SRJC Oak Leaf

Shelter Dogs: A lifetime of happiness

Photo by Claudia Little

The following was published in the December 2016 version of the SRJC Oak Leaf.

“It’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” I’ve heard that saying many times in my life, and I’ve never really understood its meaning until now. Some people say that losing a pet isn’t the same as losing a human life, and while I’ve never lost a human family member, I’m sure it’s just as painful.

My best friend Scooby-Doo passed away on Nov. 28 at the ripe old age of 15. My family adopted Scooby from a woman’s in-house animal shelter in Canada when I was six years old, just at the beginning of the first grade. He’d been going downhill for the last year or so, and finally it was clear that he wasn’t happy anymore. But he lived a tremendous life full of wonderful moments, and I’m glad that I got to spend that life with him.

At first Scooby was very aloof with us, thanks in large part to being abused and thrown onto the street as a puppy. But eventually, after months of constant love and training, he became the cuddly, happy dog we dreamed of. He still had his quirks like anyone does, mostly with barking at every noise by the window.

As the years went on, Scooby became my closest friend and saw me through my brightest and darkest moments. No matter how great or poorly my day was going, I always knew I could look forward to a happy welcome at the door when Scooby would charge up the stairs to see me. Whenever I watched TV in the living room, he would join me and sit on the ottoman next to the couch. But his favourite thing in the world were the visits to my grandparents in Kamloops, BC, who had a backyard surrounded by massive grassy hills for him to run and climb up.

We even made our way to California together with my parents in 2009. But when I had to travel back to Canada that summer, Scooby would just mope around the house and wait outside my door for me to come back. So in August 2010, my parents went to a local shelter and brought home our second dog, Luna.

Luna was found living on the side of the road with her mom, and had developed an extreme dislike for humans and other dogs. She’d spent her months as a puppy bouncing from foster home to foster home, and was just a few weeks from being put down. But she and Scooby immediately took a liking to each other, and because my parents seem to enjoy a challenge they took her in.

Six years later Luna is still skittish with people, yet she’s incredibly different from the puppy we adopted. She’s especially taken a liking to my mom, who’s spent years taking her on walks and to rally classes. Luna is also one of the most intelligent dogs you’d ever meet, with her greatest achievements including breaking out of cages, using her bark and gestures to tell us she needs something and, on one occasion, mysteriously figuring out how door handles works.

Both Scooby and Luna came from abused childhoods and grew up in animal shelters, unsure of humans and would’ve been considered by most to be lost causes. But through intense love and affection, they became the best dogs anyone could ask for. Shelter mutts like them are passed by every day, simply because they’re not puppies, purebred, or easy to train. But the challenge of getting them to trust and love you is highly rewarding.

Not every dog is as lucky as ours were to find a happy home. Many never know a life outside a shelter cage or ever make a lasting connection with a human friend. As shelters get fuller, the dogs living there the longest are eventually put down to keep the cages open for new ones. Not every shelter euthanizes their oldest tenants, but many unadoptable dogs will find their way to one that does.

While not everyone has the ability to take care of a dog, what any person can do is to volunteer at a local shelter to help walk, feed or simply love the pets. If you don’t have a lot of time to donate, most shelters will welcome donations of money or toys and food as well. You can even make small donations through purchases on Amazon using their program called Smile. If you believe you’re ready to add a new family member, shelters should always be the first destination in your search. Spaying and neutering your current pets helps by simply keeping more animals from landing in the cages.

Scooby might be gone, but the sadness of losing him will never outweigh the happiness he brought me every day for the last 15 years. One day, when my girlfriend and I move in together, we plan to visit a shelter and add a furry family member of our own; one who I’ll share the same bond with and love for the rest of his or her life.

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