In defence of rescue dogs.

'Don't let these images harden your heart'.
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'Don't let these images harden your heart'.

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I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for a cute puppy. In fact I rank ‘We’re Getting a Dog’ announcements up there with weddings invitations and baby showers. I firmly believe that adding a dog to your life can be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. But Australia, I’m worried we’re becoming a nation of dog snobs. In a world filled with as many brands of designer dogs as there are designer handbags, the humble rescue dog seems to have fallen by the wayside. Most recent case in point being our own PM, Julia Gillard welcoming a Cavoodle puppy into the Lodge without a second thought to the hundreds of thousands of rescues across Australia currently looking for a loving home. Not happy, Julia. But the sad thing is, she’s not alone.

Now I’m not going to come across all holier than thou on this topic, because the minute I start throwing stones my whole house will come crashing down. You see, a little over 10 years ago I purchased my dog from a pet store. Young, uneducated and completely naïve, I fell in love with a black and white bundle of fluff in a store window, paid $200 and took her home. Do I regret that day? Not at all, it brought my best friend into my life – my dog has seen me through career changes, relationship break-ups, bad decisions, good decisions and has been there panting away at my side day after day.

But do I regret where I got my dog from? You bet. You see in Australia alone we euthanise over 200, 000 homeless pets every year because rescue shelters are unable to find them a loving home. That equates to 22 animals put to sleep every hour because nobody wants them. That’s right – by the time you’ve finished your lunch, 22 pets will have lost their lives.

To put it simply Australia is currently crippled by an over supply of dogs. From backyard breeders, to puppy farms, and the ever growing high demand for designer dogs, this oversupply is showing no signs of letting up. I don’t know about you, but to me there’s a cruel irony in the fact that while some people are paying thousands of dollars to have the perfect dog created for them, other dogs are being put to death for not being perfect enough. So much for Australia being the nation that supports the underdog.

Now I have nothing against well bred designer dogs – Cavoodles, Schnoodles, Moodles, Japoodles… their names alone make me smile. Nor do I have anything against responsible, registered breeders. In my time working on Harry’s Practice I came across a number of devoted, ethical breeders who loved every dog they produced like it was their own.

But what I struggle with is that while most of us see the adoption of a rescue dog as a good idea in theory, when it comes to the reality of getting a new pooch, too often I hear the words, “I was going to get a rescue, but…” And I have to say, all of these excuses are starting to give shelter dogs a bad rap. So for anyone out there considering getting a new pet, I want to speak up on behalf of all rescue dogs and debunk a few myths in the process:

1. I can’t get a shelter dog, I have allergies. Well, I’m sorry say but there actually is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. (Cue audience collective gasp.) Allergies are actually causes by a dog’s dander (shedding skin cells) that are present in every breed. While breeds such a poodles, or poodle crosses, shed less hair than other breeds – making them ideal for allergy sufferers – there is no actual miracle ‘allergy free’ dog on the market. So why not consider one of the many poodles, crosses and other low shedding breeds available at dog shelters?

2. I can’t get a shelter dog, I want a puppy. I get this one. I really do. I am yet to meet anyone in life who doesn’t think puppies are cute. There’s something amazingly wonderful about the idea of caring for a pet from such a young age. But on the flip side, there also has to be something said for not having to go through months of toilet training, chewed up shoes and ripped off clothes from the washing line. But if I can’t completely sell you on this one and you have your heart set on a little furry baby to call your own, just remember there are lots of puppies available through the myriad of rescue organisations that exist in Australia.

3. I can’t get a shelter dog, rescue dogs are TROUBLE. If by trouble, you mean awesome, well yes. But really, it’s important to remember that not every rescue dog was found living the tough life on the streets selling crack to buy kibble. Lots of these dogs turn up in shelters after their owners have passed away, or have surrendered them due to changes in their home situations, so as a result many of these pooches are already lead and toilet trained. And yes, even those crack-selling, graffiti-tagging, no-hope rescue dogs turn their lives around with all dogs undergoing some standard training before being re-homed.

4. I can’t get a shelter dog, I want a specific breed. Researched your lifestyle, your living situation, and how much time you can spend with your future pet? Good on you. But don’t forget that rescue shelters deal with a wide variety of breeds and they may have the exact dog you are looking for. Don’t limit your search to the local pound. Get online and look up the rescue clubs associated with your favourite breeds. The result? You get a perfect-match pet, they get a loving home. Win-Win.

5. I can’t get a shelter dog, they are too old to bond with me. On the contrary, rescue dogs are often so happy to be given a second chance, they will be the most devoted, loyal and loving companions you could ever ask for. True story.

So you see – rescue dogs aren’t so bad. So while I wish every new pet owner a wonderful life full of hugs and licks and everything in between, it still won’t stop me hoping that the next time we’re all looking for a dog, we’ll choose to save a life in the process.

Anyone wanting to help rescue dogs can become a ‘Guardian Angel’ for a shelter pet through the RSPCA Angel Project It’s a wonderful initiative that helps homeless animals over the very busy holiday period and you can give as much or as little as you like.

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