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!

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Gonzo’s Bunny-Ears: Saving Lives Since 2007*

The moment we met Gonzo, we felt that it was his ears that helped spring him out of jail at one of the most overcrowded shelters in the DC area. Having spent almost two months with him, we were all the more convinced that the magnetism of his ears is so strong that they have the capacity to save more dogs than just himself. And now? Well, now we have proof.

We first met T through her inquiry about adopting Gonzo. Her family is perfect. Two boys, one young, one older, a big fenced yard, nice flexible schedules, another dog — a lab — who loves to play. T is absolutely charming, and was equally charmed by Gonzo through his bio and his blog. Because of the young age of one of her children, her application was not a match (Gonzo is a bit nippy with toys and is not allowed to go to a family with kids under 4ish). Sad to be losing a great potential adopter, I emailed her right away, offering to suggest a few dogs at local shelters who met her general criteria (smallish pit bull type, dog- and cat-friendly, young, and cute ears — a la Gonzo — if possible). After all, spring is the season of dogs being put to sleep in huge numbers, so it’s also the best time to adopt.

Much to my delight, T responded to my offer. I rushed to get in touch with friends at our local shelter, MCHS, who immediately recommended a sweet, young, timid pit bull girl named Precious. She even has cute, perky ears! Precious had been a shelter favorite because of her dainty, gentle nature and adorable, petite features, but as many pit bulls do, she kept getting overlooked. Unfortunately, her initial shelter photo kind of made her look like a haggard old lady:

Still, at my determined insistence, T agreed to make the long haul up to MCHS (30 miles is far for the DC area!) to meet her that week. And wouldn’t you know, it was love. They loved Precious’ temperament, her sweet eyes, her gentle nature, and her fabulous bat ears. Over the next few days, another visit ensued with the rest of the family, including dog Gretzky, a home interview, and a spay surgery for Precious. She was adopted!

No glamour shots of Precious (now Luna!) are available yet, but these show off her cuteness just a tad bit better. Check out those Gonz-esque ears!

During the application process, we got a very nice note from T about her experience working with us and with MCHS on the adoption. We were thrilled to hear about T’s great experience, and wanted to pass this along as an important reminder to our friends who are on the front lines of animal welfare work– whether in shelters, at rescues, or elsewhere. A bit of kindness and a willingness to treat every person as an individual just as you would treat every animal — can make all the difference.

“And any lingering twinge over the “Gonzo app” is negated by all the positives that came out of the situation. (Hopefully) A sweet angel of a dog is getting a forever home she might not have gotten otherwise, and in the process ya’ll (You, Bobbi and Dave)  may help a couple OTHER dogs find their forever homes as a result.
I know a few people who want to adopt a dog, but who’ve found the online adoption process to be rather daunting and overwhelming (all those dogs, and they all sound/look equally as adorable, but it’s not the same as meeting the dog in person)  and I’ve shared with them my experiences this far, and how helpful and supportive you all have been and they’re looking into adoption via MCHS and other local shelters in the coming weeks.
So if it all works out maybe a few more doggies with find forever homes that wouldn’t have if everything had gone perfectly and smoothly with the Gonzo adoption. Win!”

So Precious/Luna: congratulations on your beautiful new life, and Gonzo: your ears’ altruism clearly knows no bounds!

*Gonzo has technically been saving lives only since 2010, when he saved his own life, via his ears, at the shelter. But six months ago in human years is four years ago in dog years . . . right?

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.

our very own CAFO

I don’t often joke about factory farming because it is not at all funny, but last night was just too ripe with opportunity.

Lollie Wonderdog has become quite the stern farmkeeper in her time with us, never afraid to put a stuffed animal in its place or zing it with her teeth for falling out of line. (As an aside, this is a big change from her first days with us, when the mere sight of a stuffed animal would send her into a fearful tremble.) And when its use has expired but it is still taking up valuable floorspace, selfishly breathing our air and soaking up our dust? She finishes it off at the end of its usefulness and sends it to the trash pile.

Last night was a prime example. We had a slaughter, and the victim was poor Mr. Piggy. Lollie was doing a concentrated animal feeding operation on Mr. Piggy’s extremities. Those are the tastiest bits after all, just ask a hotdog lover. I turned around a minute later, and poor Mr. Piggy had lost an ear.

Lollie as not always been such a heartless farmer (she is normally very sweet with stuffed animals), and truth be told, she seemed to regret her harsh punishment afterward, snuggling up with Mr Piggy and asking for forgiveness. Fosterdad and I are hoping that she learns from this experience and becomes an anti farm animal cruelty spokesmodel.

For more info on adopting Lollie, contact us at DCpetographer [at] gmail [dot] com or 301-520-7123.

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