For my family of origin, Thanksgiving was always been the best holiday of the year. I was born in the 1960s, and my parents had moved us from a large city, to suburbs, and, by the time I was making memories, to a rural community where my brother rode dirt bikes and my sisters and I rode horses. And, of course, we had a lot of dogs – sooooo many dogs. Spay/neuter was not a thing in those days, so pretty much every dog we owned procreated, some more than once. We always found homes for the mixed-breed puppies – often, sending our aunts and uncles and cousins home from sharing our Thanksgiving dinner with a puppy or two.
Today, I wince when I think about all those puppies and that casual Thanksgiving gifting of puppies. After more than 20 years of volunteering in animal shelters, and fostering (at last count) about 150 puppies for my local shelter in the past 10 or so years, I am a bear about spay/neuter for all dogs except for those owned by the most responsible, dedicated, and educated people imaginable. Last week, I spent a couple of hours doing an audit of my local shelter, which provides services to the small town where I live as well as all the unincorporated areas in my rural county. We had 94 puppies under the age of four months in the shelter, 42 who were brought into the shelter from my town, and 52 who were brought in from the county.
How many irresponsible owners contributed to that astonishing population? The 42 puppies from town came to the shelter from 12 different places; the 52 puppies from the county came from 13 different places. That’s at least 25 mother dogs, and 25 owners who failed to either have their dogs spayed, or prevent them from being bred. As a result, if all the puppies survive, the shelter will be responsible for the vaccination, microchipping, and spay/neuter of 94 puppies – not to mention feeding and cleaning up after all of them for the weeks or even months that it takes to find them all homes.
And this is in addition to the 80 or so older puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs that are also sharing the shelter’s 56 kennels.
Under my Thanksgiving table this year there will be eight dogs, six of whom are alumni of my shelter. The six include my two large dogs (Woody and Boone), my friend Leonora’s tiny dog (Samson, Woody’s BFF), my son and daughter-in-law’s coonhound (Cole), and two of my sister Pam’s small dogs (Lucky and Dinah). Pam’s third dog, Daisy, will also be present; she came from a Jack Russell rescue over a decade ago. My sister-in-law’s Rat Terrier (Alice) will also be present; she was rehomed from a ranching family who bought her from a breeder, but were disappointed in her lack of interest in dispatching rats and other vermin on the ranch. The three tiny puppies that Leonora is fostering for our shelter will be at her home; I know she will excuse herself from dinner early to tuck them in for the night.
Yes, my family (relatives and chosen family) is still dog-crazy. All of us are deeply grateful to our dogs for the joy and companionship they bring us, the adventures we share with them, and the comfort they give us in hard times. Out of gratitude for these priceless gifts, we donate to shelters and rescues, and we foster and adopt to help to save dog lives.
Immense, boundless thanks to the shelter workers who will be feeding dogs and cleaning kennels while we enjoy the company of our friends and family and all of their dogs today. I’ve sent an extra donation to my local shelter in honor of their workers; won’t you do the same?
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.