Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mutts are the best, and Ann Arbor is a dog-friendly town

Dogs who find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being abandoned, homeless and waiting to be adopted, numbers in the millions nationwide.

Despite low-cost spay and neuter programs, overpopulation is a problem.

For many dogs though, they end up in shelters, rescues and humane societies due to their owners' inability to provide what they need - whether it be time, proper training or financial resources to care the pet. Factors like a life-change or perhaps moving into a place that doesn't allow pets might be behind the decision.

Sometimes the life that a dog has led before coming into a shelter situation is a mystery - they are found wandering alone, no identification, hungry.

One thing is for sure: Dogs that are waiting to be adopted at shelters are superb choices for family pets. And as many dog owners will attest, mutts are the best!

Jill Costello knows this all too well. Her pooch, Pete was a shelter dog. Despite what his life might have been like prior to the two of them coming together, he lives an amazing life now.

At the time, Costello and her husband were living in Denver, Colorado, and she was longing for a dog. Since her better half was in sales, that meant that he was gone quite a bit - which made for some lonely periods of time for Costello. The timing was perfect to welcome a pet.

Due to her volunteer work in a local shelter there, and also knowing the plight of puppy mills, adopting a homeless pet - preferably a mutt - was logical to the prospective dog owner.

At the time, the Costello's lived in an apartment, so they knew that a small dog would be ideal as a house mate. The search began, but smaller breeds are always adopted quickly, as it was discovered. A call would be made, and the same disappointing response was heard - 'Sorry - they've been adopted.'

"I basically stalked the local shelter's website," she jokes, "checking it several times a day because it would be updated so often with new dogs."

But one day, a small tri-color terrier mix appeared on the website while Costello was checking it from work.

"I saw the picture and called right then. He was available, so I made arrangements to leave work immediately to go meet him," Costello recalls excitedly.

Upon seeing him in person and spending some time with the then underweight 13-pound pooch, she knew that he was the one. There wasn't much known about his past, as is the case with some dogs that find themselves in a shelter, but it was clear that he as no worse for the wear from his previous life experience. He was housebroken, good on a leash and very well-behaved.

An earlier phone call to her husband telling him the good news resulted in the response to Costello: If you feel that he's the right one, then bring him home. We've talked about this for awhile, and I trust your judgement.

It turned out to be a great decision. Pete adjusted easily into family life and had no issues. A fast learner, Pete can do tricks, like high-five, play dead, hop like a bunny - and he's a master at hide-and-go-seek.
Photo courtesy of Jill Costello

The fun-loving pooch was entered into the very first 'Best Mutt in Show' competition on ABC's 'The View' - and won. As you'll remember, Pete isn't the first dog with an Ann Arbor connection to win the coveted honor. This years' top dog was none other than Ann Arbor's own Sweetie Sue, a former shelter dog herself.

"It was a fun experience getting to travel to New York, and seeing Pete win," muses Costello, "meeting the hosts, being on TV and seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff was really interesting for me. Pete was so nonchalant about the whole thing. He was just having a good time, going with the flow."

Fast forward 3 1/2 years after coming together, the family now lives in Ann Arbor. The now 22-pound sidekick gets to take advantage of the area's many dog-friendly spots, dog parks, including Olson Park and Swift Run - and hiking trails. Costello says that she's thrilled with all that's available for families with dogs in Washtenaw County, counting Mill Pond Park as a favorite, too.

Ann Arbor's downtown area is favorable, too as Costello notes. "Not all towns are as dog-friendly. And, people here are genuinely mindful about not only how they interact with their dogs, but how others do as well."

The positive interaction is important not only for good socialization with dogs and their owners, but children, too. When kids see adults treating animals kindly, it trickles down and sets an example for them to emulate throughout their life.

Adopting a shelter dog has been a rewarding experience for Costello, and she encourages people who are ready to welcome a dog into their family to consider that option first.

Local organizations like the Humane Society of Huron Valley is a great place to not only to adopt a pet like Hercules, a recent graduate of MiPaws - but as a resource for many things pet-related.

Lorrie Shaw wrote "Getting the message: Teaching kids about animals". She welcomes your contact via email, and to follow her daily adventures as owner of Professional Pet Sitting on Twitter.

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