Penny and Patch - by John Sealander

Penny and Patch are the quintessential rescue dogs. Like most abandoned Dalmatians, they did absolutely nothing to deserve the uncertainty and neglect that define their lives today. Their only fault was starting life as adorably cute littermates. If you had seen this brother and sister the day their new owners picked them out of the litter, you would have thought that everything would have turned out fine. The family couldn't decide which puppy they liked best, so they took them both. Everyone thought that it was so sweet that these happy spotted little pups wouldn't be separated, without even thinking that one Dalmatian was enough for all but the most energetic and active families.

Everything went smoothly for a while. Like any Dalmatian pup, Penny and Patch tested their new teeth on furniture legs, peed on the carpets and got into the garbage. Everyone thought they were so cute, but as they grew, they gradually received less and less attention. By the time they were a year old Penny and Patch had become outside dogs. They were well fed and not mistreated, but for the most part, the world's cutest puppies had become nothing more than an afterthought in their busy owner's lives.

Maybe it was ignorance or maybe it was neglect, but one day during a routine exam, their veterinarian discovered that Penny and Patch had heartworms. Neither dog was taking heartworm preventative medication. The owners said that they didn't have mosquitoes in their yard and that they didn't think they needed to give their dogs the preventative. They also didn't want to pay for the heartworm treatment, and told the vet to put the dogs down.

The vet called some rescue groups he knew instead. One group paid for the heartworm treatment and another agreed to find a home for the two dogs. You'd think that this was the beginning of a happy ending for Penny and Patch, but it wasn't going to be that easy. By the time the dogs were diagnosed with heartworm, they were over five years old. Everyone seemed to be looking for younger dogs, or dogs with more spots, or dogs that were friendly with cats. Maybe it was just bad luck, but whenever a family came to the rescue group looking for a Dalmatian, they left with a different one than Penny and Patch.

Months went by and dozens of new dogs entered the rescue program. Some were more aggressive than Penny and Patch. Others had serious health problems. A few weren't even pure bred Dalmatians, but all of them eventually found their forever home while Penny and Patch sat ignored in their kennel.

The rescue group hated to split the pair up since they were obviously attached to each other. At first it didn't seem that placing the pair together would be a problem. The dogs were quiet and well behaved. They were actually easier to walk together on a leash than many of the larger rescue dogs were to walk alone. When Penny and Patch were taken to adoption events, they never acted aggressively toward other dogs. Visitors would pet them and say over and over again what a cute pair they made, but nobody wanted to take them home.

Instead of getting a severe case of cabin fever like many dogs that spend too much time in a kennel environment, Penny and Patch grew accustomed to spending long hours in a 4 x 6 wire mesh cage. After adoption events they actually seemed eager to return to their dimly lit kennel. They both knew exactly where their designated space was in the rescue boarding facility. As soon as you opened the gate to their kennel, they would hop up on their blue nylon Kuranda dog beds and give you that contented "home again" look that most Dalmatians reserve for their human owner's bed or sofa. They were each making the best of things in their own way. The sad thing was that as they slowly adapted to the kennel environment, they became even harder to adopt.

Everyone seems to want a Dalmatian who "smiles" and licks you on the face. Since Penny and Patch had spent so much time with each other, they slowly grew less dependent on humans. This was normal pack behaviour for dogs, but their potential new owners didn't see it that way. Although Penny and Patch were calmer and better behaved than many of the other rescue Dalmatians, they didn't seem to tug at people's heartstrings. People would say that the dogs "didn't like them" when they didn't automatically lick their face or jump in their lap.

It was ironic that many Dalmatians end up in shelters in the first place as a result of their rowdy behavior, but once they've been incarcerated, potential new owners seem a bit suspicious of the calm and quiet ones. "Is that one sick," they say. Or, "Could you show me one with a little more spunk?"

