Monday, January 24, 2011

about my Kip, and if you're thinking of getting a pet

Kipper is turning 3 soon. Seeing her sitting here at my feet, quietly chewing her blue dinosaur, I marvel at how wonderfully she's blossomed since coming to me as a tiny puppy, how she really is such a sweet little dog. Her friendliness overwhelms everyone. She did great at doggy training school. She visits nursing homes. And do you know, she poops and pees once in the morning and once in the evening on a pee tray in the backyard (note: these doggy pee trays are just the bee's knees for people who don't want to wade with their dog through questionable poo-ridden grass at toilet time) -- she opens the door to the backyard herself whenever she needs to go potty -- I mean, man! I couldn't ask for more.

(OK. I must say it again. I am a BIG proponent of the wonderful pee tray. My various old dogs -- all large breeds -- used to poop and pee outdoors, and on paper when it rained. That essentially meant they got their paws gooky on the paper, or gooky outdoors, besides picking up ticks and other nasty things. But smaller breeds like Westies have the advantage of being able to successfully step on and use a pee tray -- yay! The pee goes right through the grating, and it's a breeze to clean up.)

But while I marvel over all that, what I marvel perhaps even more at is how she could have been abused and abandoned to begin with. For she was the sad result of some unethical clown's irresponsible breeding. When she came to me, she was a tiny, sick, malnourished 2-month-old, the most melancholy, subdued puppy I'd ever seen in my life. She had that sort of sad, resigned, quiet maturity one sees in children who have been bullied and beaten down, who have gone through things no child should ever have to experience. She would sit there forlornly, periodically hacking her lungs out. She was very, very timid. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in those early months working on both her health and her temperament.

Well, as anyone who's ever brought a new dog home knows, the first weeks are often challenging, as one deals with all the practicalities of training and so forth. For me, the housetraining was a big challenge -- like many puppies, Kip didn't get the whole toilet-training thing down right off, especially since she'd spent much of her life up to that point in a cage.

And this is where I come to my big point for this post. Having worked in an animal shelter, I've known too many people who give up their dogs because they didn't know what they were getting into, they didn't give the animals the time, love and dedication they need and deserve. I've said it so many times to so many people -- do your research thoroughly before ever bringing an animal home. A
dog can live 14, 15 years -- that's a LONG commitment. Be absolutely sure you can commit to that. Ask yourself what will happen to the dog if you guys move, go on holiday, go abroad to study, to work, get married, have kids. These life decisions must include your canine family member. Remember too, that as your pet ages, he or she will develop health issues that affect all elderly beings, and that will require a lot from you as well.

And for goodness' sakes, neuter your pet!

Again, 15 years is a long commitment -- many people don't even begin to grasp the concept of that when they first pick up a little puppy and fall for those big eyes and lovable face. Really think about whether you honestly have enough time for a dog. For example, you will need PLENTY of time to devote to proper training. If you don't, and the dog becomes a chronic house soiler, barker, furniture destroyer, aggressive biter, etc etc, will you become like those countless owners who get fed up, give up and dump their pet? Training, socialising, grooming, housebreaking and exercising all require a lot of time, dedication and PATIENCE. Because yes, there were weeks of dealing with Kip's inappropriate messes around the house (and her puppy teething) (and her adolescent acting out). But then -- one day -- YES! SHE GOT IT!

Some time back I was given a book called One at a Time -- A Week in an American Animal Shelter by Diane Leigh and Marilee Geyer. This book brought back so many memories and is so heartbreaking; I think every pet owner and potential pet owner should read it. It contains the true stories of animals in a shelter, and they are accompanied by very beautiful, tender photographic portraits.

The book publisher accurately describes it as "the stories of 75 animals who passed through a northern California shelter during one week. Their gripping stories include excerpts from actual shelter records; the words of shelter workers, volunteers, and visitors; and the final conclusion of each animal's journey through the shelter system.

"Look into the eyes of these animals and let their stories give you a riveting and unforgettable glimpse into this nation's homeless animal tragedy. Whether it is the lost dog quickly reunited with his family because he was wearing an ID tag, the frightened cat given up by guardians who didn't understand the commitment of caring for her, the cat facing euthanasia or the dog joyfully adopted into a new home, each animal in One at a Time has an important lesson to teach and a powerful message to share.

One at a Time will help you to see the real faces behind the numbers, and to experience the miracles and heartbreak that play out every day in our nation's shelters... one animal at a time.

Even more importantly, One at a Time will give you hope, because this tragedy can be ended and each one of us can be part of the solution... offering us the chance to become better people, to reawaken our connection with other living beings, and to reaffirm the sanctity of life itself. The animals of One at a Time will show you how."

This book reinforces so strongly the grave importance and long-term implications of neutering, avoiding breeding, properly ID'ing and socialising your pets. But above all, it makes clear how desperately important it is that you commit yourself to your pet for his or her entire lifetime, regardless what happens.

There is one picture of a shelter worker walking with a dog on a leash; it's taken from the back and the way the dog is trotting beside her, she looks like any other doggie happily going for a walk. Except this dog was being led to be euthanised. And the writer described it so well, capturing exactly what I used to feel:

"We have made dogs our most loyal friends, and they live that role, to the very end. And so they go willingly, with trust. They cooperate when the leash is hooked to their collar, and follow obediently on the last walk they will ever take. She didn't know what would happen to her, but she went. Willingly. With trust... a trust betrayed first by the family who lost her, and then again by a society who can do no better than offer this as their answer." Every time I catch even a glimpse of that picture, I feel so sad thinking back on what a common sight it was -- and still is -- every single day.

Please -- adopt, don't buy -- and give an abandoned pet a real chance at a full, happy life.


Dawn said...

Your writing inspires me. I have read this completely. I could not agree with you more about adopting. I probably could not get through the book you recommend about the shelter due to being too sensitive regarding animal issues but I do my part by feeding the strays and trapping to spay and release. I have a feral mama in my garage right now, she had 6 kittens, her third and final litter a couple of months ago that went to the rescue to be adopted. I fed her sons from her first litter yesterday in a parking lot in Phila. I am going to trap them next and have them neutered. Timothy my kitten is from her 2nd litter that I resued in that same parking lot. God has connected me to this wonderful cat family. I love them all. She(mama) is now spayed...thank God. She produced that I know of, 13 kittens in a matter of 2 years. She was a baby making machine. She is tired and resting until she will be released into my yard to be my kitty. If she were friendly, I would keep her but she is not unfortunately. Dawn Suitcase Vignettes


That's really wonderful, Dawn. Your kindness and compassion are such an inspiration -- we need so many more people like you in the world. Neutering strays is also a great way to help with the terrible pet overpopulation problem.


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