The downside of adopting a shelter dog is, for every dog you take home, countless more possible pets are left behind. This thought has haunted each instance of my pet rescues since the adoption of my first shelter dog, Charlie, and is why our house is ever at (or over!) manufacturer's recommended allowance of elderly dogs.
When I was a kid, the movie "Benji" came out -- remember Joe Camp's scruffy mutt from California? That dog and that movie single-handedly emptied the shelter from which he came, and for awhile shelter dogs were the rage. And when it seemed like President Obama might just visit a shelter for the first dog, I thought, here again the shelter dog would have his moment in the sun, and I imagined what that single act would do for the visibility of these invisible animals in the back rooms of pounds everywhere.
I always believed that the hope of shelter and rescue dogs lies in the power of marketing, that it would take the work of several clever marketing strategies to once again ensure that, of the 7 million-plus American households that plan to get a pet each year, they look to an unwanted pet before buying or breeding.
Last month, with a very small start-up budget and two employees, I fired up CharlieDog and Friends, a little toy company with giving at its heart. Each of the highest-quality, original design soft-toy dogs and cats are based on real-life shelter adoption success stories, from New York to Alaska. And for each pet we sell, we give one away -- in person -- to a child who needs a lift. We also donate ten percent of our profits to the shelters from which the original dogs came, and to spay/neuter programs across the country. We start selling the toys in March 2012.
By no means is this a Benji moment for the invisible shelter dogs of the country. But there is seemingly no end to the joyful stories of animals who have been rescued, in one way or another, and are happily living with their families. I'm hoping CharlieDogs, by telling those stories (and being so darn cute) will spread the good word about adoption pets. I'm hoping CharlieDogs, at their best, will create a tiny ripple in the collective thinking of those who go to breeders first for the family pet, that they might make some tiny dent in shelter population -- millions, and millions, and millions.