Second Chances - by John Sealander

At first glance, it seems almost overwhelming: sixteen adult Dalmatians with a variety of health and behavior problems, all waiting in small indoor kennel runs to find the permanent home that has eluded them for months or even years. Some of these dogs were surrendered by owners who thought they were too old, or too active, or possibly too much like an absolutely normal adult dog. Other dogs were rescued from area animal shelters where they were scheduled to be euthanized, simply to ensure there would be room at the end of the day to euthanize even more dogs the next day. You'd think it would be easy to find good homes for 16 great looking, friendly Dalmatians, but with over a dozen new abandoned Dals appearing on the horizon each and every month, the supply of good dogs often exceeds the demand. When I look at the sixteen eager faces in the kennels, all waiting for their Sunday walk, I realize that I am only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Even in a month filled with fundraising successes, the rescue organization I work with only has the resources to serve two or three counties in North Texas. Statewide there are hundreds of abandoned Dalmatians just like these in need of a permanent home. Nationwide, the numbers are staggering. There are literally thousands of Dalmatians who have been cast aside like an old sofa on the side of the road.

I often wonder where these dogs come from and why there are so many. It's easy to blame the Disney movies, but it's really not that simple. Since many dogs are pulled from municipal pounds and animal shelters, it is impossible to know every dog's story. You begin to get an idea why the problem is so overwhelming however when you talk to people who voluntarily surrender their dogs. There are simply a lot of bad dog owners out there.

People surrender perfectly good dogs simply because they are moving and don't want to bother taking their loyal companion with them. Others never pick their pet up from the vet when it gets sick to avoid paying the vet bill. This is especially true for large dogs who get heartworms, usually because their owners failed to keep them on heartworm preventative in the first place. A responsible owner would never ever abandon their pet because it had become sick, but it happens all the time. Dalmatians are routinely surrendered because they accidentally knock objects of the coffee table with their tails, or even more commonly, because a young couple is planning a family and have heard that Dalmatians aren't good with young children.

I used to think it was sad that responsible breeders were increasing selling their puppies only to people who were serious about showing the dog. Dalmatians are wonderful companion dogs and it just seemed like a shame that it was becoming so difficult to find a good quality puppy. If all you wanted was a loyal companion to watch TV on the bed with you, you were often out of luck. Now that I have personally met so many terrible dog owners as a result of my work with rescue organizations, I'm beginning to think that the breeders might be right.

Lots of people don't even bother to keep their Dalmatian on heartworm preventative, even though any veterinarian will tell you it is a virtual certainty the dog will become infected without the preventative medicine. When you ask people why they aren't giving their dog regular heartworm shots or pills, you will hear any number of lame excuses. "We don't have any mosquitoes in our yard," many say. Others don't even know what heartworms are until a vet finds their dog to be heartworm positive. Amazingly, many of these people still don't bother to do the right thing and treat the dog. Instead, they tell their vet to just put the dog down because they don't want to pay for the admittedly expensive treatment.

Luckily, in most states, a dog is considered abandoned when an owner refuses to pay a bill or pick the dog up from the vet within a reasonable amount of time. Veterinarians will usually call a rescue organization before they will euthanize a treatable dog at an owner's request. Every year there are several dogs admitted to our program as a result of owners who refused to do the right thing and treat their sick dog.

I never cease to be amazed at how casually many people take the responsibility that comes with owning a pet. They feed their dog table scraps. They never bother to exercise, walk or train their pet. They routinely leave it outside in very hot or cold weather. They don't see a veterinarian on a regular basis and still they have the nerve to complain about their pet's behavior. It never occurs to them that maybe their dog is digging in the backyard because it is totally ignored all day or that it is chewing shoes or knocking things off the coffee table with its tail because the owner never bothered to provide their pet with even the most rudimentary training or socialization skills.

I got my first Dalmatian from a good breeder. The dog was strong and healthy, well socialized and enjoyed a long and happy life. I still think that the best way to get a dog that meets all your expectations is to find a good quality puppy from a reputable breeder and train it yourself. Friends often wonder why my second Dalmatian is a rescue dog, even though I think that a good breeder still provides the most direct route to a healthy, well adjusted dog.

The answer is pretty easy when you see the 16 homeless Dalmatians I am looking at now. These are wonderful dogs that deserve a second chance. Some of the dogs in our program obviously came from puppy mills and irresponsible breeders, but many came from good bloodlines as well. I have come to learn that people will abandon an AKC registered dog just as easily as they will a mixed-breed mutt. Large or small; male or female; liver spotted or black and white; all the dogs in our program have one thing in common: they were all unlucky puppies who had the bad luck of going home with an irresponsible owner.

