I'm in a bit of a mood.  My rescue work is getting me down lately, making me irritable. I try to keep it in check, but occasionally I turn into Yosemite Sam, shooting myself up off the ground with my pistols (with apologies to my stad for stealing his metaphor).  A couple weeks ago, a lady contacted us (the rescue) to surrender a puppy.  I re-arranged my schedule, missed my step aerobics class, and was all set for her to show up at my house with the puppy.  She called twenty minutes beforehand (after all of the re-arranging was done, mind you) to cancel.  She said she'd found another home for the dog but would let me know if that opportunity fell through.  I was vaguely miffed, but not to the level of my skull bursting or anything.

The woman then emailed me the following morning to say that she hadn't found a home after all and would be bringing the dog that evening.  Again, lots of re-arranging on my end. I asked P to take the kid to swim class and made alternate arrangements for dinner so that I could race to the grocery store and be home in time to meet the puppy owner at the appointed time.  I whipped through the grocery store like I was on meth. I then sprinted into my house to find . . . a message.  She'd again found a home for the dog.  However, I was having trouble understanding the voicemail so I thought I'd better call her back.

She cheerfully told me she'd given the dog away to someone who lives on a farm.  No apology, nothing.  I lost it.  I told her that she'd caused me significant inconvenience (plus, I really wanted to get that pup into rescue and have her spayed).  She started raising her voice and telling me that if I'm so busy, maybe I shouldn't be a volunteer.  I have time to volunteer; what I don't have time for is crazy people. I busted out a few choice phrases and then hung up.  Not one of my prouder moments, but it is what it is.

The thing is, I may be a "type A" personality and all that, but I honestly don't think of myself as a hothead. I generally wake up in a good mood and manage to stay on an even keel.  I keep things light at work and try to get a laugh out of my co-workers when I can. I'm a project manager for a web development company and clients regularly tell me that I'm very  responsive and helpful.  I'm efficient, and they appreciate that.  

The problem with volunteering, though, is that some people forget you're a volunteer. I don't get a lot of abuse from clients at work but if they do want to take me to task for some reason, I can deal because, well, I get paid to keep them happy.  When it comes to rescue work, however . . .  I AM NOT GETTING PAID, PEOPLE.  I do it because I care about the dogs. Sure, I still try to be as professional as I can manage to be (some days are obviously better than others), but that doesn't mean there isn't a limit to how much abuse I'll take. I've had nasty-grams from declined applicants (listen, it's not my fault you have a crappy veterinary care history and have re-homed every cat and dog you've ever owned), been stood up more times than I can count (both by people coming to meet a dog and people surrendering a dog), and yes, sometimes I get a little crabby.

To be sure, I meet a lot of very nice people in the course of volunteering in rescue.  Some of my very best friends are my fellow volunteers.  Many of the adopters I've met have such big hearts they literally take my breath away.  Every week I am humbled by donations (some totaling more than my paycheck) coming out of the blue.  Or by the applicants who pass the youngsters by and ask, "Is the one with the grey muzzle and cloudy eyes still available? I think he's beautiful." And let me tell you, you would not believe how hard my fellow volunteers work on behalf of the dogs - not for a pat on the back or any sort of adulation at all. Good people, one and all.

About half the dogs come to us from shelters and the other half come from surrendering owners. Owners surrender their dogs to us for many reasons: moving, new baby, not enough time, etc.  Some reasons obviously seem more legitimate to me than others, but it is not my place to judge.  I'm here for the dogs.

You've probably guessed that all of this discourse is leading up to something, and it is.  For almost 11 years I've taken care of dogs that don't belong to me.  I've cleaned up poop, vomit, pee, and a few things I couldn't actually identify.  I've held a Boxer's head in my lap as he died (more than a few times). I've pulled rusty choke chains from around dogs' necks. I've been bitten. I've taught dogs basic obedience in hopes that it will increase their odds of finding a forever home.  I've invited strangers into my home to meet the dogs.  My reward?  A gentle kiss from a smooshy-faced Boxer.  The ultimate reward?  The perfect adopter comes along and promises to love that dog as much as I do. Someone who won't let the dog down.

We see a lot of happy endings, and that's what keeps me going.  What brings me down, though, is when people don't keep their word. Honoring one's commitments in life seems, at times, a lost ideal.  The biggest challenge is holding my tongue when someone returns a dog.  Sometimes I manage to do so and sometimes I don't.  I think that people start out with good intentions but somehow fail to recognize that just loving a dog is not enough.  One of the biggest problems I see is that people fail to provide effective leadership for their dog(s).  Right now one of my former foster dogs is being returned to the rescue and I'm frustrated because the dog they have allowed him to become is not the dog he was in my home.  They tell me that he growls when they tell him to get off the couch.  Well, then, don't let him on the flippin' couch!  You won't see dogs laying on the couch at my house.  If they put so much as one foot up on the cushion, they get an "Unh-unh!" in a loud, firm voice.  There are doggie pillows on the floor for them. They don't need to be on the couch and for some dogs, having too many privileges just leads to very bad things. 

If you are thinking of getting a dog, please give some thought to what you are getting into.  Whether you adopt an adult dog or purchase a puppy, a basic understanding of canine behavior will make your life a lot easier.  Pick up a copy of How to be the Leader of the Pack and The Culture Clash. Both are invaluable.  Dogs fare best when you make life black and white for them. Don't leave them wondering if they are the Big Kahuna at your house, because they will attempt to fill the role if you don't (which then leads to a growling dog on your couch).  Set your dog up for success, be a good pack leader, honor your commitment.  Please.

Me and Griffin, one of my favoritest foster dogs of all time