By Tiana Nelson
In my opinion, this story already has a happy ending.
Patches O’Houlihan – Patches for short – is sleeping on a fleece blanket next to me with his legs resting on the pug laying next to him.
This kind of calm and peace always makes me happy, but perhaps it seems even more happy when you contrast it to the place he was last night – or eight hours ago, for that matter.
Patches was a last chance dog just hours ago.
He and I left the Denver Municipal Animal Shelter (DMAS) for his second chance at life on a day when all of my friends were out celebrating St. Patty’s Day downtown – hence his Irish-ish name.
This adorable, young terrier pug mix had been at the city shelter for one month, a pretty long time for a shelter with an average stay of closer to a week.
Patches has a skin irritation, causing his belly to be pink and not have much hair on it, a rash that is likely from something minor like a food allergy. Yet, because of his skin, he was not allowed to be adopted to the public through the shelter – he was placed on the “rescue-only” list, meaning that only other animal rescue organizations can take him out of the DMAS.
The rescue-only list is typically for dogs that are fearful, timid, aggressive, or on medication. While it can be hard to tell if they are just scared of the shelter environment, any dog exhibiting these behaviors or who is suffering from an illness or on a medication will not be available to the public at many city shelters, at any time.
While this sounds strange to many people I’ve told about it, let me derail slightly and applaud how far the shelter system has come in collaborating with rescues, in an effort to save more dogs. Efforts like that make all the difference in the world, and have helped DMAS decrease the save rate of their dogs from about half several years ago to almost 85% currently.
Shelters are starting to take very proactive approaches to saving lives, and it’s starting to work.
For Patches, he was on his last call – labeled “urgent” – because he had been at the shelter so long. We took him out of his cage and I sat on the floor outside his kennel. After circling me a couple times, he climbed into my lap and gave me a kiss. I was sold … and I brought him home as our next foster dog.
Now, just eight hours into this foster experience, I’d like to think that Patches isn’t even thinking about his month in the shelter, or the sad situation that got him there – one that I don’t even know – but rather, I hope that Patches is already understanding the amount of love he will receive in his life with this second chance.
Patches is a sweet dog that I’ve quickly learned that loves to play fetch, give kisses and can jump on a bar stool despite his small stature. When I think about this little life being cut short in a few short days, it makes me a little sad, of course, but it should also empower and renew us all in the importance of stepping up every day and trying to make a difference to someone or something somewhere.
For as the rescue community notes, and I think Patches would agree: Saving the life of one animal may not change the world, but the world will surely change for that one animal.
And furthermore, I think it’s an oversight to not say that we ourselves will also be changed. As Patches sleeps next to me, I feel a wave of hope come over me with his steady breathing and cute little ears flopping over his face.
He doesn’t have a permanent home yet, but he will.
Animals still die every day in shelters, but with our help it will stop.
People still buy from breeders and pet stores (puppy mill storefronts), but education can change that.
Sitting next to him I feel so hopeful for the future of animal rescue.
Things are changing; forward movements are happening. People are stepping up and fewer animals are dying. One dog at a time we’ll change the trends, we’ll change the death count, and we’ll change the world.
But for today, it was Patches’ world that changed.
Tiana Nelson is from Denver, Colo., and started the Doggie Avenger Blog with the goal of educating people and changing their perceptions about animals. When she began volunteering at a local animal shelter, it struck her that so many people were not actively aware of animal overpopulation. She hopes to change the lives of animals one-by-one through increasing awareness and encouraging people to always adopt — never buy from a breeder or pet store, to always spay and neuter their pets, to understand the depth of animal issues and to know why all of that is important. Tiana currently works in higher education, and in her free time enjoys traveling, running, volunteering with animals, spending time with her two pugs, and her family and friends.