Christine Barber had no intention of rescuing a young puppy. After all, she and her husband, Brian, both work full-time and parent two boys. But they'd lost their beagle, Lucky, to cancer two years earlier and missed having a dog in the house. So, knowing how many dog adoption and rescue stories end happily, they agreed to keep an eye out for an adult dog at their local animal shelter in Erie, Pa. They visited every so often with their boys to learn about the dog adoption process and see if there might be a dog in need of rescue that would be a good match for their family.
"There just wasn't something right with any of the dogs we'd seen," Christine says. "Some weren't good with kids, others had too much energy or they didn't get along with other dogs ... there was just always something that didn't make it a good match." So, Christine wasn't overly optimistic when they pulled up to the ANNA Shelter one evening in late spring. Once inside though, a bright-eyed, curly-tailed puppy caught the family's eye. The next thing Christine knew, the floppy mutt was in her arms.
"She came up and sat in my lap and it just looked like she felt like 'I'm home.' She just nestled into me and laid her head down ... and well, that was it," she says. The dog, just three months old, had come to the shelter after a good Samaritan found her abandoned nearby... she was sickly and weak.
"She'd obviously been outside a long time," says Ruth Thompson, the shelter director. "She was dehydrated and needed IV fluids." The shelter's staff nursed the puppy back to health, had her spayed, and—when no one came to claim her—put her up for adoption, a typical scenario in the dog adoption process. That's when the Barbers found her.
"It just clicked," Christine says. "She was for us. We all knew it." Lucian, their 5-year-old, named the puppy Pretzel. She went home with the Barbers the same night.
A Family Completed at Last
Now, just a few months later, Pretzel's adoption story is complete and she is an irreplaceable part of the family. The kids love to play and cuddle with her. Her husband, a police officer, says he feels less stress since Pretzel came home. And Christine? Ever since that first introduction, the puppy has been glued to Christine's side.
"She is very very attached to me. She's always on my heels," Christine says. "She just wants to be with me all of the time. I think it's because she was a baby that was abandoned ... she just gets nervous if she can't be with me. I love her back completely." One way in which Pretzel shows her undying affection is by chewing Christine's shoes—always the left one, oddly. The dog never targets the shoes of any other member of the family, Christine says. But then she laughs.
"I've decided to look at it as a blessing because I got to buy new shoes," she says. Christine says she recognizes that taking the risk to bring home a rescue dog can be daunting. But bringing home Pretzel has certainly worked out well for her family, and she thinks other dog adoption stories can end just as happily for those willing to take on the responsibility of dog ownership.
"It's never perfect timing," she says. "You can talk yourself out of it because it's not the right time. But there's never going to be the perfect time. And you have to remember, it's not about you—it's about that dog. They're in this cage and all they want is love and a home. So even if you're not perfect, and you're scared, and you're uncertain—remember it's going to be heaven for them to be in a home where they get the love and attention they crave."
Not All Fun and Games
Pretzel has her challenges, too. For one, she "gets into absolutely everything," Christine says. The pup also is quick to grab at food; a habit Christine believes might be due to the time the little dog spent starving on the street. But those have just been minor issues, and fewer problems than Christine and Brian anticipated when talking about adopting a rescue dog.
"A lot of these dogs have baggage of some sort," Christine says. "It's called 'rescue' for a reason. But you need patience. You need grace. You need to understand that these are dogs who are going to need love and patience and training and time."
Thompson, the ANNA Shelter director, says her staff works hard to pair dogs like Pretzel with the right family so dog adoption stories end happily. The shelter staff urges people to do breed research before adopting, prepare their home by "doggy-proofing" it, and making sure everyone who lives in the home is fully committed and involved in the adoption process.
"You don't want someone coming in and choosing the Jack Russell terrier because it's little and cute, but it turns out they actually wanted a couch potato," Thompson says. "You don't want mom coming in to choose a dog, and find out that dad thinks it's a bad idea. We have to walk through all of this with people, otherwise the dog ends up back here again, looking for another family. And that's heartbreaking for everyone."
Along with breed research, commitment, and readying your home, people interested in their own happy dog adoption stories should consider:
- The future: A dog can live for many years. Are you willing to commit yourself to this dog for the rest of his life?
- The care: Do you have the time to give him the exercise and attention he needs?
- The cost: Training, licenses, grooming, vet visits, food, toys ... costs add up. Can you afford a dog?
- The responsibility: Regular vet visits, getting your dog spayed or neutered, and getting your dog licensed are all part of being a responsible pet owner. Are you willing to take that on?
For the Barbers, the answers to those questions were all yes. And Pretzel has turned out to be the perfect fit for the family, Christine says. "She filled a void we didn't even realize we had," Christine says. "We're happy to have her every day."
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.