Falling in love with Pete: there’s never been a better time to rescue a dog | Steph Harmon

Anyone who says I want a dog who doesnt change my lifestyle doesnt really want a dog. And anyone who really wants a dog should really want a rescue

Last Sunday I went on one of the most nerve-racking drives of my life: my partner behind the wheel, Smooth FM failing to calm us as we hurtled towards the unknown. We were headed for a McDonalds carpark in Prestons, south-western Sydney, where we would meet a man named Marshall who would take a whimpering plastic box out of his wagon and introduce us to the next phase of our lives.

Pete had been picked up from death row at a rural pound by a Wagga-based private rescue group called Riverina Rescue. The organisation doesnt have a website, probably because they have had no time to build one. One rescuer, Rhonda, spends her downtime between shifts at Woolworths saving dogs from euthanasia after their two-week holding period is up, and with a handful of helpers and organisers carting them between the pound, the vet and her property in Wagga. She sometimes will drive thousands of kilometres in a day.

Marshall, who drove to Prestons to meet us, is her son. In the four years he has been a transporter he reckons he has picked up between 6,000 and 8,000 dogs for different rescue agencies. And Rhonda who has space for 25 dogs at a time, and brings in a new rescue whenever one goes out has saved a fair share of them, maybe 1,000 over the past seven years.

Pete was one of the latest. Estimated at being about a year old, he was on the kill list at Narromine pound before being saved by Marshall, and driven to a vet who desexed him, vaccinated him and classified him with wonderful vagueness as dachshund x DOG, capitals his.

The only other information we had about Pete was a photo of the most hopeful eyes youve ever seen, and 60-odd words on his PetRescue page:

Pete is now in care after being left in a rural pound.

We have no history on him so no idea what he could be crossed with, possibly kelpie but he is only small and squat.

He wouldnt be suitable for a home with young children as we feel he has been teased or fallen on by kids previously.

Transport arranged if needed.

Small and squat. Teased or fallen on by kids. He sounded, maybe, perfect.

We paid the deposit for a trial (a trial was essential not just for us and Pete, but for the neighbours too), bought a bed, a lead, some toys and dog food and jumped in the car to pick him up.

The
The greatest chance I have ever taken. Photograph: Riverina Rescue/PetRescue.com

PetRescue is a free, non-profit service that collates animal listings from close to 1,000 partner rescue groups, shelters, vets and pounds around Australia, and feeds them into one engine, searchable for dogs, cats, and other (the goat section is wonderful; the hermit crabs will disappoint).

A month ago I elected to receive a new alert each time a small or medium young dog was listed on the site, and for three weeks would get a ping in my inbox every five or 10 minutes. These are the numbers we are dealing with here. It was very hard to concentrate at work.

While Pete was an unknown quantity, most listings do come with information about the dogs temperament and background and each time I found one I liked the sound of, I would email the rescue organisation. Many would send back a barrage of questions: Had I owned a dog before? How often would I be home? Where would he sleep, and where would he play? What happens if we suddenly need to move house? Did I really know what I was getting myself into?

It was an occasionally heartbreaking process. As anyone who has dabbled in online dating knows, its easy to fall in love with a picture and description but its agonising to spend time imagining a life together, only to discover that theyre looking for someone else. Someone taller. Someone blonder. Someone who has experience with traumatised dogs, a bigger yard and a two-metre fence.

I had to decline a King Charles cavalier who was apparently bouncy enough to jump our gate, and would, given half the chance. We werent the right fit for a scruffy terrier cross, who couldnt be left alone without howling. I passed over thousands of staffies and working dogs about 80% of rescues were bigger or burlier than we could manage.

There were moments when we almost gave in, too. Wouldnt it just be easier and cuter! to pick a breed and buy an eight-week-old? I looked into oodle and dashchund and schnauzer breeders, and scrawled tentatively through Gumtree. But a dog-loving friend brought me back from that brink: $500 + Gumtree = backyard breeder, he reminded me, and you dont have time for an eight-week-old. Adopt, dont shop!

He was right. There are responsible registered breeders out there, and a few reasons you might want to choose one: to be assured of a puppys genetic history, for instance, or its full-grown size. But if you wait long enough youll find most breeds through PetRescue, even as puppies; and if you can handle a rescue, theres no good reason not to.

We arrived at the McDonalds carpark 15 minutes early, but Marshall was already there. I held my fingers to the carrier box, so Pete could meet my smell. I felt him lick my fingers through the wire grate. One of us made a sound.

When he was released he jumped all over us, and we were already in love. A kelpie face with cartoon ears, the neck of a corgi and the body of a sausage. And thats the greatest thing about rescuing a dog (outside the deliciously insufferable sense of moral superiority): rescue mutts are the best of all breeds, and they express their gratitude in licks.

Pete
Pete being a very good boy on the drive back from Prestons. Photograph: Steph Harmon for the Guardian

At time of writing, there are 3,915 dogs listed on PetRescue a figure which doesnt account for the many more in pounds and care around the country that arent registered with the service. That number will go even higher next year, when the NSW government shuts down the greyhound racing industry a necessary move, but one which will inundate already-inundated welfare organisations such as Rhondas. Theres never been a better time to rescue a dog.

Its only been a week, but Pete is already mostly toilet trained; he understands the basic principle of a lead, and knows how to sit and stay. He loves to tug. He loves to cuddle. He really loves to Kong. He loves to clamber on to your lap and rest his paw on your laptop keys, especially when youre trying to write an article about him.

Of course it hasnt been easy, but getting a dog isnt meant to be. We rise earlier than we want to, worry constantly about new noises and spend an inordinate amount of time in bed together talking about the whens and wheres of public urination.

But anyone who says I want a dog who doesnt change my lifestyle doesnt really want a dog. And anyone who really wants a dog should really want a rescue.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/11/theres-never-been-a-better-time-to-rescue-a-dog