When Dogs Choose You
When Dogs Choose You
By Nola Lee Kelsey
An excerpt from The Voluntary Traveler: Adventures from the Road Best Traveled
Some lines were meant to be crossed, some dog breeds were not. Jake obviously knew this. He grinned menacingly as I left Best Friends’ “Little Lebanon” compound on that frigid January eve.
Obviously, Jake was up to no good. I liked that about him. It was the first time the Best Friends staff had assigned me a dog to take on a sleepover evaluation. While I appreciated Jake’s twisted sense of humor, he’d gone a bit too far.
Selected from the rows of German Shepherds, Lab mixes and a myriad of over-grown Hines 57s was my charge, Flipper. Jake told me to take Flipper. Two other Caregivers, Kerstin and Don, were normally eerily reserved. Yet both snickered and grinned from ear to ear at Jake’s maniacal suggestion.
Flipper could only be described as a pint-sized, pasty-faced, West Highland Terrier, designer Poodle, cotton ball mix overstuffed with teeth and attitude.
Three months earlier the good folks at Best Friends Animal Society had evacuated nearly 300 cats and dogs from Beirut, Lebanon during the fall of 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. They were some of the most awesome refugees I’d ever seen, not like the dogs I worked with in my beloved Thailand.
Thailand’s strays tend to be the purest of mutts. Most contain only a slightly recognizable vestige of some extremely fertile Welsh Corgi. I am convinced this one potent animal belonged to some 17th century British Expat who let it run amuck, humping everything that moved, as he ventured around Asia for the Dutch West India Trading Company.
The Lebanon Dogs were handsome, many of them purebreds. Most had the potential to be spectacular pets, despite having the tenacity to survive on the streets of a war zone. Unlike America’s coddled canines, conflict and missiles plucked the weak and dimwitted from their gene pool long ago. I suppose it’s not surprising then that Flipper was 80 lbs. of ‘tenacity’ in a 20 lb. body.
Full days and long nights took over. The Lebanon Dogs were being prepped for a big adoption fair in Phoenix. As a volunteer I took dogs on outings, dogs on overnights, and dogs on drives. Observations of behavior, writing reports for their adoption files, and vacuuming my Jeep filled every free moment. But, something else began to happen. Every second night Flipper came home with me. First he was suggested then, to my dismay, he was requested. Had I gone mad? Within weeks I had adopted him.
Later, it all became perfectly clear. Letting a dog choose us is one of the best parts about volunteering at a rescue. I joined the staff of Best Friends not long after adopting Flipper. Since then, I’ve seen families looking to adopt puppies on Monday, leave at week’s end proudly loading a senior dog from Old Friends into their station wagon. They couldn’t smile any wider. Neither could the dog.
Workshop attendees have arrived by plane only to commandeer rental cars for cross country journeys when they were chosen by a dog with separation anxiety. Dobie mixes charm poodle fans. Even with cats, it happens. Calico aficionados will have a tabby say, “No, I’m the one you want. You may take me home now.” Somehow the chosen always know to listen - - even without Jake there to translate.
I believe people often have a predisposed idea of what they want and expect in a pet. When an adult shelter animal comes home, they are instantly hit with a different reality than what they envisioned. Puppies or kittens are sneakier. As they grow their unique personality slowly skews the person’s perspective. Could the instant slap of an alternate reality be why some adult dog adoptions fail?
What better way is there to select, or be selected by, a new family member than by volunteering? When potential families work around animals for a time they are naturally drawn to their perfect pet. A fuzzy soul mate. There is no other feeling like looking into your best friend’s eyes and knowing you saw their unique beauty and saved them.
Before buying from, and contributing to, the horrid pet store/puppy mill cycle, volunteer with animals at a shelter. You’ll feel good. Your kids will learn about giving back through your example. And, you’ll get a look inside the true hearts of potential pets. Prejudices of age, size, breed, or even initial temperament will be vanquished. You might just be surprised by what chooses you.
About the Author
A zoologist and serial volunteer, Nola Lee Kelsey is also the Managing Editor of Dog’s Eye View Media and the founder of the Volunteer Before You Die Network.