfounded but also that dogs who do come into conflict with their owners are usually motivated by anxiety, not a surfeit of ambition. Since this fundamental misunderstanding has crept into almost every theory of dog behavior, it will be the first to be addressed in this book.

Like this debunking of the wolf construct, I presume that these canine Bill of Rights emphasize some of these key points from Bradshaw’s book. I found them interesting and encouraging. Here are a few of the points that I particularly liked:

2.          We assert the right to have our perceptions of the world taken into account, especially where our senses are superior to yours.

I think this is a fascinating assertion, especially for its wording. I often forget how much keener a dog’s sense of smell and sound are than mine. As an example of this, I was once walking Bo and we were working on heeling on the downtown mall. I had left a small liver treat in my closed left hand and had forgotten it was there. Bo, however, clearly had not. A few minutes later, he startled me by biting at my fingers. I recoiled and was about to reprimand him when I remembered that he was simply wondering what I was doing, constantly waving that camouflaged treat in front of his highly sensitive nose. “Is this for me?” I can only imagine him thinking. “You keep waving it in front of me while you walk. I assume it’s for me. That’s usually where the food comes from.”

This assertion helps me remember one of the primary things I’ve learned about dogs this year: If a dog does something “wrong,” it’s MY fault for not properly training or guiding him. Which leads me into the next point…

6.          Our language is rich and sophisticated. We assert the right to be comprehended, in the same way that we attempt to comprehend you.

The best books I’ve read about dogs have been ones that emphasize new research on canine communication and behavior. I enjoyed every minute of the books by McConnell, Grandin, and Horowitz, and I look forward to reading more from these three eloquent and respected scientists. I learned so much about the basic ways that dogs communicate with each other and with humans and I feel like this new knowledge has dramatically improved the way that I interact with dogs.

Having acquired this knowledge only makes me wish more dog owners had read these books. I cringe when I see people shouting at dogs for something the dog did an hour ago. I heard a shaken shelter volunteer complain about a shepherd mix named Shakespeare who had attacked another dog that she was walking past him. Half an hour later, she walked by the run where Shakespeare was kept and stood there and yelled at him for what he did. “Bad dog! You’re a very BAD dog, Shakespeare!” The poor dog cowered, totally confused as to why this human was verbally attacking him out of the blue. I feel sorry for the dogs whose people get frustrated because the dog can’t understand their babbling, confusing commands (“Here boy, hey, Max, come here, Max, no, over here, Max, sit. Max! Stay. Why aren’t you paying attention to me? Max, bad dog…”) My heart sinks when I hear people talking about jerking their dogs around or wrestling them to the floor to “show them who’s boss” and establish “pack leader dominance.” It makes me want to carry around copies of The Other End of the Leash and Inside of a Dog to give to every dog owner I meet on the street.

9.          We are individuals, each dog with its own personality. We therefore assert the right to be judged on our own merits, and not according to the reputation of breed or type.

The distinct personalities of dogs are one of the features that make them so deeply appealing to me. Like people, no two dogs are exactly alike. Yet we forget this from time to time. I even admit that I’m prone to stereotyping dogs based on their breeds. Volunteering at the SPCA has taught me a lot about this particular point. For example, I’ve worked with some extremely gentle pit bulls and some fearful, snappish hounds. I’ve met beagles who are unusually attentive to people (instead of SMELLS, smells, OMG, smells!). Every dog is different. They all have their quirks.

Understanding this helps wean me off my specific breed biases. I loved our Aussie Emma, but that doesn’t mean that I will love all Australian shepherds. I’ve met some Aussies that are nightmarish. The reason my husband wants a German shepherd is because he fell in love with a wonderful one in Ireland named Reuben. Reuben was an exceptional dog, but that doesn’t mean that all GSDs are going to be exactly like him. They may share some fundamental GSD traits, but their personalities will be very different.

I like to think that there’s a dog out there for me, whether a puppy who hasn’t been born yet or a young dog who is being regrettably shuffled from place to place. I hope I will do him or her justice, respecting these rights of dogkind. Clearly, I can’t wait.

What I learned this week

Fernando. I'm kind of in love with him.

This was my weekend at the shelter. The weather was very pleasant for walking and the dogs were especially eager to get outside and stay outside.

I fell in love with Fernando, pictured above. Of all the dogs I’ve met at the SPCA so far, he’s the first one that I would unquestionably have taken home if I had been able to. The picture does not do him justice. He’s tall and graceful and absolutely beautiful in person. I don’t even know where I’d start in guessing what he’s mixed with. The shelter description says he’s an Irish wolfhound mix, but I find that highly unlikely. It’s not like there are a ton of Irish wolfhounds running loose around here impregnating strays. I would guess he has some setter in him, from the freckling on his back and legs, but he looks like he has some shepherd, too. What would you guess?

