What to look for when adopting?

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Apr 25, 2016, 08.58 PM IST

Is adoption right for you?

Is adoption right for you? That’s a question only you can really answer. Often people are not sure how to answer that question and eventually opt out of adoption. I’ll try to give you some tools that you can use to help you figure out. If you don’t feel confident enough about evaluating a dog, use the help of a professional to get the answers.

The most common myth people have about adopting dogs is that all such dogs carry baggage and hence is going to pose a significant challenge in settling down at home. A closer examination of this myth reveals something interesting. Yes, most dogs up for adoption are stressed to varying degrees. But the problem is not insurmountable. At the same time, raising young puppies is no cake-welk, either. They too need a lot of care and attention in the beginning. Little puppies also need a lot of patience when it comes to training them and handling their destructive phase and teenage months. So you see, petting a dog is going to be a lot of effort, one way or another.

The range of issues with adopted dogs can be quite vast, and pet parents must know what issues they are going to face, and must also understand how to face it.

First up, health issues. In order to evaluate the health of the dog, examine the dog thoroughly and talk to the shelter staff at length. Observe the coat, gait and teeth.

Observe the dog during play time and meal time. Look for large clumps of falling fur, limping of any nature, yellow teeth, reluctance to play, stiffness when trying to eat or drink water. Of course, you cannot expect a dog to be at his healthiest self in a shelter. Talk to the shelter staff and ask questions about the dog’s health history, number of infections and allergies the dog has been administered, the bowel movement of the dog, poop consistency, appetite, stomach upsets, injuries etc.

The next thing one needs to assess is the behaviour of the dog. A dog with a bite history might not be the best fit for a home, especially for first-time pet parents or for families with a new born baby. A shy dog might struggle in a very busy home. A hyper dog might be pushed over to the edge if the people in the house are too excited.

When you observe the dog, see the level of curiosity it exhibits. A curious dog is a healthy dog. Observe how he approaches people. A confident dog should be able to walk up to strangers with relative ease. If possible, take him out for a walk and observe how he deals with novelty outside the shelter. You are looking for signs of healthy curiosity, with a little bit of caution thrown in.

Ask extensive questions about the bite history of the dog. Find out how many times the dog has bitten people, or other dogs, since his arrival at the shelter, or previously, if possible. Find out as much as possible about the situation that led to the bite. Try to understand if it’s impulsive or was there a reason why the dog responded violently. Remember that shelter dogs are put under a lot of duress and they can snap sometimes. It does not make them bad-behaved dogs. So understand the situation well before evaluating the dog.

And last but not the least, evaluate your own ability to commit and your experience. If experience and commitment are high, then you are in a wonderful place where you might be able to take home the most needy of dogs and give them all that they need to flourish. I wish you well. However, if you are low on either, then you might want to objectively evaluate what you can do and take on only as much as you can. That way you do right by the dog and have an experience you will actually cherish.

Disclaimer: I advocate adoption when possible, discourage pet shop buying of dogs and am against backyard breeding.


Post adoption guide

Published: Bangalore Mirror Bureau | May 26th, 2015

Give your new dog plenty of space and time to rest
Photo Credit: Sahaya Kunte

Have you made up your mind to get home a dog? Well, then there is something you need to know about moves – dog’s find moves very stressful. Your home may be the most loving home in the world. But your new dog has no way of knowing that. Moving to a new family is so unnatural for a dog that stress hormones – adrenalin and cortisol will be coursing through your dog’s body. You will need to give it some time to leave your dog’s system. During this period you also need to be aware of what to expect. So let’s do a quick run through of what happens when your dog is stressed.

