Choices. We make them every day, all day long. From the simple things, such as where to go for lunch to the life-altering decisions such as whom we will choose as our partner, where we will live or what job path we will pursue. These choices, although certainly influenced by outside forces, are primarily ours to make. This is not the case for our companion animals; their fate lies in our hands.
They do not get to choose with whom they live. They do not get to choose where they live. They do not get to choose whether they live inside or outside, nor when to eat, what to eat, when to go for a walk or when to go to bed. Our pets are completely at our mercy for every single aspect of their existence.
This is why our decisions about bringing animals into our lives are the single most important things in their lives. Choosing a pet on impulse or without educating ourselves on their needs can set an animal up for a calamitous future … or no future at all.
Last week, an Old English Sheepdog pup was released to the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter by his owners. This is one of my favorite breeds; having had two of them myself, I was immediately drawn to him and his story. At 10 months old, this boy had come to us as a pet shop purchase failure. His former owners were not bad people. They did, however, make a very bad choice when they saw that fuzzy, little, 8-week-old puppy in the pet shop window.
He is undoubtedly the product of a puppy mill who was then purchased by a retailer that cared nothing about what his needs might be and only about selling him for as much as possible and as quickly as possible. “Benny” is a casualty of the income-driven marketers who produce animals in quantity vs. quality conditions and sell them in quick-turnover, high-profit outlets.
He is a working breed dog that requires plentiful exercise and mental stimulation, but he ended up in a home that was unable to provide either. Benny spent his nights in a crate as well as the hours during the day when his family was at work or in school. This is a recipe for disaster in a dog with high energy levels, quick wit, and the drive to use those gifts herding and protecting his flock. Old English Sheepdogs also have a very long, dense coat that needs constant maintenance. Benny was clean, cute and fluffy on the outside, but matted from head to tail underneath.
His family had gotten in way over their heads. They had certainly loved him, as is obvious by his sweet, loving demeanor and his happiness when greeting everyone that he meets. They had taken him to obedience school when his behavior problems started to surface. Professional grooming for a dog of his size and coat type generally runs in excess of $150 a session, so they may have been unable to afford the cost of such services. Grooming them at home requires an almost daily commitment to brushing and regular trimming and shaving – something they also were unable to provide him.
In spite of all this, Benny is lucky because his first family realized that they could not meet his needs before his behavioral problems became serious. They did not put him on a chain in the yard, as so often happens. They chose to bring him to a shelter that could find an appropriate home for him. He is being helped along the way in a foster home that understands his issues and is helping to overcome them. He is gaining confidence and settling into a positive routine, and soon will become a treasure to some lucky family that can provide him the structure a working dog requires. We are partnering with New England Old English Sheepdog Rescue to ensure that the choices we make for Benny’s future will be the right ones.