A letter to Gonzo in his new home

Dear Gonzo Bunny-Ears,

Thank you for being such a good boy and barely whimpering when I left you at your new home with your new people. I was so delighted to learn that you were not only a brave fellow, but quickly forgot about us after I left, just as I had hoped you would. After all, your new parents, C and J, are so wonderful, and your new sister Laila — a 95 pound presa canario — well, she’s just a dream. And I’m sure the milkbones helped too.

When I first heard from C and J and started corresponding with them over email, I thought they were too good to be true. And when they came to the adoption show with sweet Laila to meet you? I just about died from the cuteness of the two of you together. You probably don’t realize how small you are or how big she is, but Gonzo. She is almost three times bigger than you! 

Later in the week when they brought Laila over to our house for a play date, since you never did like the adoption shows very much, we were all nervous about how things would go. Would you like her? Would her rambunctious, boxer-like play style be too much for your tiny self? We already knew that you far prefer big dogs to small dogs, and that Laila always seeks out the little guys at the dog park, but still . . . would you be a match? By this time their application had checked out perfectly, so this was the last step, and the stakes were high! Your co-walk went fine, and the two of you even got to bond over near-simultaneous pooping, do you remember? You probably didn’t notice that Laila’s poops are almost as big as your head, did you. We also learned that you share an affinity for pooping multiple times on one walk — something that drives me and foster dad crazy.

Once we let you loose on the deck together, you did great. It is difficult to describe the joy I felt as I watched you sail through the air — seemingly in slow motion — to give your sister a good love-nip on the neck, and watched you both tumble to the ground, only to writhe on deck, side by side, two backs on the ground, eight paws flailing, two mouths open, and two tails beating on the wood planks in a hyper happy rhythm.

Gonzo, I hope you don’t forget all the things we talked about before you left. I hope you remember how to be a gentleman, and to let your new sister win games of tug-of-war now and then. I hope you are a good snuggling partner and don’t hog the very center of the bed like you so often did with your foster-brother Chick. I hope you remember to always pee outside and never inside, not even a little squirt now and then when you are exceptionally excited. And Gonzo, I hope you remember us. Not as your parents, but as some nice people who helped you make a graceful transition from your former life to your forever life.

And finally, Gonzo, you have touched our lives in an unexpected way. Just like the rest of the world, we have been hypnotized by your good looks and your bouncy, care-free attitude. We never thought we would see the day when a totally adorable, totally uncontroversial, tiny pocket-pittie would steal our hearts. We thought we were underdog people, and Gonzo, you are not and underdog. And to a large extent, we are still underdog people. But you have helped us realize that above all, we are dog people. Every dog has a story to tell and a special gift to share. Thank you for sharing yours with us. You have expanded our horizons, and we love you very much.

With eternal affection,

Fostermom and  fosterdad (and brother Chick, whose affection has surprised even himself, since he thought he could never love a dog smaller than his 50 pound self)

PS- here are a few photos of you, your sister, and your new parents — partly for you, partly for your fans.

PPS- the first photo is one of your foster mom’s favorite photos of all time.

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Gonzo: ADOPTED!

Gonzo Bunny-Ears has been adopted!

On Sunday we sent Mr. Ears off to his fabulous and loving new family. It was a long journey for Gonzo — longer than we would have expected for the cutest, most adoptable bunny-eared dog we’ve ever seen. He was with us for nine weeks, and had been kenneled with the rescue group since late 2010. But it was worth the wait!

We knew it would be difficult to find his perfect family, because he is a demanding little guy with a long wish list. He wanted a family with another dog — preferably a big one, a house with a yard, a neighborhood with no BSL, a person who works from home or only part time, a family without lots of very young kids, a willingness to keep us up to date with lots of emails and photos, and most importantly, a family that is open to keeping “Bunny-Ears” as his middle name. We know what you’re thinking. Impossible, right? At most we would get five out of those seven, right?

Well Gonzo won the forever-family lottery big-time, we got all seven!

We can’t wait to tell you all about his new family tomorrow, but for now, a few photos of foster dad and me with the little Ears on the day before we took him home.

We admit, Gonzo was a hard dog to give up. He fit in so well in our family that we had a few moments of weakness where we thought about keeping him for ourselves. We loved snuggling with him in the mornings after the alarm went off, when both dogs would pounce on us in bed. We loved taking him for walks around town and getting zillions of compliments on how adorable he is. We loved how easygoing he was, and the fact that he got along with everybody. But in the end, he was not meant to be our dog. We have a special commitment to the underdogs of this world, and if there’s one thing Gonzo is not, it’s an underdog.

And for now, our commitment is to saving lives through dog fostering. Giving up a foster dog may be hard, I reminded myself as I kissed Gonzo on the soft spot between his eyes, and as I walked down the driveway away from his new home, but it’s not as hard as knowing that another dog will die in a shelter because we were too attached to let him go. We’ll probably flop to the other side some day. No doubt, a foster will enter our lives down the road that we just can’t let go of, and we will throw our theories out the window. For now though, this is our story and we’re sticking to it.

We will miss the sweet little guy, but we couldn’t be happier for him.

Come back tomorrow, when we will introduce you to the rest of Gonzo’s wonderful new sister, Laila!

Gonzo: big dog magnet

Big dogs — and big dog owners — love Gonzo. Especially pit bull types and their people. We think it’s because he is so pocket-sized but at the same time has the general look and feel of a bigger pit bull. He’s small but sturdy, adorable but tough. Fosterdad calls him a cinder block covered in fur.

Our hypothesis — and this is not very tested — is that many people own a big dog and would like another, but can’t quite picture their lives with two 60 or 80 pound pooches. These same good people sometimes cringe at the thought of a delicate little thing, seeing images of their big burly dog bowling their new adoptee over the first time they try to play. Enter Gonzo, the solution to both of these problems.

