Shelter adopters are astounded at their good fortune


“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, and his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion”. These words attributed to the Roman philosopher Cicero, spoken so many centuries ago, still capture the passion that many of us feel for our pets.

Our pets are indeed remarkable creatures, and the devoted could not live without one in close proximity as important members of the family. No two pets are alike; each has a distinct personality and leaves emptiness when they are no longer there. The loss of a beloved pet is a time of mourning. I have seen friends whose eyes cloud up with tears when speaking of a childhood pet, gone for many years.

My mind runs to these thoughts as the caretaker of three small dogs and a one cat, two of whom are aged, requiring special consideration and care. Recently, my little pug stopped eating before I was to leave town for several days and it threw me into a tailspin of anxiety. After having her checked by the veterinarian who provided medication to encourage her appetite, and leaving copious notes for the pet-sitters, I took off with a heavy heart and while away remembered the adventures we shared. I was, in essence, remembering my own life in accordance with the lives of my dogs.

Abigail Rain is a tiny black Pug whose tongue is too big for her face. A small bundle of warmth, the pup captured my heart long ago as a Christmas gift from a dear friend in New York City. This friend is a long-time Pug owner and shared her insights about bonding: “Carry the dog in your arms for the first day and she will know you are her new mother”. So it was, Abigail Rain slept in the crook of my arm that night, becoming ruler of the house and winning many hearts in the process.

As a pup she often accompanied me to school in Trenton where she was surrounded by a group of disparate youth, some of who could surely qualify as delinquent. One in particular took a shine to Abby. The boy was a recent émigré from Liberia where his family had escaped a horrific civil war and he could not easily adjust to life in his newly adopted country and had particular trouble with the school system. He attended a military school in his homeland, similar to the rigorous British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where flexibility and choice were out of the question. He did not know what to make of his new freedom, often cut classes, and in his spare time started to steal cars, often taking other thirteen year olds on a joy ride. This boy was sullen and tough, and yet with the tiny black Pug on his lap, he melted, smiled, and became the picture of gentility. Alas, that time was short-lived and the story took a darker turn. One evening in a stolen car driving five other youths, the police began a chase. The car lost control and headed into a canal where three of the boys drowned. My student survived the incident and then barely into his teens, he was tried and incarcerated for I do not know how long. Remembering how he responded to Abby, I hope that the course of incarceration includes contact with animals, which has shown to be a useful therapy amongst prisoners and chronically sick individuals.

Over the years Abigail Rain continued to provide her own brand of sweetness to others and myself. She has been the surrogate for several children with allergies who could not bring animals into their own homes and wanted to participate in Bring Your Pet to School days. They borrowed Abby to parade around with lest they appear empty handed. Some students have become Pug owners themselves and are now caretakers of these remarkable little creatures. At home, my aged pug still rules the roost knowing how to find the most comfortable spot, the most delicious morsels to eat, and curl up in bed under the covers. What she will not do is walk fast (except for a dog treat at the local bank).

Several years ago, knowing that my dogs Pippin and Abby were aging, I begin to think about adding a younger pet whose energy would revitalize the oldsters. My eyes turned to Petfinders a database of adoptable animals. I began to read the stories of dogs that had faced unbearable cruelty at the hands of humans. I was particularly drawn to Max, a dog that was pushed down a flight of stairs and lost motility in his back legs. I wrote to the organization that was caring for him and submitted an adoption application. Unfortunately for me, Max did not become my pet but fortunately for him, it was because he had already been matched with his very own person to care for him.

The correspondence about Max led of my being involved with animal rescue in particular with a local group the Animal Alliance of Bell Meade from which I eventually adopted a wonderful little rescue dog named Misty. The organization is always in need of support and foster homes, and I sometimes volunteer at adoption days, when they are held at the Rosedale Mills in Hopewell. The joy on the faces of people as the new member of their family jumps into the car is really touching. First time shelter adopters are astounded at their good fortune, having been previously unaware of how many wonderful animals are looking for homes.

My own home certainly is richer with dogs and a cat in residence; often I sit typing with my little rescue dog Misty on my lap. Right behind me on a faux fur pillow is my Jack Russell Terrier Pippin and the dowager Abigail Rain, paws spread wide apart, tongue hanging out, snorting, very much the mistress of the house. I remain their devoted servant.

You can find the Animal Alliance‚s website at: http://www.petfinder.org/shelters/NJ290.html