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For the Love of Dog…

This compassionate, wonderful account of adopting a rescue dog comes to us from Kaitlin Bernard. It was originally posted on her blog, Blank Cage, on Friday, November 22.

I won’t lie, when my boyfriend and I started to entertain the thought of getting a dog I had my heart set on a Shiba Inu. As I started to shop around, I found a dog house for big dogs like mastiffs, great danes, and St Bernards and it made me sway to wanting a bigger breed. But then I realised that it will always be a Shiba Inu, even though they’re not as big as the other dogs I had my eyes on, because the breed stole my heart the minute I set eyes on it. I researched the breed, I contacted breeders, I picked out names, I watched training videos on how to deal with the notoriously headstrong breed. I had my perfect little boy all dreamed up, a red Shiba puppy named Oden. Then something happened, my sister (who has the biggest heart of anyone I know) adopted two dogs from a local rescue group called The Animal Guardian Society(TAGS). They were a pair of brother and sister Border Collie/Basset Hound mixes from a high-kill shelter in the States. They flourished in my sister’s loving household. They were remarkably well-balanced, healthy, happy dogs.
My sister’s experience with adopting totally changed how I viewed rescue animals. I thought adopting meant going down to the local pound and looking through the cages and being heartsick that you couldn’t take them all home. After spending just a few minutes with an animal, you would have to decide whether or not to take it home, knowing little of its behaviour. Then would come the nightmare of re-training a broken animal that has been through goodness knows what. Let me take the opportunity to acknowledge my complete and utter ignorance. This is NOT the case at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with adopting an animal from a shelter. Some of the best behaved dogs I know came straight from shelters. But I also learned that this is not the only option. There are tons of rescue organizations that take animals into their care and place them in foster homes. Volunteers with huge hearts take these dogs into their homes and they live with them as a member of their family.
When it came time to add a dog to our family, we turned to Pet Finder (think Kijiji for rescue animals). It didn’t take long before we fell in love with Leia, a cute, shy-looking, 1-year-old Boxer/Catahoula Hound mix from TEAM Dog Rescue. Everything about her bio resounded with us. It wasn’t quite a happy ending just yet though. We contacted TEAM only to find out she had already been adopted. Saddened, but realizing it was par for the course, we started to look at other dogs. But then something fateful happened; the person who adopted Leia realized it wasn’t the right fit and made the difficult decision to take her back to the rescue organization.

We met Leia shortly after Christmas. She waddled into our house wearing this little red sweater and she stole our hearts instantly. She didn’t want to walk on the tile and she wasn’t a fan of the hardwood, so she curled up on the area rug and took a snooze while we talked to the people from TEAM. We heard about how scared she was on the transport up here from North Carolina. She was picked up as a stray who had recently had puppies. We heard how she was scheduled to be put down the day after TEAM sprung her. But we also heard how she was flourishing in her foster home with two other dogs. They told us how she was the middle of her pack, dominating the fosters’ big Boxer and submitting to their little American Eskimo. We saw right away what they meant about her being a cuddle bug once she trusted someone.
People say they “just know” when they meet the right dog for them. It’s cheesy and cliché, but it’s true. We filled out the paperwork, gave TEAM our references, and after we’d been thoroughly checked out, they brought her to us on New Year’s Eve. We decided to forego the typical New Year’s party and spent a quiet night at home with just the three of us, my sister, her boyfriend, and her two dogs.
Now, I by no means intend to paint the picture that owning a dog is all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it’s hard. Just like any dog, Leia has issues that we work on every single day. But we also remember each and every day that her life is a gift in our lives. We don’t know exactly where she came from, we don’t know her story, and we’ll never know what she looked like as a puppy. You very quickly realize none of this matters.
Leia has truly changed our lives. She has turned us into rescue advocates and passionate dissenters against breed-specific legislation (a serious problem for Ontario rescues that are forced to deny help to the breeds that need them most of all). She has made me more compassionate when it comes to animal welfare. I’m more conscious than ever about the products that I use and the food that I eat. She makes the end of every work day even better because I know she’s at home waiting for me and will be happy to see me no matter what. She makes our house a home and our couple a family.
Getting a dog isn’t about owning a dog. I wish I realized this sooner. When you stop thinking about it like shopping for a designer handbag and start viewing it as finding a new family member, adopting is the only thing that makes sense. I don’t think I’ll ever understand buying from a breeder again. At one point it’s what I wanted, but I know I will never “buy” a dog in my lifetime. There are so many dogs out there that need homes and will die without one. Plus, there is no reason not to adopt. It’s a huge benefit to get a dog that’s behaviour has already been assessed. A lot of people buy based on breed for behaviour, but breed does not necessarily guarantee predictable, uniform behaviour. What better predictor of behaviour than someone who lives with the dog and can tell you if he barks a lot, or sleeps a lot, or how he is with kids, cats, and other dogs? And if you do happen to want a specific breed, there are pure bred rescue dogs out there. There are also wonderful mixes. My sister is currently fostering a gorgeous, well-mannered Dalmatian/Lab mix. What I’ve also learned is that many rescues will work with you if you have a particular breed in mind. If you can find it online somewhere, they can usually help you arrange transport to where you live. And it’s not very hard to find puppies if you really want to raise the dog yourself. Also, don’t think you need any sort of special training experience to adopt a rescue dog. They all come with their own unique quirks, but I swear up and down that if we raised Leia from a puppy, she would have way more behavioural issues. Plus, when we adopted Leia, we essentially got adopted into the TEAM community. They have wonderfully fun fundraisers and a Facebook group where you can ask behaviour/medical/and any kind of dog question. When Leia had some stomach issues shortly after we adopted her, two of the directors from TEAM were on the phone with us and the vet’s the entire weekend and they even offered to pay for the medical bills related to the issue.
I guarantee you, your next family member is already out there in need of a loving home. When you go in with an open mind and an open heart, you’re sure to find a furry piece of your life you didn’t even realize was missing. So when the time comes to welcome an animal into your family, please consider adopting.

P.S. This all goes for cats too.


  1. What an awesome blog post.

    I LOVE the part where you say “getting a dog isn’t about owning a dog”.

    SO true!

  2. Two years ago I adopted a rescue from TAGS and after a year or so she became a loving, trustworthy friend from whom I would never part. This past summer I adopted a rescue from another group. She came from a puppy mill in Ohio and she has many more issues to overcome than my first rescue. She is 6 and must have been caged all her life. She has no idea what to do with space, like the floor of the house. She is afraid of almost everything and everyone. After 4 months she is very slowly becoming more confident, but still has a long long way to go. Even with all her problems I wouldn’t change her for the world. I have 3 dogs and being in town I am not allowed more, but if I could I would rescue more. For me there is no greater reward than their love.