I’m in the desert border town of El Paso, Texas, to attend and speak at a fund-raiser gala to benefit the Animal Rescue League of El Paso. The league operates a no-kill animal sanctuary and shelter outside of town that on any given day houses about 100 dogs and cats, many of them rescued by the group from the local dog pound, where they report about 70 dogs a day are put down. The group removes as many of the dogs as it can from what it calls “death row,” and brings them to the rescue where they are fed, groomed, given medical attention and vaccinations — and then put up for adoption. It also takes in strays and those abandoned by their owners, often for no fault of the animal. Last year the group found good homes (the staff reserves the right to reject anyone it feels won’t provide the right environment for an animal) for more than 1,000 animals. Pretty impressive for a group run mostly by volunteers and that gets no government funding.
The purpose of tonight’s event will be to raise as much money as possible to keep the shelter up and running for another year. Organizers told me they wanted me to be their speaker not so much because of my book, but because of my relationship with “the world’s worst dog.” As one of them put it to me at dinner last night, “Thank you for not giving up on Marley.”
You see, behind all the funny stories about Marley’s wild and mischievous ways is a sad sub-text. For every “Marley” that finds a family willing to put up with the antics and give him a home for life, there are dozens that end up abandoned by families that lose patience. Many of those dogs get adopted again, only to be turned back in. At the Animal Rescue League here, all dogs get a second and third and fourth chance. As many as it takes. In addition to taking care of the animals’ medical needs, the staff and volunteers work on training them to be better companions. Some have separation anxiety, some have obsessive habits, some, damaged by abuse or neglect, have unpredictable temperaments. But I should add, many, many of the dogs have no “issues” at all. They simply had become inconvenient and so were turned in. Some by families who were moving, some by military members getting deployed, some because of an owner’s death. As I walked through the shelter just before dusk last night, I was impressed at how many of the dogs had, as far as I could tell, great, friendly, well-behaved personalities. Perfect pets just waiting for the perfect home.
It reminded me that all dogs deserve a shot at becoming a loyal part of a family, and that sometimes the best pets of all are adopted from shelters. It’s almost as if they know that you have given them a second chance at a good life, and they are all the more appreciative for it.