Stress hormones interfere with digestion. So it’s very common for dogs who have just relocated to have digestive trouble. The dog may vomit, have loosies or constipation. Her appetite may be quite poor. There may be acidity and vomiting of frothy bile. Curd rice is soul food for a stressed dog.
Curds helps sooth the stomach and the rice is a binder for the stools. Carbs also calm dogs down.
Stress also creates a water imbalance in the body. We often sweat when stressed. Dogs don’t sweat. They pee instead. So a stressed dog will pee often and in unusual places. Don’t get upset if your new dog is peeing in odd places. It’s just stress and it will change. Continue taking the dog for toilet breaks after naps and meals.
Stress increases neo-peptides, which reduces immunity. Such dogs may get allergies and infections frequently. Improve a dog’s nutrition and rest. Health will automatically improve.
Stress increases sexual hormones as well. This applies to spayed and neutered dogs too. This can result in irritable dogs and mounting. Mounting is often mistaken for dominance. But if your dog is mounting with no intent to copulate, then it has something to do with heightened stress hormones.
Under the influence of stress hormones oxygen and blood sugar is redirected to the muscles, leaving little behind for the brain. This results in poor ability to learn. This means that a newly adopted dog should not be put in obedience classes. Such dogs need time to relax and recoup. Relaxed dogs are much better students.
In situations of sustained stress the brain cells can start getting damaged. These cells can regenerate as health improves and stress reduces. However while there is damage sustained the social ability of the brain is the first to suffer. So the dog may be asocial to people or dogs or both, depending on the dog’s history.
Stressed dogs can also be hyper vigilant, hyper active and bark a lot. All of this is part of a move and yes moves are indeed quite a burden on dogs. However the good news is that dogs are masters at coping. Given the right environment they quickly cope.

As eager as most of us are to help our new dog settle in, we need to hold back our urge to give the new dog a cuddle and instead give the dog space. Stressed dogs need nothing more than space. While good food and comfortable beds are important, space and time are the key things that is often easy to forget. A good rule of thumb will be to not approach your dog but to let her approach you. Try not to start rushing off to vets, trainers and socialization sessions. Avoid inviting people to see the dog. Lead a low key life for a while. It’s a lifetime of fun ahead of you. Give your dog a few weeks to get used to a life altering change, because that’s exactly what it is.

Kade – the Kannada Villain

Oct 14 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)

I recently had a gentleman called Sanjay contact me and thank me for bringing Kade into his life. I asked him I who Kade was and he said that Kade was his recently adopted Labrador. I was intrigued and wanted to know his story. Obviously, I started out by asking if he had always loved animals. He revealed that while he loved pets, his partner hated them. This story had just gotten interesting.How does one go from hating animals to adopting one?
And what is that journey like?
I was convinced there was a heart warming story here.So I asked him to go right to the start and tell us how the conversation of “Let’s get a dog“ came up in his home.

