As I type this, there is a 15-pound, 3-year-old West Highland Terrier snoozing contentedly on the couch just outside my door. Her name is Birdie, and she wasn’t here a week ago.
That’s because my husband and I adopted her. Or, in the parlance of the trade, we rescued her.
Of the 83.3 million owned dogs in the U.S. (stats are courtesy of the Humane Society and are based on 2013 numbers, the latest available), only about 20 percent were adopted from animal shelters. There are as many as 8 million dogs and cats entering shelters each year, and only about 50 percent of those are adopted.
People who want pets should consider rescue animals. It really is that simple.
This may be a controversial assertion, but I wholeheartedly believe it. Supporting breeders — many of whom I’m sure care for dogs as well, but who by the nature of their business have turned living creatures into products — encourages putting more animals into a world that is already full of perfectly wonderful ones.
I've always chosen to adopt, for that reason among others — but I understand why for many would-be pet owners that’s not a first consideration. People looking to get a dog for their household often turn away from the idea of a rescue for one of two reasons:
1. We want a specific breed.
Good news! That no longer matters. While breed-specific rescues predate the Internet, the web has made accessing precisely the kind of dog you’re looking for much, much easier. My first rescue, 13 years ago, was breed-specific: Cairn terrier (think Toto from “The Wizard of Oz”).
The kind folks at the Col. Potter Cairn Rescue Network visited my home, and flew the little girl dog who would be my shadow and constant companion to my front door. Her personality fit my schedule (I worked out of the home for eight hours a day then) and she loved nothing more than to be inside.
This go-around was a little more challenging — there is no one overarching West Highland Terrier organization out there that helps coordinate the way Col. Potter did for cairns, but the North Atlantic Westie Rescue (NAWR) organization was helpful with information and suggestions. AdoptAPet.com emailed me when a Westie became available — so I shot off an application at PoochesOntheMove.net and waited to hear back. It took less than 24 hours before I was on the phone with a representative who wanted to know more about me, my lifestyle and my experience with the breed.
2. We don't know what history a rescue has.
This tends to be code for "I don’t know if this animal is going to turn into a crazy maniac or wee all over the house thanks to various neuroses."
And it is true. Rescue pets are not always coming from ideal situations. Birdie had been rescued before (from a Walmart parking lot, I was told) and had lived with a kind elderly woman who had five other rescued animals, but who was getting too old to handle them any longer. My cairn terrier, however, had been a breeder animal — kept for no other reason than to make more cairn terriers — and had never been a pet.
Birdie so far has no particular issues at all. She’s not fully house trained, and is probably more laid back than your average Westie, but she’s unfailingly friendly and in just a week has learned to climb and down the steps to our walk-up apartment, go into her crate at nighttime, and not jump every time she hears a car come down our busy streets.
A rescue may take a little more attention and love to get acclimated — but far less than the puppies everyone seems to desire. Puppies are adorable but ultimately become dogs; get a dog and you can skip a lot of the truly hard behavior issues.
Every rescue story is different. With Birdie, after I spoke to the organization that was handling the adoption, they put me in touch with her owner. We were not guaranteed the right to adopt — her current owner would make the decision between my husband and me, and another man — so it was up to me to convince her owner that we had the right household.
Once we learned she would be ours, it cost about $450 to get her, to cover transportation costs (from Tennessee to New York) and vet checkup bills, plus spaying. She was part of a big Pooches on the Move caravan driving from Tennessee to New England that drove all night — so we had to pick her up at 3 a.m. in a diner parking lot an hour from our home. As the rep from NAWR put it, “It is like having a baby! Midnight delivery!”
Cindy Rhoda and Betty Baker showed up in their Pooches on the Move van right on time, and Rhoda told me later that they can carry up to 40 dogs at a time in their “sprinter van” (which is outfitted with small crates for each animal). She also noted that they had brought a dog named Ashley to Sherri Shepherd in 2012. They were lovely ladies but we barely saw them — because they brought us the happy, wide-awake Birdie for the hand-off. And just like that, they were gone again, off to the next stop.
Over the past week, Birdie and my husband and I have been getting to know each other well. It’s been amazing to see her settle in and learn how to navigate her new environment: leaping up on a couch taller than she is, mistakenly jumping on the treadmill while I was using it, figuring out how to handle being walked on a leash. We’ve discovered she isn’t fond of kibble but will eat it when mixed with a bit of wet food or oatmeal. We’re getting a dog trainer in for some basic commands later this week.
A week isn’t much time, and there’s still much for all of us to learn, but this is a process. She’s a sweet, wonderful addition to our home who loves nothing more than to lick your face and roll on her back for belly rubs. And as I finish writing this, she’s still happily napping on the sofa. With luck, she’s having good doggie dreams.
She’s our rescue, the one we chose to bring into our family, and I wouldn’t have her any other way.