In the fall of 2002, I decided that there were several vital things missing from my life. One was a vintage pick-up truck and the other was a pair of Bloodhounds. Let me be perfectly clear: I needed neither beast nor machine. Nonetheless, I thought these items had the innate power to make me instantly happy.
You see, about that same time, I had watched a movie called Sweet Home Alabama. In the film, Josh Lucas lived in this great cabin in the Alabama woods, was married to Reese Witherspoon (although I don’t think she was all that happy with him), owned a vintage Chevy pick-up truck and cared for two of the most handsome Bloodhounds I have ever seen. These Bloodhounds followed him around adoringly and it seemed pretty obvious to me that if I could just have some of the things Lucas had managed to collect in the movie, then my life would be dramatically improved. Ms. Witherspoon was not on my speed dial and it would be a difficult to commute from a rural Alabama cabin to my job in Kansas. As a result, I just pestered my wife about needing a Bloodhound or two, and spent more than a few hours searching the classified ads for vintage pick-up trucks.
I can’t seem to find the right word for the obviously preposterous notion that some object would turn me into a middle aged, Kansas version, of Josh Lucas, so I’ll just call it the Sweet Home Alabama Effect. I suppose we all do it. We get it in our heads that if we just “owned” or possessed a certain thing, then our life would be better. I’ve heard some people call these objects their “got-to-haves.” Christmas certainly feeds into this principal and encourages us to scurry about trying to find the perfect got-to-have for those we love. Marketing experts use the Sweet Home Alabama Effect to convince us that our happiness turns on the purchase of a certain brand of car, furniture, shoes, jewelry, or other gizmo. And, the truth is, that we dog lovers too easily come to believe that it takes a Dachshund or a Bloodhound to really hang our canine moon.
As we get older, life eventually teaches us that the got-to-haves really don’t work. It would be nice if they did, but they don’t. I have to admit that years later I did finally get around to buying a vintage truck. It’s nice. It sits in the garage most of the time. It’s pretty good for family photos and that’s about it. I should have known better. I still don’t look like Josh Lucas and Reese hasn’t been calling me either. To my credit, I never got the Bloodhound, though, and here is part of the reason why: trying to possess a dog, person or other living thing as an object to make us happy, or feel better about ourselves, is far worse than just being immature or superficial– it’s down right harmful. Which causes me to coin another word–again for the simple reason that I don’t know if the right word yet exists for what I am trying to communicate—and that word is puppy profiler.
Puppy Profilers have an attitude that I just “got-to-have” a particular breed of dog. Thinking you got-to-have a blue eyed blond (I am of course referring to a Collie here and not Reese Witherspoon) can be a big mistake. It causes people to get the wrong dog for their circumstances and disaster can ensue. It also causes breeders to churn out endless number of Labs, Poodles and other popular breeds while approximately 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 perfectly adoptable dogs are needlessly euthanized every year in America’s animal shelters,according to the Humane Society of the United States Overpopulation Estimates.
This is the tragic result of puppy profiling. There are lots of us puppy profilers running around out there in the world and we all need to mend our ways. The first step in the process is being aware that we do it, and being honest enough to admit that it’s really more than just being silly, it’s dead wrong. I won’t pretend for a minute that I am fully over this affliction. In fact, even though I know better, I still feel like I somehow deserve a handsome dog. For me, the compromise was to give up on a Bloodhound and just finding a darn fine looking shelter dog.
That’s Rudy. He’s great and I love him, but someday, maybe, the next dog, I’ll get totally past thinking my dog needs to have some look to be lovable. As they say, one step at a time. Coming to my own defense, getting past thinking that we have to have a dog with a certain look is not as easy as it ought to be. It’s not for me, and perhaps not for you, or most anyone else, either. This gets to me a very courageous lady I met once several years ago. I credit her for really getting me to think about mending my puppy-profiling, Bloodhound-seeking, mind set.
This lady showed up at my house once on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t remember now why she had stopped by. She was a foster parent for a whole troop of dogs and I think she just wanted to share some ideas about fostering–a cause she knew to be dear to us both. She told me she liked to bring her dogs with her when she made these little visits. It was her hope that some new friend might adopt one of her dogs. She told me it didn’t happen that often, but she kept trying. You see, she fostered unattractive dogs. She assured me that each of her dogs–as a result of their appearance alone — had been branded as unadoptable. This is a death sentence for most shelter dogs. But for her rescue efforts, they would have all been put down.
She had made it her life passion to show others, like me, how little appearance really mattered when it comes to dogs (or much of anything else for that matter). Her dogs were affectionate, obedient and a pleasure to be around. Within five minutes, I forgot about their curled lips, weight problems, inferior coats, flawed confirmations, out of whack proportions and all the other trivial defects of appearance that had taken root in their lives and, if truth be known, take root in ours, too. It’s been a long time since I respected anyone more than I did that lady. She opened my droopy, wrinkled eyelids to the truth.
Over the years, whether on a mountain trail or on a suburban sidewalk, I often stop and congratulate people for their pets. I bend down and say things like, “Aren’t you a handsome fellow!” The dogs wag their tails and the people swell up with pride and then move on. Now I like to stop and greet the less showy dogs on the trail. I look at their people. When I ask about the fine animal on the end of the lead, what they tell me has little to do with pedigree or appearance. Instead, I have come to expect, “She’s a fine dog, a rescue, we got her at…” These are the people who truly deserve our respect.
Caring for a handsome dog does not take an ounce of courage nor does it in any way warrant our admiration. Sorry, Josh, but that’s the way it is. I hope someday that we meet on the trail. We’ll observe each other’s less than regal dogs. You tell me where you rescued your dog and I’ll tell you where I rescued mine. We’ll agree that they’re both great dogs. We’ll be reformed puppy profilers, you and me, and the world will be a better place for it.
In A Christmas Home, which will be released on October 30, I tell a story of a mixed breed shelter dog, Gracie, who becomes a service dog and makes a contribution from her heart to all the people she serves and the greater world at large.