Joe and Jill Biden have two dogs, Champ and Major. Major will be the first rescue dog to live in the White House. I love rescue dogs; in fact, a pup from a shelter is on the top of my holiday wishlist.
At the beginning of COVID-19, it was difficult to buy hand sanitizer, masks, plastic gloves, thermometers, and rubbing alcohol. That’s fairly easy now, but try finding a rescue dog. It’s nearly impossible where I live.
My beloved Cassie, a brown-and-white cocker spaniel, died suddenly at 15 at the height of the virus in New York City. She was the light of my life, my best pal. For the past five years, since my husband Steve had open heart surgery, she filled in for him in many ways.
The Perfect Companion
Cassie became my eating companion while Steve sat in the living room getting nutrition delivered through a feeding tube. Without her, I would have been eating alone. For breakfast, she waited as I sliced bananas and strawberries into a bowl, setting aside a portion for her. No matter how many times we ate this same breakfast, she gobbled it up, wagging her tail, and barking in desperation if I wasn’t making it fast enough.
And how she loved vegetables, pasta, and fish. Anything I ate, she ate. She didn’t mind if I overcooked or under-spiced the food.
Steve felt uncomfortable going to restaurants except to accompany me on special occasions. Occasionally during the warm weather, Cassie and I went to a pet-friendly restaurant. Cassie would sit next to me on a leash, occupied with treats and toys. With her, I never felt alone.
She also became my support during Steve’s hospitalizations. She made me laugh. Petting her gave me comfort.
My furry baby became my walking partner–through the streets of Manhattan, in Riverside Park, or into nearby stores for a biscuit. We hardly ventured more than a block before someone asked, “Can I pet her?”
Frequently this led to conversations about dogs—ones long gone, those still alive, and those they wanted. Everyone admired her. Her huge paws made her look like a perpetual puppy. Her fur felt soft like satin, and those floppy cocker spaniel ears were irresistible.
Filling the Void
I’m lonely without Cassie. Sometimes it’s unbearable. According to the 2019 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, almost half of all American households have dogs and nearly 85 percent consider them to be family members, as we certainly did. Since COVID hit, the number of people wanting a pet has surged.
Friends told me to get another dog right away, but I resisted. Months later, I finally heeded the advice, “You’ll never replace Cassie but you can bring new life into your home.” It made sense. She would still be in my heart, but maybe I could fill the void.
My husband agreed. “The holidays are coming,” he said. “Let’s find one. We could use some joy.”
On the Hunt
Potential adopters are not permitted to visit shelters as we did when we first met Cassie. It’s all remote. So instead, I’m searching on-line. PetFinder is the leading one. I plug in my preferences: small female, Havanese or poodle, young or adult. Then, like magic, photos pops up.
The first pups I was matched with was a bonded pair—Cinnamon Rose, 10, and Paris Rose, 8. Two dogs were one too many and they were older than I specified. But they were cute, frolicking in a video snippet. I immediately responded, “Yes.”
It’s been two weeks, and I haven’t heard back. Since then no other matches have come up even after I broadened my search. I filled out 25 lengthy applications, wrote several variations of my life history, joined Facebook groups for dog lovers, and followed up with telephone calls and emails. It’s a full-time job.
Steve and I haven’t been comfortable purchasing a pet from a breeder or a puppy mill. But now with the virus spiking–and still longing for canine company–we’re reconsidering. I started asking people in the street as they walked their dogs, “Where did you get your pet?”
“From a breeder in Florida,” one woman told me.
“What about transportation to New York?”
“I drove there with my daughter, but sometimes they’ll help you arrange a flight.” Either option seems a bit daunting right now.
Contacting breeders directly did nothing to encourage me. “For a small dog, at least a year wait. Send a deposit now,” a breeder responded. How can I send a deposit for a dog sight unseen and not even born yet? Some breeders are doubling their prices from before the pandemic and charging even more during this holiday season. It’s a seller’s market.
On Thanksgiving morning I hit the jackpot. Someone contacted me from my post on a group site and sent photos of two adorable Yorkshire Terriers. “I’m interested,” I texted. “Let’s talk.”
Ignoring my request to speak, the person wrote back with a dirt-cheap price and attached a video. The video was more endearing than the photos. “I love my puppies, but can’t take care of them since I left my abusive husband,” the person wrote. “I just want to place them in a good, caring home.”
“I’ll take them both,” I wrote back, providing all the reasons why I could be trusted. “Where can we meet?”
Instead of getting an address in response, I received the text, “Setting up a pet delivery service for today. Send cash electronically.”
From the grapevine I discovered the person was a scammer, lifting Instagram images and pretending they owned the pet. Thankfully, I was smart enough not to go through with the purchase. But, really, how low can you go?
Finding a Rescue Dog: The Hope
All is not lost. A friend with three dogs suggested I call Diane, a local Havanese breeder.
“Let’s talk,” Diane said. She has a long list of people waiting for puppies, but occasionally she places an adult dog needing a new home or a retired breeder. She’s optimistic and lives less than a mile away. That means I can actually meet a dog rather than only view a video.
The Bidens found Major in 2018. Life is drastically different now. My husband tries to reassure me, when I feel forlorn. “Don’t worry,” he says. “After the pandemic lots of people will be back in their offices and won’t be available to care for their pets. Getting a dog will be much easier. Right now, like so many other things, it might have to be on hold.”
But like a little girl, I’m still hoping Santa—or some stroke of luck— will come through.