By Chandra Kendall, as told to Stephanie Watson
My family had several cats when I was growing up, but only one dog. Her name was Missy. When I was about 5 years old, Missy was hit by a car and died. My parents wouldn't let me get another dog.
I didn’t get another dog until I was married. Today, I have three of them. All my dogs are rescues. There are so many full shelters, and many of them are kill shelters. Each year, 670,000 dogs are euthanized -- put to sleep. These dogs need homes. They don't deserve to die.
I know from experience that shelters are full of every dog breed, size, and age. Some of them sit there for months, waiting for someone to adopt them, like my mixed breed, Carly.
My Pet Adoptions
Carly was at our local Humane Society for 15 months. The longer she sat in her kennel, the more depressed and stressed-out she became. My husband, Steve, and I followed the Humane Society's posts about Carly for months. No one adopted her. We visited her a couple of times and felt that we just had to get her out of there, so we made the decision to adopt her.
I found Molly roaming the streets of Brunswick, GA. She was so skinny that I could see her ribs poking out through her skin. I took her to our local animal shelter to have her checked for a microchip with an identification number. She didn't have one. The shelter held Molly for 7 days to see if her owner might come forward, but they never did. We fostered her for a few days before deciding we would be her forever home.
Susie Q was deemed too aggressive by our local animal shelter. She was going to be euthanized. The organization I volunteer with, No Kill Glynn County, found a rescue for her in Virginia. Steve and I fostered her until it was time for her to go. But once she left, we realized that she was meant to be ours, so we brought her back.
Susie Q wasn't aggressive. She was just reacting to a very stressful environment. The shelter had mislabeled her, as so many shelters do. They would have put her to sleep for no reason.
Adopting a New Dog
I've found that spending time with dogs at a shelter is the best way to get to know their personalities and temperaments, and to find one that fits your lifestyle and activity level. If you have other pets, take them to the shelter for a meet-and-greet.
Once you've found a good match, the shelter will require you to fill out some paperwork, and, in some cases, pay an adoption fee. Some nonprofit organizations, like the Bissell Pet Foundation, will cover the adoption fee to help dogs find homes.
Once you get home, you'll need to make your dog feel comfortable in their new surroundings. Some people expect their dog to fit in right away. Acclimating a dog to new surroundings is a process that can take a few months. Patience is key. Be prepared to take the time, and be committed to the process.
Every dog requires a different level of training. Some may need to be potty trained, and you can do that yourself. Others are difficult to walk on a leash or may not get along with your other dogs at first. A qualified dog trainer can help with those kinds of issues.
Carly needed extra time to get used to our home. She had lived in a kennel her entire life, and the outside world was very scary and overwhelming to her. Her experience had left her shy and afraid of strangers. She was only comfortable in a small, confined area, which we called her "safe space."
For shy dogs like Carly, dog parks or doggie daycare can be useful. Often dogs feel more comfortable around other dogs than around people. Slowly introduce your dog to new things, and only move forward when they're ready.
We allowed Carly to stay in her safe space for as long as she needed. We didn't overwhelm her with affection or stay too close to her. Slowly, she started to venture into other areas of our home. Over a period of many months, she gradually became more comfortable with us. Today she is a wonderful dog. She feels right at home with us now, although she still likes to have her space.
Molly was the exact opposite. She was only a year old when we adopted her, and she'd never lived inside. For the first few days, she was like a mini hurricane, jumping on and off our furniture, gobbling up food in the kitchen, and terrorizing our cat. I wasn't prepared for that!
I worried she'd be like that forever. I called a friend who was volunteering at the Humane Society at the time, and she told me to be patient. She was right. After a few months, Molly calmed down and fell into a routine.
I believe that you haven't lived until you've experienced the unconditional love of a dog. What my dogs have given me is immeasurable. I've learned so much from them. They always make me laugh, and they can make any bad day so much better. I call it "dog therapy."
I try to give back to my furry friends by volunteering for No Kill Glynn County (NKGC), a nonprofit organization that's working to end euthanasia by finding homes for unwanted or homeless cats and dogs. We help to get animals out of our local shelter, foster them, and find them rescues or loving homes.
I also walk the shelter dogs to get them out of their kennels, and to learn more about them and their personalities. The more we know about them, the easier it is to find them a home. Each month, I buy an ad in our local newspaper to get exposure for some of our dogs so they can be seen and ultimately adopted.
It's heartbreaking to see so many amazing dogs in the shelter in need of loving homes. So many of them have been abused, neglected, or subjected to animal cruelty, including dogfighting. They can't speak for themselves. We need to be their voice.
Adopting a dog is rewarding in so many ways, but it is a commitment. So many of the dogs at the shelters are dumped by owners who just gave up on them. When you do adopt a dog, think of them as a member of your family, and treat them accordingly. Remember that you are their whole world. They deserve to be your whole world, too.