Tag Archives: shelter stories

Shelter Stories

The man is clearly very sad to be leaving his dog at the shelter.  He is also clearly deaf.  His hearing friend and companion is comforting him with hand signs and hugs as he says goodbye to the little female long-haired Chihuahua, whose big, frightened eyes never leave his face.

His companion is filling out paperwork, explaining to the shelter personnel that they are moving, somewhere the dog is not welcome.  The dog is terrified, trying to hide behind the legs of both men, enclosed in an eerie circle of caged, staring shelter cats and their flat, yellow-eyed welcome.  The leash encloses legs like a hungry snake.

The deaf man catches the dog’s attention, leans down, and carefully makes a very clear signal several times with his hands.  The dog stares at him uncomprehendingly, but with every line of her body desperate to know what he wants.  Signal.  Signal.  Signal.  The dog vibrates with urgency.  What does he want??!?

She can’t obey him.  She doesn’t understand him.  He stops signaling — her desperation to understand him has at least stopped her getting underfoot.

His companion finishes the paperwork.  They lift the dog and hand her to a shelter worker, who gives her a sympathetic squeeze as she trembles.  The men start for the door, then the deaf man abruptly turns and gesticulates, mixed gesture-and-speech.  “She doesn’t….”

The shelter worker tries, but her look mirrors the dog’s.  “I’m sorry?”

Paper, a pen, a practiced search.  In big, careful letters, he writes: SHE DOESNT LIKE BISKTS on a post-it note.  He draws a little cartoon bone beneath: she does not like dog biscuits.  The shelter worker nods solemnly, points at the bone and shakes her head.  No biscuits.

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Shelter Stories

When I got married, my mother congratulated me: “Now you’ll have a spouse to get you out of any situation.  ‘Sorry, I can’t view your vacation photos, Vicar — the wife needs me at home.’  ‘Can’t make it to your dog’s birthday party, Helen — the husband needs me to run some errands.'”

It turns out that having a spouse is a wonderful excuse everywhere.

I: “My wife just went to jail.  This is her dog — I just don’t have time for it.”  The Lhasa Apso and her four three-week-old puppies arrive in the footwell of a large and expensive pickup truck, driven by a man who cannot spell “Lhasa Apso”.  A gap-toothed three-year-old grins innocently as a worker fishes the puzzled, tense dog and her brood out of the truck.  Driver and son don’t even follow the dog indoors, filling out the paperwork from the cab of the truck and driving swiftly off.

II: “I don’t know — she told me to bring it in, so I did.”  The miniature Schnauzer is six months old, freshly groomed, terrified, and self defensive.  “Dad” carries him under one arm like a football, shrugging one shoulder, gesturing with the dog.  A shelter worker cautiously drops a slip lead over the growling dog’s head, makes careful friends, and carries him away.  In the cage, wearing his expensive collar and tags, he will continue to growl, with huge, wide eyes.  Dad doesn’t see this.  He fills out the paperwork and walks away.  He tosses “Poor puppy,” into the air, a parting gift as he strolls out the door, getting on with his day.

Shelter Stories III

“He’s a Boxer, chocolate, with white spots, about this big, and wearing a red harness,” the man says, gesturing with his hands.  “Haven’t seen him since Wednesday.”

The shelter worker sympathizes, but there are no dogs fitting that description here.  “Where did he get lost?” she asks, starting to fill out a “lost dog” report.

“Well, every day I keep him out on a chain, and when I get home in the evening I let him off, and he just has the run of the neighborhood, you know?  He always comes back.  Everybody knows him.  So anyway, on Wednesday I get home, and I let him off, and off he goes as usual, right?  Except this time he didn’t come back.  And he didn’t come back Thursday, and he didn’t come back Friday.  I just don’t know what could have happened.”

“How old is he?” asks the worker.

“About a year.”

Shelter Stories II

“It’s time to give her up for adoption,” says Mom.  The dog is a smiling, amazingly obese Basset, drooping, bemused, her tail gently wagging.

“She just doesn’t like my grandchild.  She’s snapped at him a few times.  And he just wants to hug her and love on her — we just can’t take the chance that something will happen.”  Mom finds tears in her eyes, fishes for a tissue.  “We have two other dogs — they’re fine.  It’s just her.  She’s just not good with small kids — he’s two.  And he’s staying with us now, there’s nothing we can do.

“She’s my baby — but he’s my baby.  I don’t want to give her up…”

Wag, wag, wag.  The dog’s nails are long and untrimmed, and she is wider than she is tall, but she is smiling, smiling.  Dad hands the leash to a shelter volunteer.  Out the door they go, one last glance back, and as the departing car goes past the front door the dog pushes her face against the glass, puzzled.

A mother with two small children and another imminent comes in, reluctantly giving up a kitten for which she simply has no time.  The kids, aged around four and five, spot the recently surrendered dog and come wiggling over.  They sit in front of her, pelt her face with their hands, giggle and squeal, marvel at her shortness and wideness.  The volunteer holding the dog’s leash keeps a wary eye on her face, watching for the slightest sign of tension, the merest inclination to snap.

Wag, wag, wag.

The dog stands patiently, gives and accepts kisses, and her smiling expression never changes, although her eyes stray to the door.

Shelter Stories I

Cairn terrier in shelter cageNearly thirteen years have passed since you were a puppy, and now you are old, mostly blind, and mostly deaf, doddery and pleasant, ready to lie about the house providing doggie ambiance, and retire in a sunbeam.

Today, Mom and Dad put you in the car, and they took you to a strange room full of nervous animals.  Your tail wagged for everyone, even the cats, and the strange humans in the room.  Then someone walked you away from Mom and Dad, picked you up, and put you in a small metal box with a wire front.

Mom and Dad didn’t come back for you.

Since you are old, you will likely not be adopted.  Who wants to adopt an old, blind, deaf dog?  Should you be allowed to compete for scarce adoptive homes against all the young dogs who are also looking for homes?  Would being adopted even be good for you — suddenly moving, after thirteen years, to a new, scary place you can neither properly see or hear?  What is the humane choice for you?*

And what do we say to Mom and Dad, who just dropped you off at the shelter when you got old?  If we make them feel bad about this decision, they will not even bother to bring their next old, blind dog to the shelter for humane euthanasia — they will just open their front door and let the dog walk out, and he or she will become someone else’s problem.  Maybe that dog will make it to a shelter.  Maybe they’ll meet up with a bigger dog, or some angry kids, or the underside of a truck.  Is it better for you that we can at least give you a quiet exit, and treats before you go?

This story repeats itself every day.  I saw it happen yesterday, but it happened again today at a shelter in your town, and it will happen again tomorrow.  The only way to stop this story happening is to work to create people who don’t think it’s appropriate behavior to drop a family member off at the shelter so someone else has to deal with its aging and death.  The first step in that process is spreading the word that this is even happening.


*Note: Here’s a shelter which offers humane euthanasia for older or sick pets as a free service.  I feel this is a good service shelters should not be ashamed to offer, and which people who do not have the $75-100 or so it can cost to euthanize a pet should not be ashamed of using.  I vastly prefer this option to the “let’s let it suffer until it dies on its own” approach.