October is "Adopt a Shelter Dog" month, and it's also the month when I won the rescue lottery.
Although the details of Bruce's first years are murky, we do know that he had been confined to a cage in a Pennsylvania puppy mill for two years. The facility was churning out English bulldogs and boxers as if they were on an assembly line.
Bruce didn't know what a toy was -- or a walk or a treat. He was 20 pounds underweight, infested with fleas and so filthy that it took two baths before we knew what color he was. The pads of his feet had the texture of jelly.
A rescue group had taken on many of the puppy mill's "rejects," dogs who had been bred so many times that they had the disconnected demeanor of long-term asylum patients or had developed neurotic cage spins -- running mad, endless "laps" inside their cramped cages.
At first, a loud sneeze could reduce Bruce to a quivering mass of fur, and it was weeks before he could walk without pain and stiffness. But watching this wonderful dog blossom into a confident, cherished family member has been a sheer joy.
Now Bruce struts down the street and picks and chooses his toys. When people compliment him, I take the opportunity to talk to them about the hideous puppy-mill industry and to encourage those who are ready to share their lives with a dog or cat to adopt from a shelter, rather than buying from a store.
Bruce is an English bulldog, a funny-faced, personable breed that many find appealing. But these dogs have paid a heavy price for generations of inbreeding and genetic manipulation.
Prone to breathing and joint problems as well as to ear and eye infections, these dogs can be costly to care for, and many people who "had to" have them end up discarding them like last year's shoes.
But for those who are committed to sharing their lives with one of these comical dogs, rescue groups are full of English bulldogs waiting to be adopted.
In fact, there are rescue groups for every breed there is -- including English bulldogs -- and for all the marvelous mutts who can't wait to be a part of your family. There's not a single justifiable reason to buy a dog from a pet shop or a breeder.
Every dog bred by a breeder means another dog is doomed. Every dog purchased at a pet store means a miserable life inside a puppy-mill cage for another.
Mass-produced dogs usually mean massive health problems. Profit is the goal, not good care or quality veterinary attention.
There have been so many buyers who have incurred massive veterinary bills from treating a dog or cat that was purchased at a store that 16 states have passed pet store "lemon laws."
And in many cases, people simply won't spend the money for needed vet care, so these dogs end up in shelters. And the cycle continues.
Bruce wakes up every morning with a grin and a ready-to-take-on-the-day attitude. He makes us happy every day. We hope the bad old days are nothing more than a faded memory for him.
When we tell people Bruce's story, they almost inevitably say, "Oh, he's so lucky."
But they're wrong. I'm the lucky one.
Adopting Bruce and getting to share my life with him is one of the best things that has ever happened to me and my family. By adopting an animal in need of a loving home, it can happen to you, too.
Jennifer O'Connor ,is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.