Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the adoption of my dog Belle. Thinking about this amazes in so many different ways. I can't believe she's 15 years old -- soon to be 16 (the shelter thought she was about 8 months old when she was picked up as a stray). On the one hand I can't believe that it's been 15 years already, but on the other Belle has been a part of my life for so long that it's hard to remember a time when she wasn't a part of it. And adopting Belle was my first experience in animal welfare - I have to give her credit for being such a great dog and allowing me to take my first step towards what ultimately became my passion and my career.
What amazes me even more is that in one dog's lifetime there have been significant changes in animal welfare in the south eastern area of Wisconsin. When I saw Belle 15 years ago for the first time, she was in a room that held several stainless steel cage units that had two levels. Belle was in a cage on the top level -- a cage that HAWS currently would use for our feline residents. It was barely bigger than a medium sized crate.
Recently the state of Wisconsin passed a law regulating any business or organization that sells more than 25 dogs a year. One of the regulations concerns size of the primary enclosure. The cage Belle was housed in during her stay at the shelter would be illegal now. It's not that the shelter I adopted Belle from was horrible -- it's just that back then there was a different way of thinking about sheltering.
Another thing that strikes me is that at the time I adopted Belle I had another dog who was listed on my adoption application. Not only did the shelter not require that I have the dogs meet prior to the adoption, it would not have been allowed. Back then shelters did not want any more animals in their building than those that were residents. They didn't want to bring in any more disease than they had to, and they didn't want to risk the health of the adopters dogs.
This is another big change from 15 years ago. I don't know of any shelter in this area that doesn't make it a requirement of adoption for a home's existing dog to meet the shelter dog being considered for adoption. Shelters want to do everything they can to make sure that the adoption is successful. Part of that means allowing the dogs to meet on neutral territory and assessing the meeting to see if they are likely to be compatible.
Belle's anniversary was yesterday and we're starting on our 16th year together. While we most likely won't be celebrating another anniversary together 15 years from now, I cherish every moment that we have had and will have together. And I look forward to seeing the progress of animal welfare and shelters in the future.