Adopt Don't Shop
“What do you do for a living?”
“I draw dogs!”
“What do you do in your spare time?”
“I rescue dogs!”
“What do you do outside of dogs?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question…?”
-Based on true events.
Raise your hand if you’ve also had this conversation a thousand times. People who know me know better than to ask anymore. Because that’s my life. I drink coffee, and work with dogs. When I’m not drawing or creating something, I’m doing something with dogs - adopting, fostering, transporting, training, assessing, going to the vet or the pet store, picking up dog poop (it’s not all fun and games, okay?). Some days I sit and cry into [insert any given dog’s name here]’s fur out of the exhaustion and frustration. Some days I feel like Nanny from A Hundred and One Dalmatians:
Ask my husband what my contingency plans are for if he dies before I do. (For the record, I’m not rooting for this, I just feel better knowing that I won’t be alone. I’ll have a hundred animals on a farm in North Georgia where all of my friends can come visit and play, okay? Geez…)
My reason for this plan, however, isn’t just to stave off the loneliness by surrounding myself with dozens of cuddlers. It’s a little deeper than that, and it’s also my call to action for you. No, I’m not telling you to go buy a farm and start adopting every wayward critter that crosses your path. But I am telling you to get involved, now.
All my life, every animal I’ve ever had has been adopted and most have had some unusual ailment or situation involved. When I was a kid, my first dog I remembered was a chocolate lab named Belle who became my guardian. She would watch me play in the snow and help me out when I fell down, she would run and jump and cuddle and play with me - we were two peas. When I was 5 years old, she was hit by a cable installation truck leaving our new house and died at the hospital from her injuries. I was devastated, but I knew that more important than my broken little 5 year old heart was that I needed more of her in my life. Over the next 10 years my family would adopt 2 more dogs, 3 more cats, and I’m not sure how many goldfish I won from fairs. I had literally hundreds of stuffed animals, I wanted to be a vet, etc. When I was 15, our house burned down and we were forced to adopt out both our dogs. I was able to keep my cat at the time, but when I went off to college she dipped, too. I didn’t know what to do with my animal-less life.
Then came Tater.
Tater’s rap sheet is a mile and a half long, but I’ll share the highlights: he’d been hit by a school bus and had to have hip reconstruction surgery. Come to find out, he was also heartworm positive and was given a prognosis of “maybe 10 good years”. Well, here we are after surgeries and treatments - Tater is 16 years old and just as spry as he was as a puppy - maybe a touch fatter.
Then came Rigby.
Rigby was a basketcase, and also heartworm positive. But Rigby also introduced me to an organization that is very important in my life. We adopted Rigby from a rescue organization called Doggie Harmony. Jamie and I connected over Rigby, and she introduced me to his behavior assessor Sharon, who runs Shelter Dogs for Veterans - another incredibly important organization in my life. I learned a lot with Rigby - specifically how to train a Shepherd (I don’t recommend doing this alone.)
Then came Bandit and this is where the story goes crazy and where you start coming in.
Bandit was adopted from Gwinnett County shelter here in Atlanta, and despite his amazing temperament, had toy aggression. On his first day at home, he bit his little boy by accident. My coworker called me in tears, and this is where our foster story begins. Instead of letting Bandit go back to the shelter with a bite record, I SOMEHOW talked Michael into letting me foster this 70 lb Rottweiler mix “until we find him a home”. Michael did not believe I was going to be able to do that, he just knew we were going to end up with 3 dogs.
Miraculously, we didn’t. He was sponsored by Doggie Harmony, and Bandit was adopted 3 weeks later to a lovely couple with no kids who live on a farm with all the deer antlers that this power-chewer could destroy. I cried for hours. Michael said “we’ll never do this again, it’s too hard on you.”
3 weeks before Christmas, Doggie Harmony called me to cash in on a favor and SOMEHOW I talked Michael into letting me foster this 80 lb Shepherd mix named Bear, whose separation anxiety was described as “next level”. Guys, he chewed through a plexi-glass wall at the boarding facility. Anyway, we get Bear, start rehab, rinse and repeat.
Long story short, 13 foster dogs later, here we are (with 4 dogs) immersed in the rescue community. The things I have learned are the things I want to strongly encourage you to consider.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO FOSTER TO HELP.
Anytime I talk to someone about the work I do with dogs, I hear over and over again “Oh I just couldn’t do it, I’d get too attached and keep it.” Two things: 1) No you won’t. 2) The alternative is death.
I don’t want to be too harsh, but that’s the reality. It takes a village, and every hand is critical in every step of the process of rescuing a dog from almost certain death.
“But besides fostering, what else is there to do??”
