Last Sunday morning I was on my way to the gym when I saw a little dog by the side of a very busy road. She was minding her own business so I stopped and watched, expecting that someone would call out to her or appear to be walking her off-leash. No such person appeared. I bent down close to her and put out my hand, she ducked back but then decided I wasn't too terrifying and came over for a pat and a belly-rub. Just then some people walked past to cross the road and she ran to them, expecting more pats, and onto the road. I dropped and called her to me, they heard and turned back and fortunately the little dog followed them. After ascertaining they did not know her and after a few more minutes of me crouching by the road holding her I decided an owner wasn't going to turn up and she was coming home with me. It is amazing how heavy a 3kg dog can be after you have carried her for 10 minutes.
She was wearing a collar but no tags. The first step was to see if she was microchipped. I rang my closest vet who I knew opened Sundays. They said they could scan her but would have to keep her and turn her in to the council. I explained that I was concerned for her welfare at the Lost Dogs Home (fairly high euthanasia rates) and was prepared to look after her until her owner could be found but no, that was their policy. I then called the emergency vet a little further away. They could scan her and even though they are supposed to call the council they understood my concerns and would let me care for her, so along we went. I spent the entire walk there (with the dog on a leash now) asking people if they recognised her and scanning the faces of drivers to see if they were possibly looking for a lost dog.
She did not have a microchip, was not desexed and appeared to be only about 6-7 months old. Bad news. I had been in touch with Mme Magic Paws (background info here) to check I was doing the right thing and now had to ask for more help. While I was waiting for the Bookworm to come and pick us up I named the dog Puffin- a feminised version of Puff the Magic dragon because she looked like a baby dragon :)
Puffin and Ted met on neutral ground outside my house. Puffin was terrified, she reared back and growled and again I was ringing Mme Magic Paws with the news that I thought she was possibly dog-aggressive. We locked her in the laundry and set about papering the streets with her description and my phone number. I also posted the same info on the lost dogs Facebook pages. I was so certain that someone would come home and go searching. I walked around the area I found her again and again expecting to see someone looking or hear someone calling for her. I talked to people in parks and people walking their dogs to see if they had heard of anyone missing a pup or heard anyone calling for an animal. Nothing.
That night we allowed the pups to spend a little more time together and the outcome was a little better. They played well, she was still a little snappy but Ted was big and clumsy compared to her little ninja form and neither of them was distressed.
The next day I walked around the area I had found her (again) and further explored the streets expecting to see some 'missing dog' posters on the telegraph poles where my 'dog found' posters weren't. As I neared the housing commission flats where Puffin was found I saw some white dogs wandering about. The thought crossed my mind "how many dogs am I going to end up with?". There were a couple of chihuahua x adult males wandering across the road and about the place. I couldn't get too close to them because I had Ted with me but I spoke to a workman who had been working around the flats for 15 years and according to him "there are hundreds of little white dogs around here. A guy over there kept breeding his dog, she had litter after litter. killed her in the end."
I went home and started calling the local vets, leaving a description and my contact details. I got a lecture from more than one about how I was being "irresponsible" by not taking her to the pound because that is where her owner will look for her.
Here's the thing. This dog was not microchipped or desexed and very likely not registered. If she went to the Lost dogs Home they would hold her for 8 days, after which time she would be rehomed or put to sleep. Puffin was small and fearful. Her initial response to Ted was one of fear and aggression. If you locked this little girl up in a cage where she was surrounded by the howling and barking of other dogs she would possibly show fear and aggression. When she is being assessed for rehoming or euthanasia this fear would count strongly towards the end of her days. When in reality, given time and care, she was affectionate and delightful.
Not only this. She is not microchipped and if she is not registered her owner will not be able to claim her from the pound without a registration certificate. Similarly, and not many people know this, should her owner call to see if she is there, giving a description of her, there is a good chance that the response will be that she is not there, even though she is huddled in the corner of cage 346.
I really objected to being called irresponsible. Given that I had spent the entire Sunday (that I had previously had nice plans for) putting up posters, initiating conversation with strangers and walking the streets hoping to hear somebody calling; Sunday night listening for her cry, taking her outside to wee and comforting my own fretful lad, I felt pretty responsible and in fact, virtuous. Calling the council to collect her and leaving her to her own devices, giving her owner just 8 days to track down his unmicrochipped, unregistered dog that could have been at either North Melbourne or Burwood East (25 km away) and not worrying about what would happen on Day 9 would have been by far the easier choice.
That afternoon Mme Magic Paws had been able to make some room to accommodate Puffin so I took her over. Already terribly attached to her it was difficult to say goodbye.
I started checking the Lost Dogs notices on every website I could find. Nothing. I could not understand, if it was Ted missing there would not be a person in the greater Melbourne area unaware of my plight. Then Wednesday night (3.5 days since I found her) I got a voicemail message. In broken English an older man's voice told me about his lost dog, searching for the correct words he said she is "black...ah...brown....ah...white". I called him back and said that I was very sorry but the dog I found is tan and white. He said she is not black, she is brown and white, described her as a chihuahua x maltese, 8 months old and that she was a good dog, a friendly dog. I really felt like we had a winner but there are crazies out there and I needed proof. Please send me a photo I said or a detailed description and I gave him my email address.
36 hours passed with no further contact. I called him back and told him I haven't received anything. He seemed to think his son had sent something. We hung up and 5 minutes later I got a message with a collage of Puffin pictures.
But I am angry. Although it is hard to be angry at this nice old man that loves his dog, he has been irresponsible. If I had not snatched his dog off the road she would be dead, if I had not kept her and put posters outside his apartment building she would be on day 8 at the pound right now. And unless he went directly from Mme Magic Paws to the vet and had her desexed she could be coming into season any day, bearing her first litter of puppies too young.
I am so angry at a system that allows such easy euthanasia of animals without having to account for the losses. I am exasperated at the inflexible temperament testing that occurs in many of these "shelters". I am outraged at the people working in the "shelters" that know what is happening and do nothing, just follow procedure. I am shocked by the blind trust most people have in the system, the unwavering belief that "shelters" are there to protect animals and get them back to their owners. I am vehemently angry at the people who field phone calls with descriptions of missing pets and don't make absolutely sure that the animal isn't in their facility- more than once I heard tales of animals being found at the shelter after repeated phone calls turning up nothing including one from a vet, who went to the pound and found his microchipped cat after being told she wasn't there). I am disgusted by the term "shelter"- other than a roof there is not a whole heap of sheltering happening.
Most of all, I am heartbroken that there is nothing I can do to change any of this.