Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Better Half

She’s become my sidekick, my right-hand man, and my better [canine] half. She’s become my stress reliever, my stable constant, and my calm within the storm. She’s become my confidant, my shoulder to cry on, and my best [canine] bud. She’s become everything I could ever want in a dog. 

What I struggle with the most is that she’s a dog who seemingly no one else wants—except me.  

My other better half (the human one) is the voice of reason and tried to thwart off my persuasive attempts toward adoption:

She doesn’t bark, he says. Dogs should bark. Non-barking dogs in condos make for happy neighbors.
She farts, he says. Every dog farts. Plus, you’re not going to adopt me out because I fart, are you?
She smells, he says. Yeah, like cinnamon graham crackers.
She’s too big to sleep on the bed, he says. So what? We’ll buy a bigger bed.
She’s too big for this condo, he says. So what? We’ll buy a bigger house.

For every excuse, I have a comeback—however irrational. So now he reminds me of the truth. We started fostering to help as many dogs as possible. Adopting Karina would mean we couldn’t continue to foster. We could take an overnight guest once in awhile and keep the dogs separate. But having a constant flow of dogs in the house would be impossible with her.  

Some of my friends have said, Just adopt the damn dog. But I’ve reached the point where I know adopting this dog is selfish. She can be placed elsewhere. Despite our lack of success thus far, I know she’ll make a great pet for a lucky family.

And so, I tell Karina that we’re waiting for her upgrade to come along. You know, Rina, the family with the big backyard where you can run and not sit around this condo and gain weight? You know, the one with the kids who will chase you around and dress you up in funny outfits? You know the one I’m talking about, right? She drops her head in my lap. We have to help other dogs, Karina. She looks up. She understands, but I’m not sure I do.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A New Marketing Plan

Karina at adoption day
I know very little about marketing, but I can tell you that the typical advertising channels aren't cutting it for Karina.
  • Petfinder: I've updated Petfinder with photos, videos, and endearing descriptions on a religious basis. We've had some inquiries, but nothing has panned out. (It doesn't help that Karina isn't overly photogenic. She is a thousand times cuter in person.) 
  • Adoption Day: These events are held every Saturday at a pet-supply store. People come in  and fall in love with her. But since it's a pet supply store, these people almost always have dogs or cats at home and that won't cut it for Rina. 
  • Signs: I've hung up signs at local businesses and other places of work. I even asked a honky tonk local web site if they would post a virtual flyer of her. They told me it would cost $35. Seriously?
And so, after almost three months, I've decided it's time for a new marketing plan. It needs to involve Karina looking cute in real life, a place that's populated with at least some pet-less people, and it can't cost $35.
  • Step 1: Order cute adoption bandana
  • Step 2: Put said bandana on Karina and bring her to places where people gather.
    • County park on Sundays
    • Outside of ice cream parlor on warm days
    • Little League games on Saturday afternoons
    • Church on Easter morning (Yes, we went there. We were walking through town on Easter morning. What Would Jesus Do?, I asked myself. Jesus would adopt this dog, I decided before sitting down on a bench outside of the cathedral. So we sat there as one mass let out and another one was about to begin.) 
  • Step 3: Talk to people who approach. Why yes, we say. She's very friendly. You can pet her. She loves kids. Karina knows the drill and does her thing—the lab lean, sloppy lab kisses, etc. She wins them over within seconds. Then, we go in for the kill. You know, Karina is up for adoption. She's our foster dog, and she's looking for a good home. The response is invariably the same: Really? This wonderful dog? Then the nice people say they would love to give Karina a good home, but they don't have the time/money/space/[insert other reasons here.] Some proceed to tell you their life stories. Before parting, we pass along Karina's info and ask that they share it with anyone who might be looking for our sweet lab.
  • Step 4: Go home and wonder where Karina's future people might be. Mope, then update Petfinder for the millionth time. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Little Orphan Annie

My colleague Amanda just started fostering with a rescue group called Southpaws Express. They pull dogs from shelters in Louisiana and get them adopted in the Northeast. Because Amanda has noticed that shelters in the South are full of scruffy dogs that are otherwise very popular in NYC, she asked to foster a scruffaluffagus. (OK—those weren't her words exactly. But she does love scruffy dogs. She already has one named Henry.)

