Rescue puppy may have family’s name on it

Barack Obama is about to be inaugurated as president of the United States this Jan. 20.

As many are aware, he promised his daughters a puppy that will arrive this spring after they are settled in their new home.

Discussions about what kind of a puppy and where to get it abound. The President-elect has shown a preference for shelter dogs, although one of his daughters suffers from allergies, and he is uncertain a more hypoallergenic breed can be found there.

This is a widely held misconception, and as one who has been active in a local rescue group for the past eight years, I suggest quite the opposite to be true.

One of my most rewarding volunteer commitments is writing biographies for dogs awaiting adoption through the Animal Alliance of New Jersey (

In one paragraph, I try to capture the essence of a hapless canine, provide some breed information and research a catchy name. Part of this process includes scouring Internet sites with baby names from around the world. Among my favorites are Solange, Petite Fleur, Brutus and The Gipper.

The hope is a unique name may trigger a memory and cause a potential adopter to take a second look at one of our dogs from the millions of other needy animals waiting on the Petfinder Web site.

Betsy and Jared Saul, residents of Hunterdon County, came up with the concept for Petfinder in 1996, adapting many of the tools used by adoption and foster care agencies for children to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of shelter animals that were routinely euthanized.

The site has been successful beyond expectations and has expanded beyond the borders of the United States. The Sauls sold Petfinder to Animal Planet (a division of Discovery Communications LLC) several years ago.

It is a mistaken belief only those breeds ordained as “less desirable” breeds are to be found at state or city funded animal shelters and/or volunteer generated rescue groups. Neglect, abuse and abandonment happen to the most expensive pedigreed animal as well as those that have spent their life fending for themselves on city streets.

This past year, in particular, the shelters are facing increased populations because people have lost homes or have not enough money to feed a family and a pet as well.

The all-volunteer rescue group, Animal Alliance, successfully has placed thousands of formerly stray dogs and cats that were turned in by owners, removed from a home by the courts for having been abused or neglected or rescued from deplorable puppy mills.

Puppy mill animals spend their lives in crowded cages, have little or no medical care and are barely socialized. These dogs often are sold over the Internet for exorbitant prices. Impetuous individuals, eager to own a pedigreed dog, pay these unscrupulous breeders.

Often, when the mail-order pup arrives at the doorstep, it may have serious health problems or be timid from a lack of socialization. Sadly, most potential buyers would probably never have considered contacting a rescue group or visiting a shelter for a pedigreed pet where the animal has been checked by a vet and cleared for a safe and healthy adoption.

Once adopted and settled in a home, the unwanted and unloved are upgraded to pampered pets. Success stories abound: a 3-pound Chihuahua born with a missing leg is now a therapy dog; a battered and torn 10-year-old pit bull terrier, once used as bait in illegal dogfights, spent his twilight years totally indulged; and the National Humane Society of the United States rescued and rehabilitated with partner shelters and rescues groups 700 pedigreed dogs from their abysmal conditions in the biggest puppy mill bust in its history.

Some newly adopted animals are returned to shelters and rescue groups within hours, weeks, even years of being adopted. Recently, a shelter worker reported a young and active puppy was brought back because it wanted to go out on walks.

The owner of the dog was alarmed her eager pup refused to run out into the yard and do its business. The woman that adopted the puppy was vastly overweight and sent the following note when returning the puppy: “You saw me and knew that I could not walk a dog!”

The statement was true. This person was a prisoner of her weight, confined to her home, unable to walk. This is not meant facetiously, but sadly, for the health of this person and the others in our society, adults and children, who fight the very serious disease of obesity.

The very reason the puppy was returned is why many people consider opening their hearts to a dog. They know this is a relationship that comes with responsibility: a requirement to exercise their pet.

Walking a dog is a year-round, all-seasons and all-conditions activity. For an animal to be healthy, happy and maintain a normal weight, providing adequate exercise and socialization are necessary. For many people, soon enough, they find they not only like walking the dog, they also notice the many benefits of this enjoyable activity.

Establishing habits early on and keeping them to a regime is in the best interest of companion animals. There is a straight-line analogy to be drawn with children. Each requires a safe and secure nesting place, healthy diet, sufficient exercise and socialization to be comfortable in the world.

Yet it is so easy to fall short on any of these requirements. The people who return the dogs because they are report being too overweight to take a walk, in all likelihood, have children that, too, suffer from weight problems.

A memory stands out in my mind of seeing a mother and daughter at a local luncheonette. Both weighed several hundreds of pounds over the norm. Both were eating massive hot fudge sundaes.

Yet, one should have compassion and understand how difficult it is for some to juggle work and child rearing. Many a hard-working parent takes care of everyone except himself or herself. They often eat on the run and do not have time to prepare healthy meals. Ignoring the rules of good nutrition and the benefits of exercise, parent and child can develop habits that last a lifetime.

An underlying presumption would be the need to care for oneself before taking on additional responsibilities. Perhaps, a goal for the New Year would be to examine habits one would like to change, like an exercise routine, and take conscious steps toward doing so.

Life does not change until we ourselves take the reins. One very special little rescue puppy may have your family’s name on it.

And just think of how appreciative either you yourself or the children will be, including the Obama girls having, at last, canine companions and best friends.

Who knows? Maybe we will meet up taking one of those healthy jaunts or at the dog park one day.