There are dogs we all know. These are dogs who were rescued from high-profile dog-fighting busts, hoarding situations and puppy mills. Dogs whose stories made us gasp and whose stories we followed regularly. We may have even contemplated filling out an adoption application for one (or two) of them. And while we shared their happy-ending stories, we sometimes wonder: How did those lucky adopters end up with them? Yet, for every one of those famous dogs, there are thousands of other dogs with no stories waiting in shelters for their own happy endings.
When I was an animal control officer at Durham County Animal Control in Durham, North Carolina, I brought many dogs to the shelter whose futures were uncertain. The Animal Protection Society of Durham was open admission and every day the public brought dogs they didn't want to the shelter. I came across so many wonderful family dogs, purebreds and mutts who through no fault of their own found themselves on a concrete floor staring out through a chain link door. The most troubling of these dogs were the ones who faced challenges such as health issues or behavioral problems. At a shelter where 75 percent of the animals brought in never left, it was discouraging to know these dogs didn't have much of a chance.
I can't deny that this makes sense because people don't usually go to the shelter looking for the sickest dog or one who exhibits resource guarding, right? I soon found out it was the circumstances that brought the dog to the shelter, sometimes, and not necessarily the dog himself, that made him more appealing to the public. And the more dire the circumstances, the better the dog's chances.
I learned this lesson when the shelter agreed to take an overflow of dogs from a puppy mill seizure that took place in a neighboring state. The case had made headlines everywhere. So many dogs were seized that the local shelter was not equipped to handle them.
When I arrived to work one morning, I was shocked to see a line formed outside the shelter door. The shelter wasn't even open yet but there were people with downloaded applications standing there, waiting, and the sense of excitement was electric. They were there waiting to apply for the puppy mill dogs because they had read about the case or seen it on TV and found out that our shelter had some for adoption. What they ignored was that these dogs were understandably ill and shut down from the life they had just been rescued from. I watched local people apply for these dogs who came from out-of-state, disregarding the long road to health ahead, and I watched the local dogs who had been sitting in their kennels, ready to go, remain. This is a common sight following sensationalized cases.