Southpaws emailed her a list of scruffy dogs so she could decide which scruffer would be best for her. She decided on this adorably cute dog.

The only problem was with the dog's name—Amanda. Could you imagine calling a dog by your own name? So she asked people for suggestions. (Some of my favorites were Louisiana names, like "Stella" from A Streetcar Named Desire.) Then someone piped up, "Hey, she really looks like Sandy from Annie." Well, Amanda has a good friend named Sandy, so that wouldn't do either.

But Annie—Annie would be perfect.

Without further ado, meet Little Orphan Annie. She's had a hard-knock life up until now, but will you be her Daddy Warbucks and adopt her? If you're interested in learning more about Annie, visit her page on Dogster.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Short Term, Long Term, and Everything in Between

One of the most common questions people ask about fostering is how long you’ll have a dog. And the answer is that it totally depends. It depends on the time of year, it depends on the weather, it depends on the dog’s age, it depends on the breed(s), and, of course, it depends on the dog’s personality.

From my mere six months of fostering experience, I’ve broken down the lengths on times into a few categories:
  •  Super short term: Many of the highly adoptable dogs are only with you for a week. Like Wookiee, they are young and cute and don’t have limiting factors. Many of the puppies that the rescue takes from high-kill shelters in the South fall in this category. They come in on Saturday night and are adopted out the next weekend. The truth is that people love fuzzy, wuzzy, I-want-to raise-them-from-the-beginning puppies, so these dogs go fast. The nice thing about these fosters is that you can save/foster/adopt many of these pups in a short amount of time. And, within a week, you can’t get too attached to the dogs. (Yes, I know I cried when Wookiee left, but with the retrospect of longer-term fosters, the bond you form in a week is nothing compared to several months.) The downside to the super short term fosters is that each week, you have to get accustomed to a new dog. You have to begin training again, understand what you can (and can’t) trust them with, etc. It’s a revolving door and, although I don’t know this all too well, I’m sure it’s exhausting.
  • Short term: I would put short term at 2 weeks to a month. These dogs may be younger or just good adult dogs that can be placed successfully without any special considerations. This is a good amount of time to get to know a dog’s personality.
  • Medium term: Let’s say these dogs are with you for a month or two. Quite frequently, they are adult dogs or younger dogs with special considerations. Why more people don’t look for adult dogs is beyond me. I’d never take in a puppy (unless my work schedule changed and I could be home all day—wishful thinking.) We only take adult dogs because we’re gone for eight hours a day and, as a result, can’t properly housebreak a puppy. (By “adult dogs” I mean “mature bladder dogs.”)
  • Long term: I would put this at 3 to 6 months. Often these are dogs with special needs—be they medical or behavioral—regardless of age. They often have other limiting factors, such as not being good with other dogs or cats, requiring a fence, etc.
  • Super long term: I haven’t been here yet, but I’d say you’re really in it for the long haul once you’ve hit 6 months. (Has anyone been there, done that?) 
What’s interesting is that these terms can vary greatly between rescues. Some breed rescues that work with harder-to-adopt dogs may find that adopting out a dog within a month or two is a super short-term success story.

With Karina, we’re on the cusp of medium to long term. (If you consider the time between when the volunteer found her, treated her for heartworm, and got her back on her feet, she’s been with the rescue for seven months total.) If we could negate the “not good with other dogs or cats” factor, she would have only been with me and Jonathan for a week. But we can’t. While we’re trying to teach her to ignore other dogs, we can’t remove that factor entirely.

