Another Perspective on Hard-to-Place Pets

That some animals are more difficult to place in homes than others is a truism. I believe that we sometimes fall into a strange trap when we make guesses about which ones are “difficult”: underestimating of the complexity of human psychology.

I witnessed a fascinating example of this while volunteering at my local SPCA: The San Francisco SPCA has a beautiful, welcoming adoption center; cat condos have amenities like cat trees, aquariums, and TVs playing videos of squirrels at play. Parents often bring their kids just to look around. One day, I encountered a father and son touring the shelter with the intention of taking home a cat. The father was dressed to the nines. Everything he wore said, “Bling!” expensive rings, a gold watch, fine leather shoes, etc.  It was pronounced enough to seem odd that a person would wear all of this stuff for a visit to the animal shelter.

The son, about 12 years old, made the choices about which cats to consider. Again and again, he chose cats with “flaws” – one eye, FIV-positive, extra toes, and so on. With each cat, the father would see the flaw, and say, “Not this one! Let’s look at something else.” That scene repeated until the boy gave up, and the two of them left cat-less.

What made that boy so interested in getting a cat with flaws? Maybe it was having a dad so focused on image. Maybe that was just a coincidence. Nonetheless, I don’t think this boy was unique in not being exclusively interested in “cute puppies and kittens.”

I adopted a dog with a visibly deformed leg. I was initially surprised at how often people approach to show me their own poorly healed bones and scars. Something gives them comfort about this old dog getting along on what looks like a bum leg. Yet, according to the SPCA, which has my never-ending gratitude for taking him in, the sanctuary where they got him had held him for seven years without trying to market him, on the assumption that nobody would want him because of the leg!

I believe that there will always be people out there who, due to their own history or psychology, prefer the shy dog to the outgoing one, the “plain” black dog to the more novel-looking one, or the old cat to the kitten. There will always be people who feel called to the challenge of helping to heal a sick animal or winning over one with some behavioral quirks.

Perhaps my supreme example of what it looks like for a shelter — and the public — to value every life: After Katrina, the SF/SPCA, like many shelters around the country, took in some dogs that had been rescued from the deluge. Among them, a 14-year-old Corgi that survived the flood, separation from her owner, and the trip to San Francisco only to be diagnosed with a terminal illness. But guess what – somebody took her home!

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