Less Adoptable Pets? Meet Our Perfect Dog

Bill's Adoption Clinic, February 2004What Makes a Less Adoptable Pet?

Less adoptable pets, according to Petfinder.com‘s Betsy Saul and Jane Harrell, are those animals often overlooked when it comes to pet adoption. Reasons range from the color of an animal’s fur to unfair breed stereotypes and even easy-to-manage health issues. That’s why, all this week (September 17-25), Petfinder is promoting less adoptable pets, shedding light on those who are often overlooked so that they, too, can find loving homes.

The message is clear. Each orphaned animal is chock-full of unconditional love, regardless of the body they’re wrapped in. To this, I can personally attest since falling in love with Bill.

Could you see yourself loving an animal like him?

Big Bill’s Near Miss

An animal lover with hope in the form of a bright, red leash walked through the dimly lit kill shelter. Bill’s brown eyes stared blankly through the chain-link pen. Surrendered anonymously, Bill was labeled a stray, stuck in a cage, and scheduled to die. But Bill wasn’t going to die this week. Bill’s kennel opened, that red leash hooked into his collar, and he was led into the light of day once more.

That animal lover was a volunteer in my husband Tim’s dog adoption program.
(Tim is my husband now but, back then, we had just met.)

Less Adoptable Pets – A People Problem

Bill’s obesity and behavior suggested his life was chained to a stake, meaning no romping, no socialization with other dogs, no house manners –  just pacing and boredom, alone.  His stiff joints buckled under the burden of unhealthy weight and the wear of roughly 5 frigid New York winters. Of course, 5 years isn’t certain either. Teeth worn to nubs from chewing rocks makes the vet’s assessment just a guess. I’m also guessing it was Bill’s owner who surrendered him. No stray would be so obese and no do-gooder would have to hide behind anonymity.

Bill’s Adoption Clinics

TrustUnwilling to enter my husband’s car for his first transport, Bill laid down in the middle of the road and played dead. He was so overweight that he just leaned toward the ground and fell with a thud. His head didn’t rest comfortably, nor did his front legs come together across his barrel chest, but Bill was not about to move.

Lifting 129 pounds of unknown – if limp – dog was a dangerous proposition, but leaving him where he lay was not an option. Tim positioned Bill’s face away from his own and offered plenty of assurance as he heaved the giant dog into his Passatt. From the hatch door, Bill’s befuddled eyes searched Tim’s face and, from that moment, a trusting bond began to form.

Bill was fat, knew no commands, and wasn’t particularly affectionate. After many weekends of adoption clinics, prospective owners clearly considered Bill a “less adoptable” dog.

Really, Bill found prospective owners less adoptable too. All he knew was that Tim’s Passatt delivered the man who always scratched his head, a man who cared enough to bring him along for a weekly ride. To Bill, this was all there was, and it was enough as long as there was Tim.

Bill’s First Home Visit: Ours

Nap TimeAs happy as Bill was to see Tim weekly, his immediate depression cut deep once Tim drove home. Bill deserved so much more, and he would need a helping hand to make that happen.

One weekend, when Tim’s dog Jack was with Tim’s ex (they shared dog custody), we brought Bill home for some pampering. He first entered the house, hair up on end, growling and barking at his own face reflected in the fireplace doors, the sun porch windows, and oven glass. Coaxing him into the tub, we gently bathed the kennel smell from his flaking, irritated skin and patchy fur. Once gently dried, we brought him outside for a rousing game of fetch. Feeling that good kind of exhaustion from a game well played, we tucked Bill into his fluffed dog bed, our steady breath merging with his soft, contented sighs.

The Freedom of Being a Dog

When first introduced to the dog door, in or out, Bill couldn’t make a choice. He didn’t know how.  We had to make suggestions before he’d respond. Weeks later, when Bill finally discovered what freedom meant, the dynamic shifted entirely.

“Tim, where’s the remote?” I’d ask.

Bill had it in the yard, nearly covered in a hole a foot deep.

“Tim, have you seen the dog bed?”

It too was being buried for safe keeping.

“Bill, STOP!” I yelled the day he grabbed the mop head and was tearing through the house like a happy freight train, the long, blue mop handle bouncing and clobbering every piece of dining room furniture on it’s way past. I don’t know what possessed me, and this I do not recommend, but I tackled the dog and mop before they reached the door. The three of us crumpled to the floor in a heap as I laughed out the words, “No mop!”

