Adelle and Crescent
The big difference between misbehaving people and misbehaving dogs is that only the dogs are always innocent.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t get punished.
Just as people prisons dot the landscape like cheap motels, dog prisons (shelters) are doing the same, with a similar effect: a pathway to worse behavior. But enough of comparing dogs to people. It’s not fair to the dogs.
Adelle Reinert-Schmitt is an open-faced, buoyant English teacher at Grossmont College who could smile at a run-on sentence. She sees nothing amusing, however, in how we treat abandoned and forsaken dogs, especially mongrels.
(Dog lovers might frown at “mongrel,” but I tried it out on a neighbor’s dog, and it wagged its tail in approval. “Mutt,” however, caused a growl.)
Adelle, a single woman of 36, was diagnosed with Stage 3 thyroid cancer in 2011. “It was pretty scary, and it led me to have my-purpose-in-life kind of thoughts. It’s a cliché, but with cancer, there’s the whole thing: How much time do I have? And what good can I do while I’m here?”
She took stock: She gave herself feel-good credits for being a teacher, and for taking a teenage foster child into her home and adopting her as her own. However, Adelle sought more. Consequently, she decided to do something for the innocent among us. She chose dogs; getting them out of shelters and into homes became her mission.
Her decision takes on real meaning when you think about how you felt when you last visited a shelter (in pre-PC days, a “pound”).
No one can walk through the rows of whining, yelping, begging canines without feeling depressed and a little guilty. Especially when you see the big brutes that can’t help looking mean, but are as open to love as any cute poodle — and are probably going to die in captivity.
Think how the dogs must feel when you turn your back and walk out the door.
In only three years, Adelle has been foster caregiver to 86 shelter dogs, of which all have found homes. As a guarantee, she will take them back, but only three have been returned, and those found other new homes.
“There’s the incredible satisfaction of being able to go to the shelter and take a dog out, and see its absolute joy of getting to leave that place and then go into a loving home,” she says.
Luckily for the dogs, Adelle owns her own home in Normal Heights, which means she has turned her two-bedroom into a kennel of sorts.
City ordinance allows six dogs in a home. Adelle has three of her own, so she can take three kennel dogs at any time. When she adopts one out, she replaces it with another. She says the city allows 50 puppies — yes, 50 — in a home at any one time, which means she welcomes pregnant dogs.
What her home must look like would give your fastidious grandmother the vapors.
“Yes, dogs certainly can destroy property. I’ve had to give up on having nice things. All the legs on my couch are chewed. It looks like a beaver has been through my house, because of all the puppies chewing on the furniture. My lovely craftsman door has dog-nail gouges down it. I have a couple cellphones chewed up each year,” she says.
Do some people consider you, ahem, a quaint lady?
“Probably. It definitely makes me difficult to date because there aren’t too many guys who would put up with a crazy dog lady who has a whole pack at her house.”
Your neighbors must be deaf or sainted.
“I’m very lucky. I live on a corner, and I don’t have neighbors on one side and on the other side is a very tolerant family. Luckily, they just had a baby. I always feel good when their baby is screaming because at least we’re a little bit even.”
When she adopts out a dog, Adelle has to decide on its replacement. Walking down the aisles of the shelter, she looks for one of three types:
Fear-aggressive dogs: “I have a soft spot for these and have had 100 percent success. In the shelter, they’re terrified. The incessant barking from other dogs is very stressful. They’re trapped, and there’s no place to hide.
“What I do with the fear-aggressive ones is I’ll literally leash them to me, attach them to my waist. By forcing them to be out in the world as opposed to hiding all the time, they learn to trust people again.”
Have you been bitten?
“I definitely have scars.”
Stir-crazy dogs: “Dogs who have been in too long, and who are starting to go crazy. Just like someone in solitary confinement might start to go crazy.
“Some dogs that have been in for a long time will develop things like dust-mote syndrome, which is where they fixate on little motes of dust in the light coming into the cage. They’ll start snapping at them like flies. Basically, they’re hunting the dust because they’re bored.”
Moms with pups: “When a pregnant dog comes into the shelter, they can’t really take care of it. They often call me. The shelter is very stressful, and the puppies need to nurse for at least six weeks. I always get puppies adopted very quickly after they’re weaned.”
Adelle often sponsors adoption events under the aegis of Second Chance Dog Rescue. Her adoptees cost more than the shelter — $150 to $300, but a lot more has gone into them, she says.
“We don’t have government funding. The only way we can pay the vet bills and for supplies is through those fees.”
I’ve heard that mongrels are healthier, generally.
“They are, absolutely.”
What sort of dog would you avoid fostering?
“One that is dog-aggressive. I do believe some dogs have an innate or genetic predisposition to be animal aggressive.”
That’s a good segue into pit bulls.
“I don’t foster pit bulls because of the high cost of insurance. They often have wonderful temperaments, but I know that some don’t belong in homes with other dogs.”
Adelle hastens to say that she has a gentle female pit bull of her own, but that one stays put.
Is trainability directly related to age?
“Dogs are trainable forever. There are some things that take longer to work with than others. For example, if a dog is aggressive with other dogs, that is far more difficult to overcome than something like jumping on people.
“Some of my dogs were never exposed to children, especially toddlers and babies. Infants don’t smell like a man or woman. Dogs don’t know what to do with them, and sometimes they’ll be either afraid or aggressive with them because they’ve never encountered one.”
Young children also pull ears and tails.
“You’ll see these cute pictures of toddlers crawling all over dogs or lying with a pit bull or something like that. Even with the nicest dog in the world, that’s dangerous.”
It’s fortunate for Adelle that her cancer seems to be under control. However, she couldn’t anticipate that three years ago. To push ugly cancer thoughts out of her head, she could have lost herself (and her money) in a casino, she could have gone on the world’s longest wine-tasting tour, or she could have moped and pulled the covers over her head.
Instead, she devoted herself to creatures that only want to love and be loved, and whose devotion is often repaid by a meanness that swims up from a dark place.
It’s true that dogs are what we make them into, and maybe if we do that in kindness, we make something better of ourselves.
Fred Dickey’s home page is www.freddickey.net
He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org