By Janet McAfee

Missy, a sweet little terrier, was the first of hundreds of rescue dogs I have adopted into homes during the past five years. This first adoption was the quickest and easiest.

On June 11, 2009, I headed towards the city of Rialto for the 50th anniversary party for my family’s business, Don’s Bicycles. Rialto, once a town of working class families and Orange groves, was hit hard by the economy’s downturn. Foreclosed homes and stray animals abound. My niece spotted a little reddish brown stray dog, and was excitedly waiting for me to show up. However, the dog started crossing Riverside Avenue, the busy main thoroughfare. We closed our eyes in horror, which was quickly replaced with joy when the dog emerged alive through the onslaught of rush hour traffic. I quickly scooped her up.

We drove the dog through nearby streets, asking residents if they recognized the dog. I put her on a leash to see if she would show us her home. I sought out prospective adopters at the party. I made my first trip to the Devore shelter, the San Bernardino County shelter that has jurisdiction over Rialto. This grim shelter is on a dead end street at the base of the mountains. I would later learn their live release rate is very low. The shelter staff checked the dog for a microchip (there was none), and checked to see if anyone reported a missing dog of this description (no one had). I left my contact information, but knew I could never leave an animal there. The wail of the kenneled dogs echoed off the walls of the nearby mountains, and I hugged the little terrier promising her a good future. Any animal in a public shelter is at risk. The terrier’s owner never came looking for her.

Back in the Coachella Valley, I was determined to find my new charge a home. I walked the dog over to meet my neighbor, Sherylle Delaney. Sherylle opened the door and exclaimed, “I’ve always wanted a dog like that.” I quickly responded, “Guess what, you do!” and told the story of the lost dog. Missy had a new home!

Sherylle called the next day to report the dog was crying for me. Her vet recommended Missy and I not see each other for the next month. We coordinated our dog walking schedule to be out at different times. A dog will always love and remember their rescuer, but I have only seen this extreme reaction happen twice out of hundreds of dogs placed in adoptive homes. Dogs are resilient and usually make an easy transition. Sherylle thinks Missy’s initial attachment to me was because I rescued her from a particularly dangerous situation. In any case, now we greet each other and Missy happily returns to her own home.

Sherylle last had a dog in 1975 when she moved from a house into an apartment. Sherylle became a home owner again in 1998, but having her Dad and his dog stay for awhile made her think twice about getting a pet. Their activities revolved around the dog’s potty schedule. She had no intention of becoming a dog owner again, and walking it during our dreaded desert summers.

Missy became Sherylle’s dog on June 13, 2009. It was a close friend’s birthday, and Sherylle called to wish her a happy day, adding, “I didn’t get you a present, but I got one for myself, a new dog!” She explains, “Adopting Missy was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Having a dog gets me outside and exercising more often. It’s been interesting to meet the other neighbors who have dogs. Missy keeps me amused. I’ll be reading the newspaper, and she walks right across it to get my attention. She’s always happy!” Sherylle walks Missy on the greenbelt and carries her across the pavement on hot days.

Sherylle offers advice to other seniors who are thinking of getting a dog. “If you’re in your 70’s, get one of the older dogs over 4 years old from a shelter. I was 70 when I adopted Missy, and probably wouldn’t have selected a dog that was only a year old which Missy was at that time. Most dogs live for 15 years, and you need a plan in case anything happens to you. Getting a dog gives you a new lease on life if you are too sedentary or reclusive. It’s a wonderful way to meet new people. Dogs are also good for your health, and having one can lower your blood pressure.”

Loving All Animals recently expanded their foster program to include SOS, Seniors Offering Shelter. This might be a way for you to enjoy the company of an animal, even if you can’t make a permanent commitment. LAA covers the cost of food and medical care for foster dogs. Whether you are young or old, contact Loving All Animals at (760) 834-7000 to foster or adopt a shelter dog or cat. Dogs approach everything in life with intensity, energy, and optimistic joy, and their spirit is contagious to their humans. There is a wonderful animal waiting for you that will enrich your life!