I don't want to give the wrong impression here. It's not that Penny and Patch were lethargic or listless. They were just a bit calmer than the Dalmatians who loved to pull the yellow fuzz off tennis balls with their teeth, or knock you over as a way of saying hello. As time passed, each dog developed it's own distinct personality. Patch loved to eat and would try to steal Penny's food when she wasn't looking. Penny would counter by pulling the entire dish of food over to her corner of the kennel with her paw. As long as he had gotten enough to eat, Patch was the more laid back of the pair. Although both seemed docile and calm when humans were around, there must have been moments of frustration. When Patch got really mad he would pee on you or if you weren't around, something near and dear to you. Penny was a secret chewer. On two different occasions, Penny chewed a big hole in her "indestructible" dog bed. No one ever saw her do this, but it was either she or space aliens visiting her kennel at night.

Time and time again, people would come to the kennel looking for a companion for a Dalmatian they already had. Lot of people with one dog often wanted another, but very few families without a dog at all were willing to try adopting two at once. It was a "no win" situation. A few people thought three dogs would be nice, but inevitably, the dog they already had was aggressive and didn't like Penny and Patch. Penny was always the bridesmaid and never the bride, while Patch was rapidly becoming an institutionalized "lifer" who seemed at times to prefer life in a shelter to a real home.

Once, it looked like Penny and Patch would finally find the permanent home they deserved. A young couple fell in love with the dogs and wanted to adopt both of them. Everyone was happy. After a trip to the vet for their annual shots and a final bath that left them looking prettier than anyone had seen them in months, Penny and Patch got a royal send off from their rescuers and embarked on their new life as pampered house dogs.

Less than a week later they were right back where they started. The rescue group and the new family both had the best of intentions, but it just wasn't meant to be. The family had young children and became frightened of the dogs when they growled at their kids. It wasn't the dog's fault. Patch growled at the family's young boy when he got on all fours and pretended to be a dog while Patch was eating his dinner. Penny did her growling a bit later when the family tried to get her off their bed to sleep on the blanket they had prepared for her.

It would be easy for any knowledgeable dog owner to say that the rescue group shouldn't have tried to place the dogs in a home with small children. You could just as easily say that it was stupid for the young boy to pretend he was a dog and come near Patch while he was eating. The dogs should have slept in a crate for the first several weeks too, while they were getting used to their new environment. Nevertheless, when someone is genuinely interested in a rescue dog that has received no attention at all and has languished in a kennel for over a year, it is easy to overlook such things.

Nobody got hurt and everybody learned something from the experience. The family, who had rescued another Dalmatian when they were first married, realized that life with children was fundamentally different than the times they had enjoyed as a couple with their first rescue dog. The rescue group decided to not even try to place dogs with families who had children younger than six years old. You might say that all was well than ended well, but it was still very sad to bring back a sparkling clean Penny in her new pink collar and a proud looking Patch in his matching blue collar to their old kennel run at the boarding facility. When Penny and Patch returned to the kennel, they were the only ones who didn't appear to be unhappy. They both recognized their wire mesh cells, immediately started wagging their tails and hopped up on their familiar blue dog beds. In their own minds they were home again.

Did the pair even realize how badly they had screwed up? If only Penny hadn't growled and snarled at her new owners when they tried to reclaim their queen sized bed at night. Penny was just doing what she had always done. She never liked Patch to bother her while she was sleeping and would always give Patch a quick "back off" growl if he got too close. All these things can be resolved with patience and training. Maybe they can't be resolved with a two-year-old child nearby however. For every person who says that a little growling is absolutely normal, there is another who has been bitten.

Penny and Patch are perfectly normal dogs who have adapted well to an abnormal situation. It is hard to imagine why someone wouldn't be eager to offer this congenial pair a home. To the best of anyone's knowledge, neither dog has ever jumped through a glass window, killed a neighbor's cat or knocked a priceless pre-Columbian artifact off a coffee table with its tail. Their only crimes were being adorably cute puppies and wagging their tails at the wrong family.

"Pick of the litter" good looks are more than enough to get a Dalmatian puppy its first home. Finding someone who is willing to give an abandoned adult Dalmatian a second chance is a little harder. Perhaps the hardest of all is finding someone with the patience and experience to give dogs like Penny and Patch another chance at a life they don't even know they are missing.

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 Petey find the one thing it really needs: a home.

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