Rescue a Friend
By Candice Russell / October, 2011

Americans love dogs. These exceptionally loyal animal companions are in 39 per cent of U.S. homes, according to the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners survey. Dogs serve as best friends, protectors, and family members. They accompany us on walks, play with us, and lie quietly with us when we aren't feeling well. They teach children about the value of responsibility and the joy to be taken in their company.

But not all dogs are lucky. Many thousands, too many, of them live in caged enclosures and hope for better days. Found on the street or abandoned by their owners who moved away, died or could no longer afford their care, these dogs are sociable and hungry for human companionship.

October is National Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month. In light of this fact, it is sobering to realize that five out of ten dogs in shelters never find a forever home. Instead, they are euthanized.

Almost every person who adopts a dog from a shelter, such as Broward County Animal Care and Regulation Division and the Humane Society of Broward County, says that the dog seems especially grateful; as if it knew what fate it escaped. Being rescued may underscore a dog's normal sense of loyalty to its new human companion.

That would certainly be the case for Paco, a feisty rescued chihuahua in Altadena, California, who developed a hyperactive protectiveness. Owner Eric Knight allows the dog to patrol the neighborhood and look in on neighboring businesses.

When two gun-toting, masked men robbed Knight's cigar shop in daylight, Paco sprang into action, jumping on to one robber's leg. Barking furiously, the small animal chased the bad guys out of the shop and across the street.

The special aspects of dogs that used to live in shelters are well known. International canine celebrity Rin Tin Tin, a German shepherd, was rescued as a puppy from a bombed kennel in Lorraine, France during World War I. Brought to Los Angeles, Rin Tin Tin served as the model to help create the U.S. military working dog training program at California's Camp Hahn in 1939. Subsequent generations of Rin Tin Tin continued his legacy of service, as popularized in the mid-century TV show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.

If you remember the tear-jerking movie Old Yeller, the huggable dog that starred in the film was discovered by animal trainer Frank Weatherwax at a shelter in Van Nuys, California. Another trainer, Frank Inn, found a puppy named Higgins at the Burbank Animal Shelter in southern California. There was something special about him that went beyond his broad range of endearing facial expressions.

Higgins had the knack to learn tricks. He could climb ladders, open mailboxes, and follow cues like yawning and sneezing. These abilities led Higgins to a recurring role in TV's Petticoat Junction, then guest appearances on Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. But the movie Benji provided him with his most famous role at age fourteen. He went on to win Picture Animal Top Star of the Year in 1967.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO and President of the Humane Society of the U.S., says, "Dogs are great at reading people. They are very, very capable of mirroring our behavior. They give us unconditional love. Dogs are surprising, fascinating and smart. They command our attention in so many ways."

At the Humane Society of Broward County (HSBC), it is possible to put your name on a waiting list for a special breed. It may take weeks or months, but that rare dog you seek is bound to show up sooner or later. A surprising fact is that fully twenty-five per cent of dogs in shelters are purebreds.

"When a family decides to get a dog, the first place it should visit is the Humane Society of Broward County or a local animal shelter," says Cherie Wachter, vice president of marketing of the HSBC. "I think people would be surprised by the amazing animals that end up in a shelter, usually for no fault of their own. At the HSBC, the majority of pets we have are surrendered by their owners for reasons ranging from 'moving' and 'got too big' to 'allergic' and 'can't afford.'

"Often times, these pets are well-trained, eager to please and simply looking for another family to love. When you adopt an adult dog, there are no surprises as far as how big it will get or what its personality is like."

Wachter says that there are misconceptions about shelter dogs. "Sometimes people think that a shelter dog won't bond with you and that is simply not the case," she says. "Take it from me, who has adopted many older dogs, ten-plus in years. These dogs have been so grateful and, given some time to acclimate to their new surroundings, acted like they had lived with me their entire lives... a shelter dog may have initially grown up with another family. But it is looking for a second chance from you to give a dog a home for life."

Adopting a dog from a shelter is the morally right thing to do -- you will save a dog's life in the process. You will get a healthy pet, vetted by the shelter staff. And you will save money. You won't be supporting puppy mills, the factory-like facilities that breed dogs and put profit above the welfare of animals. These awful places have poor conditions and improper medical care. Parent dogs are caged and bred repeatedly, leaving them without human companionship.

But some people find visiting a shelter to be intimidating and/or overwhelming. To ease the process of adoption, shelter organizers in Orlando recently hosted a speed-dating event for dogs at a restaurant. It was spotlighted on NBC-TV's "Nightly News" with reporter Kerry Sanders. All sizes and kinds of canines were bathed and styled for the special meet-and-greet with potential adopters. The dogs, which bore new haircuts, soon found new owners.

Another means of making adoption easy is to visit the web sites of various local organizations. All post photos and descriptions of the dogs, from gender to size and personality. It is a way to narrow the search for the perfect pet for you and your family.

These are a few of the South Florida shelters to find adoptable dogs.

Broward County Animal Care & Regulation Division has two facilities:

Fort Lauderdale Adoption Center
1870 S.W. 39th St.
Telephone: 954-359-1313

Pompano Beach Adoption Center
3100 N.W. 19th Terrace
Telephone: 954-359-1313

Humane Society of Broward County
2070 Griffin Road
Fort Lauderdale
Telephone: 954-463-4870

Animal Aid, Inc. (a no-kill shelter)
2266 North Dixie Highway
Boca Raton
Telephone: 561-393-1463

Tri-County Humane Society (a no-kill shelter)
21287 Boca Rio Road
Boca Raton
Telephone: 561-477-7717

9381 West Sample Road , Suite 203
Coral Springs, FL 33065
Phone: 954-755-9800
Fax: 954-755-2082

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