As I read my local newspaper’s abbreviated free version that comes out every week, I’m always drawn to the classifieds. I read in amazement and sadness, the number of people advertising puppies, varying from golden retrievers to chiweiniepoos or whatever combination of breeds someone has come up with that they can apparently sell for hundreds of dollars. Around the holidays, they make sure they include how they’ll be ready for Christmas. I cringe at those ads for several reasons, not just because they are directly across from ads that the only local no-kill shelter runs begging for monetary help with vet bills from the latest sick dogs brought in that someone found dumped or with the vet care of a kitten thrown out of a car window. I cringe because I once got a puppy as a gift, and while my situation is different than most, there are still some things I want to pass on about my experience to help others.
How I ended up getting a puppy as a gift
It was 2008 and a week after my birthday when my parents showed up at my house wanting me to go with them to the local home improvement store. I’d been doing yard work so I wasn’t dressed for being seen in public, nor was I interested in going shopping or sitting in the car or any of the other options my mom presented me. But she was adamant and when she played the “We don’t get to spend much time with you” card, I relented and got in the car.
The next thing I knew, we were pulling up at a house along the way that my mom “had to drop some papers off at” (lie) that just happened to have yellow labrador puppies romping around in an enclosed back/side yard. Fast forward to my mom saying “Happy Birthday. Pick one out.” My initial response was “No.” I already had five dogs and I’d learned over the years that any day I could wake up and find another dog or several that had been dumped. I was happy just to watch these cute little puppies and wish things were different in the world.
The lure of the lab
It wasn’t that I’d never had a puppy, because I had. Most of the dogs I’d taken in up to that point had been puppies or pups. I’d also given many of them away. One time, on my way home from work, as I approached my drive, there appeared four of them. At that time, I was even carrying dog food in a coffee can in my car ‘just in case’ I ran into any hungry dogs anywhere, including those on my road that I had to try to catch. Luckily, besides Roxie, whose rough start and story I talked about here, http://savingcatsdogsandcash.com/what-i-learned-losing-a-dog-to-cancer/ puppies usually aren’t scared like pups or grown dogs are when you try to help them, so coaxing them in with food usually isn’t necessary.
Even though they ran straight to me when I called for them, because I didn’t know how long they’d been out there and I had dog food with me, I offered it to them. They gladly accepted. I was working very long hours at the time, so adding a puppy or four to my then crew wasn’t something I felt was fair to the puppy(ies), so they were all re-homed. Pretty easily, I might add, probably because they were puppies and everybody loves puppies.
So that day in 2008 when I stood at the fence watching the little yellow labradors play, the very last thing I expected was for my parents to be buying me a puppy. I was even kind of upset/frustrated for being put in that position. I was firmly against buying dogs having seen firsthand how many dogs are discarded in just my teeny tiny little corner of the world over the eight years I’d been there. Perfectly good dogs, some that were probably given as gifts or bought as cute puppies and then once they were a hassle or no longer cute, thrown away like trash. I didn’t want to perpetuate the overpopulation and donate to a cause (breeding dogs) that I feel (in most instances) so strongly against. I also didn’t want this dog to take space or resources away from another dog that came along that had no other options.
Unprepared on many levels
Besides being against buying puppies and the fact that I was totally unprepared for a new puppy, I also knew very little about the breed. I had not done any research about health issues they are prone to, activity level, anything. So where did the idea to get me a yellow lab puppy come from? At one point in my life, before I started rescuing, I said I’d like to have a yellow lab someday and even admired my cousin’s a few years prior. That was before I realized just how many dogs are discarded or are sitting in shelters and that are killed every single day just for existing. I had decided that I would just take what came my way, whatever breed that may be. I had been blessed with some great dogs with that philosophy and I had no regrets.
The longer I stood there watching the puppies play and then interacted with them, the more the idea slowly grew on me. To say I was conflicted would be an understatement. If you’ve ever seen a labrador puppy, you know how that adorableness can be blinding. I had my eye on a little female that was larger than her other three siblings and seemed to be the independent sort. The owner said she had been the first born of a litter of 13 and due to her size, she called the puppy “Bertha”. Ugh.
Lab puppies can make you weak
The puppy’s seemingly independent nature appealed to me since I already had Sadie, who loved being near. She was always angling for attention, long after the other dogs had gotten theirs and moved on. As Sadie, along with her brother, were my very first two rescues, and now eight years old, I didn’t want her to be crowded out by a new dog that had never known the hardships she, or the other dogs I had, had known.
With a lot of hesitation, but eventually giving in to the temptation of owning such a popular and well-loved breed and actually knowing her exact details (DOB, breed, vaccination details, history, etc.), I ended up picking out the puppy I’d been watching. That decision, however, which I don’t regret for a minute, is still one I don’t recommend. In February 2013 with 15 inches of snow on the ground and zero degree temperatures, what I had dreaded happening, happened. I ran across another dog that desperately needed saving.
My hardest and worst rescue comes along
I was on my way into town around 3 pm one day when a boxer, starved practically beyond recognition of being a boxer, appeared before me on my road. He was limping, frightened, and with his large head and emaciated body, he looked menacing. I stopped, trying to gauge how this rescue would go. He wasn’t having it, refusing to let me even get close to him. After following him slowly in the car up the road to his bed-down area, I quickly ran into town and then hurried back, hoping I’d have better luck the next go around. After a few tries of leaving food and replacing frozen water, we made our last attempt at winning his trust around midnight using the power of cheese. This time, he relented to our pestering and let us get close enough to get a leash over his head and load him into the car.
