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Dog Tales

Why I love the underdog

Looking back on my life, I’ve always rooted for the underdog, literally.

As a high school student, I would take the city bus downtown to volunteer at the local shelter. Stray dogs found their way into my life, my entire life, from the time I was a child to now. Growing up, when people found a hurt or lost animal, they would bring it to my house. One summer, I raised a robin in my bedroom.

In the early years of my career, working at an animal shelter seemed like a no-brainer for me. Although I was initially hired as the trainer, I couldn’t resist working with the shelter dogs on a regular basis. I wanted to give every dog a chance at a better life. Again, I found myself attracted to the underdogs. As a result, over the years, I fostered hundreds of dogs and cats and never kept one. Why? Because I realized I could help more animals by fostering and training them, than I can by keeping them. More importantly, I’m a believer that others can care for animals just as much as I can, if not better.

Here’s one of my favorite underdog stories: Bobby was an English Setter mix. He was abandoned at a local boarding kennel. He was unique because he bounced. There was something neurologically wrong with him. He had several appointments at Tufts. They found him fascinating. During one of many staff meetings where we discussed Bobby’s fate, the question of quality of life came up. Was he able to sleep? How would he do in a home? Could he go up stairs? Out of frustration that he had been at the kennel so long and still not adopted, I volunteered to foster him so these questions could be answered once and for all.

When I brought Bobby home, he was great. He loved my dogs, Thor and Vesta, he shared dog beds and offered appropriate play signals. When my daughters came home from school, he’d get a very soft and inviting look on his face, he was calm around them, except for his constant bouncing. Stairs were a challenge, but eventually he mastered them — it just took him a bit longer. And sleep, could he sleep. He didn’t bounce all night and he snored.

Bobby proved he was in fact adoptable, and could be successful in a family. Ultimately, a fantastic family with several young children adopted Bobby. He was one of the only dogs that I had thought seriously about adopting myself. He was truly special and not because he bounced.

If you’re considering getting a pet, please consider adopting your dog, or cat or rabbit for that matter, from your local animal shelter. There are many underdogs out there and, given the right support, training and family environment, they will flourish and live a happy, healthy life.

Make sure to visit with a variety of dogs before deciding. And please, give your pet the time, training and exercise they deserve.

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 20 years. She offers private lessons, group classes in Rindge and Swanzey, board and train as well as day training services. She lives in Keene with her partner, Amy Willey. They share their home with five dogs and three daughters. For more information, see www.everythingdognh.com.

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