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

Less adoptable pets, according to‘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