Have you ever had a preconceived notion about a pet? I have.
One time, a friend had a skunk for pet. It was descented, but still, I was hesitant to get around it because I thought it would still smell and act like a wild animal.
And sure enough, I was right.
Another time, I was at the dog park with Reba and my late hound, Jethro, when a big -- and I do mean BIG -- mastiff came in the park. His head was the size of a basketball and he must have weighed 120 pounds. I thought, “Uh oh ... this could get ugly.”
In that case, I was wrong.
That big ol’ dog just plopped himself down and all the puppies in the vicinity gravitated toward him. They climbed all over him and yelped at him and he just laid there with a mastiff-sized grin on his face.
I felt ashamed of myself because I had jumped to conclusions based on looks alone and I vowed it would never happen again. Now, when I see a dog that I think could be trouble, I remember that mastiff with all the puppies.
My resolve got tested a few months later when I reconnected with an old friend who had a chow mix. I remembered the time Jethro, Reba and I were walking and a neighbor’s chows came after us.
I could still see the “BAD DOG” signs on their fence ... the open garage door with the couple doing some reorganizing ... the two big dogs tearing down the driveway ... Jethro and Reba cowering in fear ... me getting between them and the big dogs ... the couple streaking down the driveway to snatch the chows away from us.
They were apologetic, but I brought to their attention the fact that, if they are going to have “BAD DOG” signs on their fence, they should really think twice about leaving them unrestrained.
So now my friend had a chow, and I was a bit apprehensive. But I figured this chow would be better controlled and besides, she lived with other, littler dogs and my friend assured me Punkin had never shown aggression.
In that case, my apprehension was for naught, because this chow was the sweetest, gentlest creature in the house. The two little dogs were the terrors, known for digging under the fence and running the neighborhood.
The more I think about it, dogs really are like people. Just as we need to guard against making assumptions about people based on looks or reputation, we need to guard against harboring prejudices against dogs based on appearance or third-hand stories we might have heard about a certain breed.
My mother used to say there is good and bad in every race, and the same is true of dogs. Just as people need to be judged by their individual actions, so do dogs.
I was visiting Animal Services last summer and one of the kennel managers was giving a friend and me the nickel tour.
We went to the “bite wing,” the equivalent of doggie purgatory, and there were a variety of dogs there. A couple pit bulls, yes, but also a golden retriever, a couple Florida Brown Dogs, and a Boston terrier.
I commented that it just goes to show any dog can be a biter and the kennel manager replied, “You know, I have people ask me all the time: ‘Aren’t you afraid of the pit bulls?’ And I tell them, ‘Not a bit. You want to know the dog that scares me the most? A chihuahua. It will bite you as soon as look at you.’”
So here’s hoping that people who are thinking about getting a dog will go to the shelters and leave their preconceived notions at home. I would ask them to please, go with an open mind and the willingness to learn about the dogs as individuals, not as “a chow,” or “a Rottweiler,” or “a pit bull.”
Talk with the kennel managers who have had the time to observe the dogs in their care and make an educated judgement whether that dog would be a good mix for your family.
And, if you’re still not sure about a shelter dog, contact one of the rescue groups and ask about dogs in foster homes.
One of the great things about fostering is it allows the foster families to really get to know the dog, and they can give you information that only someone who’s been with a dog in a home situation can give you.
There are so many dogs out there who need a chance to be in a home. Who need a chance to be loved. Who need a chance to be ... well ... a dog.
M.K. Means, Herald copy editor, can be reached at 745-7054.