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McCallum: Shelter Dogs

I love October for its crisp air, colorful hillsides blanketed in autumn haze and its almost melancholy sense of endings. But because October is National Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month, it’s also a time for new beginnings – a time when shelters across the country unite to educate the public about the joys of pet rescue and encourage us to save a life while enriching our own.

Utah, Silky and Pearl are three Vermont pups that were saved from dismal situations but have gone on to live rich joyful lives after being adopted. Utah, a black lab-Great Dane mix, was found in a box on a desert mesa, left to die with his tiny litter mates. Near death, they were brought to an animal sanctuary where they received emergency medical care and survived. Named for the state in which he was found, Utah was adopted by a Vermonter and grew into a gentle giant.

Silky, an elderly black lab with little chance of being adopted out of a Vermont shelter filled with peppy adolescents, was chosen by her owners precisely because of her senior citizen status. They like to give old dogs a second chance near the end of their lives. Silky in turn provides them with devoted companionship and leisurely walks.

Pearl was a battered Puerto Rican street dog found starving and emaciated, suffering from heart worm and a broken pelvis. The skinny terrier who had to fight for every scrap of food now lives a charmed life as a certified therapy dog for Vermont elders.

These three canines are ambassadors for the fast growing animal rescue movement that saves and re-homes the abused, abandoned, and the lost. There are more than twenty animal shelters and humane societies in Vermont, along with other privately funded rescue groups. Most rely on a mix of municipal dollars, private fundraising and donor contributions, yet they all face the same challenges of scarce funding and limited space.

In just the first six months of 2014, the Windham County Humane Society took in 444 animals. Do the math for all the shelters around Vermont and the numbers soar into the thousands. Nationally the figures reach 6-8 million animals a year.

Most humane societies nationwide are aiming to become no-kill shelters. And t he opportunities to adopt from faraway states now increase the odds for finding that perfect pooch - not from a puppy mill, fancy kennel or backyard breeder - but from a nonprofit that rescues perfectly good animals in need. Whether it’s during October - or any month of the year – adopting a shelter-dog means saving a life.

In fact, a spokesperson for a mid-western shelter says it means saving two. One is the animal on its way to a new home and the second is the animal that can now come into the shelter because room has been made for an ever increasing flow of needy animals.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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