Hazel - by John Sealander

When I first saw Hazel, I never dreamed this active and energetic young Dalmatian would come to represent the fate of the entire breed for me. I noticed her immediately when I went to pick up my own dog at the vet. She was sitting on a blanket in her crate, playing with a chew toy, exactly like half a dozen other dogs who were waiting for their owner's to pick them up at the end of the day.

Nobody came for Hazel though. She seemed like a permanent fixture at the vet's office. When I asked why this apparently healthy and thoroughly delightful young dog was at the clinic so often, I learned that she lived there. Temporarily at least. Hazel had been abandoned.

It took me a while to realize the magnitude of the problem. The reason that Hazel had taken up temporary residence in a veterinary clinic in the first place was that all the other alternatives had already been exhausted. She was one of the lucky ones. Hazel's personal angel took the form of a kindhearted vet who didn't want to see her put down just because all the area shelters and rescue groups were full.

My town has several first-rate shelters. They are always full. There is also an active Dalmatian rescue group in the area. The volunteers at Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas do wonderful work and manage to find good homes for over 40 abandoned Dalmatians a year. This is hard work, since it takes an average of six months to find a home for an adult Dalmatian after it has been abandoned. It is never ending work as well. For every dog the local rescue group successfully places in a new home, they receive 100 calls from other people asking if they will take yet another dog to place. Despite their best efforts to find homes for all, many dogs like Hazel must try their luck elsewhere.

It would be nice if all unwanted Dalmatians eventually found a home somewhere. Unfortunately, most of them don't. For every lucky dog with a guardian angel vet who cures the heartworms caught after being abandoned on the street and offers a warm safe clinic until a new home can be found, there are countless other Dalmatians who end their lives as abandoned, unwanted, abused or mistreated animals.

The supply of Dalmatians that people have grown tired or bored with is seemingly endless. Every year, Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas takes in forty to fifty dogs from shelters, private homes, boarding kennels and clinics. This is just one Dalmatian rescue group in one city. Multiply this number by the number of towns where you can rent a copy of "101 Dalmatians" and you begin to realize the seriousness of the problem. Dalmatians are being taken to groomers and never picked up. They are abandoned in public parks. They are given away because they shed too much. Or most commonly, just because they aren't puppies anymore. One year old Dalmatians are returned to rescue groups with such appalling regularity that it makes you wonder if their owners thought they had just rented them like the Disney movie that caused the problem in the first place.

There's nothing cuter than a Dalmatian puppy. If baby Dalmatians were ugly and mean, there wouldn't be much of a problem. Unfortunately, they are every bit as cute as the playful pups in the movie that sealed their fate. To this day, parents buy Dalmatian pups as a pacifier for children who are no longer satisfied watching Pongo and Purdie on the screen. In their efforts to placate the kids, they don't even think that their new puppy will soon grow into a very energetic, playful and often stubborn 50 to 70 pound dog with a whip-like tail that can clear a coffee table in seconds.

Dalmatians are wonderful dogs. Spot, my own Dalmatian, has been my constant companion for over 12 years now and I can't imagine life without him. The very fact that Dalmatians are well suited for me should be all the proof anyone needs that these dogs are not for everyone.

I don't have children. Despite the opinions of millions of kids to the contrary, Dalmatians are not a good choice for families with small children. They are simply too strong and too active for toddlers. Sadly, most families discover this after they buy a puppy. A disproportionate share of abandoned Dalmatians come from families with small children.

Dalmatians take a long time to mature. I can relate to this, since I took a long time to mature as well. This perpetual puppyhood isn't a characteristic that endears them to everyone, however. Dalmatian's are extremely intelligent and inquisitive. Some people are still convinced they can't be trained however. I'm convinced they are just using the wrong methods. A Dalmatian typically doesn't respond to the physical corrections that are used with other breeds. Brute force doesn't work, but patience does. Most abandoned Dalmatians were owned by impatient people. If you like having teenagers around the house, you'll probably like a Dalmatian.

It's a big mistake to try to keep a Dalmatian in an apartment. They are very active dogs and need lots of space. You have to remember that they were bred to run with a coach and horses. A young and healthy Dalmatian can run a lot longer than you can. They're a great choice if you like to jog or happen to have a horse yourself. If you just want to dump them in the back yard while you watch television, you might want to rethink your choice of pet. Don't ever leave your Dalmatian tied up in the back yard on a chain. Not only will your dog not get enough exercise, it will become aggressive as well.

A Dalmatian doesn't really ask for all that much. They are very social animals and just want to be around you 24 hours a day. They are perfect for people who work at home, or have the luxury of taking their dog to work. Most behavior problems with Dalmatians are directly proportional to the amount of attention they are getting. The Dalmatian who is relegated to a dog house in the back yard will dig up your flowers, climb over your fence and occasionally even bite your best friend. The Dalmatian who exercises, travels and spends its evenings sleeping at the foot of your bed is an entirely different animal. Dalmatians aren't stupid. They'll treat you just as well as you treat them.

I can't say enough good things about Dalmatians. They are loyal, intelligent and quick to learn. It's no surprise that Dalmatians have been favored as circus performers for hundreds of years. You will never see a Dalmatian as a seeing-eye dog, but they do make good work dogs in special situations. Some of the most celebrated drug sniffing dogs in the US Customs Service are Dalmatians. My own dog wastes his special olfactory skills looking for dead fish along the lake behind my house and playing endless games of "hide the biscuit" in the house. He does have a remarkably good nose however.

A Dalmatian's playful, inquisitive nature can keep you entertained all day long. If you'd rather be left alone, they might not be the right dog for you. A Dalmatian that doesn't demand your undivided attention isn't a normal Dalmatian. Everyone has heard about deaf Dalmatians, but not nearly as many know that they are prone to uric stones and skin problems as well. You can spend quite a bit on vet bills with a Dalmatian.

Before meeting Hazel, I don't think I would have been quite so open about sharing my dog's shortcomings with the world. Now I see things a bit differently. It doesn't bother me that Spot seems to shed his own weight in dog hair every few months. It doesn't bother me that he has to get an antigen shot for skin allergies every two weeks for the rest of his life. It doesn't bother me that he needs two long walks every day, rain or shine.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as charmed by this breed's unique personality as I am. If they were, groups like Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas and other like them around the country wouldn't have their hands full trying to find homes for a seemingly endless supply of great dogs that simply weren't appreciated. If you want a Dalmatian, think again. If you still want one, great. I hope you enjoy yours as much as I do. Don't automatically go out and get a puppy like I did however. Times have changed. Mr. Disney made sure of that. Before you get your dog, think about Hazel. She eventually found a good home. The dogs taken in by Dalmatian rescue groups around the country eventually find good homes too. It takes way too long though. And even worse, only about one out of every fifteen abandoned Dalmatians is lucky enough to find a foster home with a rescue group or a kindly vet. Sure a puppy is cute. But if you are really meant to be a Dalmatian owner, there's a wonderful abandoned Dalmatian already waiting for you somewhere.

If you enjoy these stories and would like to help this wonderful breed of dogs, please consider making a donation to Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas. Your donation will help Dalmatian Rescue continue to rescue and rehabilitate the hundreds of Dalmatians that are abandoned in North Texas every year. To help give a deserving Dalmatian a second chance, just click on the button to your left. You can use any major credit card to make your donation instantly and no matter what you choose to give, you can feel a little better knowing that you have helped a dog very much like Spot find the one thing it really needs: a home.

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copyrightę1999. Contact John Sealander at: john@sealander.com 11484 readers since 5/26/99