Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Outside doesn't mean 'Un-Loved"

My parents sweet senior pup, Rizo.
I have been involved in animal rescue since I was a kid. I was always the kid that brought home strays, in fact my sister and I scared off a pack of loose dogs once to save a pregnant cat who had been chased up a tree. We were 12 and 15 at the time. My dad happened to be working an overnight shift (he's a firefighter), so we carried his 20 ft ladder into my neighbors backyard and climbed up into the tree to get this gorgeous Siamese cat who we hilariously named 'Big Momma Foxy Brown'. My mom wasn't sure what to say, but even though she wasn't thrilled at the idea of having another pet, she recognized that Big Momma needed help and welcomed her into our home. Big Momma had her kittens just a week later and for the next 2 months, the family of 6 lived in my bedroom until the kittens were old enough to be adopted out. 

Last weekend, as I was visiting my family, I was thinking about the many pets that entered our lives. It's a rather extensive list ranging from our two Dalmatians to a pair of smaller Dachshunds to rabbits, cats, birds and mice. I was 13 or 14 when my dad brought home a scraggy long haired Chihuahua mix, who my mom named Rizo (after the Muppets character). At the time, we estimated he was between 2 - 3 years old, but it's hard to really say exactly. What we knew for sure was that his first few years in this world were tough.

For the first few weeks (maybe months - it was a long time ago), this little pup was petrified. He cowered at the sight of brooms, water hoses and if you moved too fast, he jumped up and bolted away. His tiny body was covered in golf-ball sized lumps and he was tender to the tough, presumably from having bruises all over, which we could not see through his black fur. He was malnourished and skinny. With time, however, the physical side started to heal and his emotional wounds began to fade. Fast forward to today, Rizo is aging, but as he nears 20, he is my dad's faithful companion and is one of the sweetest little dogs I have ever known. 

Rizo poses for the camera.
I hate to think what would have happened to this little guy had my dad not lured him into the firestation with offers of table scraps and gentle words. While I feel he would never have ended back up in his abusive home (it was fairly obvious he was let loose as a stray in downtown Houston), it is very possible he would have been picked up by animal control and ended up in the city shelter, which, for a scared, shut down little dog, would have been a certain death sentence. (Houston shelters aren't exactly known for their life-saving efforts to begin with, but that's for another blog.)

Although Rizo warmed up to my family, he never did recover from some of his emotional wounds. For example, he still runs away if you pick up a broom too quickly, so my parents keep that in mind when cleaning up. Rizo also refuses to come into my parents home. He is of course welcome, however, he prefers the outdoor life. My parents live on 5 acres of land and Rizo has the run of the property. He loves his life 'on the farm' as my sister and I say (he and the cat are the only pets, so it's not really a farm) and lives an extremely happy life. 

My parents cat, Kit Kat.
I think it's important to note that Rizo has been an outdoor dog his entire life. So many rescues and shelters refuse to even consider a family that will house their dog outside, but I think that's a little presumptuous on their parts. Many family pets live happily outdoors, Rizo is a perfect example! My parents love Rizo dearly and he is absolutely a furry little family member. His being outside does not effect how they love and care for Rizo. When the weather is bad, my dad ensures that he has lots of fresh (dryer-warm) blankets in their freestanding shed, where my dad installed a doggy door and a heater for cold weather. Some people in the rescue world might say it's cruel to leave Rizo out all the time, but I think it would be cruel to coop up this little country dog! 

There are many types of dog parents and I think many times, rescues and shelters think they know best for every situation. Things aren't black and white when it comes to raising pets, just as they are not black and white when it comes to raising children. When it comes down to it, I would much rather see a pet living outside, but being loved and cared for than living his/her entire life in a shelter or worse, being killed in a shelter without ever knowing a loving family. Being an outdoor dog does not mean Rizo is un-loved (or any less loved than my personal dogs), it simply means his life style is different than that of an indoor dog.

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist

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