He’s quite young and was dropped off at the shelter a couple of weeks ago with his brother, Alejandro. Alejandro was adopted a few days ago, and I can only imagine that Fernando will be picked up soon himself. I should be happy for him. Instead, I’m just extremely jealous of his future owners.

From my half hour with him, I’ve decided that he might be the perfect dog. All of the other shelter staff also commented on how wonderful he was and how they too wanted to take him home. His temperament is absolutely golden. He’s lively and sweet and so attentive to people. Even though he is still very young, he walks beautifully on the leash and doesn’t tug at all. He’s also very smart and communicative. If I paused for just a second when we were passing through a door, he’d wait and then paw at it and look up at me, as if to say, “Um, you need to open this now, please.” Killed me.

I wish I could adopt him today. If I could, I would seriously leave work right now and go over there and get him. He’s just the kind of dog I want one day. I’m trying not to be bitter about this. See how hard I am trying?

All the best to you, Fernando. I hope you will find a home with people who are worthy of you.

Meeting Fernando gives me a lot of hope of finding an exceptional dog at the shelter. I’d been waffling a lot in the purebred camp lately, but now I’m feeling like I will probably adopt a dog instead. Even though it feels like betrayal, I’m wondering if an Australian shepherd would be a bad choice for us right now. I know first-hand what high maintenance dogs they are. And after all, I’m realizing that breed doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is temperament. And I want a dog with a temperament just like Fernando’s. Sigh.

Here are some other sweet, adoptable boys I spent time with this weekend:

Phantom.

Phantom, like most of the shelter dogs, is highly reactive. He jumps and barks up a storm as soon as you pass by his kennel. When I walked in to his kennel to take him out on Saturday morning, he excitedly mauled me and left me with very painful red welts down my left arm. Even though it hurt terribly and started to bleed, I had to remind myself not to be angry at him–even though that’s your first human reaction when a dog hurts you. Phantom wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me; he was trying to show me how THRILLED he was that I’d decided to walk him.

Once we did get outside, he was great and not as bad as I thought he’d be on the leash. I could tell he had a lot of pent-up energy, so I took him to the fenced enclosure with the agility jumps and tunnels. He wasn’t interested in retrieving or jumping, so I walked around with him and had him sit for a treat. He delicately took it out of my hand and then walked over to a far corner of the lot, placed the treat on the ground, and began to bury it. While funny, this action also broke my heart a little bit. Phantom was clearly anxious that he might not get a treat again and so he would bury this one for safekeeping in case he was to return. Heart warmed, when he returned to me, I gave him another treat, which he happily ate right there.

Max.

I think it takes a dog of an exceptionally noble nature to remain calm while living in the stressful shelter environment. Max is one of those noble natures. He looks like an older dog because of his graying muzzle, but his mobility and temperament seem to fit a young adult. He walks very well on the leash–a gift to the tired shelter volunteer whose arm has been repeatedly yanked out of its socket. Max has a spring in his step and wisdom in his eyes. He will make a wonderful dog for someone very soon, I hope.

I will be volunteering again with the SPCA on Friday. There will be an adoption event on the downtown mall and I’m looking forward to seeing some of these deserving dogs find homes.

Pup links and a soapbox

A Kennel of Dogs print, by Woop Studios. Source: Design Sponge

Studying Kids and Pet Allergies. This is a confirming study–apparently, if you’re born into a home with dogs, you’re less likely to develop a pet dander allergy later in life. (The Bark blog)

Custom Dog Stamps by Kozue. I love stamps, woodcuts, and dogs. So, I guess I need one of these stamps. (Dog Milk)

Siro Twist Pet Bed. This bed is so attractive and designer-friendly. Too bad it’s $460. Because you know if you bought your dog a $460 bed, he’d never sleep in it and prefer the pile of old towels by the back door. (Pawesome)

Holy Imprinting! Imprinting is always totally adorable. Especially when it involves a Pembroke Welsh corgi and two yellow ducklings. (Cute Overload)

Not Enough Time. I would just like to add my rousing agreement to this post from the Inu-Baka blog–and step up on a brief soapbox. I am always astounded by people who bring dogs into their lives with seemingly little thought to how much time dogs need and deserve. Clearly, as the writer here points out, you can have a full-time job AND be a great dog owner. If you say that your full-time job keeps you from caring for your dog, you don’t care enough about your dog. And you should never have gotten a dog in the first place. For anything that we prioritize in our lives, we will make time for it. I make time for my husband because he matters to me. I make time to read because I love to read. I will make time for my dog because I will love my dog and want what’s best for him.

