“Oh my! I’m not sure if you have lost your mind or what?” is how Mom’s email greeted me upon her return home from a motorcycle trip with Dad. I didn’t do it on purpose, but in retrospect, posting my new maybe-not-really-but-possibly dog to Facebook without writing her directly with a heads up was a little piece of payback for the time she neglected to email me details but posted that Bill had fallen through a river’s thin ice, and Dad was all banged up from saving him, while I was working in Germany. It’s funny how the 21st century gives us so many ways to communicate, yet we continue to mess it up!
Adopt. Don’t Shop!
Convincing people of the merits of pet adoption has been a frustrating battle up a giant hill blanketed with convenient, enticing pet shops all along the way. I get it. There’s even a song about it (“How Much is that Puppy in the Window”). If one’s heart-strings are not tugged by those cute, little faces, said heart-strings are clearly broken. However, if you buy a dog at a pet shop, you spend way too much money on a sub-par dog from horrific conditions, and you vote with your dollars to perpetuate cruelty and suffering.
In some ways, adopting a dog is a matter of self-control. When Bill’s back was bad and I considered adopting a mellow friend to hang out with, I discovered that for a foreigner living in Japan, it’s additionally a matter of perseverance. For years I thought Japan only had one dog rescue founded by an English woman, but while the idea of any sort of adoption–human, feline, canine, or aquatic–is very unpopular here, rescues do exist. You would think beyond the fact that I fostered more than 50 dogs in America, published a best practices manual on dog rescue, and wrote/performed a stage production to encourage adoption, just having learned how to Google “dog rescue” in kanji should have qualified me to adopt a dog. This was not the case.
It is a common practice for rescues everywhere to do a home visit before agreeing to adopt out a dog. This is to ensure the living environment is secure and the pets won’t be used as circus dogs. It’s no surprise that, “I’m sorry, you can’t do a home visit because the rules at my circus about inviting people into our third-of-a-shipping-container apartments are very strict,” really doesn’t fly.
In addition to the challenge of explaining away my living environment, there’s the problem of my skin color. Although it’s been an inconvenience to me, the hesitancy of Japanese rescues to adopt to a foreigner is completely justified. We’re not permanent residents, so how long will we be here? What will we do with the dog when we leave? Are our language skills good enough to communicate with a veterinarian? These are all legitimate concerns.
Last year, I found an American army-based rescue in Okinawa with a distressed French bulldog I wanted to rehabilitate, but after sending them multiple emails to verify my background and good intentions and even making a donation, the answer was still no.
Not So Fast
At the young age of 24, our lead dancer is one of the most responsible, kind, and intelligent people I have ever met. Three years ago, the Japanese circus dog trainer gave Maria a puppy, and she dove into raising him. She researched training and care online, asked perceptive questions, and spent countless hours helping Hoshi be the best dog he could be (and he hasn’t been easy).
Of course, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about rescue, adoption, puppy mills, pet shops, and the like, so when Maria decided to get a second dog, she was determined to adopt (Yay!). She tried on her own a few times to no avail, so knowing what we were up against, I enlisted the help of my Japanese friends. Several months into Maria’s search for the perfect dog to adopt (or any dog, really), Sammy came through with the rescue from which she had adopted two of her cats.
We met Sammy about an hour away from the circus to see a five-month-old Japanese chin. The chin turned out to be about 10 chins aged two months to three or four years. As soon as we walked in, the lady handed us Momo, a six-month-old with Hillary’s Jersey cow coloring and Bill’s “how could you” lips. Just as Maria was falling in love, they said it was time to go meet the two-month-old. We drove to an adult daycare center where the rescue housed their adoptable animals (what a great combination!) and proceeded to meet the gang.
Maria immediately fell in love with the baby, who she named Nikita. But what about Momo? And Nikita’s mom, Otama (“Ladle,” in English–how funny!)? Otama immediately responded to the few commands I gave her and did all she could to say, “I want to be your dog!”
I would have taken Otama, but she wasn’t available for a month until she was spayed, so I went home with Momo for a two-week trial. How could I leave all that cuteness without taking some home? Oops.
Can you feel Bill’s excitement?
To Answer Mom’s Question
It was indeed a moment of weakness when I stuffed Momo into Bill’s travel bag and left with her. But here’s the thing: it has been impossible to find a dog for Bill when I wanted one, and now one was within my grasp. I didn’t want to let the opportunity slide! Also, Harmony had mentioned getting a pet for the girls a few times, and Momo would be perfect as she’s quiet, friendly, and small.
Momo is lovely, truly, but I’m not keeping her. A friend noted that two dogs are easier than one, a statement with which I completely agree if you live in a home, have a car, and don’t have to sneak your dogs in and out of hotels all the time. Even so, if I thought Momo would have a hard time getting adopted, I would keep her, but she is eligible dog #1. She’s quickly picked up on peeing outside, following Bill and me around the circus, and sleeping throughout the night, but I feel toward her like I do toward all my fosters: I want her to be happy, healthy, and loved, but she’s not my dog.
Anyone looking for the perfect Japanese chin? I know of a few great dogs for you!