I grew up in a veritable zoo. Well, not actually a zoo. But as close to a zoo as you can get living in the suburbs of Toronto. We always had at least one dog—sometimes three—a few cats, rodents of all shapes and sizes, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds. My mom is such a good sport.
Needless to say, I always knew I’d have animals as an adult. In particular, dogs. I have learned that I am first and foremost a dog person. In fact, if I didn’t love my current job and current life situation so much, I would probably drop everything and open a ranch for hundreds of homeless dogs and we would all just be so happy together. Maybe one day. But you see what I mean. I love dogs.
So imagine my surprise when my (then boyfriend) now husband told me he really didn’t like them at all and wouldn’t be open to ever having dogs. Ever. I kind of understood. I mean, dogs could sense he didn’t like them and would bark at him when we walked by. I thought it was hilarious. Him, not so much. I informed him that he would be the one to one day inform our children that we couldn’t have dogs because Daddy is heartless, and that seemed to be an okay compromise.
Imagine my surprise—again!—a few weeks after we got married, when Mr. Height responded to my playful suggestion we get a dog with, “Maybe we should get a dog.” He was about to go out of town for several weeks, leaving his new bride in a strange city in a strange new country, and probably felt a little guilty. Whatever. He was agreeable to a dog and that was good enough for me.
We (I) immediately started searching the Internet for rescue organizations in New York City that might be worth exploring. Getting a dog from a shelter was always priority number 1. I grew up with interesting rescued mutts, and they are truly a special type of dog. They live longer. They’re unique. And they are grateful—you can tell. I was thrilled we’d be able to save a homeless pup from the very likely fate of euthanasia that awaits more than 1.2 million shelter dogs every year.
Did you know that shelters take in more than 3.9 million dogs annually? That is a surreal number of dogs that need homes. It makes it almost unfathomable to a) spend money on an animal and b) buy one from a pet store who is likely to have procured it from an industrial puppy mill. Yet nearly a third of all new dogs brought into homes each year are purchased from a breeder or pet store. There are over 10,000 puppy mills—licensed and unlicensed—operating in the U.S. right now, which treat dogs like machines and have them overproduce puppies in cramped conditions, ultimately leading to health and behavioral problems in the mothers. (Ironic, as behavioral problems in dogs are one of the primary reasons dogs are relinquished to shelters in the first place.)
The math here makes these statistics difficult to reconcile: why keep breeding new dogs when there are literally millions that already exist who need a home right now?
It made our decision to adopt a very simple one.
We came across the Animal Care and Control of Manhattan’s website and were immediately taken by the pages of faces staring back at us. The non-profit, which operates a few locations in the city and does outreach and adoption event pop-ups, keeps an up-to-date database of current animal residents, so owners can find lost pets and prospective pet parents can see who needs a home.
After a few clicks through the many pages of pit bulls (sadly, a no-go with our building’s “no dogs over 20 pounds” rule), we came across the photo of a tiny terrier. He looked a little old man—disheveled, a little bewildered, but all eyes, big ears and a somewhat stately stance for such a tiny critter.
“That one,” Mr. Height said. “We should go meet that one.”
The next day, we walked up to 110th Street to shake paws with the dog the shelter had temporarily named Sidi. He was a one-year-old terrier mix who was super friendly and not at all sketched out, it seemed, with being somewhere new. It didn’t take more than a second in the room with him—a couple of yips, a scurry around Mr. Height in a circle and a little leap (almost) into my lap—for us to agree he was coming home with us. He didn’t even bark at Mr. Height, which given his history with dogs was a good sign.
Within the hour, we had made arrangements to take him home a few days later, once he had been neutered and vaccinated. We decided to name him Brixton, after the suburb of London, for he’s both kind of classy and kind of scrappy. I think it suits him well.
Since that day in September 2012, which we now lovingly refer to as Brixton Height Appreciation Day, Brixton has been an integral part of our family. Dare I say the central part, as our outings and general life scheduling tend to revolve around him. He is just the best little guy: so adaptable (we move him to a new home in a new state every month, thanks to our crazy jobs); he travels brilliantly; he’s super chill to take to dinner or to the park; and he loves (most) humans.
Perhaps most fun of all, he has provided us with a beautiful opportunity to learn about his doggie preferences and opinions. We don’t know what his story was before he found us, just that he had been found wandering around the Bronx. We do know he isn’t super fond of very tall people or very grabby children, and loud noises like thunder and fireworks send him into a tizzy of shaking. We had to do a little work with him to tone down his barking when we go out, and he needed a little work to chill out around other small dogs on-leash, but he’s been so receptive to training and is now probably the most chill dog I’ve ever had.
We also know that he’s all about the snacks. He’ll eat just about any vegetable you hand him. Kale is his current favorite, and it makes my heart so happy.
Brixton has truly been a gift from the shelter gods. Adopting was an easy process. The shelter even provided access to several local veterinarians who offered free first visits for adopted pooches. As though you need any more incentive than saving a pooch from being put down…
So, if it’s not apparent, I am obsessed with this dog. I am thrilled with our choice to use a rescue organization and can’t recommend it enough. There are tons of resources to consult if you’re thinking about getting a pet. The Shelter Project and PetFinder are great ways to connect with many shelters and adoption groups at once; or, you might consider going through a larger pet sanctuary like Best Friends.
Because so many animals are returned to shelters or just let loose on the street each year due to owners not having enough time to care for pets and buildings disallowing animals, it’s crucial you’re willing and permitted to take on an animal. Not quite in a place where you can commit to a long-term canine companion? No worries. There are tons of ways to get involved with a shelter or foster organization. Check out those links above to search opportunities to volunteer, fundraise or foster.