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Happy Tails: The Right Dog
October 5, 2009 - Dorian Gossy
Ever wondered how people end up with their dogs or cats? There’s all kinds of advice about it. When I went looking for Harley, though, my 3-year-old hound mix, I couldn’t tell my friends what kind of a dog I wanted when they asked. “I want the right dog,” was all I had to say.
I know people who have picked their pets because they had prettily colored fur, or were a certain desirable size. I have a friend who’d always wanted to own a Jack Russell terrier, so she rescued a very peppy and very funny little guy who can wiggle and lick you so fast he reminds me of a hummingbird. Sometimes pets pick you. Another friend found a pregnant dog abandoned on a country road and took her home out of compassion—and got seven puppies out of it. My parents got the marvelously calm and patient golden retriever-collie mix of my childhood from friends who found him abandoned as a six-week-old puppy at the Salton Sea in Southern California. He was named Salty in honor of his rescue.
And then there’s my Harley, had by none of these methods. My husband, Roger, and I used to travel a lot, so I hadn’t had a dog or any pet in twenty years. But just over four years ago, I had breast cancer and went through surgery, chemo, radiation, and thereby that first real intimation of mortality that we all eventually get at some point. A year and a half later, vigilant doctors wanted to take out my ovaries, which were apparently growing odd-looking cysts. In a gloomy frame of mind, I decided to heck with traveling—I needed a dog in my life again, and with all this scary health care, I didn’t feel like waiting anymore. So off we went to the SPCA shelter in Bloomington, Indiana, where we met nice dogs, sad dogs, hyper dogs, and barking dogs all clamoring for our attention as we walked the rows of cages.
I know everyone thinks this process is depressing, but it wasn’t at all. The shelter was immaculate, the staff incredibly friendly, and the dogs we saw all adoptable—it would just be a question of time before someone took home each and every one of them. This fact made it much easier for me to try to feel a connection with a dog, something that would tell me that this was “the one.” And while I had lots of fun playing with several dogs, we did not go home with a dog the first day we visited the shelter.
I had been focusing on an adult dog, since I figured they were more in need of adoption, but on the second day my husband called me over to a cage of a 4-month-old named Harley. Because my brother rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle so massive I think it outweighs my Honda Civic, we both thought the name “Harley” kind of cute. Inside the cage was a leggy white puppy with a spotted gray face (a color called “blue merle” by the more precise) and large and small gray—“blue merle”—spots all over. He stood as we approached, wagging and licking our fingers through the bars. Despite my wish for a grown-up dog, I asked the attendant to bring Harley into the “Puppy Room,” where he promptly peed on the floor and then put his front paws on my lap. When I sat down on the floor to be nearer to him, he got in my lap and nibbled on my ear. Pow! The connection was made. I had found the “right” dog. You know the feeling—it’s a little like falling in love. This is the creature I can’t do without. I looked almost miserably at my husband, Roger, and then said to the attendant, “uh, I think this is the one.” Yes, we’ll have to housebreak him, and train him to walk nicely on a leash, and not jump all over everyone, all that puppy stuff, but that little ear-nibbling moment was enough to seal the deal for me.
Happily, these days Harley is calm, well-behaved, and lying right under my feet as I type this, and I am cancer-free. Is there a connection between pet-ownership and good health? That’s a topic for another post. All I know is that he has enhanced every moment of which he’s been a part. He’s so universally friendly with man, woman, child, and dog that friends of mine call him “Gentleman Harley.” And, I want to say again, he got to me because there was a shelter sparkling clean and eager to match us up.
At this moment, our own local shelter, the North Country SPCA in Westport, New York, is teeming with dogs and cats waiting, perhaps, for you. If you’re ready, if your life is open enough for another being to join your pack, check out the NCSPCA website to see who’s there (www.ncspca.org) and call or visit the shelter during their regular hours. I should mention that the NCSPCA relies heavily on charitable donations, so if you want to help but don’t think yourself quite ready for a new pet, you can do a lot for the shelter by donation. Government employees in our region may donate to the NCSPCA through the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA), which is a fundraising effort coordinated by the United Way. If you’re a government employee, contact your staff United Way representative.
Do you have a story of how you got your pet? Write me and tell me about it, and I’ll put a compilation of them in a future post. For the next post, a little about allergies and pets. Is it hopeless to have a pet if you’re allergic? I’ll get some opinions on the matter.
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