I walked out to the barnyard and counted my animals: five dogs, three horses, and 13 cats.
Certainly I didn’t need another pet. But when I went to the Animal Care Society in Louisville, I promptly fell in love with a gangly, floppy-eared, mixed-breed dog named Radar. I signed the papers, and Radar came home to fields to run in and a couch to sleep on.
Radar was lucky. Found in a kill shelter, he was two days away from being euthanized when he was rescued and brought to ACS, the only no-kill animal shelter in Louisville. Radar was thoroughly checked out by a vet, neutered, and given a temperament and behavior evaluation to determine what kind of owner was best for him.
But many dogs and cats are not so lucky. Between an animal population explosion, those who purchase dogs from breeders, and owner surrenders, countless dogs and cats are euthanized every day in shelters all over the United States.
Not so at ACS. Carefully screening animals they feel are adoptable, volunteers rescue dogs and cats at kill shelters, take in strays, and accept certain animals that are given up by their owners, known as owner surrenders. All dogs and cats taken in will remain at ACS for as long as it takes to find them a good home; as a result, the shelter stays at full capacity year-round, caring for an average of 65 animals.
Intrigued by Radar’s adoption story, Tammy Simmons, a colleague at Kentucky Living, accompanied me on a visit to ACS. She’d been considering adopting a dog, and wanted to know more about the adoption process.
We were admitted to the back rooms where all the animals are kept; it was early, and volunteers were hurrying about to see to all the animals before opening for business. Sue Middleton, administrator at ACS, met us in the hall, herself in a hurry.
“Please take a look around,” she said, “I’ll be right with you, I’ve just got to medicate these kittens…” she continued, ducking through a door.
An amazing number of adoptions take place at ACS: everywhere we looked we saw pictures of adopted cats and dogs, with captions such as “Sheba has a family!” “Here are Monty’s new parents!” “Kiki has a mama!” and “Gizmo’s new name is Schultzie!”
Her duties completed, Sue took us on a tour to meet the animals. It was an almost bewildering array of Australian shepherds, corgis, rat terriers, springer spaniels, Boston terriers, shelties, and cattle dogs, of all ages and sizes. And if they’re not sure what breed a dog is?
“Around here we call them KPDs,” Sue said, laughing, “Kentucky Porch Dogs.”
And there were plenty of cats. Some live in the large main cat room, others have beds in the laundry room. Some are just kittens, quarantined until their health can be determined and they are old enough to be adopted.
Throughout the tour, Sue called each animal by name, patting and caressing, and telling us their stories.
“Here’s Abby, she’s a purebred Aussie found by one of our volunteers. Isn’t she beautiful? This is Nala, she likes to bark, we’re working on that. Here’s a springer spaniel we call Jerry Springer, he’s an older dog. Isabel’s a shepherd mix, she’s 5 months old, she’ll make someone a nice pet.”
Sue left us with Abby and Isabel in a large outdoor pen. Watching Isabel, a small, trim dog, Tammy said, “I really like that dog,” and took several pictures of her.
We were joined by Richele Wages, executive director of ACS. Richele oversees all adoptions here, and is often the one to interview potential adopters.
“When I interview people, I’m looking for owners that will commit to an animal’s lifetime,” she said. “I get call after call from people who have bought a dog, changed their mind when they find out how much work a dog is, and want to give it up.”
That’s the situation ACS works hard to avoid. Richele rigorously screens potential adopters to match a dog that suits a person’s lifestyle. Jersey is a case in point. A lovely hound mix, Jersey came to ACS extremely shy, so traumatized by her past life that she never dared to bark, and would approach no one. She was a special needs dog who needed a special person.
“Jersey was not a good dog for a family with children, or a yard that wasn’t fenced. Luckily, she was adopted by a kind lady that is home most of the time, and can spend the kind of time with Jersey that she needs. They were perfect for each other,” Richele said with satisfaction.
ACS takes a stance against breeding dogs—if you’re wanting a companion dog, there’s little reason to buy from a breeder. Many purebreds can be found at ACS and other shelters, another incentive to adopt if you’re wanting a purebred. Bear in mind, ACS will not permit an adoption if there is an animal in your home that has not been spayed or neutered. As Sue pointed out, “There are so many unwanted puppies and kittens that end up being euthanized. Education is the key—spaying and neutering saves lives.”
Sadly, there is the occasional dog that will never be adoptable. Cindy, a Lab mix, has been at ACS for three years. Previously neglected, abused, and bearing the scars of cigarette burns, Cindy has never been able to overcome her past, and hides from all visitors to ACS. However, she adores her caretakers, readily accepting pats and love from them. She’s a mascot of sorts, and has been given the title Kennel Manager.
Cradling Isabel, Tammy noted that she was thinking about adopting a dog: what kind of information would Richele need from her?
“First and foremost,” Richele said, “are you willing to commit to a dog for the rest of its life? Do you want a puppy or adult? Do you have a fenced-in yard? Who else lives in your house? What size dog do you want? Have you ever adopted before? Would you crate-train?”
After answering these questions and more, Tammy added, “I thought I wanted a puppy, but,” she said, looking at Isabel, “now that I know more, maybe a little older dog would be better for me.”
This is exactly what Richele and her staff want to do: educate people. After visiting the shelter, people have a better idea of what kind of dog is best for them. In turn, they also learn what is best for the dog.
“We don’t want to have to take a dog back, that’s why we screen so carefully, even making house calls to inspect the home if we feel it’s necessary,” Richele explained. “Some people may not realize that a puppy thinks everything in the house belongs to them—obviously, there’s a lot of training to be done. If someone’s not willing to do that, I can’t let them adopt.”
Tammy wanted to know, if she adopted, emphasis on if, could she change the dog’s name?
“Yes,” said Richele, “sometimes it’s even best to do that. Keep in mind, many of these dogs have been abandoned, abused, or neglected—which is the same as abuse—and they may have bad associations with their name. A new name can be a good idea.”
It’s for that reason that any animal that comes from a kill shelter, such as Radar, is first placed in a foster home. With more personal attention, more is learned about the dog or cat’s temperament and behavior, leading to a better match when the animal goes up for adoption. In Radar’s case, his foster mom was able to give me details on his likes and dislikes, his habits, and what areas he needed training in.
That’s the advantage of adopting an animal. You get a dog or cat that’s been thoroughly evaluated in temperament and behavior, been spayed or neutered, and has been given all necessary vet care.
“This way, we know we’ve never misrepresented an animal,” Richele said, “in behavior or health.”
I went home that day with a new appreciation for the people who brought Radar and me together. And Isabel? Tammy decided to keep that name.
For More Information If you’re interested in adopting a dog or cat, you can see all of ACS’ animals on their Web site. Each animal is listed with detailed information and a picture.
If you don’t want to adopt but are interested in fostering an animal, contact ACS for their requirements. ACS is always in need in volunteers to work at the shelter. After a volunteer orientation, you can choose what area you would like to work in: walk dogs, transport animals to the veterinarian for spays and neuters, clean cages, or socialize the animals.
If you would like to donate or become a member of ACS, donations are tax-deductible; ACS also has a wish list of items needed at the shelter, which you can get by calling or visiting their Web site.