And we also can’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Well then why don’t you just rescue all of the young, highly-adoptable dogs so you save more lives?” I have to be honest and tell you that thought has crossed my mind. Just how many dogs could we have saved in the time we’ve fostered Jack and Karina?, I wondered during one exceptionally trying adoption day. If numbers were all that mattered, then that would be a great idea. But the truth is that the life of a fuzzy, wuzzy puppy is just as important as that of an adult dog with special needs. Each of them deserves a fair shot at a good home—no matter how long they’re with us. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Most Difficult Conversation

Awhile back, I mentioned that I was working on an article for teens about dogfighting. I interviewed a young man from Chicago who became involved in dogfighting at the age of nine. He found a pittie stray, took him home, and named him Elmo after the Sesame Street character. Then he took him out to fight. It was one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had.

From what I've learned, some young people think that pit bulls want to fight. The kids think they're being good owners by allowing and encouraging their dogs to fight. It's something I have a hard time comprehending. I've seen video of dog fights and can't even imagine that any person—regardless of age—would think this is what their dog wants to do. But if this is true, then education is key. Dogs do not want to fight; according to their survival instincts, it's their very last resort.

The young man I interviewed has since turned things around and now works with the HSUS's End Dogfighting program. The program targets young people in urban areas who are most at risk of engaging in dog fighting. The HSUS offers free training classes where owners funnel their dogs' energy into obedience and agility training. Here, participants also learn about the productive and healthy ways owners should treat their animals. Some (like the young man featured) do so well that their dogs pass CGC testing.

The article link is below. (It ran in a magazine for middle-school students who are struggling readers.) Here's to hoping that at least a handful of teens read this and think twice about dogfighting.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Review: You Had Me at Woof

Twitter-length review:
This is the book I hoped to write one day. But it’s better. Read it.

Full-length review:
Several people told me I just had to read You Had Me at Woof. With a jam-packed schedule, I didn’t think I’d have time. Needless to say, I made time and finished it in a few sittings.

Author Julie Klam recounts her experiences as a volunteer and foster with the Northeast Boston Terrier Rescue. She begins with the story of the adoption of her first rescue, Otto. (It’s one of those “Who rescued whom?” situations—like those car magnets say.)

With a humorous tone throughout, Julie details how she has saved numerous Boston Terriers from New York City shelters and otherwise inadequate living situations. From her first foster experience to her failed foster experiences, her stories validate what I’ve come to understand in animal rescue. There are no predictable endings.

Julie writes about meeting transports at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. She writes about the heartbreak of fostering a dog you really want to keep, but know you can’t. She writes about the lessons these amazing creatures have taught her. When I put the book down, I knew I had met a kindred spirit.

In writing the book, she has let people into the world of rescue and shared what it means to fight for the literal underdog. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mom, We Took in a Beggar Last Night

"That's nice, dear."

Sabo was a cute little man. He was a Jack Russell Terrier with something else mixed in. He begged for food. He begged for love and attention. He begged for a place to call home.

He came up with the transport yesterday, crashed here last night, and is now well on his way to attaining everything he could ever beg for... and more.

Safe travels, Sabo!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Karina's Name Change

It's something about Karina's name. My co-worker has been hounding me about it. (Get it, hounding?) My mom has been bugging me to no end. It's time. Karina needs a name change. It just doesn't fit.

My colleague even went so far as to ask an expert if Karina is a good name for a dog. The expert unequivocally said, "Karina is a horrible name for a dog." That expert just so happened to be another colleague by the name of Karina.

And maybe they're right. Maybe something about the name is deterring adopters. Is it something about Karina the Ballerina that doesn't work with a BBD? I'm afraid so. It's time to mix things up.

So I tried calling Karina (ahem, not Karina) other names.

Shadow? No response.
Licorice? Not even a blink of the eye.
Raven? No way in hell, she said.
And then...
Toto? That's me, that's me! she seemed to say, as she barreled toward me.

And so, I present our foster dog, Toto.

April Fools! :) You didn't think I was serious, did you? Karina is 100% through and through.

And, with that, please go check Karina out on Pet Blogs United today. She's being featured for Foster Friday!