A lot has changed since I got my first dog 7 years ago, so I decided to make a list of what I remember. I never want to take for granted how much information has been shared with me over the years.
But most of all, I never want to be the person who looks down on other dog owners and thinks they’re stupid or cruel. And I never want to forget how fortunate I am to be in a position to care for them.
Things I Did Not Know When I Got My First Dog:
- I did not know I was supposed to register the microchip. I thought once the shelter put that thing in, everything was set. Took me 2 years to figure this out.
- I did not know there was a leash law. I thought it was just a suggestion that uppity people followed.
- I did not know the breed labels assigned by the shelter were just guesses, and they were probably wrong anyway.
- I did not know that animal control/open admission shelters were actually full of great family dogs. I thought they were only for dangerous and scary monsters, and the photos on their websites seemed to confirm this. So I never went there.
- I did not know my dog wouldn’t come when I called her. I thought dogs just did that instinctively. At least, they always did on TV and in movies.
- I did not know that my dog’s best buddy at the dog park was actually a pit bull. At the time, I thought she was just some short-haired dog who enjoyed rough-and-rowdy play, just like my dog did.
- I did not know that those plastic clip collars can break. Or that they’ll break at the most inopportune times.
- I did not know you’re supposed to license your dog. I did not know dog licenses even existed.
- I did not know how brilliant the shelter was for bringing dogs to high-traffic areas in the city, when the worker-bees were leaving the office. That’s how we found out about the shelter, which was located in a part of town we’d never been to/had no intention of visiting until then.
- I did not know that the politics of animal welfare can be bonkers, but the drama has more to do with ourselves than with the dogs.
- I did not know that for the next 7 years, animal welfare would be the focus of my life, both personal and professional.
- I did not know that as those 7 years unfolded, more and more animal welfare advocates would realize that helping dogs is about helping people — and that my transition from social work to animal welfare would come full circle.
Things I Thought I Knew Back Then (But I Was Wrong):
- I thought that the way my dog behaved in the kennel was how she’d behave at home. Or in public. Or at the dog park. Or in any situation, really.
- I thought that since my dog was scared of large men, she had been abused.
- I thought that since my dog was terrified of storms, she might have been a Katrina dog. Yes, I really thought this. No judging
- I thought that since the shelter said my dog liked other dogs, she would always like other dogs. All of them, all the time.
- I thought that since we were asked to leave our group dog training class (because my dog was screaming at other dogs), all dog training classes would be a humiliating experience and not worth pursuing.
- I thought that all the homeless dogs in America were small-and-fluffy or something other than pit bulls, because that’s all the limited admission shelter in my area had available at the time.
- I thought that I could guess how other dogs would behave based on their breed or what they looked like. (Remind me to do a blog post on how I chose our second dog, Cappy!)
- I thought that everyone would want to be around my dog, so it was okay to let my dog walk up to them. Even if they were kiddoes.
- I thought that every dog who looked like mine would have the same personality and behaviors.
- I thought that “no kill” shelters were good and “animal control” shelters were bad.
- I thought that my dog would naturally get along with our family members’ dogs. Because hey, we’re all family now, right?
- I thought that the best way to help homeless dogs was by adopting as many as possible. To me. To live in my house. All of them.
- I thought that having a dog did not require much work or sacrifice. Or require a lot of money. Or the benefit of having access to safety nets.
Things I Wish I Had Known Back Then:
- I wish I had known that my dog’s personality would continue to unfold over the months/years, and that the shelter’s description was just a guess based on a snapshot in time.
- I wish I had known that it’s okay to keep walking when someone wants to “let our dogs say hi to each other.” Even if it means telling a white lie (“She’s getting over kennel cough — sorry!”).
- I wish I had known that sometimes kennel attendants know stuff about the dogs that adoption counselors don’t.
- I wish I had known that animal control/open admission shelters were mostly for dogs whose families fell on hard times or whose owners weren’t around anymore, for whatever reason.
- I wish I had known that not all trainers/classes are alike. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
- I wish I had known that the dynamics of my household would change with every new dog we added. And then change again when the third one arrived. And again with the fourth. And the fifth. And the sixth and the seventh.
- I wish I had known how much unsolicited advice I’d get on my dog’s behavior, and that a lot of it could be tossed out — even if the person meant well.
- I wish I had known that the dogs we see in limited admission shelters aren’t necessarily representative of the homeless dog population.
- I wish I had known that people who surrender their dogs to shelters usually aren’t bad people. They’re just not as fortunate as I am.
- I wish I had known that the most effective way of helping homeless dogs is to help their owners keep them in the first place.
- I wish I had known that it’s easy to bond with dogs in need, but to help them — and I mean to REALLY help them — it will always be about connecting with people.
With all this being said, my only regret is that I waited until age 26 to get a dog. As much as my dogs drive me crazy and empty my bank accounts, and as much as animal welfare drama raises my blood pressure and makes me drink too much, the dogs are so worth it. And so are the people I’ve met as a result.
I’m very, very fortunate to have my dogs, and I’m very, very fortunate to have the support systems that help me provide for them. I appreciate this now more than ever. I hope that over the next 7 years, I’ll find more ways to help less privileged dog owners provide for theirs.