When I first saw Sammy, his tongue and ears were hanging from his head; his tail too large for his body and his legs too short. He was standing in my dining room, my fiance, Mike, standing next to him, waiting to see what my reaction would be.

I knew he was going to adopt a dog, but looking at him then, the reality that I was now partly responsible for him hit me.

I didn’t know much about dogs, and hadn’t owned one since the family dog that I in no way had any responsibility for as a child.

The first few days, all Sam did was stare at me while I tried to work. He’d rub up against me, his fur sticking to me in our unair-conditioned  apartment.

He had separation anxiety and would cry every time I even thought about leaving his side.

However, he has never eaten any of our stuff (besides a few hats and an entire box of chocolate, which resulted in a terrifying ride to the emergency vet in North Ridgeville and him getting his stomach pumped), and he never goes to the bathroom in the house (besides, inexplicably, every time he sees our friend Kris), so despite his visible need for a trainer, which we invested in for a reasonable and well-spent amount of money, we have felt pretty lucky.

He’d been through three homes already, I think. The last he left for “chasing kids’ toys.”

Knowing him for a few years now, I’d say it probably had more to do with the fact that he likes to chew on people – nothing malicious, but probably pretty unsettling for a family with kids, I’ll admit.

Before we adopted him, Mike and I would go to the park, the store, on a walk. “Can I get a dog?” he’d ask.

“I want a dog.”

“When can we get a dog?”

Finally, when the thought of taking care of an actual dog became more appealing than constantly talking about getting one, I knew I at least did not want a puppy. There are so many dogs that need homes, that not adopting one felt wrong and selfish to me.

A quick search on www.petfinder.com, a website that connects potential owners with local shelters or foster families, shows how many animals really do need adopting.

After clicking on about 100 dogs, Mike finally pulled up Sammy’s picture, smiling at me like I was about to be going to buy dog supplies.

We joke now that they met online, explaining away some of Sam’s quirks. He’s not perfect, and we don’t have a fancy answer when someone asks us, “What kind of dog is he?”

“He’s a collie mix,” we tell them. Or, more often, “He’s a dog.”

But he is ours, and one of the most rewarding parts about having him the past two years has been working with him and watching him go from a nervous ball of energy to a much happier and calmer dog.

Around the same time Sam showed up in my dining room, a family member bought a really expensive purebred German shepherd from a “puppy mill,” the condition of which they described as so bad they couldn’t bear to leave her there.

Writing this now, I realize that the correct thing to do in that situation, whether they purchased the dog or not, would have been to report the place. I’m assuming that did not happen, judging by the fact that they would go there in the first place, spending thousands, in the end, on a dog with, almost certainly, health problems, a result of being inbred too many times.

For Maggie the German shepherd, that’s exactly what the case was.

They probably did report the mill. Wouldn’t anyone? I hope.

Though Mike and I both agree that mutts are the best dogs, if we were ever to seek a purebred for whatever extra-money-that-won’t-be-lying-around-anytime-soon reason, a small, local breeder would be the way to go.

These can be found in classified sections of newspapers and websites, or by doing a quick Internet search. Like the puppy mill situation, any poor conditions or suspicious people should be reported and can be through the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

Knowing a family that breeds bulldogs, I know there are a lot of good-hearted people who don’t exploit animals. But there are also a lot of horror stories, so use caution when working with breeders.

As for me, I’ll probably stick to springing hopeless cases from a shelter, knowing their lives will be good in our home.

“Your dog is so cute!” strangers exclaim when we walk Sammy, to which we reply, half-jokingly, “That’s because you don’t know him.”

Honestly, though, I wouldn’t trade him or go back to not having a dog at all. I think all three of our lives are better for it.

(For West Life edition only) SIDE BAR: Second Hand Mutts is a great local option for those interested in adopting or fostering dogs. At the PetPeople store in Rocky River from noon until 3 p.m. July 19, the organization will be hosting a meet and greet, linking potential owners with dogs in need. The group can be reached at 216-664-9660.


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