Apple Loving DogI swear Bill finally understood. Not much went out the dog door after that. We had gone from no freedom, to full-on freedom, to just enough freedom for all to be happy.

The exception was a thieved stuffed pumpkin which I found in melted snow the spring after Halloween… oh, and a stuffed Christmas ornament he took from the tree. Anything stuffed was apparently fair game, as were the apples he brought in the house.

9 Months Later…

Big BillConsulting our vet early on, we fed high quality food in small amounts and, with a power pitch, Tim launched tennis balls down the hill for Bill’s exercise. Bill, through all his huffing and puffing, loved the running, the game, and the interaction. This eventually increased his stamina, decreased his weight a whopping 33 pounds, and thus lessened the joint pain that caused Bill to whine in his sleep. The higher quality food was also allergen-free, so Bill’s new coat grew in thick and black, too. He was beginning to look like a lean, handsome fella in a tuxedo. Bill finally learned to relax in his comfortable new body and to receive human hugs and affection beyond simple head scratches. He even enjoyed a sweet friendship with the cat.

Bill had become the perfect dog.

The Failed Foster

Tim got a terrific lead on an interested family. They were the perfect couple, but for the fact that I couldn’t let my perfect Bill go.

I had just moved in with Tim and my adjustment to the solitude of my secluded mountain home was a slow process. Bill helped me to transition into my new surroundings as much as we helped him. Together, we all had moved well beyond transient stages of friendship and had become a real family, emotionally dependent upon one another.

This pending adoption was nearly a relationship killer for Tim and me, Tim having the strong will to foster and help more dogs. Unfortunately for that family, we did keep Bill for our own (and, with our relationship thriving, Tim and I were married in 2006).

After years of obesity eroded his joints, Bill received a hip replacement which allowed him to play hard and happily until January of 2009. That’s when we lost him, suddenly and tragically, to an undetected and ruptured mass.

Bill's Last Footprints - 2009.02.01 Bill’s death was a loss of the deepest kind, proof positive that he had not only left footprints in our yard, he had entrenched himself so deeply into our hearts. We were forever changed by the love he gave to us and the love we felt for him. I would never trade that love for anything in this world – not even to avoid the pain of such consuming grief.

Tim said with a cute grin, as I spoke of this post about Bill today, “I’m glad you made us keep him.” We laugh because we know that, really, Bill chose Tim from the start and those two became inseparable. We still get teary when we say his name.

Soccer, anybody?Thoughts of Bill still bring tremendous joy too. I love that he loved our young nephews, that he’d let me stroke his silky ears all night long. He’d so cheerfully play soccer like a human with his blinding orange ball, and he’d earned the name “Howling Cow” when he’d try to sing with the fire siren in his low, guttural voice. I loved that he didn’t care if I was in a bad mood, or too busy to play. He just gratefully laid at my feet. And if you know anything about less adoptable pets, their gratitude is guaranteed because they always know they were once unwanted.

When Less Is Abundantly More

I urge you to visit some unlikely adoptable pet friends this week and see what happens. Those picture perfect pets will absolutely get adopted. Make a real difference for the one left behind.


Less Adoptable Pets Week at Petfinder.com


  1. MariaS_Handmade says:

    Thank you for sharing this story! As you know, we have 2 Australian Shepherds. They are half siblings, from different litters. Aussie was our first dog. Lizzie had been adopted by a couple whose son played in the same soccer team as our son. After adoption, they discovered that she had hip problems, was high strung and barked too much – so they were going to send her back to the puppy mill (which would mean a certain death for her). We took her in, unconditionally. Took her to the vet who put her on medication, we gave her good dog food, plenty of walks and plenty of love. Five years later she is a happy and playful – although still barks a lot – beautiful dog. She is not in pain thanks to the medication and we keep monitoring her to see if she needs hip replacement. As you inferred in your post – there are no unadoptable pets – just unadoptable humans. 🙂

    • @MariaS_Handmade Not surprising that an Australian Shepherd was too “high strung” for the prior family. Energetic, engaged and smart is just who they are! It’s sad when people don’t do breed research.

      Kudos to you for taking Lizzie in. She is one lucky dog. And if hip surgery comes up for her down the line, we’ve actually gone through it with two dogs, each getting huge enjoyment out of life for years without complications. I highly recommend it (to those who can afford it.)