The goal of most rescue organizations is simple: they just want to provide the animals they are caring for with a second chance to find the loving, permanent home they deserved to find in the first place. This is why most good rescue organizations ask even more questions of prospective owners than breeders do. These groups know from experience what uncaring owners are capable of and do the best they can to ensure that the dogs they re-home never return to the ranks of the abandoned and homeless again.

I am confident that all of the 16 adult Dalmatians currently in our boarding kennels will eventually find a good home. We have placed 60 dogs in loving, permanent homes this year alone and the 16 still remaining in mid December will find good homes as well.

Charlie certainly deserves a good home. This beautiful young black and white male is a show quality dog who is a pleasure to walk and is gentle with children and other dogs. His only mistake was finding the wrong owner. Almost unbelievably, Charlie was surrendered because he knocked things off the coffee table with his wagging tail and chewed an occasional shoe. The owners refused to crate train him or even confine him to a safe bathroom or kitchen area while they were away at work. They just gave up and surrendered him instead.

Dixie and Dodger deserve a good home as well. This liver spotted pair came to us courtesy of the SPCA, who contrary to popular opinion, does not keep all dogs until they find their forever home. If we hadn't taken them, they would have certainly been put down. We suspect that Dixie and Dodger were an abandoned breeding pair, since neither was spayed or neutered and didn't appear to be from the same litter. They certainly get along well together. Dodger is always the perfect gentleman in public and private, although Dixie from time will lose her manners and try to eat Dodger's food or chase nearby squirrels and birds. They are both such gentle, well-mannered dogs that you always wonder where their story began. I know it will eventually have a happy ending, but it can take so long. Not many people seem to want a pair of large adult dogs.

Patti is a small lightly spotted female who practically glistens in the sun with her shiny white coat. Considering the misfortunes she has already faced, it is amazing that she is still a happy, friendly girl. Although we didn't know it at the time, Patti and her one remaining puppy had been exposed to Parvo when we picked them up from animal control at a local shelter. This is common in public shelters, since animals seldom receive veterinary care unless they are lucky enough to be selected for the shelter's adoption program. When the puppy began showing symptoms of the disease at his foster home, both Patti and the pup were taken to the veterinarian for treatment. The puppy was successfully treated for the disease, while Patti was quarantined while she could still be a carrier. Eventually both dogs received a clean bill of health. Patti's good fortunes didn't last long however. A month later when she was scheduled to be spayed, she was diagnosed with cancer. She is currently seeing an oncologist while she waits to find a home with someone who understands her special needs and is willing to make her comfortable for the time she has left.

There's nothing wrong with Ollie that a long run though a large open field wouldn't cure. Ollie hates the kennel environment and often tips over his water bowl and bed in frustration. At first, the kennel attendants thought that Ollie was wild and unmanageable, until someone tried taking him on a really long walk. After an afternoon of vigorous exercise and attention, Ollie came back a different dog. He was calm, easy to walk and promptly went to sleep on his bed. He has been much better behaved ever since. All he needed was something to look forward to. Many people forget that Dalmatians are large, active dogs who need plenty of exercise. We'll never know for sure, but there's a good chance that Ollie wound up in the pound in the first place simply because he wasn't getting the exercise he needed. Lots of dogs run away, but few run because they hate where they are living. They simply love to run and keep running until they get lost. Ollie, like most dogs we pick up, had never been neutered either, which increased his urge to stray. Every time I walk him I keep thinking what a wonderful companion he'd make for a dedicated jogger.

It's a miracle that Abby is even alive. She was rescued by a kind women in Houston who saw her get hit by a car. The woman took Abby to her local veterinarian immediately, which saved the dog's life. It took three Texas rescue groups, a team of orthopedic surgeons and lots of time and money to repair the damage however. She entered our program with her jaw wired shut and so many stitches that she looked like a hand made stuffed toy that had seen a bit too much love. It was hard to believe that she was going to be OK, but the surgeons had done their job well. Within a month, she was running around like a normal young Dalmatian with energy to burn. Even though she almost died, Abby is one of the lucky ones. She won't be with us much longer, since she is now getting ready to take her last journey to a new permanent home in Memphis.

If only Libby could be so lucky. She would make a wonderful, gentle companion for anyone who'd treat her with a little respect. When we pulled Libby from a local public shelter it was obvious that she had been mistreated. She was scared to death and would cower and assume a submissive stance whenever someone came near. If you raised your hand or made a sudden move, Libby would act as if she was anticipating getting beaten. She also had a terrible ear infection, tapeworms and skin allergies so bad that there was almost no hair remaining on her hindquarters. What a difference a good diet and a little attention can make. One month later Libby is still shy, but she no longer cowers in the corner of her kennel when people approach. Like any normal Dalmatian, she eagerly looks forward to her regular walks and loves to crawl into your lap just to keep you company.

