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Puppy love: The journey back to pet ownership through Calgary dog adoption

This isn’t just a piece where I can gratuitously show off our new dog, Minnie. Though, I think that would be just fine.

Surely, all the pictures and videos of her wonderful first few weeks with us are better shown in Instagram stories and Facebook or Twitter posts.

No, it’s a story of the nearly two-year journey we took to get here after our last dog was laid to rest in March 2018.

I also wanted it to be a window for other prospective pet owners to understand the rigors of finding and then going through the process of getting a new family pet. Especially the route of adoption.

I lost my job, I lost my dog

Just a few weeks after I was let go from Metro, my dog died.

We were headed out to Sacramento, California the morning we had to make the decision to humanely end his life. We called the vet after his health took a serious turn for the worse, brought him in, and had to make the tough choice to let him go.

Then we had to jump on a plane so my wife could make it to the gymnastics competition where she was coaching.

This is Mannie.

(I wrote much more about Mannie’s life in this blog post.)

There was no thought about getting a new dog right away. My wife had Mannie for nearly 15 years, 11 of those with me.  

We wanted to honour the life of our former family member; it didn’t seem right to jump into 7 a.m. walks, kisses on the cheek, visits to the dog park, chew toys, etc., so soon.

What we needed was a bit of a break. We needed time to mend.

Life is challenging at the easiest of times and bringing a dog into the mix while we had two boys under the age of seven, trying to start a new business, working off one income, etc. wasn’t – so needless to say, we knew there was a hole still left in our family, but it wasn’t the right to time fill it.

Not until about six months ago.

Longing for man’s best friend

I’m an early riser. Early bird gets the worm, I guess. There are many times over the past 18 months I would get up, make coffee and while it was brewing, I’d look out our kitchen window on to the green belt where I’d see the occasional fellow early riser walking their pooch. It’s where I would walk Mannie in the mornings.

I began longing for those days again. Sometimes the only peace I find is in the stillness of pre-dawn morning. Of course, I needed a loyal furry friend to share that with.

That’s when I first approached my wife. She would likely have wanted a dog sooner, but I just wasn’t ready. I don’t know why. I just wasn’t.

And then I was.

This is Minnie.

We were regular creepers of all the major adoption sites: AARCS, Pawsitive Match, Calgary Humane, Heaven Can Wait, Cochrane and Area Humane Society, etc. and we’d often spend entire nights scrolling through and examining the dogs that were available.

Some people might say we’re picky – we look for certain things in a dog. I think I can see a spark in a dog’s eyes when it stands at attention; my wife likes physical attributes that make a dog stand out; the kids want a friend that can out play them.

Then economics are discussed, timing and then… we’d say, “maybe in a couple more months.”


And then I was serious. Maybe because I was really ready for the challenge of a new pup, or maybe it was the constant needling of my nine-year-old who started to mention it weekly. He said it might be the only thing he’d ask for from Santa.

The Christmas pet surprise

Christmas 2019 was rolling around and I brought it up again with my wife.

“Maybe we should get a dog and do the whole Christmas surprise thing,” I said.

It didn’t take much. She was in. We hunted for a new pup a little harder, once again scanning all the major sites. That’s when we landed on one from Pawsitive Match.

At first, it was the one that I liked. I wanted something a little bit different, perhaps a little bigger and with more colour variety than Mannie. But, my wife liked a dog named Shirley.

Call it kismet, but my pick wasn’t available. She already had an adoption applicant in the system. So, then we asked about Shirley.

Shirley was available for visits right away. She had no other applicants.

The dog adoption application process

Let’s rewind a bit to get you into the meat of the story.

We entered the process a bit naïve. We thought we’d contact Pawsitive Match, tell them we were aspiring pet owners and which dog we wanted, go pay the dog a visit and then fork over the cash and take her home.

That’s not what happens.

We’ll start with the initial online application. That was at least a 25-minute process.

Everything from the type of yard you have, to your training methods, to house training, whether you work at home, away for long periods, have children… the questions are demanding.

(Although it apparently notes this on the online application, it’s best done on a desktop or laptop. I attempted it on a smartphone.)

There’s a reason for it though. I talked with Lindsay Akins, president of the Pawsitive Match Rescue Foundation and she said that’s the first stage to make sure the adopted dogs get to a good home.

“The reason for the thorough initial online application is it’s a first step to sort of weed out people who aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to even do the application,” she said.

“If they look at it, and think, ‘oh, gosh, this is way too long. This isn’t worth it. I don’t want to adopt that bad,’ then those really, to be honest, aren’t the type of adopters that we’re interested in adopting our animals out to.”

Fair enough. We passed the first test.

But that’s just where you start.

From online application to phone interview

Then you have the 45-minute phone interview at 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning (I’m sure the time differs from applicant to applicant).

I’m never one to shy away from a good phone chat. Especially if we’re going to talk about dogs.

It went over many of the questions that were in the online application, but there was the chance to discuss it further – for one to articulate their answer. That’s not always a good thing (for some).

Again, I asked Pawsitive Match about the phone interview and the purpose of diving deeper.

“It’s more of a conversation because sometimes the applicant will say something that will then, you know, we have our set of questions that we ask, but then they might respond to something that might trigger us to say, ‘oh, OK, well, tell us a bit more about that,” Akins said.

