Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's the Value of a Pretty Face?

For a homeless dog, it can mean the difference between adoption and death.

Most people, whether they realize it or not, are looking for an idealized image of a dog as they walk along the shelter rows. Some are drawn to animals that resemble beloved childhood pets, some to ones that look like the furry stars of TV shows and movies, and some to any cute puppy whose wide hopeful eyes, peering through the bars of its enclosure, catches at their heartstrings.

There's no malice in this. There's often not even any conscious choice. It's just human nature to be drawn to adorable puppies and handsome adults. But it also means that good dogs -- stable, sweet-tempered, loving dogs who would make ideal companions -- get overlooked, even killed, because they don't fit that skin-deep ideal. The graying, the scarred, and the superficially imperfect are at a real disadvantage in the race for homes. Big black dogs infamously have it worst: no matter how great their personalities might be, many potential adopters just pass them by without a second glance.

If it happens long enough, a dog can give up hope. A shelter, even a good one, is a very stressful environment for a dog. After prolonged periods of confinement, dogs can become frustrated or depressed. Some begin spinning in endless circles, barking constantly, or chewing off their own fur. Some stop eating. While many of these problems can be reversed once the dog gets out of the shelter and into a patient, caring home, there may be no such home on the horizon for a particular dog. Thus, when a dog begins to show these psychological problems (commonly known as "kennel stress" or "kennel crazy"), shelter staff must make a difficult decision about that dog's fate. Especially if there are other animals coming in that need the space, a dog that is undergoing severe kennel stress often gets euthanized.

Annie, our next foster dog, might have met that fate... but thanks to some dedicated rescuers, she got a second chance.

Originally from Brevard, North Carolina, Annie is a pint-sized mutt with a funny little underbite. It gives her an extra-exuberant grin, but it also turned off some potential adopters, who thought the thrust of her chin looked too pugnacious. No one seemed likely to take her, and for a while her chances looked grim.

Fortunately, Annie captured the hearts of some rescuers who saw past her Popeye scowl and recognized that she was an exceptional dog. They couldn't give her a home themselves, but they could get her on the road to find someone who could. One by one, people stepped up to help, and soon Annie was well on her way, extra-big smile and all.

She'll be coming to our house next week. We can't wait to meet her -- and help her find a loving home with someone who's looking for more than just a pretty face.

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