Back in December 2008, a holiday gift arrived at San Francisco Animal Care and Control in the form of an adorable 6-month-old, shaggy blond canine.
Too cute and sweet to describe, I took a special interest in this stray. He wasn’t the first and I’m sure he won’t be the last, since the hardest part of my job is NOT taking home all of the wonderful animals that come through our shelter doors.
With this dog, the timing was a bit too perfect. The President-elect had made numerous statements about the family’s desire to adopt a rescue dog – a mutt like him, he said. And this one possessed the attributes they sought – he had hair rather than fur for a “hypoallergenic” effect, and he loved kids, adults, and other animals.
So, like hundreds of others around the country, I’m sure, I began my quest to have him vet the first family. Not surprisingly, with the impending inauguration and the family’s last vacation as regular citizens occurring at that time, getting the attention of the president-elect’s staff proved difficult. After trying unsuccessfully for a couple of weeks, I decided to take my favorite first-dog candidate out of the shelter for a weekend retreat in my home.
My dog and cat weren’t so sure about my judgment, but they seemed to know it was temporary and suffered through it. Unfortunately, by the end of the weekend, this pup (named “Digby” by one of the shelter volunteers) had developed significant digestive issues –from both ends. Early Monday morning, his condition manifested itself as explosive hemorrhagic intestinal evacuation (that is… um… bloody diarrhea).
Within the hour, my vet had diagnosed Parvo, a virus that attacks the lining of the digestive system and which, without intensive treatment, would likely lead to death. It turns out that Parvo is on the rise in San Francisco, likely due to lack of vaccinations and the emergence of new, more virulent strains.
To make a long story short, a few thousand dollars later I became Digby’s mom. I’m happy to report that Tucker, my other dog, eventually warmed up to him. They are now best friends who play incessantly. (My cat, though she tolerates both dogs, is happiest when they are out of the house.)
I assumed this was all a pretty good outcome for both Digby and me, and that I had been through the worst with him – that is, until he got his energy back. I soon learned that he loves to play in dirt and mud, even joyfully submerging his face into puddles. And he seems to enjoy chewing up DVDs, even though this leaves him with symptoms not unlike those of Parvovirus. When Tucker doesn’t play with him upon demand, he lets out a shrill yelp…. over and over and over!
Still, he’s incredibly affectionate, funny and smart. On balance, the Obamas missed out. Bo may be a purebred Portuguese Water Dog, but Digby’s doggy paddle is coming along swimmingly.
The point of all this is that adopting a shelter dog will raise your happiness quotient. And right now, due to widespread economic woes in our community, the SF/ACC shelter has the greatest selection of dogs ever. Many people have had to sacrifice amazing family members as they lose jobs and homes. The silver lining is that you can be the lucky person who gives one or two of them a loving new home.
Please note that Parvo in shelter dogs is extraordinarily rare, so don’t worry on that count. Your rescued dog will love you forever for saving him – even if it isn’t from a dread disease!
Rebecca Katz is Acting Director of San Francisco Animal Care & Control. To learn more about the agency’s programs and to meet other adoptable animals, visit www.sfgov.org/site/acc.