I once heard a new dog owner talk about how dogs were so much better than children because “unlike kids, you can leave a dog in a crate for 12 hours and it’ll be fine.” I think my mouth fell open. No, that dog will NOT be fine! This is borderline animal abuse. And yet so many people think this is an acceptable way to “live” with a dog.

I always get a little nervous when people come into the SPCA looking for dogs as “companions” for their young children. I feel like many parents believe that dogs come pre-programmed to be a child’s best friend. Nothing could be further from the truth. The great “Lassie”-like dogs you see are great because of extensive training, attention, and care. So many people adopt cute puppies for their kids and then, less than a year later, those same puppies are back in the shelter–confused and abandoned–because people were totally clueless about how much attention and time a puppy needs.

Judge your schedule very carefully before bringing a dog into your home. This is something I tell other people and I tell myself regularly. Adopting a dog is not a carefree or temporary commitment. Don’t get a dog if you will abandon it a year later. Dogs deserve better.

Pup links!

Matching your outfit to your dog? Awesome. Source: Miss Moss

Dog-related links that interested me on the Web this week…

All Exercise Is Equal, But Is Some More Equal than Others? Patricia McConnell, who has quickly become one of my favorites in the dog book world, reflects on the different types of exercise that we provide for our dogs and how some expeditions are more beneficial than others. Worth a look! (The Other End of the Leash)

In Defense of (Some) Breeders. As an SPCA volunteer and a part-time purebred aficionado, I have a lot of inner turmoil. There are plenty of dogs in the world; we don’t really need to breed more–and yet, I admit that I want a purebred Aussie puppy. I feel guilty about this. But this thoughtful and carefully expressed article allayed some of my anxieties. If you’re caught in this dilemma, I recommend this essay. (Pawcurious Vet Blog)

Goodnight, Sweet Blue. A sad post about a fostered pit bull who had to be euthanized; thoughtful and moving. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Neighborhood Watch. Our wedding photographer’s handsome lab Orvis keeps an eye on the neighborhood. (And Unlimited)

AKC Welcomes Three New Breeds. Meet the American English coonhound, the Finnish lapphund, and the Cesky terrier! (Ohmidog)

Balls Are Overrated. Indeed! Cheeky ad campaign to urge people to neuter their dogs. (Under the Blanket)

It Literally Sucks. It’s the simple things in life, corgi. It’s the simple things. (Pawesome)

Sparks. We’re going to take portrait photos like this one day. You betcha. (Awkward Family Pet Photos)

Trick Video Reveals Happy Dog. This dog blew my mind. And its trainer, whoever he or she may be! This makes me really happy and really impressed. (The Bark Blog)

Pup links!

Grace Kelly and an equally glamorous poodle. Source: B for Bonnie

Dog-related things that have interested me on the Web this week…

Can Virginia Be a No-Kill State? My local SPCA, where I volunteer, was featured in the Virginia Dog magazine for its inspiring work in establishing a no-kill shelter. (SPCA Community Blog)

Safe Harbor Prison Dogs. I think programs like this one are just incredible. Safe Harbor sends 100 dogs from high-kill shelters to the inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility, where the inmates train and care for the dogs. What a wonderful idea for rehabilitation for man and dog. These photo portraits of the pairs are very moving. (Dog Milk)

Find and a Dog Who Looks Just Like You! Doggelganger. I haven’t tried this yet, but this sounds hilarious. (Pawesome)

Look Alikes! In a similar vein, do you think these people look like their dogs? Or are they just skilled at imitating canine body language? (Pawsh Magazine)

DIY $5 Rope Dog Leash. Remember that really expensive rope leash I fell in love with? Ammo’s mama shows you how to make one for $5. Sweet! Will be trying this. (Ammo the Dachshund)

A Skill that Could Save Your Dog’s Life: Leave It. A dog trainer explains how to teach this important command. (Dog Training Secret)

Jonathan Adler Dog Collars and Leashes. Posh! (A.G. Out Loud)

Going Camping. My dad loved bringing Emma on our family camping trips, and I think Emma loved coming along, too. This post certainly made me antsy to go camping with my own future pooch. (Miles to Style)

Morning on the Hill. These are such deep, lovely photographs of a quiet morning with a Great Pyrenees. S/he looks so loving and gentle. (La Porte Rouge)

Also, I’m officially a member of the Pet Blog Directory!

What I learned this week

Some of the pretty (and adoptable!) faces I spent time with this weekend:

Penny

Sassy

Vivian

I spent about 8 hours this weekend at the shelter and my body is TIRED. I have so much respect for the full-time staff at our SPCA; they work really, really hard every day. I got home and I was so worn out. But I had a great time.

