For the love of dogs

For as long as I can remember, I have been a dog fan of epic proportions. My family has always had dogs (big dogs mind you). Even most of my extended family are dog people. To solidify my passion for dogs, I can honestly say I asked for an encyclopedia of dog breeds when I was in elementary school?yes folks I know, nerd alert!

Between working full-time and living in town now, it isn?t wise for me to have a dog of my own, although I wish to the moon and back that I did have one. To get my dog fix, though, I don?t have to go very far. My cousin has a dog, as do my aunt and uncle, all of whom live in Mt. Pleasant. But my favorite dogs of all live with my parents, who reside in Ft. Madison. Baxter, a Black Lab mutt, and Brutus, a purebred Rottweiler, are two of the sweetest dogs on the planet.

A friend gave Brutus, my sister?s Rottie, to her as a Christmas present. Baxter, however, was a present to my entire family.

Baxter came into our lives at somewhat of a difficult time. Jazz, our former Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab mix, passed away before I entered my freshman year of high school. She had been my brother?s dog for years, and old age finally caught up with her. As I stated before, my family had always had a dog, so a few months after her death, we decided it was time to find another four-legged family member.

Living on a farm with kids, horses and tractors, we needed a good outdoor dog that would fit in with our active lives in the country. When our family of five decided we were ready for another four-legged friend, my mom started scanning the newspaper for dogs that were up for adoption. After some searching, she saw an ad for a ?black lab mix family dog in need of a good home?. The dog was residing in a shelter in Burlington, so one afternoon after school, I took a trip into town with my mom to see him.

Immediately, we both fell in love. At the time, Baxter (who had no name until after we adopted him) was somewhat thin, over-protective of his food and skittish around people, indicating his former owner(s) may have abused him. After some coaxing, however, he had no qualms with lying at your feet for a pat on the belly or playing with you via a toy rope. He had deep sweetness to him that we connected to almost immediately.

The gentleman who brought him to the pound was also a dog lover, and had spotted Baxter on the side of the road outside of Burlington. With no collar and clear signs of malnutrition, the man took pity on the black dog and coaxed him into his truck to get him some help. This man, a Burlington native, was a single guy of wealth and had no children of his own. He simply loved animals.

And while Baxter?s rescuer was a dog-lover, his busy job prevented him from adopting yet another animal, so he took Baxter to a local vet. This man paid for Baxter?s medical care, food, and shelter, and even paid for the ad that we replied to.

When my parents inquired about how much Baxter would cost to adopt, the owner of the shelter told us he was free. As it turns out, the man who had rescued Baxter had even offered to cover the cost of his adoption if he went to a nice family that had plenty of space for him to run and play. That day, Baxter found his forever home with the Kelly family.

Since adopting him, Baxter has gained weight and muscle mass, and is now a big, black, bear-looking creature. And despite his large stature, he couldn?t be more of a gentle giant.

A lover of kids, Baxter lives for running around the yard with my nephews and friends? children. In fact, our neighbor?s grandson, who was terribly afraid of dogs for years, has learned to love dogs after spending afternoons with Baxter. Now, the young boy will often spend hours playing and talking to Baxter in his grandparents? backyard. Needless to say, Baxter is his pal for life.

The reason I tell you this story, other than to remind you that National Dog Day just passed us by for another year, is to tell readers the importance of adoption. Baxter?s story is just one of many. My cousin, whose dog Neptune was also adopted, has a story very similar to my family?s story. She can also attest to the greatness of pet adoption.

Famous wildlife preservationist and television personality, Roger Caras, once said, ?Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.? For me, that statement rings pretty true.

So readers, if you are on the hunt for a new dog or even a new cat, be sure to inquire at your local vet or humane society about animals in the local area that are still waiting for their forever home. Like Baxter, or my cousin?s sweet Neptune, you just might find the perfect companion for you and your family through pet adoption.

And, if you happen to see animals that might need your help, be like Baxter?s rescuer and ask yourself what you can do to be that animal?s hero. Maybe, your kindness will benefit a family like mine down the road.