Benny Salad Houdini has earned a new title: Ambassador for Rescue Dogs.
This is an unanticipated consequence of his “house” training, which really means going out of the house – a lot. Small puppy bladders and immature muscle control mean small intervals between walks. And for us, walking means meeting lots of people. We live in a lovely waterfront city in sunny Florida where the sidewalks tend to be busy with friendly folks feeling good about both the weather and the surrounding beauty. I hear an astounding number of admiring “oohs” and “aahs” – most of them directed not at the scenery but at Benny.
But all this exuberant adoration has its challenges. We’re trying to train Benny to sit to be petted, not to chew fingers or jump on people or deliver wet slurpy kisses without an explicit invitation– but these suddenly lovesick humans don’t seem to mind if he breaks all the rules and climbs all over them in a wiggling, wagging, licking paroxysm of puppyness. I am constantly redirecting, refocusing, trying to train well-meaning humans as well as one extremely personable puppy.
The open-armed adoration also opened the door for Benny’s ambassadorship, a role I had not anticipated for him. As admirers pet and coo, they almost unfailingly ask, “What kind of dog is he?” I almost unfailingly answer, “He’s a rescue puppy – a Shih Tzu.” This is greeted with amazement by an astonishing majority of people, who can’t conceive of such a dog being found anywhere but at a breeder’s. That allows us (okay, allows me; Benny’s otherwise engaged) to explain that you can find almost any breed of dog you want through a rescue group or shelter, where an estimated 25% of all dogs are purebreds. I explain that you can put your name on waiting lists at many shelters and get a call when the breed you are looking for comes in, or apply for adoption through rescue groups around the country, or start your search on a site like petfinder.com. I recently read a story about a breeder who referred a couple to a rescue group when he couldn’t immediately meet their request for his brand of puppy – now that is progress!
But back to Ambassador Benny. His work inspires and delights me. He motivates people almost daily to say that they are going to start a search for their own rescue dog. He educates people who will almost certainly pass on what they’ve learned. He has taught me the power of puppyhood to change the world one dog at a time. I’m imagining a movement where volunteers walk adoptable puppies and adorable dogs through city streets and spread the word, just as we are doing.
As I write this, Benny is lying walked out and conked out under my desk. An excited little “yip” escapes his mouth every once in a while. I don’t know what’s happening in his sleepy puppy brain, but I am dreaming big dreams for him and all his kindred, dreams of a day where every dog finds a home — and we actually need breeders because there are no more dogs in shelters hoping to make it out alive.