Saturday, January 14, 2006
Plain Pets Play Second Fiddle
(Paws to Consider is a bi-monthly column we write for the Oakland Tribune, Tri-Valley Herald and Daily Review. Here is this weekend's column:)
APPLE THE cat likes comfortable laps, chin scritches and the company of other kitties. She is friendly and affectionate to visitors at our Tri-Valley facility and always polite.
But Apple isn't fluffy. She doesn't have unusual coloring, or an extra-long tail. She's not a kitten and she has all her limbs. In fact, as a brown tabby, you might not notice her in a room full of exotic orange cats, or fluffy gray ones flecked with peach tones.
Apple turns 3 years old next month. But an even more important milestone happens on Monday. She will have been a resident of our shelter for one year. She is what we call a long-termer, having spent one-third of her life with us.
There is no obvious reason for her long stay: She behaves like a well-behaved cat should and has proper litter box habits. She gets along well with each new roommate, who inevitably proves to be cuter and more easily adopted. She's the ultimate "straight man," making everyone around her look good. But she suffers from an affliction that reveals a painful flaw in the shelter world: Plain pets don't get adopted very quickly.
If the pet doesn't stand out, adopters' eyes scan past them until they hit the pet that looks different. That means the black and brown pets get less attention. Adult pets get overlooked. Extra large dogs draw interest because they are so odd, but regular big dogs get passed by in favor of that scarce, small fluffy dog everyone seems to be looking for.
Take Sugar. (Please!) She is a medium-sized, nondescript shepherd mix almost 4 years old. She came to the shelter eight months ago as a new mother, but her puppies have long since moved on to their own homes. Sugar is brown and black. Nothing really stands out about her, other than the fact that she is nice and very, very plain. (She does bark. But that is not too unusual for a dog.)
Anyone who works in the shelter system realizes that keeping a selection of animals available for adoption can seem a lot like stocking a retail store. Our priority is to take in those pets that need us the most, while trying to keep a selection that ensures everyone looks unique enough to be easily adopted. This ensures that we continually have space for new pets, and help a greater number of animals. But sometimes we find that we have an overabundance of one type or color of dog or cat. Then none of them seems to get adopted as quickly as if we had just one or two.
Stormy is one of the black cats in our Oakland facility. A dominant color in the cat world, black cats are terribly common. They take the longest to be adopted, surely a fact painful to hear for anybody who has a favorite black kitty at home. If we have only one black cat available for adoption, that cat will get snatched right up. But if we have four, they can languish in the shelter for months.
Two-year-old Stormy has been with us for almost half her life. We are hoping her new home is around the corner, but anyone looking for a nice black cat will first have to rule out Minnie, Mamma Mooshface, Angelo, Lorenzo, Snootie and Ed, our other black cats. Some of them are long-term residents, too.
It's nobody's fault. Human nature is what it is, and we don't begrudge anyone looking for a special pet, even one that might be special for its looks. In fact, we hope you look and look until one unique pet reaches out a paw and touches your heart in a way none other has. Everyone deserves a pet like that.
But shelter staff everywhere reserve a special place in their hearts for the thoughtful adopter who looks past a flashy coat or popular pedigree to adopt the plain pet: the long-term resident, the black cat, the brown dog. We've been known to give parties, complete with going-home presents and tears, when one of our long-term pets finally finds a match. The shelter-wide e-mails usually start off with "Woo-hoo!!!" in the subject
line, and we know it's good news.
So we just have to wait, and take excellent care of them while they are here. We remind them daily what it means to be loved and cared for. We promise that someday someone else will take them home to provide them the same love and care we do. They always go home, even if it takes a year or more.
Apple doesn't seem to mind her wait. It is almost like she knows that her perfect person is around the corner. Until then, she is happy to bask in the attention given her by staff, volunteers and visitors. Happy anniversary, Apple. May this be your last one here.