They teach us, protect us, sniff out contraband and identify cancer, alert us to impending medical seizures, rescue survivors and recover those that didn’t, guide the physically and mentally impaired, and, cliché or otherwise, love us unconditionally. In fact the earliest depictions of domesticated dogs aiding humans can be found dating back to Paleolithic times in the Lascaux caves of southwestern France and the Altamira cave in Spain. Why not have an official day–August 26th, National Dog Day–to celebrate these gifted, extraordinary animals!
Research shows dogs can learn to understand as many as 250 words from our vocabulary, and yet we have no idea what any of theirs mean. Dogs have been known to consciously throw themselves in front of cars to protect a wandering toddler, or to spend months at a specific point on the side of a highway where an owner has abandoned them, anticipating his return.
News accounts point to some who spend the rest of their lives mourning the loss of an owner, camped out for years at a gravesite where a burial was held, eschewing any semblance of warmth, shelter or even adequate food to remain close by. In 2011, a photo of a fallen Navy SEAL’s Labrador retriever went viral as the dog laid near his owner’s casket and refused to leave. The following year, a newspaper story told of a stray German shepherd who’d been rescued by a woman in San Donaci, Italy, now living outside a church. It was where he’d accompanied her each day to mass and where her funeral service had been held, which he’d attended. He is currently allowed in for mass and fed by the villagers.
So why are so many dogs homeless, abused, and neglected–regarded as used, disposable pieces of furniture and so much less? The Humane Society of the United States reports 3 to 4 million dogs (and cats) euthanized each year, roughly half of all animals entering a shelter.
National Dog Day is designated as a day to honor and rescue dogs from homelessness, starvation, and abuse. The following are just some of the things you can do to make the world a better, safer, happier place for these animals whose sole purpose on earth is to love:
Adopt: Open your heart and home to a homeless dog if you have a stable environment and the means to support him with proper food and veterinary care (there are many affordable pet insurance plans that can aid you in this process). Remember, dogs are social animals, so if you are gone eight or more hours a day and will need to leave her in a crate, or all alone in general, dog ownership may not be the right thing for you or the pet. There are options, however, such as doggy daycare centers or dog walkers who come in to provide an outlet for your dog.
Foster: If long term pet ownership is not possible for you, rescue organizations need your help to provide temporary, loving homes to dogs in transition.
Volunteer: Shelters and rescue organizations desperately need your help feeding, walking, cleaning, and/or in outreach efforts–doing your part to educate the public on spaying/neutering and responsible dog ownership.
Report Abuse and Neglect: If you observe an animal in distress, immediately report the incident to your local animal control officer or police. You have the option to remain anonymous if you choose, but an animal cannot speak up and depends on you so your actions may be critical.
Advocate: Investigate pending legislation to change the laws that protect dogs in general and the insufferable conditions of puppy mills. Find out how you can help make change happen. A recent puppy mill invasion by the HSUS revealed dogs in unfathomable pain, starvation, and suffering, at least one of which whose cage had not been opened in so many years it had rusted shut.
Rehoming precautions: If circumstances change in your life and you have a pet you need to rehome, take extra time and numerous precautions. Experts recommend first trying to place your dog through community connections like posting notices in vet offices, churches, assisted living facilities that allow pets, etc.
Placing an ad? Authorities advise that you not necessarily take what respondents tell you at face value, asking for character references (vet; employer; landlord). If someone is serious about acquiring your dog for the right reasons, they will be happy to provide them.
Take care to visit the home of any prospective owner to make sure the environment is safe, comfortable, that the dog will not be chained outside day and night, and family members are old enough and knowledgeable about handling an animal. Each year, many dogs are euthanized, labeled “dangerous,” just because an unsupervised baby or small child inadvertently caused some pain and the animal may have nipped to defend herself–a purely instinctive response (wouldn’t you defend yourself from someone inflicting pain?).
Always check references, especially calling the prospective owner’s vet to make sure whoever is about to take possession of your dog has a reputation as a responsible and caring owner. In Maine, in 2011, a respondent to a craigslist posting for a dog claimed to have worked for the local humane society. The owners never called to confirm this, gave him the dog, and weeks later both he and the dog disappeared. A subsequent investigation by law enforcement revealed the new owner had never worked for the humane society, had a dubious reputation in the dog fighting world, and the situation ended tragically.
Though National Dog Day is on August 26th, it’s important to look out for our canine friends every day of the year. As highly intelligent, sentient creatures, they are known to love and understand us, but they cannot speak for themselves.