By STEFAN MODRICH
Cliff English had a feeling the dog he was planning to adopt from the Fort Bend Animal Shelter was destined to be his.
But the East Bernard resident didn’t feel certain until he moved up to third on the waiting list, and figured that since he had been the only one on the list who actually came to visit the year-old German Shepherd, that it was a perfect fit.
Sure enough, the former paratrooper from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division brought home a puppy named DB Cooper to his wife and son, Cash, age 5, on Oct. 24.
English is one of about 300 people to have adopted a “big dog” classified by Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) as any dog 40 pounds or heavier, during the nonprofit organization’s push in tandem with its partnering Greater Houston shelters, including the Fort Bend Animal Shelter at the Fort Bend County Rosenberg Annex.
Utah-based BFAS was founded in 1984 and played a key role in reducing the number of animals killed in shelters nationwide from an estimated 17 million per year to around 733,000.
However, there are about 2,000 dogs and cats killed every day in shelters, and the organization has a goal of implementing a no-kill policy in shelters by 2025. Kerry McKeel, the senior program manager for BFAS, said Texas has the second-highest number of shelter deaths, only trailing California.
McKeel said a disproportionate number of the dogs killed in Texas shelters are 40 pounds or heavier. BFAS came up with its “Big Dog” campaign in an effort to try to appeal to a sense of shared appreciation for canines in the midst of increasing unease and political polarization in wake of the Nov. 3 election. As of Oct. 30, about 300 people had adopted a “big dog,” shy of the group’s goal of 400.
“Dogs are unaware of political party affiliations and actually in many ways unify people,” McKeel said. “The purpose of the ‘Texas Big Dog Campaign’ is to destigmatize large dogs, debunk myths and recruit more local adopters and fosters to save this vulnerable population.”
The campaign was a collaboration between the Best Friends Houston program , the Rosenberg Animal Shelter, the Montgomery Animal Shelter, Harris County Pets, the Baytown Animal Shelter, the Pasadena Animal Shelter and the Pearland Animal Shelter.
The Houston chapter of BFAS works collaboratively with city shelters and local animal welfare organizations to provide stable and supportive homes for a variety of animals.
Finding a home
Barbara Vass, the community involvement coordinator with Fort Bend County Animal Services, and Rene Vasquez, the director of the facility, said there are many ways an aspiring pet owner can help support animals, including short-term fostering of a dog for as brief as a day or a weekend or even for a week or two.
June Garcia lives in Wharton County and said her sister has two dogs she adopted from the Fort Bend Animal Shelter. After her son moved and took his dog with him, she was looking for a new dog for the house. She was originally looking for a puppy that would grow along with her baby.
Then she came across Money, a Pit Bull Terrier.
“I was a little skeptical at first because of her age,” Garcia said. “I was a little scared. We did the whole 10-day foster, but I already called and said, ‘She’s good. She’s not going back.’ She’s found her forever home, and she’s awesome.”
Vass and Vasquez are heavily involved in both the outreach to the public and in providing resources and guidance for both seasoned or prospective dog owners. One of their roles is helping educate visitors about the perception of large dogs as scary or aggressive.
English and other pet owners said the Fort Bend staff was a significant factor in making their adoption processes go smoothly. He has cared for several other dogs in the past, and was also aware of the common misconception some people have about certain breeds or bigger dogs.
“The big guys are like gentle giants,” English said. “They’re the ones that are probably more loving than anything. They’ll fit in with other animals, too. It all comes down to how a dog is raised. If you treat a dog with love, respect, and kindness, he’s going to reciprocate that.”
Honee Powers, a Richmond resident, said she and her daughter, Sydney, both fell in love with Cowboy, part-Corgi, part-Siberian Husky, during their visit to the shelter.
“We both just looked at each other, and we both kind of said it at the same time that we wanted to go back and look at him,” Honee Powers said. “He was very mannerly, very gentlemanly and so we called him Cowboy. He was very kind and playful, but he didn’t jump all over the place.”
Powers said the shelter staff was attentive and sensitive to their needs and helped match them with a dog that was a great fit for her and her daughter.
“They were excellent,” Powers said. “They took a lot of time with us as far as making sure we found the dog that we wanted, they answered our questions, they didn’t make us feel rushed. They knew a lot about each of their dogs even though they had just gotten some of them very recently. It was a pleasant thing for us to go in there and see that, because even though not all of them were going to get adopted that day, we knew that they were being well taken care of and they would make sure they would find good homes.”
She said Cowboy’s presence helps alleviate Sydney’s anxiety, and so adopting a dog had been in the works for a while, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Powers saw it as an opportunity for Sydney to learn what it takes to look after a pet.
“I wanted her to save up some money for it, I wanted her to prepare herself to help train the dog,” Powers said. “I do think it came at a good time that we found Cowboy because of the ability for (dogs) to help (make up for) some of the things that people have lost during the (pandemic).
A loyal companion
English said some people go into a shelter with a preconceived notion of an ideal dog or a preferred breed, but they end up going a different direction and finding that a different dog altogether ended up catching their eye.
“I think that’s how it works for most people,” English said. “Something just jumps out at you and touches your heart and catches your attention. It’s like craps. It’s like a dice game. I don’t know what the world would be without pets. We learn from them and we’re lucky to have them.”
Many people who desire a pet, English said, will do so because they desire companionship, whether they are elderly or a young single person.
“If you’re locked down and living alone, wouldn’t it be better if you had some sort of companionship with an animal?” English said. “They don’t care what kind of day you had. They’ll love you regardless.”
Garcia said Money was quiet at first, but after regularly talking to her and engaging her and allowing her to assimilate to the house, she became part of the family.
“It was crazy,” Garcia said. “She was so loving. It’s amazing how these animals have characteristics and they really do learn.”
Powers said she believes strongly that dogs can help provide comfort and joy to their human companions.
“Big dogs, I think, they’re just a lot more to love,” Powers said. “They’ll interact with you, they’ll play with you, and in fact, we found that Cowboy being a little bit older has made it easier for us to train him with something we need him to know. He’s very observant, he likes to look around, he’s calm, he doesn’t jump on other animals. He just kind of sits there and looks at them. Even with other people, he doesn’t growl or bark, and that’s been very surprising to us.”