Some thoughts about what I learned over my two days with the lovely dogs at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA:

  • Penny and hyperactivity. Penny (see above) is a dog that most volunteers don’t enjoy walking. She can launch herself above your head and is packed full of energy. The second you open her kennel door, she throws herself against your body and starts nipping at every inch of you. She’ll bite your thigh, your fingers, your jacket, anything she can get her mouth on. I quickly realized that none of this nipping and biting stemmed from aggression; it was simply overwhelming excitement. Penny is the kind of dog who probably speaks exclusively in multiple exclamation points and all caps. “OH MAN, SOMEONE IS TAKING ME OUT!! I CAN’T WAIT!! I CAN’T WAIT! MUST BITE SOMETHING!! MUST JUMP SIX FEET IN AIR!” She is stressful. But once she’s finally outside and she’s calmed down a bit, she’s quite sweet. It’s not great to live your life in a kennel. Penny’s hyperactivity is certainly aggravated by her lifestyle at the shelter. But when you have 70 dogs in one building, kenneling is the most reasonable option; there is no other alternative. I hope Penny will find a home soon. I believe, with the right person and the right channel for her boundless energy, she would be a great dog. She sits perfectly on command. She’ll even sit beside you for 10 full minutes and just let you pet her–but only after she’s torn around the fenced in enclosure for a while.
  • Balking. I encountered a sweet little dog this weekend who gave me some challenges. Abe (not pictured) is a darling border collie-spaniel-corgi mix. He looks like a shrunken border collie or a miniature flat-coated retriever and he is just precious. He was very shy when we got him out of the kennel, but as soon as we were outside, he perked right up and was wagging his tail all over the place, delighted to crawl up into my lap and smile at me. Suffice it to say, I quickly fell in love. And yet Abe was very difficult. He was perfect on the walk, but as soon as we approached the door to return to the kennels, he stopped dead in his tracks. He began to whine and refused to budge a step further. I was able to lure him down the hill with some liver treats, but he soon figured out my strategy and stopped responding to them altogether. A more seasoned volunteer saw that I was struggling with him and came over to help me. She also tried luring him to the door, but he wasn’t having any of it. We finally decided that we were just going to have to carry him inside. Thankfully, Abe is only 30 pounds or so. I couldn’t help but wonder what we would have done if he had been any bigger! I don’t know why dogs occasionally balk when they’re on leash, but I’ve encountered my fair share of dogs that do (usually smaller ones and often terriers). With Abe, I think it was a combination of fear. With other dogs, it’s usually pure stubbornness. Have you ever encountered a dog who balks? Any advice?
  • Sassy. Sassy (see above) is a new dog at the shelter. That’s not a great picture of her, because she’s actually very regal and lovely; she looks like a German shepherd-Siberian husky mix and looks a lot like a wolf-dog when she’s stalking around in the woods. Sassy, despite her unfortunate name, is actually quite shy. I really enjoyed my walk with her because she’s unbelievably good on the leash. Sassy is extremely attentive to humans and despite displaying some potentially troublesome fear issues, she seems very intelligent and highly trainable. I hope she will go to a good home soon; I was half-tempted to sneak her into our tiny apartment myself…
  • Vivian and joy. Vivian (see above) was the last dog I walked on Sunday afternoon. She’s a slender and graceful fawn-and-white pit bull and she’s always smiling. Vivian is also shy, frightened of hands and loud noises, and she moves like a stray dog–slinking down to the ground, always attentive, always watching. Vivian is extremely attracted to other dogs and so it was somewhat difficult to get her out to the trails, since she was constantly leaping and launching herself at every dog nearby. I could tell she had a lot of pent-up energy, so I took her to one of the many fenced-in enclosures on the SPCA property. As soon as I snapped her leash off, she started tearing around in circles around the perimeter of the fence, mouth open in a huge grin, having the best time. It made me really happy. I think that’s what brings me the most joy from my time at the SPCA: Getting to see dogs act like dogs. I was delighted to spend time with the effervescent Vivian; she made me remember why I was there in the first place.

That’s what I learned this week. Can’t wait to go back soon!

First day as a shelter volunteer

On my first day as a volunteer dog walker for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, I learned that:

  • The people who work here are doing their utmost to care for these many homeless animals.
  • Sometimes, the dog you’re walking doesn’t want to run around. Sometimes they just want to sit beside you and be stroked.
  • Hounds can retrieve quite well. I bonded most with Oliver, a small and young hound mix, who was adorable and played fetch with me and then chased me around the pen, play-bowing the whole time. Stole my heart.
  • The pit bull I walked had the sweetest and quietest demeanor of all the dogs I interacted with.
  • Dogs become highly reactive when in the presence of dozens of other agitated, barking dogs.
  • I can’t wait to go back next weekend!