Every Wednesday night, you’ll find a crowd of people on Erskineville Road in Sydney’s inner west. They’re standing around outside the Sydney Animal Hospital, not even pretending to be cool, and watching Puppy Playgroup as it takes place on the other side of the huge glass windows. There, about ten small bundles of fur will be galumphing and woofing their way about in glee as they take the first steps towards being proper socialised Grown-Up Dogs. Some of them even master Sit before they graduate.
It’s better than TV for the locals, as there’s always one boofy big lab or German shepherd puppy who makes friends with a tiny chihuahua or fox terrier, while nervous Pomeranians hide under their human’s legs and gregarious pugs mug for the audience. These are all happy and much-loved dogs.
And a surprising percentage of them are also rescue dogs. Talking with owners, we’ve met pedigreed pooches and amiable mutts who’ve all been picked up from pounds and shelters around town, most often the RSPCA and the Sydney Dogs and Cats Home. Walking home past Puppy Playgroup last night I fell into conversation with one of the owners who was telling me that the RSPCA is desperately short of toys and treats for the dogs and cats they care for, which sent me home to pick up the rejected masses from our two pampered rescue cats and parcel them up for the post.
But the puppy-owning chap also broke the news to me that some of his friends were startled he’d gone with a rescue animal because they assumed that dogs (and cats) from pounds and shelters came with a whole raft of problems. In fact, experience and research have both shown me time and again that nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve had a raft of rescue animals over the years, from a number of different pounds and shelters, and this is what they’ve taught me.
Loads of rescue dogs have zero ‘issues’.
A large percentage of rescue dogs arrive at their new home as happy as Larry. Which you might think shows a deplorable lack of sensitivity to the fact they have been tragically abandoned and ended up in the Pound, but let’s be honest, most dogs just want a comfy bed and a good feed. So their old owners ditched them. Meh. They never really liked that family anyway. The pounds are filled with quality workers and volunteers who do their very best to keep the dogs happy and engaged, so it’s sort of like being on a great camp. And then YOU come along! You the person with the fabulous smell and the car that takes dogs on the inside and that stops at a house with a dog bed and a food bowl. BEST DAY EVER!
Most dogs don’t need to process their emotions. They’re dogs. They’re just looking for someone to love, and if you can provide them with a good home, they’ll love you.
When dogs do have issues, there’s help close at hand.
Sometimes animals have bad things happen to them. A much-loved owner might die, or might decide that the pet and the baby don’t mix (which is usually madness, kids go brilliantly with pets!) Some have been sorely ill-treated. So it is possible that the dog you fall in love with could be one that has a few problems.
You will be warned about this at the pound or shelter. Having bought from pounds and breeders, I have found that pound workers are immeasurably better at disclosure of problems than breeders (where a ‘He’s a little excitable’ can cover everything from ‘will widdle on your foot’ to ‘enjoys monstering postmen’.) The pound staff will not only be upfront, they will also help you with resources to deal with the problems through their connections to good vets, trainers, pet therapists and other services that can help your new dog recover from old traumas.
Best of all, they won’t match you with a dog you can’t manage. It’s heartbreaking for pound staff when a housed dog boomerangs back after it’s rejected a second time, so they go to great lengths to make sure that you and your family will be a good fit for the dog you propose to take home. Most of us have had the experience of helping one of our kids or family members get over one sort of problem or another, from depression to dyslexia, so it can be a great bonding experience to have the whole family pitch in to help your new dog recover from its problems, too.
And it doesn’t always take that much to bring an animal back to happiness. Our yard is too small for a dog, but we have two rescue cats. We met the first after she’d spent five months at the Sydney Dogs and Cats Home and was very withdrawn and depressed because everyone else had been adopted but her. She only weighed a little over 2kg, and had thin, short charcoal and beige fur. She spent the first day hiding inside the chimney. That night she came out and watched some TV with us, before sleeping on the bed. By the end of the week, she was so full of energy and happy with life that we had to rescue a second cat so she’d have someone to play with while we were at work! Now she weighs 4.5kg, has a luscious long coat of glossy black and white fur, and cheerfully bosses about the second cat, who is more than happy to be bossed.
Pound animals are generally healthier
Because pounds were intended as places to mind lost pets until they could be reunited with their owners, there is a lot of legislation governing the care of animals at the pound. Additionally, most have very strong relationships with vets who either work for them or work with them. As a result, pound animals are kept clean, free of fleas and parasites, and checked out for medical or congenital problems. This is a much better deal than you will receive from a pet shop, and also from a lot of breeders. When you buy a pet from a pound, you will often also receive discounted vet care for a specified period of time, in case any problems develop once you’ve gone home.
There are some conditions, such as kennel cough, that can develop in the pound where a lot of animals live closely together. If you have multiple pets, ask for advice from the staff about their quarantine strategies and any illnesses that have broken out. Often dogs are housed separately until they have a clean bill of health, so you can rest easy.
You can save a fortune at the pound
In most basic terms, most pounds and shelters charge around $150-$220 per animal. For that, you receive a wormed, deflea-ed, desexed animal with a vet check and a degree of warranty. Even if you’re just buying a mutt, that’s a bargain. But in fact there are often purebred dogs and cats on offer, too. Compared to the thousands you’d pay from a breeder or many hundreds from a pet store, you’re laughing!
How you can help
We’ve been reading through Pet Rescue’s Amazing Dog Stories (Penguin $29.95) here in the office, which is clearly a foolish move because I have to keep pretending I have sunblock in my eyes as I read story after story of heartwarming love from re-homed animals. If you’ve ever been uncertain about whether or not a rescue animal could be for you, pick up a copy and you’ll be won over (plus, all the profits go to helping animals waiting to be re-homed. Nice one, Penguin!) And dammit, I just read another story and now I’m blinking away tears again. This book will not help you maintain a butch image in the workplace, but who cares?
If you’re thinking about a new pet, ring around or visit the websites of your local pounds and shelters. Let them know about your family and what you’re looking for, because even if the right animal is not there right now, it could come in over the next few weeks or months as you continue the search. Pet Rescue is a great place to start with listings of dogs Australia-wide.
If you already own a dog, consider supporting brands and services that support animal welfare, shelters and pounds through fundraising and donations. One of our favourites is the Pedigree Adoption Drive that runs every year in conjunction with Pet Rescue. This year they were on track to house 6000 dogs and raise $125,000 for shelters in the campaign, which is just about to wrap up. I’m told that they may have even gone past their targets, which is brilliant!
And if you’re not looking for an animal to join your household at this time, see if you can help one of the great programs that are run to support animal welfare, like the RSPCA’s Living Ruff, which supports homeless Australians with pets. Or just edit your pet toy collection down and take the excess to your local pound or post it to the RSPCA – they’re seriously in need of more! You might also be interested in volunteering to help out your local shelter, these are places that take animals from the pound and give them a temporary home until they can find a permanent one. From people to play with puppies through to those who can take dogs for regular walks, they are often in need of reliable volunteers, or else they may require simple donations of everything from newspapers to old towels. Ring and ask, they’re just a quick online search away!