The Puppy Puzzle

Sorry breeders — this isn’t a blog on how to test puppies for their agility or obedience or conformation potential. THis is about the issue of litters of puppies arriving at the shelter, and what we should do with them.

Our shelter has, in the last week, received a dozen-or-so litters of puppies from folks who don’t understand that a bitch in heat needs to be kept indoors or confined. With almost all of them the litter came as a complete surprise. Their failure to spay their dog was a result of lack-of-funds or laziness.  All were mixed breeds, with both the father and mother being of unknown heritage.

A week ago some folks were observing a litter of puppies and their young son was showing interest in a little brown-and-white pup. A shelter employee popped up and said, “those pups are going to rescue so they’re not available.” It was a little irritating to me that our local citizens were being kept away from puppies, that their only choices were a unch of 9-month-old (or older) dogs, and that all the puppies coming into our place got shipped off to shelters and rescue groups operating in parts of the country where mandatory spay/neuter laws meant they had a limited number of puppies available to adopters.

My first reaction, spoken only to myself, was “the citizens of Marietta and Washington County, who are supplying the funds for this shelter, should have an opportunity to adopt these puppies.”

Today we received 3 more litters of puppies. I watched folks picking them up, watched the pups peeing and pooping all over the shelter floor (viewing this, by the way, goes a long way to fortify my immunity to puppies — they’re just not as fascinating to me as they should be), and observed one elderly fellow observing the youngest litter of sheltie mixes.

He started telling me about his puppies … “their eyes aren’t even open yet” … “I have miniature rat terrier mixes” … “if I have left over puppies I get rid of them in Newark” and – after advising him to clean his clothes and shoes before getting in with his little puppies – decided to dig for a little more information.

Turns out this fellow has a smallish bitch he breeds at every possible opportunity to whatever dog shows up when she comes in heat. “She needs to make back the cost of her dog food!” he admonished. When he has puppies it’s not a problem because he takes them to the Petland in Newark. In our neck of the woods Petland is about the only pet store still offering dogs and cats for sale — most are working with their local shelters to adopt out pets.

I counted to 10 — twice — and then couldn’t stop myself. I first told him that 3-4 million dogs are euthanized each year because there aren’t enough homes for them. And that up to 50% of the dogs purchased at pet stores end up in shelters because they’re rejected impulse purchases. I shared with him that none of the dogs at our shelter would be adopted without being spayed or neutered.

One has to ask oneself why this fellow was standing, looking at the litter of little puppies. I figure he was looking for his next brood bitch in that bunch of 8-week-old sheltie mixes. So I said to myself, “I sure hope these litters of puppies go to parts of the country with mandatory spay/neuter laws and don’t get adopted by some guy who runs a 1-dog puppymill.

So there you go — maybe our local adopters need education more than they need puppies.

The good news is that I welcomed a new SMART team member today — Angie — and we worked with a few dogs. We got out a few of the dogs I trained yesterday and they all showed improved people skills.

Then we got Callie out of her kennel and had time to really work with her, getting her to relax and re-connect with people. She really liked Angie and ended up lying down on the floor next to her. Some potential adopters were stepping around her to get into the dog room and saw how connected Callie was to Angie.

Within 30 minutes Callie was going to her forever home. We’ll never know if it was this little bit of training that made her more attractive, or if she was just the type dog this woman was wanting, but Angie and I had a great cheer and hug when we heard of Callie’s good fortune.

There’s no surprise that shelter staff get burned out, and that folks argue endlessly over mandatory spay/neuter laws. If conflict can exist in me, imagine how much conflict can exist in the population. Bud remains too soft-hearted for shelter work. I’m learning a lot and am more and more convinced this is a great place for my talents.

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