“I and my partner have been living together from almost two years now. We wanted to complete our family and enjoy parenting. Being a gay couple, it was difficult for us to think of adopting a child. I always loved pets but was scared of having one; my partner Sudhir hated animals.“
It was touching. Most of us pet parents can relate to that parental love we have for our dogs. But going from hating animals to adopting is indeed a long leap. So I needed to understand how that leap happened.
“The dining table conversation of “Let’s have a dog at home“ initiated by me resulted in lots of argumentsproblems. But one day, he read an article about adopting a dog which ended with a sentence “I hope anyone reading this post will consider adopting an abandoned and suffering animal“.Sudhir was convinced about adopting a pet. I thought we should purchase a puppy and a fancy breed. Always thought that only puppies will adjust to a new house and new people etc. But this thought changed when I met this stranger who told me about animal shelters and CUPA. Then, a 30-minute conversation in the traffic signal with CUPA changed my mind. This girl from CUPA told me only one thing, visit the shelter, there are lots of dogs of all age groups getting thrown out on the road every day from houses and they are waiting for a home in the shelter.“
So that is how I knew this gentleman. That stranger that told them about CUPA was moi. I never miss out opportunities to talk about adoptions and Indian dogs. You never know on whose ears it may fall on and whose life could change. All we can do is carry our message out. This made me joyous.
Since Sanjay mentioned he wanted to buy a pup, I discussed with him the thought process that made him decide to go for adoption. “Initially, we were thinking of purchasing a Beagle. But we visited CUPA’s animal shelter in Silk Board with a very open mind. I still remember the first day was more about climbing up on the chairs in CUPA and screaming at the sight of dogs in the rooms. But in all the confusion, we still got shocked to see plenty of dogs of different breeds. Most of them were thrown out of houses for silly reasons and from puppy-making factories after being used. Our heart melted hearing these stories and we made a decision. We may or may not adopt a dog. But we are not buying one for sure!“ So what happened between standing-on-chairs-screaming and now that allowed Kade to join the family. “In CUPA’s visiting room, there was this Kade, he was the only dog which I touched there during my visit. Kade was found abandoned somewhere near Electronic City. He is a charmer. He gave us that look of `Can I come home with you guys?’ And yes, he entered our heart instantly. We visited CUPA several time together and spent time with Kade.Finally, we became very friendly and picked a date to welcome him home.“
It was evident that Sanjay and Sudhir were first-time pet parents and had a lot to cope with. Words of wisdom from them to other pet parents: “If you are scared of dogs, like us, first visit an animal shelter and spend time with dogs.You will be all fine, trust me. Never purchase a dog, opt for adoption. Get an adult dog instead of a puppy. They are toilet trained, well behaved, they won’t destroy your laptop charger or furniture.“
He clearly seemed happy with his decision. So I ask this standard question to most people if he had any regrets and he did not even bother replying to it. He spoke volumes with that silence.

Cher Khan goes home

When I brought home Cher Khan, he was a puppy barely alive. He was the runt of the litter, picked on by other pups, a gaping wound bearing evidence to his lost battles with littermates and suffering from an acute gastric infection.

My husband and I took turns to feed him some fluids, using a syringe as a feeding aid. We were not sure he would make it through the night. But he did. The next day when the vet gave him his shot, Cher Khan squealed out and angrily started barking at the vet. That’s when I noticed that the little one had spunk in him.
As he began to recover, his confidence grew in leaps and bounds. With his newly gained confidence, his attitude shown through. He called the shots with my 40 kg boxer, Nishi and my lightning fast Indy, Tigger. He considered himself equal. So he found no reason not to try to climb into Nishi’s food and try to eat it. He saw no reason not to walk up to Nishi and snuggle up against her to fall asleep.

Cher Khan was our foster puppy. Our duty included finding him a home. So we started looking for a good home. He was ready. He was healthy. He was confident. He was cute.
No time better than now to find him a good home. We did the usual. Put up flyers wherever we could. We started screening homes. We were very picky about who our foster pups would come to call permanent family.

One evening, just as I was finishing my work at a shelter, I got a call from my husband. “I found a home and you will love it,“ he said. “But, it’s not in Bangalore. It’s in a village outside Bangalore. It’s our gardener’s daughter’s home. He wants a dog for his grandson.“ Just the idea of a little boy, with a firebrand like Cher Khan in a village home -it sounded idyllic. And it was.
The next day our gardener’s son came to see Cher Khan.
The latter was all over the son’s face who was giggling with joy. We knew it was a match, and a good one.
To this day, my gardener gives me updates about Cher Khan. We are moving out soon. So he insisted that I leave behind mine or my husband’s number, so that he can give us updates on Cher Khan. He even invited us over to see our little Cher Khan, who was apparently little no more.
Just to put things in perspective, the best home for a dog is not perhaps one that provides the most in material terms. The best home for a dog is one with the biggest place in their hearts. I often hear people tell me that their home is not a good fit for a dog because it’s a small apartment.
Dogs evolved around us, with their appreciation of species being one of the evolutionary trait. What dogs need are not large houses, expensive food or the most expensive toys. What they need is a place in our hearts for them.