We have written much on Gonzo’s merits. He is an excellent picnic companion, a great car passenger, a superlative kitchen helper, and an ambassador for bunny-eared dogs far and wide. But we had not until recently calculated that he is the perfect small/large dog package, and therefore the perfect companion for a bigger pit bull type dog.

Gonzo has made several friends/possible siblings in his time with us. Each has been a pit bull type, and not one of them has weighed less than 55 pounds. Amazing? We think so.

Check them out, in order from smallest to biggest — from our very own darling 50-pound Chick, to beautiful 90-pound Laila, who is so big that she doesn’t even fit into the frame.

But wait! Could one of these gentle giants turn out to be Gonzo’s forever-sibling? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

rescue adoptions: one group’s perspective

We are fostering Gonzo through a different group than we went through for Lollie, so we are in the middle of a steep learning curve of rescue philosophy. It’s been interesting for me, because my natural inclination is more aligned with the “no-kill nation” philosophy of getting as many animals into seemingly good homes as possible, than with the more common rescue group approach of searching very carefully for the most perfect home possible. Both approaches have their points, but the debate between them is not the subject of this post.

Many rescue groups — including Partnership for Animal Welfare (PAW), through which we are fostering Gonzo, ascribe to the latter of the two approaches above.  In many cases the dogs taken in by rescues have been victims of irresponsible dog ownership, which makes a rescue that much more discerning in reviewing potential adopters.  PAW devotes a lot of time and money to the dogs it selects, through foster care, extensive vet treatment (including major medical — one of the few groups in the DC area to take dogs who need serious surgery), training, and PR.  Because of the rather large investment, PAW feels a responsibility and a right to be very selective and thorough in picking exactly the right home for a dog.  Whereas most any responsible adult can go to a shelter and adopt a great dog, adopting through some rescues is a much more involved process — one with a number of steps and a lot more scrutiny, but with a payoff: arguably greater peace of mind, because in adopting from a rescue and out of foster care, a family can know much more about the dog’s personality, preferences, medical history.

Through the process of fostering Gonzo with Partnership for Animal Welfare, we have learned a lot about how applications are picked, which are considered “strong,” and which are not. Here are a few guidelines that I have observed based on recent applications for Gonzo.   They may offer a bit of insight into what rescue groups look for, but specific qualifications will vary a lot from dog to dog and from group to group.

1. Pet as family member. Sometimes I am amazed at the seeming lack of care with which people fill out their applications, or the different standards people have for what is normal. People who plan to keep the dog outside or in the basement, or admit to going to the vet “only in emergencies” are going to be tossed aside pretty quickly.

2. A compatible family composition. People who live alone and travel extensively for work will raise red flags. Dogs are very adaptable, but having to stay at the kennel or at mom’s house every other week while an owner travels is not ideal. Likewise, if the dog is a bit snappy, growly, or very energetic, it probably isn’t best for a family with a young child. If the dog is very timid, it won’t go well with a family with several tweens. If the dog is dog-reactive or thinks of cats as snacks, an application with other pets in the home will probably be declined.

3. Stabiliy. Many pets are given up to shelters when an owner or family moves, divorces, loses a job, moves in with a new partner, etc. Most of these are impossible to predict, but there are some signs that rescues may look for — a very young adopter in his early 20s, or somebody in the military who may be placed overseas, is not seen as the strongest candidate for a rescue adoption.

4. Housing constraints. We foster pit bull type dogs, which means they can’t be adopted by somebody who lives in a county with breed-specific legislation (aka BSL, or a ban on particular breeds like pit bulls) or an apartment or house with similar constraints. Many people are surprised to learn that their apartment does not allow bullies, but it’s unfortunately a very common rule. If a dog is a fence jumper, it can’t go to a house with a 3′ chain link fence, unless the family is committed to building a taller fence or only walking the dog on leash.

5. The vet check. Most rescues will call the current or prior vet used by a prospective adopter to find out the record of shots, vaccines, and medicines. If an applicant is overdue for several important vaccines or tests, the application may be declined — although you can be a perfectly responsible pet owner and accidentally miss a vet appointment now and then, missing vet checkups doesn’t reflect well.

6. Experience level. Some dogs are much better suited for people who have substantial dog experience, while others are easy and care-free, and could be great for a first-time dog owner. Our first foster Lollie needed an experienced dog family who was willing to work with her, while Gonzo is easy, and would make an ok first. But still– many rescues feel more comfortable placing dogs in the hands of experienced dog people, even for easy dogs.

7. Lifestyle issues. Gonzo, for example, does not like to be alone. All dogs are social, but Gonzo really does seem to suffer from a higher level of stress than others. When he is with us and/or our Chick, he is a different dog. Mellow, happy, and relaxed. When he is alone, he worries. Extensively. So for him, the best kind of family will be one where somebody is at home a lot, or there is another pet in the house. Singles or couples who live alone and are away for a standard 8 to 7 workday would make wonderful dog parents to many dogs, but probably not to Gonzo — this little fella just needs more.

After considering all of these issues, it’s easy to see why a dog in rescue care could receive a number of applications before being matched with an adopter who truly is a perfect fit. And if I ever have the opportunity, I like to remind people who are interested in, but not able to adopt Gonzo — he sure is cute, but he really isn’t unique. Our shelters and rescues (including, in our area, MCHS, WHS, and WARL) are full of wonderful dogs with big warm hearts and cute, expressive ears, who deserve nice homes just as much as our foster. He happens to be lucky to be an internet star with his own blog, but that doesn’t make him any more worthy of a good family’s love. In fact, all of those dogs who spend their days in a cold, barren cage with nobody taking cute pictures probably need their attention more than our Gonzo does.

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