Who can resist this little face! Small, friendly terrier mix desperately needs a home. House-trained, healthy 1 year old male.
That might have been the ad for Charlie placed by the pound near Lexington, Kentucky where he was in September 2008. Maybe he never was advertised. That pound, like many in the US, was overcrowded that summer. It was the height of the subprime mortgage collapse, house foreclosures, abandoned homes, abandoned pets.
Charlie might have been one of those pets who literally lost his home. He may have come to the shelter by a different route and got lost in the crowd of dogs. Either way, no adopter and no shelter space meant he was scheduled for euthanasia. But that didn’t happen. Charlie is “top dog” in my house, thanks to a reinvented underground railway.
Dog Underground Railway
Open Arms Pound Rescue is a rescue and transport group based in Ohio. They work with US pounds and US and Canadian animal rescue groups, moving dogs from pounds to shelters to foster and adoptive homes. Photos and descriptions of dogs on ‘death row’ are posted online by the pounds or Open Arms. Rescue groups and individuals arrange to have dogs brought to them and Open Arms organizes the transport.
Volunteers drive dogs from one town to another, where they meet new drivers and transfer the dogs to their vehicles for the next leg of the journey. Dogs are left in receiving shelters and homes along the way, and dogs are picked up. The relay continues north. When the dogs are safely across the border with their final American drivers, they are met by Canadian volunteers and are driven on to their receiving shelters or foster homes.
Lois, of All Breed Canine Rescue in St. Thomas ON, saw Charlie’s picture while checking for ‘last chance’ dogs scheduled to be put down. She earmarked him and other small dogs for the next transport. She didn’t have adoptive, or even foster, homes but she figured she’d be able to place these little dogs. For big dogs, it’s not so easy to find homes. They aren’t ‘pulled’ from pounds unless someone specifically asks for them.
We wanted a dog, but were still recovering from the deaths of two dogs and a cat. Fostering seemed like a good ‘grieving time’ option – have the company of a dog, but don’t get attached. Charlie was supposed to only stay overnight until his local foster home could take him.
Little and Big
“Aaahh,” I thought when I saw him peeking out of the pickup he arrived in, “isn’t he just the cutest ever!” I’m not a small dog person, so I was somewhat immune to his charms. But within five minutes of seeing him, my husband said this dog’s not going anywhere. I made some calls and Charlie stayed with us as a foster. His picture was posted on ABCR’s website and enquires started.
We had to decide quickly. Jim was all for keeping him. And Charlie had quickly claimed a spot in my heart. But I still wanted “a real dog” you could take long walks with. Also, if Charlie got a good home, we could foster another, less adoptable, dog. Charlie was happy with us but, that early on in our relationship, he’d be happy with anybody who loved him and kept his belly full. I did a lot of soul-searching and, in the end, decided to be selfish. We adopted him.
A month later, in another Open Arms transport, I got my ‘big dog’. A Standard Poodle, Leo came out of five years as a stud dog in a puppy mill. He started with us as a foster, and there was a lot of interest as soon as his picture was posted. Again a decision was needed and Leo made it: frightened, needy and weird, he adopted us.
Two highly adoptable dogs – unadoptable in their home communities. How many cute dogs must there be in pounds for a dog like Charlie to be overlooked long enough that he’s going to be put down? How many purebred and ‘designer’ dogs must there be that rescue groups send Poodles and Labradoodles across the border? Supply and demand of dogs are often out of whack: too many dogs in one area, not enough in others. Too many dogs leads to abandonment and needless euthanasia, too few dogs leads to ‘backyard breeders’ and puppy mills finding ready buyers willing to pay exorbitant prices for pups. Groups like Open Arms Pound Rescue try to even out the supply and demand problems by sending dogs unwanted in one area to places where there are homes for them.
The internet has made dog rehoming much easier. If you want a particular type of dog, you can just search through petfinder.com or breed rescue groups and find ways of getting together with a dog no matter where he or she is. Breeders of purebred dogs have been doing it for years, sending pups across the country or further to new homes. Now rescue groups are doing it for stray and abandoned animals too. And we’ve got two of them, my Dixie Dogs I call them.
By the way, I found out little dogs can walk just as far and just as fast as big dogs. Charlie goes like a little steam engine and, on the few times he gets too tired to walk, I can carry him home.
It’s seven years since the dogs came to live with us, and five years since I posted this on my St. Thomas Dog Blog (Jul. 15/10)