Bozo comes home, finally

Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jun 2, 2014, 10.54 PM IST 

Adopting a dog with a troubled past is not easy, especially if it’s a big dog. Few people have gumption for it and Suman Bolar is one such person. She recently lost her dog Domino, which was survived by a lovely black labrador named Carbon. I was a bit nervous that he would slip into depression. So I took my sprightly dog, Tigger, to remind him of younger happier days and put him in a good mood. One such play date, Suman cancelled on me. She mentioned that she had adopted another dog, a rottweiler called Bozo, and she wanted to give Carbon and Bozo time to bond. That was a fair ask. But having some insights into Bozo’s history, I wanted to know more. Suman’s wisdom and magnanimity struck me.

As I spoke to her, she was laser-focused on how she could meet Bozo’s needs and not on what she expected of him. For Suman, Bozo’s needs came first. I asked her why she decided to adopt a dog. “While we badly wanted our Domino back, we discovered that there were many people who had dogs they didn’t want. The irony was unbearable,” she said.
People are often averse to adopting a rottweiler. Suman says: “We don’t believe in ‘selecting’ a dog the same way you would choose a pair of shoes. A pet is more a matter of commitment than of instant connection — like the difference between the reality of a long-term relationship and the idea of love at first sight. Bozo had been abandoned more than once. He needed stability in the form of a family that was reasonably settled, with a low probability of major life changes in the near future. Our children are 15 and 19 years old; we both work from home and we have a large garden space. So we fit the bill on all counts.”As a behaviourist I knew that a dog like Bozo would require constant supervision around small children. So I could see that she really had considered all factors before adopting Bozo.

She seemed very well informed. But once, a long time ago, she too was a first-time pet parent. Did she have her oops-moments? Was there anything she was not prepared for the first time around? “Looking back at our experience with Carbon and Domino, though not clueless, I don’t think we expected it to be a 24×7 job. Dogs can be messy, naughty, moody, tiresome, fussy, stubborn, boisterous and demanding. They can get into fights, fall ill, injure themselves, and damage or destroy things. They need attention, entertainment, exercise, vaccines, medicines, even surgery sometimes. Before we got the dogs, we only saw the fun, happy side of owning a pet.”

She had some sensible advice for first-time pet parents. “Be honest with yourself about your own traits, habits, and lifestyle. Are you lazy? Self-absorbed? Have an unpredictable schedule? Frequent visitors? Travel often? Hate waking up early? Think about the next five years: Do you see yourself getting married? Having a baby? Moving abroad? Taking on a more demanding job? Speak to dog owners, consult a canine behaviourist and a vet. Once you have taken the plunge, be patient — with your pet and with yourself — as you get accustomed to one another. Developing a relationship, based on friendship and trust, takes time and patience.”Adopting a dog with a troubled past is not an impossible task. However, it does take a lot of hard work and patience. I wish Bozo and his new family the very best.

When Tigress became Tiggy

Publication: Bangalore Mirror;Date: May 13, 2014;Section: City;Page: 6

This is a story of a little scared dog called Tigger and how she made it to our family. We already had one furry member — Nishi, a three-year-old boxer then. Adding a second dog to a family is not always a smooth ride. 

By the time we got Tigger we had been highly sensitised to the state of shelters teeming with lovely dogs, eager to have a family to love and call their own. So there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to adopt an Indy (Indian dog), knowing the merits of this local breed. But which one? When? And how would we get Nishi to accept this? 

Nothing matters more to a dog than its family. So adding a new member to the family can be quite unnerving for the dog. They can get confused and insecure. The dog needs to be old enough — at least 2.5 years old — to be able to cope with such changes. That’s when a dog’s brain is fully developed and is mature enough to cope. A dog with a traumatic past might need a year or two more. 

The new entrant ideally should not be older than the existing canine family member. Bringing in an older dog leads to a lot of friction. It is like adding a bossy new member to a team; no one likes a brand new team member to tell people how to do what they have been doing for ages. Same holds true for the canines too. It’s best if new members are young, impressionable and willing to accept the mentorship of the older dog at home who will show the ropes. 