  2. elizabeth.keene5 says:

    I can’t leave without commenting, as I had a “Bill,” but her name was Molly. What a beautifully written story.

  3. KimberlyGauthier says:

    We adopted 2 rescues and we’re thinking of adopting or fostering a 3rd dog. A friend lost her dog and the experience encouraged us to think about helping more.

    • @KimberlyGauthier If my house wasn’t so full, we’d keep fostering too. We’ve had a few foster successes, some failures – as in they stayed. Each dog brings something new, and failures are never really failures. Good luck, whatever you decide!

  4. AmazonCares says:

    What a wonderfully written article. I am sure it will make many people think twice about the next animal they rescue. Thank you!

    • @AmazonCares Thanks, Molly! It’s funny. I used to be that person who thought about what kind of animals I wanted. What did I like? But relationships are always a two way street and “I want” rarely ever comes to fruition. It’s a whole lot better when you pick each other and keep an open mind. Our Emmett is our next adventure… He is a constant work and love in progress. LOL.

  5. materialgirlgreen says:

    This is truly a beautiful adoption story. I can’t help but cry while I am sitting here cuddling with my once ‘less adoptable’ dog. When my husband and I adopted Brady, he had mange, a wart on his nose, he smelled and he was skittish. We fell in love with his personality right away. He wanted nothing more than to be next to my husband and me as we looked at the cute puppies up for adoption. We couldn’t help but feel like he was picking us, like he knew we were the perfect people for him. Two years later, he is the happiest and healthiest dog who loves nothing more than being with ‘his people’. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • @materialgirlgreen For you to see past every unpleasant sight, sound and smell, Brady must have been giving off some really GREAT personality. And that’s what’s truly important, isn’t it? I’m so glad you found each other!

  6. peggyfrezon says:

    What a nice story. I love the before and after photo, Bill really came into his own. You certainly gave him a happy life.

    • @peggyfrezon Thanks, Peggy. These dogs just keep paying it forward. After Bill passed, it was Shamus, the Newf, who brought us complete joy and gave us the strength to take on Emmett, our wonderfully exciting, never-a-dull-moment hound.

    • @peggyfrezon Thanks, Peggy. These dogs just keep paying it forward. After Bill passed, it was Shamus, the Newf, who brought us complete joy and gave us the strength to take on Emmett, our wonderfully exciting, never-a-dull-moment hound.

  7. venturesomekrysia says:

    Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing it.

  8. that is a great story!!

  9. Amy@GoPetFriendly says:

    I love this post! Bill made as big an impact in your life as Buster has made in mine. I’m so grateful for my “less-adoptable” dog!

  10. emilydanskin says:

    Wonderful post! Made us cry tears of joy that you found each other and created such a loving family. What a great legacy Bill left.

    My one-eyed, skinny dog that no one in N Texas seemed to want adds a heartfelt “BARK!” to this! Azi has now been my constant companion for almost 10 years now.

    • @emilydanskin Didn’t mean to make you cry! Although, I did as I wrote it and I could barely read it back to my husband, unable to breathe at parts. But that’s because this one really hits home for us.

      Azi sounds wonderful. What a very lucky dog, indeed!

      • emilydanskin says:

        @Kim Clune @emilydanskin Hey, tears of joy are a good thing 😉 I’ll certainly be checking in for posts! You’re a wonderful writer. It’s posts like yours that inspired me to start a blog for my dogs. :)) And yep, Azi is wonderful! Have a houseful of 5, but he is pretty special… as they all are, right? Keep on writing, Kim!!!

  11. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story 🙂

  12. wantmorepuppies says:

    I just had to bust out the tissues… absolutely beautiful post.

  13. Oh Kim. This one brought me to tears. I am so glad you shared Bill’s story. What a beautiful tribute to Bill and all less adoptable pets! He sounds like he enriched your lives as much as you did his.

    I have seen many overweight pets at our shelter over the years and all of them somehow found homes and owners who were willing to help them lose the weight. It’s so amazing when you see the difference!

    I’m glad Bill chose Tim and you. 🙂

    • @MelF I don’t think people realize what weight issues bring. Hip replacements are not cheap and the constant pain meds from years of join erosion required blood work at regular intervals to monitor for liver failure. It’s horrible to think that these pets don’t just loose the weight and everything is suddenly better. Obesity can be a lifetime of condemnation to ill health.

      I’m glad you found this post so meaningful and thank you for re-sharing on Facebook.

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