By this time, Abby, as my yellow lab had decided she wanted to be called, had taken over the house. Because the usual new introductions were not possible due to the horrid weather outside, I had a dog gate overnighted and confined this new dog to the laundry room as we set about getting acclimated and getting him healthy. He was in the worst shape of all the dogs I’d ever taken in. To this day, he still holds that sad title. I couldn’t wait to see him not looking or acting so pitiful and scared. Luckily, it didn’t take long.
Abby’s insistence on being an inside dog and the addition of a cat I’d taken in in 2012, made keeping the boxer difficult. At five years old, and pretty dominant for being the youngest member of the pack, Abby was used to being the only full-time inside dog. Looking back, I’m sure I could have made it work if there had been any issues and I so wish I had. This new dog was a male and had shown extra interest in my wooden furniture, which had proven to be a male dog calling card for leg lifting with previous male dogs I’d let inside. Outside, I already had Justin, who was pretty dominant himself and I worried about him causing any problems in case this new dog was dominant too once he was healthy again. Up to that point, Justin had remained either in the garage or on his runner, while I kept the boxer on a leash as we went quickly in and out of the blustery cold for bathroom breaks.
The toughest and most regretful decision a rescuer ever makes
I decided that instead of keeping this latest rescue, who turned out to be a very nice dog, I would find him a good home. I also still had dreams of someday being able to take a vacation to escape the cold of winter, which I was not a fan of and certainly not after that particularly hard one. Leaving the outside dogs and one nondestructive and completely housetrained inside dog and a cat just seemed like it would make finding someone to take care of them in my absence easier.
A few weeks later after I’d gotten the boxer bathed, de-wormed and fattened up, I took him to the vet. After weighing in at 58 lbs., and the vet confirming he had no major health issues and no microchip, I asked the vet if she had any clients who had recently had a boxer who had passed. I thought him going to someone who was familiar with the breed might be best for him and help them heal. She didn’t, but one of the girls who worked there heard the discussion and expressed interest, claiming to have always wanted a boxer. Knowing firsthand how hard it was to find good homes, I told her she could have him. As she took him into the back, I left in tears. Even though I only had him a few weeks, I’d gotten more attached than I’d realized. I was also scared of him winding back in a bad situation after he’d decided to trust me and I’d abandoned him.
The unforeseen downside to my pedigreed purebred gift puppy
While Abby has been a great dog all these years, taking that gift that day of a little AKC yellow labrador puppy has not been without other downsides. Besides taking up space and resources that would have gone towards keeping that sweet boxer who deserved to have the best life after what he’d been through, Abby has had a lot of health issues. She’s been to the vet more times in her nine years and her medical care costs (including supplements) have equaled or exceeded all of my rescues’ combined medical costs over the years. That’s close to 20 dogs at this point.
Whether it’s from poor breeding, just being a breed prone to lipomas, allergies, and injuries, she’s definitely made having a dog more work than any before her, as I try to find the right combination of foods, supplements, and protocols to keep her healthy and happy. I can’t imagine how a less experienced or non-research-savvy owner would have fared. Her energy level alone those first few years would have sent an unsuspecting busy city dweller owner into a tailspin.
The importance of research and thinking the decision through
I know my parents, who also knew nothing of the breed, including the downsides, and didn’t know the importance of research before pulling a phone number off a flyer, meant well in their decision to get me a puppy I’d previously yearned for. I also know that I am hard to buy for and that a puppy SEEMS like the greatest gift of love you can give someone, regardless of the reason. The only problem with that logic is that probably 99.9% of people presented with a puppy would never turn it down. That even includes those that haven’t done any research on the breed or the breeder, only went by a dog they’d seen or been around that was pretty/tiny/huge/sweet/etc. Or worse yet, looked at pictures on the internet (the internet is full of puppy pictures if you haven’t noticed) or saw on a tv show and decided they wanted a puppy.
Giving someone a dog, or even a cat, as a gift, is a big decision that can have potentially deadly consequences if that pet ends up in a shelter that isn’t no-kill. Is the person truly ready for a pet or are they in love with the idea of having a puppy? There’s a difference. Have they done their research? Are their finances in a position to support a dog, including one that has health issues? Is their life stable enough to take on that potentially 20-year commitment? Do they have the time? Many people underestimate all the time (and patience) required raising a dog from puppyhood.
If all the boxes are checked, and giving a puppy to someone is in your future, instead of paying those backyard breeders who generally do not put health or much else besides dollar signs at the top of their criteria for breeding their dogs, how about rescuing one? Instead of contributing to the pet overpopulation, please consider going to a shelter or checking out a rescue organization.
Petfinder is a great source for finding a rescue and touts 276,959 adoptable pets and 11,324 adoption groups. Here’s their link, http://www.petfinder.com. There are puppies, pups, and dogs of all breeds just sitting out there waiting for a good, loving, permanent home. You never know, there might even be a full-grown boxer out there that was dealt a very crummy hand a time or two and really deserves a loving forever home. Sometimes, watching a dog transform from being scared and in bad shape into a loving, trusting dog is just as sweet and satisfying as watching a puppy grow up.
To those interested in what happened to the boxer, who we couldn’t come up with a name for and just threw several together we’d tried as Walter Bo Bo Buddy, the girl stopped answering my calls and texts after about three months of the transfer of ownership and has since moved out of the area. I found her on Facebook, but there were no pictures or mention of the dog, so I have no idea what happened to him. I feel like if he was fine, she would have told me that instead of ignoring me and would have had at least one picture of him on her Facebook page. Like all of my re-homes, I’d told her if he didn’t work out for any reason ever, I’d take him back, no questions asked. I’ll always remember him and feel guilty for letting him down so badly. Unfortunately, since I didn’t know I’d be starting this blog and have never been much on taking pictures, I have no pictures of the boxer to share. 🙁
To see all of my rescues and Abby, my only non-rescue, that I now photograph often and share their stories and quirks with, visit my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/savingscatsanddogswhilesavingcash/