Thursday, May 20, 2010

Adoption Fees: About The Disparities

 It was an adoption event in New England. A man approached Pansy, a fit, attractive tan and white Boston pup. "She's cute," he commented. "I'm looking for a Boston. But why is her adoption fee so high?" Pansy's foster mom wanted to answer him. "Well, she's a purebred Boston terrier puppy who has been spayed, vaccinated, heartworm tested and microchipped, not to mention transported across nine states to get here. None of that was free, and the adoption fee you think is so high is actually considerably less than you'd pay for a fully vetted puppy bought from a breeder. That's why!"  But we do get tired of explaining ourselves to people who, rather than commit a charitable act, simply want to buy a desirable dog for a great price. So I thought, I could blog the Pansy incident and...

Wait! I digress! This blog is not about Pansy. It's really about Betty.

Betty is an eight year-old black pug from a puppymill. Most rescues who see Betty carried off by anyone-but-them can sigh and say they dodged a bullet. Betty came into rescue direct from a "commercial breeder" in Rolla, Missouri with a case of heartworms, rotten teeth, and a couple of small tumors. Like most puppymill survivors, Betty has never heard of housetraining. Most people would probably not be astounded to hear that eight year-old dogs who pee everywhere are not hot commodities on the adoption circuit, but Betty doesn't know that. After spending her entire life churning out litter after litter for greedy humans who withheld affection and medical attention, she has embraced pethood wholeheartedly. She now lives in a rescue house with her foster parents, who love her no matter what. Betty needs no special incentive to do the full-butt wag for anyone who looks the least bit interested in her. In short, Betty is a charmer and a money pit. Betty has a chance to be what she always should have been - a beloved, physically well-cared-for family member. We want her to have that chance. But how do we pay for it?

Admittedly, we pray a lot. God always seems to take pity on fools, so our prayers are answered, sometimes with donations from caring people. More often, the answer comes in the form of dogs like Pansy.

That's right - back to Pansy, the beautiful 10 month-old purebred Boston Terrier with the exorbitant adoption fee. She did not "show well" in the shelter, so she was sent to the same rescue where Betty resides. Pansy has no health issues, and no major behavioral issues. After a bit of one-on-one in a foster home, she's ready for a permanent family. The inequity: This highly desirable puppy's adoption fee is roughly double the fee asked for Betty, whose medical care cost three times as much.

Here's a truism for folks looking for cheap dogs: Healthy puppies rarely need rescue. We can place Pansy and dogs like her all day long. If that was what rescue was all about, it would be an easy task, wouldn't it?

But we think rescue should be more about the Bettys than the Pansys.

While adopting cute, healthy puppies is certainly an option, anyone can do that. It's the rare breed of humans who adopt the senior dog, the blind, deaf or wheelie dog, the puppymill survivor so afraid of human hands she won't take food from them, the unhousetrained, the asocial...those adopters are the humans I treasure! The dog they adopt will probably have cost considerably more than the adoption fee asked. That dog will likely go on to incur an even greater cost in time, patience and sometimes in ongoing veterinary care. But for humans who are willing and able to open their hearts and homes for these special dogs, the reward is worth it a thousand times over.

The folks carrying away those cute little puppies can tell their friends they "rescued" their dogs. What does it matter that they don't comprehend the lot of all the Bettys of the world? How can we expect them to? It would be like trying to teach a table leg to play piano, don't you think?

So we let people think they are rescuing healthy young dogs and we listen to them gripe about the adoption fee with a secret smile. We know the truth.

They are actually rescuing an old puppymill survivor with a long list of health issues. We don't need to tell them.

But sometimes, we're so tempted.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's In A Name?

I looked at the senior dog I had just picked up from a shelter. She looked at me. We sat there for a moment, sizing each other up.

"What's your name?" I wondered aloud. She tilted her head quizzically from the canine booster seat behind me in the transport van. She'd been a pet, probably purchased from a breeder as a very small puppy. Now at 11 years of age, they dumped her in a shelter where she likely would have died had no rescue come forward to take her. No one had bothered to leave her name with the staff, and I guess they hadn't asked.

My rescue does not accept many pets. The ones we do take or old or disabled - otherwise, they're easily adopted from the shelters, no need to call us. I always feel much worse for the pets than I do the puppymill survivors, for whom abandonment by their owners is a step UP.

What kind of person has a dog for nine, 10, 12 years and simply drops them at their local shelter? I ask myself that almost daily. I've yet to arrive at a simple answer. I picture this dog being lifted into the car by her owner, completely trusting. What did she think when they walked through the shelter door and she heard the barking, the wails from the kennels? How did she feel when she smelled the multitude of animals, the fear, the confusion? Or watching her owner walk away from a decade of unconditional love without so much as a glance back?

The fact that these senior dogs even survive that kind of experience is a testament to their incredible strength. Might it have been a tiny bit less awful if someone had said, "Hello, Gracie (or Chloe or Muffin)". Would she have thought, "She knows me", and felt some connection in a world of chaos? How little effort would it have taken to ensure that someone there knew her name?

To some rescued dogs, names are not an issue. My heart is with puppymill survivors, the victims of human avarice. If they have names, they don't know them. My house is almost always the first place they learn to recognize a name as their own and respond to it.

When I do take in a former pet like this one - sitting in my van, glad to be out of the kennel, but still wondering what will happen next - I know she already has a name. But it's locked inside her speechless head where I cannot reach it.

Some adopters change a dog's name - I guess they feel differently about the import of that act. My rule is this: If he or she knows the name, I do not change it. There are rare exceptions (puppymillers seem fond of naming black pugs "Sambo"). But if the name is acceptable and the dog knows it, I figure they've been through enough, why rattle them any further?  Changing a dog's name-that-it-knows is an exercise in human ego. Some people argue that the dog is starting a new life and needs a new name, which can sound like it has some merit. But again, that's the human perspective - I say, try looking at it from the dog's point of view. It's the one familiar thing they have, and you're taking it away?

I have another rule about names: I always use human names for my rescues. Somewhere deep in my soul, I hope that having a human name will make it harder for anyone to ever again treat them as objects. Does it work? I honestly don't know, but it's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

Looking at the dog sitting behind me, I play a guessing game. "Betty? Maggie? Tinkerbelle?" She's as inscrutable as the Mona Lisa.

"Ginny," I state. She seems to like it. In a few days she will recognize it as her own. It's not the best situation, but the best I can do for her today. "It's okay, you're safe. We'll be home soon". I put the van in gear and we set out on a long journey. It will end with a new home where a new family will open their ranks for her as one of them. We've taken the very first step.

She has a name.