I’ve always loved dogs, almost always had a dog. But those of you who know me know how special Chako is to me.
Five years ago, my son Devin died suddenly at age 23. I was lucky to have friends and family to carry me through those first dark, deranged days. As weeks passed, they went back to their lives as I tried to go back to mine, though inside I felt as weak as I had ever been.
About then, three of my son’s friends moved in to my home for a while, one of them bringing his dog and her nine new puppies.
One of those pups was Chako.
I wasn’t looking for a new dog – we had four already then, including my son’s beloved dog, Maggie – but these sneaky young men knew I needed one. They kept plopping that roly-poly pit bull pup in my lap or nestling him around my neck. It was impossible not to bond with that gentle little soul with golden eyes so knowing I felt like he saw the void in my heart.
Chako was there to try to fill it. In the many dark days and nights that stretched on ahead, he was right there by my side.
During COVID-19, he became my coworker, taking a seat in a chair next to my desk as I wrote. Because of the lockdown, Chako – as well as the rest of our dog squad – also comprised much of my social life.
I had no complaints.
Many of you also adopted dogs during those pandemic days. (OK, cats, too.) I hope they brought you companionship and joy.
But as COVID-19 concerns have waned and people have gotten back to some semblance of normalcy, many dogs are losing their homes and humans, who apparently saw them as temporary comforts, not loyal, loving, living creatures.
“Dogs and cats are sentient beings,” said Carron Hardin, a dog lover and volunteer with Southwest Animal Rescue Fund. “They cry and shut down when they are dumped at the shelter.”
Recently, a friend sent me this message:
“Hey, do you happen to know anyone who would want a dog? I just don’t have the time or space for her.”
Weeks before, she had told me how much she missed her dog, who remained with an ex-boyfriend after their breakup until she had been able to get it back.
That same day, Hardin posted on social media what seemed like an endless stream of sad-eyed dogs in need of adoption.
“I know you are worn out of me posting available dogs for adoption,” she wrote. “It is worse than I have ever seen it. Why? I don’t know but maybe because it was suggested to get a shelter dog for the quarantine. And people did and now they either don’t want them or can’t care for them because they went back to work.”
Allie Sikorski, founder of Pawsitive Life Rescue of New Mexico (and one of the 2021 Angels Among Us recipients), said local rescue groups are bursting at the seams with dogs and cats in need of homes.
“I have never seen so many puppies in my life,” Sikorski said. “Right now, there are far too many puppies, dogs, kittens and cats than there are homes, rescues and shelters. Everywhere is at capacity. It kills us to turn away intakes, but sometimes we just have no choice.”
Lap Dog Rescue also reports being “seriously overwhelmed” with requests to take dogs, so much so that the group is reducing its adoptions fees this month.
Facebook is filled with posts of dogs and cats abandoned and unchipped.
Last week my colleague Jessica Dyer reported on a controversial suggestion by Albuquerque Animal Welfare Director Carolyn Ortega to start charging people $20 to surrender pets. It’s a common practice at other city shelters and private rescues. Rio Rancho charges $30. Fees at Watermelon Mountain Ranch, the state’s largest no-kill shelter, start at $185.
The proposal, Ortega said, is “more about our community taking ownership when they are coming in to surrender and then being able to start the conversation about why they’re surrendering, (asking if) there are resources we can provide.”
That’s a conversation that needs to be happening now, fee or no fee.
“If you bring a dog to the shelter, it’s a distinct possibility it won’t get adopted, even some purebreds. There are too many,” Hardin said. “So just stop it. Stop it!”
Certainly, there are heartbreaking situations when a pet must be rehomed – the death or serious illness of its human, the dog’s potential to harm other dogs and small children it cannot get along with.
But too many folks see pets as expendable or too expensive, too much trouble. They shed. They bark. They chew up shoes. They’re just not that into you. Or vice-versa.
But dogs aren’t items to be returned like a blouse that doesn’t fit or a coffee pot that doesn’t work. They aren’t toys. They aren’t temporary fixes for broken hearts or broken lives. They are part of your family.
So listen. Having a pet is a big commitment, and it is imperative that a potential owner considers whether he or she is up for that long after that cute little puppy turns into that big dog.
And let me add: Adopt, don’t shop. Spay and neuter. Microchip and update contact information. Feel the love.
If you are lucky, you will find – and keep – a dog like Chako, who will become your companion, friend, family for many years to come. It’s a dog’s life, as they say. May you be lucky enough to be in it.