What is an “Unadoptable” Dog?
April 2, 2007
Several weeks ago while volunteering at BARC, I walked a mom dog that was caring for a boatload of puppies. She seemed so happy and had a love of life. But she had the ugliest scar on her forehead. It has completely healed and was covered with hair, but it looked almost like an empty eye socket. I couldn’t even guess what this poor, sweet girl must have gone through to get such a horrendous mark. Each time I’d walk her, I thought she’d probably only be in the shelter until her puppies were weaned and then she’d be euthanized.
Then I received the 3/26/07 issue of the BARC STARZ email newsletter. This weekly newsletter typically features kennel favorites and dogs in need. As soon as I started reading it, I realized they were talking about this mom dog that apparently had also caught the eye of the volunteer coordinator, Barb. This is an excerpt from the newsletter:
What is an “unadoptable” dog? In the animal control/shelter world, it is a changing definition that, frankly, depends on how many good homes come to rescue/adopt a dog. The more homes that come, the looser can be the definition, the less homes that come, and the tighter the definition for which fewer dogs qualify.
And so we return to this person’s dilemma. She spotted a black/white lab/pit female that had spent the last four weeks in the kennels nursing her nine pups (that all got adopted). Her milk bags were heavy, she had a scar above her left eye that distorted her features, she was predominantly black (the least popular color for a dog) and she was a lab/pit mix (a dime a dozen here in Houston). Shoving her emotions aside, she leashed up this momma and started walking the dog over to the vet staff to be reviewed for euthanasia—her intent to was to state that given kennel considerations, this dog was unadoptable.
She walked over with a nice kennel attendant and they chatted briefly. Seeking affirmation, she asked him, “Isn’t this dog ugly? Don’t you think she is unadoptable?” Surprisingly, he smiled a big smile and said, “Look at her wagging her tail!!! She’s happy; after all she’s gone through, and she was a good momma, she is happy!” The emotions started coming for this woman and she stopped, looked at the dog, and noticed the happiness…despite where they were going.
Dilemma time. Kennels were still filling, why put this dog to occupy a kennel that might take MONTHS to find an adopter—thus depriving other dogs of a chance to get adopted? Yet…the woman put the dog in an exercise pen and went to find the kennel manager, a lovely man who has spent decades in animal care and control. She trusted his judgment and asked him what he thought, he came out looked and said, “Look at her wiggle; she’s happy. She’s not ugly.” The woman repeated everything the man knew about scarce space, but he said, “Look at the tail wiggle; she’s happy. Put her back in the kennel and we’ll check her tomorrow. No need to do things in haste. We’ll check her for heartworms and if she is positive, that will be two strikes against her and that will be enough.” That seemed fair.
That night the volunteer emailed another volunteer who knew the dogs and described her dilemma. The other volunteer emailed back, “I saw her today. I have bad news. I think we tested her a couple weekends ago and she was +. I took her out. She was so happy. Don’t we have some immiticide? She’s not ugly.”
Next day was Saturday and more volunteers were there. The woman volunteer brought out momma again, seeking help in the decision that was clearly not an easy one to make…She was assaulted by all the volunteers, “No, she’s not ugly! You can’t call her Scar Face…look at her tail! She’s happy!” Alfonzo the vet tech perked up and said, “Her name is Scar-let!” Everyone laughed and announced Scarlet would be this dog’s name and the attending vet said, “Work her up; she is too nice and was a good momma. She will be in the adoptable ward.”
Just then, Charlotte of Scout’s Honor Rescue Group came to BARC to pick up some pups. The volunteer showed her Scarlet and asked, “Is she adoptable?” Charlotte replied, “Barbara, every dog is adoptable if you just keep trying. Let me take her picture and see if we can help.”
Momma Scarlet now sits in South Kennel 1—the adoptable ward and is being looked after by Jerome, a marvelously kind and astute kennel attendant and Barbara.
Why tell this story? Because this is BARC life—bittersweet. Remarkable to those of us who know BARC is the kind compassion shown to this dog and this volunteer by staff and volunteers alike. Every single one of these responders knew by the way the woman was walking and talking that she felt rotten about the life/death decisions that happen daily at BARC…they felt rotten, too, and while no one can save all the dogs, sometimes there just has to be an Alamo decision—THIS DOG IS NOT GOING DOWN!!!!!!!! Smart? Level headed? Maybe not, but it was an amazing thing to see so many necessarily-hardened individuals rallying to what can only be called an ugly dog’s defense. Why Scarlet? Why not; sometimes the killing just has to stop.
IS MOMMA SCARLET ADOPTABLE? WE, STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS ALIKE AT BARC, DON’T KNOW. IN OUR WORLD, WE DID WHAT WE COULD—WE MADE HER AVAILABLE TO YOU, HOUSTON. NOW IT’S UP TO HER, YOU, AND POWERS BEYOND…AND LUCK.