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It was a couple of weeks ago when I set out to take the first photos for the Family Dogs series. The afternoon was cold and raining but I was greeted warmly by Rachelle and her dog Sophia. Some of the photos taken are below and Rachelle was kind enough to provide the background story on Sophia.

I was working at the Toronto Humane Society when I was asked if I could foster a small dog for 'just a weekend'. Staff were desperately low on foster parents but had assured me that I only needed to take care of her for the weekend and she would then be transferred to a more permanent foster home. It's not that I didn't like dogs; it's just that I always considered myself more of a 'cat person' and appreciated the independent nature of a cat over the more needy ways of a dog. I went downstairs to the clinic to meet my potential weekend foster "Sophia", a one year old Pekingese/Shih-tzu cross. She had been in the clinic for a month or so after being surrendered by her previous owners. She had become very sick in her previous home after being spayed and the owners could not afford the quickly mounting vet bills. She was at death's door when she first entered the THS but the wonderful vets and staff brought her back to what I now know to be her confident feisty self. The foster coordinator told me how sweet this girl was and that she loved to snuggle up to your face when picked up. I was told that she needed to go into a foster home to be monitored to ensure she was out of the woods before she went up for adoption.

My first glance into her cage showed a terribly scruffy dog who was obviously frustrated and bored to no end being couped up in a cage for so long. Shredded newspaper spilled out of her cage and her hair was long and unkempt and I could barely see her eyes through all that hair. I took her out of the cage and picked her up and sure enough, she cuddled right up to me. In that split second I decided there was no harm in taking this dog in for a weekend. In fact I thought it might actually be fun! Sophia showed me how confident and adventurous she was on our very first walk, she walked briskly ahead of me, anxious to take everything in. I was living with my brother at the time and when I came home with this scruffy, stinky dog he wasn't exactly impressed. I said not to worry. It's only for a weekend to which he reacted "yeah right".

First thing I did was give her a bath. I think she was happy to get cleaned up because she fully cooperated with me. She wasn't by herself at all that weekend; there was always someone around and she seemed to settle in pretty quickly. My cats established quickly who the boss was (it wasn't Sophia) and they seemed to co-exist in harmony pretty much right away.

I returned to work on the Monday with Sophia, preparing to pass her over to another foster parent. I enjoyed my time with her but I hadn't given a lot of thought to the commitment and responsibility it would take to care for a dog. She hung out at my desk for a good part of the day while I worked away and waited to find out what was going on with her. At the end of the day I was asked if I could care for her for a couple of weeks as they were still short on foster parents. I couldn't imagine her having to go back into a cage so I didn't hesitate to say yes. And well, I didn't need much more time to fall in love with her so I ultimately ended up adopting her and she became a constant companion to me, coming into work with me and hanging out with me and the cats at home.

For the first year or so that I had Sophia, I noticed that her main issue seemed to be men. She did not like men at all, (which did not bode well for my dating life). And she disliked the vets and vet techs at the THS just the same. A THS staffer wearing scrubs walking by would send Sophia into a tailspin. Another thing I noticed is that Sophia cowered in a corner on the few occasions that she had "accidents" in my place. She obviously had been "disciplined" in the past, with a heavy hand or foot or raised voice - no one will know. I started to realize that in her short life, she had probably been exposed to some negative/unstable environments.

I am happy to report now, some 8 years later, Sophia loves both men and women and is a total sweetheart to my nieces and the neighbourhood kids. In fact when Fred showed up to take the photos, Sophia did not bark at him even once. She's still not exactly cooperative when it comes to vets and groomers but I have been lucky to find a great groomer who is more like a dog whisperer and knows how to calm "difficult" dogs. Aside from that I'd say Sophia is a perfect dog. She is loving, smart, alert, playful and oh so goofy with her little Elvis snarl ... I totally lucked out. I wasn't actually looking for a dog way back when but I like to believe some things happen for a reason. I can't imagine my life without my little buddy; as the years are flying by, I truly appreciate every day I have with her and the rest of my furry family, cats Olivia and Gopher.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.