Saturday, January 1, 2011


I had wanted my own dog for a long time, pretty much since I moved out of my parents' house, but I wanted to wait until I knew I could be a good dog parent before getting one. Last year I figured it was about time. My parents offered to pay the adoption fee at a shelter as a Christmas present. So, excited and nervous, I went out to find a shelter dog.

I decided I'd go to the Durham Animal Protection Society first. My husband had worked on their website at his previous job, which was full of charming-looking dogs. I was particularly interested in a middling-sized black shaggy dog who seemed like a sweet girl from her description. I went out to the shelter by myself; my husband was working and couldn't come with me. When I got there I was informed that the sweet-looking black shaggy dog had been adopted, but that I could look at the other dogs and see if there was anyone else I'd be interested in adopting. So I went into the dog area: a long cinder block hall of solitary holding pens, their floors slanted so that urine would flow to little canals to either side of the central walkway.

As soon as I went inside I felt the urge to cry. Some dogs barked at me, some came up to the bars and whined, some shivered in corners. They all looked confused and desperate to leave. The kennels all had placards with numbers on them, underneath which the dogs' names were posted along with a summary of their personality traits. I'd been instructed to remember the numbers for the dogs I wanted to meet one-on-one, so I started to make a list. It rapidly grew to an unreasonable size-- there was no time to meet with six, eight, twelve, all of the dogs. I had to pick three or four, even if that meant picking at random, which is what I did.

I went back out to the desk and told the volunteer which dogs I wanted to meet. They sent me to a visitation room where I met with four dogs. Two of them seemed afraid of me. One was desperate for every moment of my attention-- she'd just been abandoned at the shelter by her family due to someone's allergies. The fourth was adorable, a little timid, but smart and affectionate. She looked like Benji and knew several commands. She hid behind me when the man came to take her back to her kennel. Her name was Olivia.

I went back to the desk and said I was interested in adopting Olivia. I found out I couldn't start the adoption process on her because I was married and my husband wasn't there to cosign. I asked if there was any way to put a hold on her account so that my husband could come and meet her. I could have, but it would have prevented anyone else coming and adopting her in the meantime. I didn't want to take the chance that Dan wouldn't like her, so I decided not to put her account on hold.

I went out to my car and bawled my eyes out. Then I went home and cried myself to sleep in the mid-afternoon.

I returned with my husband, my sister and my mother two days later. I asked about Olivia at the front desk. She was gone; someone else had adopted her. I didn't really want to go back into the dog holding area, but we'd driven for forty-five minutes to get to the shelter so I made myself do it anyway. Most of the same dogs were still there, but a door at the end of the hallway that had been closed before was now open. Beyond it there was an area with smaller crates for puppies and small dogs. We went back to look, even though we didn't want a puppy or a small dog-- they're both far more likely to be adopted than larger adult dogs are.

There, alone in a kennel, was a little white dog with bug eyes, shivering and looking like the world was about to end. She was cute, but she looked kind of high-strung. Her papers said she was a Chihuahua mix and her name was Lola. Nothing was written down about her personality or whether or not she was housetrained. Her kennel number was P2.

The four of us went back out to the lobby and made a list by consensus. Dan and I weren't sure about the little white dog with the bug eyes, but my mom and sister wouldn't let us not see her.

I took our list up to the volunteer. She pulled the files out for the other three without comment, but when she got to P2's file, her face lit up.

"Oh, Lola," she said. "She's a sweetheart."

We met with four dogs. Two of them were pretty disinterested in us, didn't even respond to "hi doggie"; it seemed like they'd been strays for a long time. The third dog was a big black shepherd mix named Theodore who was heart-wrenchingly shy but still sweet. My husband eventually got Theo to let him give him a hug and we both started crying.

We'd pretty much decided that we were going to adopt Theo before they brought Lola in-- but then they brought Lola in. She looked over the volunteer's shoulder at us with her big black eyes, practically fluttering her little eyelashes. As soon as she got down on the floor she trotted over to each one of us in turn, leaning all ten pounds of her body weight against our legs and gazing up at us with gentle affection. She had a cold; she wheezed every time she exhaled. When she got around to saying hi to me, she sneezed dog snot all over my hand.

She didn't really know any commands, but she knew her name. When we decided to see what would happen if we stopped paying attention to her, she curled up in my sister's coat and started to fall asleep.

I was in love. We were all in love. Despite wanting to help Theo, I knew there was no way I could leave little Lola at the shelter, even though I was positive someone else would adopt her. No-- probably because I was positive someone else would adopt her, and I wanted her to be mine.

I went up to the desk and asked them what they could tell us about Lola. She was sweet, and she'd been a stray-- that's all they knew. Was she housetrained? Did she like kids or cats? No one knew. I asked to start the adoption process anyway. I didn't care if she peed all over my apartment. They said there was one complication: someone had shown up last week and tried to claim Lola, but they weren't able to prove that she belonged to them-- no vet records, no vaccines, nothing. They could start the adoption process for us, but they couldn't guarantee that these people wouldn't come back with proof.

I spent the next eight days-- and that's how long it took-- in agony. I went on their website every hour to check on Lola's adoption status. At first she wasn't even on the website; then she was on the website as an adoptable dog-- but she was MY dog!-- and then she was on the website as adoption pending. I called them at least five times to check on our status, and I went to bed nervous every night.

On January 7 we got a call letting us know that Lola would be ready to pick up the following day. On January 8 my entire family went out to pick her up. She seemed excited and happy on the way home, and really perked up when we turned in to our neighborhood. When we got her in to the apartment, she made a beeline for her dog bed and curled up inside.

At first she didn't eat much. She didn't really want to play, either; she was afraid of the squeaking noise her toys made. In fact, she didn't seem to know what toys were. At one point she carried them all very delicately to her dog bed and laid down on top of them as if they were puppies. She was mostly interested in finding the softest location in the vicinity and falling asleep. She never barked. But she was housebroken, and she started to respond to "sit" and "stay" when she felt like it. I was sad that she wasn't more outgoing, but she was sweet and well-behaved and very easy to care for, so I figured I couldn't ask for more.

She came out of her shell bit by bit with every passing week. We found out that she did like to play-- she just didn't know how to play with toys. She was, however, a big fan of play-biting our hands, growling and acting tough, and then running laps around the living room. She got more and more affectionate, and wanted to spend more time on our laps or burrowed next to us. We taught her how to play fetch and tug, and she started chewing on her bones and eating way more than enough food for a ten-pound animal, as well as things that may not exactly qualify as food.

We found out that she loves beer (we don't let her drink any, but she tries to go for ours whenever she gets the opportunity), she has bad back legs, and there is nothing in the universe that is sweeter than she is.

Today is our one-year anniversary. I know Lola understands what we did for her-- I can see she understands, in her sweet little buggy eyes-- but I'm not sure she understands how much she's done for us.

According to the ASPCA, two thirds of adoptable shelter dogs are unnecessarily euthanized every year.

The APS has a wonderful article about why to adopt a shelter dog. Shelter dogs are every bit as good as any dog that you could purchase from a breeder-- and there are millions out there that need your help.

If you are looking for a dog, please don't buy one from a breeder. Adopt one from a shelter or a rescue organization instead. There is one out there that you need as much as they need you.

P.S. Theo was adopted the same week as Lola. I hope he's with a family with a nice big yard.


  1. What a wonderful and inspiring story, Sara! Thank you for sharing it!

  2. What a sweet, sweet girl. :-D We got our dog because her previous owner (of eight years) had a child who was allergic. Yay for rescues!!!