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make a homeless dog your dog
i bet you'll say life is better
by jeffrey d. walker

I love my adopted dogs. Every dog I've had was a rescue dog, or some sort of unwanted give-away dog.

This October, the ASPCA "invites you to celebrate the fabulous canine!"; it's Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog month. And so, I'm sharing my dog stories.

First the bad: not every adoption experience was great. I had a beagle with a metal hip who was equally likely to attack or urinate on strangers if startled (or for whatever other reason, frankly). He was pretty loyal to me, but temperamental.

There was another dog who was just so difficult and unsocialized to humans for so long before we met him that we had to take him back. He wanted nothing to do with people or with the indoors. I know others who have had to return an adopted dog because it just didn't fit. Honestly, if dogs and people always co-existed in perfect harmony, there wouldn't be a need for dog shelters.

This is to say, not every dog adoption is a wonderful experience.

Now the good: Dogs can change your life.

My wife and I have two fine mutts, Grover and Lolly.

We adopted Lolly (short for "Lolly-Pup") as an eleven week old puppy back on August 19, 2006. Her mom had a litter in Pennsylvania at a shelter called Angels Grace Toy Dog and Cat Rescue, Inc. *, and we found photos of her and her last brother posted on petfinder.com. Lolly was the last one left when we arrived. When I first picked her up, she tried to lick my face, and then bit my glasses. It was love at first bite.

She's totally adorable even when she's bad, which she can be. Used to be I'd come home from work and play fetch with Lolly for an hour or more, and she'd still bark and howl at me to play more. She was a ball of energy I could hardly handle at the end of a long day.

Enter Grover. We were looking for a playmate for Lolly to help entertain her (and us, too). Introduced to us as "Niles," we found Grover (Short for "Grover Cleveland") on President's Day weekend, 2008 (hence the presidential handle). Grover was a stray we found again on petfinder.com who had been picked up by the Cortland County SPCA in New York. They estimated that he was about a year old. He was within 1/2 a pound of Lolly, and seemed equally energetic. He was also quite lovable.

In fact, Grover was always tremendously excited when we came to visit him pre-adoption, demonstrating so by leaping over five feet straight into the air from a standing position repeatedly after being let out of his kennel.

The second dog strategy was a great success for us. Besides giving Lolly someone to play with, we are usually treated to a few rounds of impromptu dog wrestle mania every evening. Then after tossing about for a while, the two will curl up on the couch together for a nap. Double adorable.

They're more than just cute; Lolly and Grover have changed my daily outlook on life.

In the middle of winter here in the Northeast, some days are harder than others. Days where it's dark right up until the moment you arrive at work in the morning, and then it's dark again by the time you leave. And even when the sun is up it only manages a gray haze. There's a foot of snow covering everything. And though you're exhausted from work already, you have to either get food or make food. And after you eat you feel lazy and fat, such that you only manage to watch like half a t.v. show on hulu before falling asleep on the couch.

On those days, when I can barely stand to wake up, I know that when I get downstairs, Lolly will be adorable, even though she's probably less excited about waking up than me. When I open her crate for the morning walk, Lolly will often roll over onto her back and look at me with a pouty lower lip, as if to say: come on, half an hour longer. She'll usually throw in an exasperated half-groan, half-yawn.

Grover, on the other hand, is always ready to go in the morning. Once he sees you're up, he's poking at the front door of his crate, raring to go. His enthusiasm is always enough to get Lolly going if she's slow to rise.

No matter the weather, the dogs are into it. If there's snow, Lolly plays in it, sometimes taking little bites. Grover bounces in snow like Tigger, poking his head into snow drifts like some furry ostrich. If it's raining, Lolly will walk daintily around the puddles. Grover walks right through puddles, occasionally drinking from them.

For both Grover and Lolly, anything may happen! Perhaps a squirrel to lunge at; perhaps a canine friend to sniff; perhaps a scrap of bagel someone dropped; disgustingly, sometimes perhaps cat poop or dead worms to nibble on.

My friends who recently adopted a new puppy described dogs being eternal optimists, and I believe that's true. This level of enthusiasm does not naturally happen in me. At least not as often as it could or should, and especially not that often in the middle of a cold and dark winter. And for this reason alone, I can't be happier to be Lolly and Grover's puppy-daddy. They've taught me to expect more from the day. A good lesson to get from such cute and fuzzy friends.

Now, don't get me wrong. The fact that a dog (or two dogs) may make your days a little brighter is probably not the best reason to get a dog. If you're hard up, might be counseling is a better option.

But if you were thinking about getting a dog anyway, what I'm talking about here is but one fundamental change I got out of adopting my shelter dogs that I never expected. There was other stuff I expected (and got), but getting added optimism was totally icing on the cake.

There were others changes: We now have several wonderful friends we only met because they also have a dog, and their dog and our dog happened to play together. Usually this happens at our local Dog Park, a place we probably wouldn't be otherwise.

Also, we now make regular trips to many of the local gorges and trails and hiking areas to exercise the dogs. These are places which I likely would have never visited since I'm not much of an outdoors person. But I'm glad, because many of natures wonders are really nice to see, especially when viewed from behind the lead of my two dogs' leaches, like some sort of dogsled-sans-sled.

And none of these benefits to my life would have been possible without Lolly and Grover.

If you're thinking about a dog, I recommend considering fostering and /or adopting from your local animal shelter. What they add to your life can feel almost like looking through the world through new eyes.

* Unfortunately, Angels Grace's website states they closed their dog shelter as of October 31, 2008.


A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

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lucy lediaev
10.21.09 @ 12:55p

Terrific article, Jeffrey!

I've always been more of a cat person, although I also like dogs. I've had wonderful success adopting shelter and giveaway cats. Some have had health problems--Mimi kitten had a prolapsed bowel that had to be repaired the first week I had her, but she turned out to be one of my best feline friends and lived 19 years. Xander was given to me by a cousin--his cat had had a large litter of kittens by the stray Lothario in the neighborhood. In fact, the whole neighborhood had a spate of Russian Blue looking kittens that year. Xander lived 21 years and was Mimi's friend and mentor. Then, there was Katie, a rescue cat who was a stray so long that she liked to go walk about and dumpster diving. She did not live to a great old age; I attribute it to her hard life as a stray. Finally, I now have Boris and Natasha--half Siamese and wonderful loving kitties--who make us laugh constantly and keep our feet warm in the winter. They were giveaway kitties--again from someone whose lovely Siamese cat had made "friends" with a local Romeo.

So, please, if you are thinking of a fuzzy pet of any kind, check the SPCA and the city shelters. They even have house rabbits from time to time. And, you'll end up with one or more of the best friends of your life.


tracey kelley
10.21.09 @ 11:52p


I volunteer at PetSmart in the kitty adoption center, and I have to say: people, open your hearts to these lost and abandoned creatures. Dogs and cats don't deserve the bad that's happened to them, but will always trust again and love again and be faithful companions. Don't let their shy or skittish ways deter you - show them love, and they'll give it back to you tenfold.

It's a damn good thing my husband is horribly allergic to most fuzzy creatures, or I'd pick up every stray I found.

lucy lediaev
10.22.09 @ 1:22p

When I retire in a few months, I'm going to add a puppy to the household. My significant other and I are having a very serious discussion--he wants a purebred dog and I want to adopt a shelter dog. I'm keeping quiet for now, but I think I will just have to locate the perfect shelter dog and my SO fall in love.

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