For Shelter Workers, One Magical Adoption Offsets Great Sadness

Carmelita was all heart and wagging tail. Finding this Boston Terrier a great home lifted the spirits of everyone I work with in dog rescue.


Oh, Carmelita. The little Boston Terrier was surrendered to the SPCA because she was having potty accidents in her home of six years. It didn’t take long to discover why: She had a bad case of UTI and was peeing frequently (and painfully!) because she was uncomfortable. After we got her on some inexpensive antibiotics, things cleared up nearly immediately and rather dramatically.

Despite feeling physically unwell when she came in — and despite a new environment, which can be scary for a little girl of about 12 pounds — Carmelita bounded into the shelter, a ray of sunshine beaming her way into every heart she met.

When she’d get enrichment time in our staff break room, she would quickly run around, offering kisses and cuddles to all present. After she had made the rounds, she would hustle over to the Kuranda bed, piled high with blankets. With joyful abandon, she would flop over onto her back and roll around. The most insane noises would emanate from this dog — snort, grunt, snarfle, grunt — her tiny body a constant white noise machine of brachycephalic dog happiness, run by invisible love batteries that seemed never to drain.

This dog was a heart on four legs. She loved every person she met, young and old, tall or small. She’d hang out at the front desk, greeting donors, visitors, and adopters. Unfailingly, she would rush up to a new person, convinced they were destined to be BFFs. I swear our kennel staff probably had to spend extra cleaning time mopping up the wide array of hearts she’d melted over the shelter’s floors.

A couple of weekends ago, she attended an adoption event at a local country club, where I was not surprised to hear that a really fantastic family was interested in her. We were closed to the public on Monday, so that night I went home and prayed to Dog that those people would come back the next day to take Carmelita home forever.

Virtually the instant the nice folks at the front desk flipped the “CLOSED” sign to read “OPEN,” the door swung wide open. A couple walked in, huge smiles on their faces. “We came for Carmelita,” they said, handing an adoption application over the counter. “We also filled one out online, just in case.” I invited them into the staffroom, where Miss Diva Snortypants was rolling around in her bed. Her eyes lit up and she righted herself as quickly as possible, ran over, and leapt into the lady’s outstretched arms. “I’ve missed you, little girl!” she said.

Her husband gave me an impish grin. “You want to see something?” he asked. My former career as a dive bar bartender has led me to be weary of such lines of questioning, but I was curious. He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a piece of printer paper which had obviously been folded, unfolded, and refolded a good many times.

Slowly, he opened it, the page facing him. He turned it around and showed me Carmelita’s Petfinder page, her big silly smile plastered all over it. “I showed all my neighbors. They can’t wait to meet her!” He then told me about how he ran into his son at the gas station and was surprised when his son had already heard about the new addition — apparently, a neighbor had already spread the word!

I mentioned that even without a UTI, Carmelita has a tiny bladder, so she would need relatively frequent potty breaks. “That’s okay,” the wife said with a wink. She pointed at her husband: “He pees a lot, too!” He laughed and said, “It really is a match made in heaven. We can coordinate our potty breaks -– first Carmelita goes, then I go!”

It was obvious that Carmelita and these folks were smitten with each other. Silently, I prayed to the universe, “Please let all their references check out. This little girl belongs in this home.” Meanwhile, our front desk staff were trying to confirm vet records so we could proceed with processing the adoption.

“I’ve been looking for a Boston Terrier for a long time,” the man said. They had looked at Christmas, but couldn’t find the right match. They told me about their Golden Retriever mix who had passed just over a year before, choking up a bit. “Shortly after we lost him, I was diagnosed with bone cancer and had to have a transplant. During the rehabilitation process, I was unable to have a dog. We’re ready now.”

Our front desk manager pulled me aside. “Everything checks out on the application. Do you want to tell them or do you want me to?” I told her I did.

“Are you guys ready to complete your family?” I asked. “If so, let’s start getting this girl ready to go home with you.” Already-huge smiles stretched even further, occupying the entire faces of everyone, staff, adopter, and canine, in the room.

We needed to get Carmelita in to see the vet one last time. I suggested they head out to buy some dog supplies in the meantime. A couple short hours later, they returned. I couldn’t imagine them possibly being more excited than they were earlier, but I think they must have had a Carmelita Pep Rally. I went to get her out of her kennel, but the desk folks stopped me. “Let us go through the adoption paperwork and policies with them first. If she’s out here, selective hearing will kick in and they won’t hear a thing. This is important stuff,” she warned.

At this point, the lobby was full of donors, volunteers, staff, and Carmelita’s new family. When I walked in with the dog, everyone in the room celebrated the joyous reunion. After all, it had been what? Two hours since they’d last seen each other?

Sometimes my job is sad. Often, it’s frustrating. Always, it’s exhausting. It is stressful and challenging and frequently overwhelming. But sometimes it is a place where fairy tale stories for dogs happen. Stories where dogs who really, really deserve happily-ever-afters find them, and I get to be a part of crafting that story for that family. Today was one of those days. I’ll remember it, always with a smile on my face, for a long time.

People have this visions of shelters as being terrible places, and some of them are. Even great shelters can feel terrible on particular days. But it’s not all Kleenex and Sarah McLachlan, and sometimes “the eyes of the angels” aren’t sad and pathetic, but are bright, shiny, and happy, backed by a soundtrack of happy Boston Terrier snorts, driving off into the distance with the family of her dreams.

Have you ever been a part of a great adoption like this? Tell us about it in the comments!

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