Monday, November 17, 2008

Pure-Bred Puppies and Shelters

I want to congratulate President-Elect Obama for stating that his daughters' dog will be a rescue or shelter dog. Hopefully his example will help set people straight on the realities of breeds and shelters. Too many people explain avoiding getting a shelter or rescue dog by saying they want a particular breed and that it's "impossible" to get a pure-bred from a shelter.

It is possible to get a particular breed from a shelter and not a puppy mill. We just won't usually have papers for the dog, so if you want the pure-bred for showing instead of playing, a shelter might not work. The Obamas probably won't want to show their dog in any sense other than "to the general public and media."

My shelter does get a lot of mixed breeds, especially pit bull mixes, we do get pure-bred dogs on occasion. People buy an expensive pure-bred and then decide they don't want to deal with the medical issues that pop up more often in pure-breds or just the normal issues that come with owning a dog. We had one very sweet bichon frise (one of the best dogs for those with allergies) whose owners gave him up simply because they didn't want to take the time to housetrain him. Apparently they thought canine babies were smarter than human babies.

One reason why it can be harder to find a particular breed at a shelter is that it takes patience and good timing. Pure-bred dogs simply adopt out faster than mixed breeds if it's a popular breed. Sadly pure-bred pit bulls do not adopt out as quickly as they should, though this is mostly due to ill-informed laws and an ill-informed public. Pit bulls, one of my favorite breeds, are a topic for a different post.

Even when we get a pure-bred dog who doesn't adopt out quickly, we often transfer pure-breds to rescue groups who specialize in that breed. Pure-breds are more likely to have certain types of issues than mutts. Plus, each pure-bred has their own mixture of inherent issues and needs that differ from other dogs. Bichon frises, while great for allergy sufferers because of how little dander they produce and shed, are more difficult to housetrain than some larger breeds. Rescue groups are often better able to handle these issues than a general shelter.

Obama's choice to get a dog from a shelter or rescue group is a splendid example. Fox Studios is already hosting adoption events inspired by Obama's choice. Their first event was behind the White House to spotlight the connection.

Whatever dog the Obamas adopt will live a lucky life. He'll have an entire country loving him, a large house and yard in which to play, and the best vets in the country. Hopefully he just enjoys the love and attention and teaches the Obama daughters the great lessons dogs have always taught their friends: laughter and affection are great cures for whatever scares you, the size of a person, dog, or country doesn't matter--a little dog can be friends with a large one, and responsibility can be rewarded with undying affection and devotion.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Power of Microchips

An AP story in the Washington Post reminded me of the importance of microchipping pets. Basically, a dog was stolen in Florida (another reason to always supervise outdoor playtime, sadly stealing animals seems to be getting more common) and turned up several months later in Illinois when his shoulder was checked for his microchip.

Microchips are not gps systems that tell you exactly where your pet is. However, almost every shelter and vet in the country automatically scans strays to see if they have a microchip. The information (like a barcode on a product at the store) ties into a database and brings up the information the owner chose to include. Most of the time this includes the last rabies vaccine (this can save your pet because if an animal might have rabies, many counties require putting him to sleep to avoid infecting others), allergies and other health issues, contact information for the owner, and the pet's name.

Most vet offices will put the microchip in for you, but many shelters are doing this now, too. It costs $30 at the shelter I used, $90 at my friend's vet's office. The animal might be uncomfortable, but more from being in a medical environment than having the chip put in. It's shot just under the epidermis, usually by the shoulder. Toby meowed a bit and fussed when he was chipped, but he was freaking out more because it was a shelter with dogs barking than because of the procedure. The procedure itself took only a few seconds and then I filled out some paperwork so they could upload my information into the database. I now can change and update Toby's information as needed (such as with my new address and his most recent rabies shot) so that if he were to ever escape he wouldn't be in danger from being put down for rabies fears or simply due to shelter overcrowding. If he was found, the shelter would scan him, call me, and hold him until I could pick him up.

We will never be able to 100% prevent our pets from getting loose, but we can make it a little bit easier for them to find their way home.