That might be about the training, the long absences from home, the children, the small yard – anything that might glitch the ideal fit.

And that’s what it’s all about. The ideal fit.

I joked that it was like Match.com for dogs. But, that’s actually what they’re trying to do. But, it’s for the animals, not the humans.

And, we’re not done.

On to the foster family

Our first time meeting Minnie at the foster family’s home.

We wanted this to be somewhat of a Christmas surprise. But, as many of you have probably heard or read, a Christmas surprise pet isn’t recommended by most pet adoption organizations.

When we mentioned this, Pawsitive Match said it was their policy that all of the family members (typically living in the home) would have to meet the pet before any adoption would take place.

OK. We could make that work. Sell it to the kids that this was just a test run that would let us see how they would be with another dog in the house. Of course, being wily parents versus our children, they bought it. It was a TESTING ground for their future canine acumen.

But that, too, is a test for the family.

The fosters are keeping an eye on the connection. They want to see how the family responds to the dog and how the dog responds to the family, Akins said.

“Just like when any person meets any other person, not everyone gets along, right?” Akins said.

“We try to minimize the chance of return. It’s too stressful on the animal to have them moved and be bounced around.”

Thankfully, as soon as we got into the foster family’s home, Shirley took a shine to my wife and I and our two boys. So did her sister, Laverne. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take them both. Nor does Pawsitive Match’s policy allow it. It can lead to sibling syndrome and another hurdle for new family connections to overcome.

In our minds, the deal was done. We would take Shirley into our home.

A few bumps before Shirley/Minnie’s arrival

We were eager to get Shirley. Still hoping for a Christmas Eve miracle, we kept touching base with the folks from Pawsitive Match.

It didn’t quite work out as smoothly as we wanted.

Shirley had acquired a bit of a digestive issue and cough that was dogging her (couldn’t help the pun) and she didn’t yet get the stamp of approval from their veterinary team. One couldn’t help but think that this might be a health red flag, but we got past it. She was in good hands and I’m pretty sure they would do what they could to make sure they weren’t passing along a dog that had serious health issues.

E-mails back and forth with the foster family and the veterinarians kept us in the loop for a few days. Christmas Eve was approaching. Then, we got the green light.

“Hi Darren, Shirley is doing great. Medical has sent you an email that she is free to go,” the foster mom sent via text.

Ok great. How about we pick her up this afternoon? Done deal.

That afternoon we picked Shirley up. My wife rode with her in the back; Shirley in the kennel and my wife comforting our new pup.

Minnie making herself at home with my oldest son – the same day we picked her up.

We were happy to go through the application process

We were surprised by the rigor of the vetting process to get an adoptive dog. After some thought, however, it makes a lot of sense.

Many of these dogs are surrendered; others have suffered trauma. Some are born into an adoption life. This might be the only line of defense they have against potential further distress.

That’s why the process is as rigorous as it was. It’s for the welfare of the animals. It’s to hopefully prevent them from getting into the hands of an owner that doesn’t give a damn about their well being.

While the process was involved, we were happy to go through it. Thankful, in fact.

Akins said it’s similar for most of the pet adoption agencies in the city. Some level of vetting is done. While she wouldn’t say that they all went to the same extent, nor is there a tremendous amount of collaboration, there is some.

She’s had other organizations ask them about their online application. Pawsitive Match just did an audit of their application process, comparing it to some of the others. They’ve asked other adoption agencies about how they’ve handled certain situations.

“We all get to the same point. We’re all working towards the same goal,” Akins said.

Minnie’s new home

We renamed Shirley. Her name was changed to Minnie. You can see by comparing pictures in the March 2018 blog post that her markings are very similar to Mannie. Our older boys who grew up with Mannie thought Minnie would be an appropriate name, paying homage to our old boy.

She’s a well-adjusted dog. She sleeps (mostly) through the night, she’s (mostly) house trained so she doesn’t do her business on the floor. She’s long enough already to reach up onto the counter, always in search of food. She inhales her food and we’ve devised strategies to slow her down.

But Minnie loves us already. She wakes up with me every morning to take walks at 6:30 a.m. She sits with me for that first coffee in the morning while I’m putting my day together. She greets the boys and my wife when they walk groggily from their rooms, hoping to get ready in time for school. She dutifully lays in her bed when no one’s around.

It’s a good match. We’re thrilled to have her in our life.

How was that trip to the dog park today?

Be prepared for the process – it’s for the best

I’m not immune to the fact this match could have happened without the vetting process. It happened with Mannie. But, in retrospect, it’s very reassuring to know that there are volunteers and animal professionals working to ensure the best interests of the animals that come into their care.

Pawsitive Match adopted out 337 cats and 495 dogs in 2019. Right now, they have 116 kittens/cats in care and 141 puppies/dogs in care. That’s a lot of interviews and a lot of foster families willing to take these pets in.  

Calgary’s other adoption organizations likely deal with similar numbers of animals.

They’re all there to ensure these animals have the best chance at a good life. The kind of life they deserve. Like the one Mannie had.

It’s the kind of life we hope to give to Minnie.

So, be prepared when you go into the pet adoption process. Go into it with your eyes wide open and the understanding that it’s all in the best interest of the pets.

We appreciated the extra effort they took to make sure we were the best fit for Minnie.

You’ll end up appreciating their effort to put you with the right pet, too.