Willie is a handsome young male who was surrendered by owners who became irritated when he repeatedly jumped their fence and ran away. Considering that the dog was covered with ticks and heartworm positive when we received him, it's no wonder that he jumped the fence. It was obvious from his condition that he was just left in the backyard and ignored. Dalmatians love being around people and typically don't respond well to being forgotten or ignored. Even in the less than perfect kennel environment that he currently calls home, Willie is already a much calmer and better socialized dog. All he needed was a little human contact.

Emmett and Chief are so normal that you could cast them as the family dog in any TV commercial. They are both well mannered and a joy to walk. Like many rescue animals, there were health problems to deal with when they first entered our program. Emmett had been exposed to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and needed to be treated with antibiotics, while Chief still had stitches from an old injury when we picked him up at the pound. The wound itself had healed and we can only guess what sort of trouble Chief had gotten into at some point in his past. From the looks of things, he either tangled with an angry cat or got himself tangled up in a barbed wire fence. Neither dog appears any worse for wear and like any normal Dalmatian, they love to play ball and take long walks.

Amy is an active, very energetic girl who would much rather run than walk. Like Ollie, the kennel attendants at the boarding facility thought she was wild and unmanageable when she first arrived. A little attention can work wonders with Dalmatians however, and less than a month after entering the rescue program she is now a model citizen. She is alert and attentive and is even learning a few commands.

Ziggy and Phantom are Dalmatian mixes that technically shouldn't even be in the program. It's hard to turn away a friendly dog, however and here they are. Although Ziggy isn't the prettiest dog in the kennel, she appears to be the best trained. She is a well-socialized owner surrender who will sit, stay, and even heal on command. So far her skills haven't helped her find a home, but it is only a matter of time. Every dog is the perfect dog for someone. It's just a question of finding them. Phantom was almost as terrified of people as Libby when he first entered the program, but he's come a long way. Now he seems perfectly normal. He loves attention, looks forward to walks and gets along well with his kennel mates.

Baxter's biggest problem is that he needs to lose a little weight. He also has a tendency to knock you over in his eagerness to say hello. In this regard, he is just another normal Dalmatian. If only he and Sam could split the difference in their weight. Sam is still painfully thin as a result of Ehrlichia, a dangerous and often under diagnosed tick borne disease that affects the immune system. He has only recently become healthy enough to begin treatment for heartworms which he also has the misfortune to have. Every week Baxter loses a pound or two while Sam gains about the same amount. Obviously, Sam's condition is more serious, but he is receiving excellent care from a concerned veterinarian and we expect both dogs to be healthy and at their ideal weight within a matter of months.

The only dog I really worry about is Sadie. She has been with us the longest and needs a very special owner since she has bitten in the past. Of all the dogs in the boarding kennel, Sadie seems the best adjusted. She is always happy and eager to see me. It is ironic that this happy little liver spotted female represents a huge liability to anyone who is interested in adopting her. We are always completely honest about her past with prospective owners. If she ever bites again, she will be automatically put down. When people realize that Sadie can never be allowed near children, can never be walked off her leash and must always go to her crate when strangers enter the house, they quickly lose interest in this little beauty. That's OK, because Sadie is safe here in the kennel and the wrong owner could endanger both her safety and themselves. Some people have told us that it would be better to euthanize a dog like Sadie. These people certainly never asked Sadie for her opinion, however. Of all the dogs in our program, she seems to have the strongest will to survive.

I visit these dogs often. Sometimes I come to take them to the vet. Other times I show them to a prospective owner. The most rewarding times however, are when there is no agenda at all. When I just come to say hello or go for a walk, I realize exactly why I got involved with animal rescue in the first place. Take any of these dogs home, give them a bath and within days they will become indistinguishable from any normal Dalmatian. They will play ball until your hand aches from throwing it. They will quickly learn exactly where the refrigerator is and become more dependable than any alarm clock at reminding you when it is time for their dinner. Like most Dalmatians, they will look for any opportunity to sleep on the bed with you and snatch your chicken sandwich off the table when you aren't looking. They are absolutely normal dogs who deserve a second chance to find the home that so far has eluded them.

I would never discourage anyone from getting a Dalmatian from a good breeder. I spent fourteen happy years with a wonderful Dalmatian that came from a very reputable breeder. My current Dalmatian came straight from the dog pound. It's hard to turn your back on an abandoned Dalmatian once you have gotten to know one. No, I haven't changed my opinion about breeders at all. If you want a healthy, well socialized puppy, a responsible breeder is still probably the best place to go. Unfortunately, not all these breeder's pups find equally responsible owners. Some wind up in kennels like ours. I think they are the lucky ones. One way or another, each of the 16 dogs I am visiting today is going to get their second chance.

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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