Pet Connection: Letting someone else choose a dog for you

Would you let someone else choose a dog for you? I have done so twice, and both times I hit the proverbial jackpot.

The first was when my family purchased a tricolor cavalier puppy from a breeder overseas. She emailed us photos and then shipped Darcy to us. We loved her. Her only flaw was succumbing too early to the heart disease that stalks her breed. The second time was last year. When our black-and-tan cavalier Twyla died, I wasn’t sure I was ready for another cavalier just yet. The two shelter dogs I inquired about through Petfinder didn’t pan out.

Fostering for my friend Maryanne Dell, who does rescue through her Shamrock Foundation, seemed like a good compromise. “Do you want me to look for one that you might potentially adopt?” Maryanne asked. “Tell me what you’re looking for, in case I run across a dog that might be a fit.”

I asked for a dog that was 4 to 6 years old, so our 5-year-old cavalier, Harper, could have a playmate. As far as size, I was interested in going a little bigger than a cavalier, say, up to 30 pounds. Our rule is that we have to be able to carry the dog up and down the stairs in the event that it becomes sick or injured or is debilitated in old age. I preferred a spaniel type, but I didn’t want a dog with a really heavy coat. Ideally, the dog wouldn’t be much of a barker, since we live in a condo and stay frequently in hotels with our dogs.

What she brought us was a 6-pound ball of short black fur with a long, narrow bare patch on her back, a pointy gray muzzle and a howl that suggested she was part banshee. Labeled a Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix, she had been pulled from the shelter in Riverside, and was estimated to be 12 or 13 years old. She was a doll, though, and I told Maryanne I would be happy to foster her for as long as necessary.

Gemma, as I named her, arrived Jan. 23. By Feb. 8, she was sleeping on the bed. Her fur started growing back, and we soon discovered that she had a beautiful long black coat with a ruff around her neck and pantaloons on her legs. My friends, I suspect, were taking bets on how long it would be before we adopted her. We made it official March 19, signing the adoption papers that made her ours. “Who didn’t see that coming?” one of my friends remarked.

What are the advantages of letting someone else choose your dog?

Shelter employees, rescue volunteers and foster owners have been observing their charges for weeks. Tell them what you want in a dog, and they can often steer you to the one that will suit you best.

And sometimes, what you think you want and what turns out to be perfect for you are two very different things. I’ve told Maryanne that she can pick a dog out for me any time.

The buzz

•  We often see news stories of pets who have trekked hundreds of miles to get back home. How do they do it? Science is still trying to answer that question. Migratory animals use magnetic fields, scent cues and orientation of the sun, but the navigational ability of dogs and cats has been little studied. It’s known, however, that they have mental map-making skills, good observational abilities, and fantastic senses of smell and hearing, and those capabilities no doubt play a role in allowing them to find home, even from someplace they’ve never been.

•  Researchers at Emory University used functional MRI to capture brain images of 13 alert, unrestrained dogs. During the scans, the dogs, who were trained to willingly enter the MRI machine and remain still, watched a person giving hand signals indicating whether the dog would or would not receive a treat. According to the research, published by PLOS One, most of the dogs had a positive response in the caudate region of the brain – associated with decision-making, motivation and processing emotions – when signaled that they would receive a hot dog. The research lays the foundation for exploring canine neural biology and cognitive processes.