We had our eyes on a beautiful girl called Foxy — a rare Indian brindle dog. But we had to move homes. Nishi would have to get used to a new home and a new dog. We could not let that happen. So we waited till we all settled down in our new home. But, Foxy passed away during that time. I was heartbroken and wrought with guilt. I was then informed that Foxy had been survived by a sister —Tigress, a misnomer actually. She was a meek, quiet, unassuming underdog, literally. I had seen her in the past but hadn’t ‘noticed’ her. No one who had Tigress remembered her. But there she was — the little fighter; she fought off the disease that defeated her sister. 

A shelter called Precious Paws Foundation rescued Tigress and nursed her back to health. When we were ready we took Nishi to meet her. It is critical for the old and the new dog to meet on neutral ground. It was also critical for Nishi to get along with Tigress. So we watched them interact. They barely did. That was good enough for me. They did not fight. So we picked up Tigress, renamed her Tigger and brought the girls home. It is important that they enter home together. They need to understand that the home is now for both of them to share. 

It took Nishi a good month to get Tigger to forget her past trauma and accept the new home. She did all the work. That’s the advantage of having an older dog at home. They also assume a parental role and will guide the youngling. Tigger, slowly and surely, improved in health and came out of her shell. She is today a naughty little imp we fondly call Tiggy. 

Usually, getting dogs of opposite genders works best. But in our case, the girls turned out fine. Tiggy and Nishi are the best of friends. We enjoy watching them play together and care for each other. 

Orion -the star

Apr 08 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)

As a canine family coach I see several first-time pet parents who come to me. While all of them have a unique equation with their dog, one parent and her pet stands out in my mind -Smita Chowdhury and her dog Orion. She adopted him from an animal welfare organisation when he was about five weeks old.

I am curious about what goes on in the mind of a first time pet parent? I asked Smita: Being a first-time pet parent, what is the one thing you were least prepared for? Pat came the reply: “There is a reason it’s called pet parent and not owner or lord and master. It consists of both joys and stress (toilet training, worrying about their physical and psychological health, etc.) of having a baby. The joys are actually innumerable and quite magical. You have to feel the love of another being to be able to articulate it.“ Her advice to other first time pet parents: go into it with eyes open, expecting immense joy and tremendous responsibility. How did Smita pick Orion? Prior to the act, did she mull over which dog to adopt?
Apparently, she was “not really looking for anything specific“. She wanted a puppy, “that’s it“ and knowing that shelters were full of pups looking for home, she made her way straight to a shelter and picked this little brat (in the pic).
But, why did she pick an Indian dog? “I’m mighty glad we got an Indian dog for the sheer compatibility with our envi ronment,“ she said. “This translates to better health (no inbred issues common in human-bred pedigrees) and better comfort in our climate resulting in better tempers.“ It was clear that she had considered the welfare of Orion first and foremost.
Smita loves “everything“ about Orion. “From the nightly snuggles, the good morning kisses, the I’m-a-goodboy-now-go-get-me-some-treats-look, the mad, joyful running across the house, and finally, to the quiet settling down beside my feet whenever and wherever I may be.
Each day, just getting to know more about this mostly goofy and sometimes oh-so-solemn dog is a joy,“ says Smita. She is clearly smitten by Orion. Dogs are not a commodity for her -something to own or to `show-off’. I like pet parents like that. What do such pet parents desire for their dogs? “Dog Parks!“ says Smita promptly. “And Awareness! Awareness about community dogs and their stellar role in our lives. Irrational fear/contempt is passed on to unsuspecting kids and thus, the thankless cycle continues.“ The only regret she has is not having grown up with dogs.

Does it all boil down to what we teach our children? Vasudeva kutumbakam -whole world (and everything born of this earth) is one single family -is a major part of our culture. Do we really teach our children that? All people, all creatures -great and small -are to be treated with due respect. I wonder if we, by not recognising the soul within these beings (dogs), by not respecting them and teaching our children to respect them, if we are living up to our culture that we so proudly boast of.