Below is a list of how to be involved in the rescue process without “getting too attached” or going bankrupt. If you can’t foster, please consider doing something to get or stay involved:
DONATE! Most, if not all, rescues are non-profit and rely on the generosity of the community to stay afloat. If rescues don’t have funds, they can’t save that dog or cat who needs life-saving surgery, or afford all of the preventative medicines to keep dogs and cats from needing that life-saving surgery. You can even donate items! Blankets, leashes, collars, toys, food, beds - it doesn’t just have to be monetary. Go to Goodwill and spend $10 on warm things, and take them to a rescue or shelter. Petfinder.com and Adoptadog.com will give you lists of those rescues in your area, or ask your local shelter. I’ll tell you now that these rescues in Atlanta are some of the tippy top, if you want someone trusted to donate money or resources to:
SPONSOR! Know a dog that is in a foster home, and you want to help that dog specifically? Offer to pay for medication, food, supplies, or adoption fees. This is a great way to help a foster without risking “getting too attached” while knowing exactly where you’re money is going. Be responsible for marketing them on social media, drum up interest, transport them if needed - you don’t have to do it all, but fosters really appreciate any help. We’re busy too!
VOLUNTEER! Most shelters are run by 1-2 staff members who have paperwork, meetings, and other admin business to take care of most of the day. The animals are sheltered and fed, but without volunteers, they often don’t get walks, treats, baths, or human interaction, and they start shutting down or lashing out in the shelter environment which makes them even less adoptable. Give them positive interactions, pet them, walk them, bathe them, brush them - an hour on your day off is more than sufficient. Often you can even take pictures of the dogs or cats you work with and start sharing them on your social media pages - you never know who is looking for a pet!
TRANSPORT! Don’t have the space for a dog? Allergic to cats? You can still help rescues by offering to transport animals. Often the commitment is an hour or two at best, and all you are responsible for is taking them from Point A to Point B. If you have a car and a little spare time, this is such an easy way to help. Again, I have 4 dogs and cannot take in any more fosters, so I volunteered to transport a mushy bulldog mix yesterday morning from the vet’s office to the boarding facility where she awaits transport to Canada for adoption. She slept in my lap the whole way, gave me kisses when we got there, and she’s on to a better life now. Without that ride, she’d have been euthanized in the shelter. (Keep in mind that a lot of shelters do not adopt to the public, so transport is their ONLY WAY OUT.) When I’m full up on space, this is personally how I keep volunteering - I’ve transported from shelters to vets, from homes to transports, from leg to leg - there are so many options.
PET SIT! Free cuddles and no risk? What a deal! Foster families still have lives and still take vacations. It’s not cheap, and often impossible, to board foster dogs. Bear can’t be boarded so we rely on dog sitters to watch our dogs when we leave, and without those friends and family who give us their time (and of course we pay them!) to keep our dogs safe and happy while we take a break we’d be up chocolate creek without a popsicle stick. They come stay at our house, so they don’t even have to worry about “not having space for four dogs”.
SHARE! I know this is the case for me - I see dogs all over Facebook who are up for adoption, often from super sad situations, and I feel horrible because I can’t be the one to fix it. But the more visible an adoptable animal can be, the better chance they have of being adopted. Most of us have social media accounts who are reading this post - take the 3 seconds to hit the “share” button on a post and spread the word. Do you own a business? Start a community board and put up pictures of adoptable animals. Sharing is caring, y’all!
ENCOURAGE! Do you know a rescue volunteer or a foster? Take the time to let them know that they are doing well. Rescue is great, but it’s also really hard, really sad, and really frustrating at times. Encourage a volunteer, build up a foster with your words. Encouragement goes a LONG way. Also encourage friends and family who are interested in getting a pet to ADOPT, not shop. There are responsible breeders out there, and at the very least I can thank them for being responsible, but 4-6 million pets enter shelters every years and 2-3 million of them are euthanized. Encourage your friends and family to be part of the solution and adopt a dog from a rescue or shelter. Yes, you can find puppies and pure breed dogs in shelters and rescues, and you can teach an old dog new tricks! There are rescues dedicated to specific breeds who can help you get the perfect dog.
There are many other ways you can help the rescue community, but you’ll only know what your niche is once you get involved. If you’re still afraid of “getting too attached” - do things with a friend for accountability. That’s what Michael is for me - he’s my accountability partner who reminds me “we don’t have this dog to keep it”. We’re a save haven, a harbor, for those who are merely looking for safe passage. We just don’t do it alone.
I’ll leave you with my mantra for fostering, the words I use when anyone says to me “I just don’t know how you let them go…”:
I would rather my heart break than theirs. Mine heals more easily, and if I didn’t allow my heart to be broken, they would be dead.
So think about where your time and resources can help, then get out there and save a life. If you already support a community, tell us where in the comments so that other viewers can see some of the amazing rescue work out there!
As a reward for finishing this article, here are some of our rescues and fosters who broke my heart over and over again: