Oliver needed a friend.
The 9-year-old chihuahua mix was sick, missing about half his teeth and hadn’t had a place to call home for more than a year. He was a hefty14 pounds — a bit much for a pooch his size, likely due to months of inactivity and a poor diet.
Things weren’t looking good for him in general.
He was scheduled to die on Jan. 19 at a metro-area animal shelter.
Having heard about Oliver through a friend who runs a local dog rescue, my partner and I had no choice but to bring him home. We weren’t looking for a second dog, but seeing his picture prompted us to provide the fragile guy with a permanent home.
A visit to the vet confirmed that Oliver is indeed a bit of a fixer-upper. Many of his remaining teeth are severely infected at the roots and will likely have to be removed. He also had what was probably kennel cough or canine influenza, for which he was on a two-week antibiotic regimen.
And of course he has feelings of abandonment. Being left alone precipitates a stabbing crescendo of yips and whimpers, abruptly dampened when he receives attention. Upon being reunited, he grovels as if in the presence of a deity.
Spending a year in a concrete cell would probably do that to the best of us, though. And for all of his little problems, Oliver is a great pooch. His maladies and imperfections make him so pathetic that he’s actually quite adorable — especially when he’s wearing his little argyle sweater.
Reveling in his neediness makes me in turn a weird type of co-dependent, but I’ve accepted that. He wants nothing more than to be held and reassured that from now on, the sky isn’t going to fall. And there is something comforting about that for me, too.
But for as much contentment Oliver delivers to me, the thought of other, far less fortunate shelter animals is never far from my mind.
A dog or cat is killed an average of every eight seconds in the U.S. at animal shelters, totaling 4 million every year, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Half of all animals entering shelters do not leave alive.
That plight of domestic animals ran through my mind one morning while I was attending a Board of County Commissioners meeting, the same the day I brought Oliver home.
An item concerning county funding for the new Foothills Animal Shelter was being discussed.
The new animal shelter will be more than twice the size of the existing Table Mountain Animal Center, and will thus have a greater capacity for homeless creatures.
Table Mountain already has better statistics than most large animal shelters — of the almost 10,000 dogs, cats, hamsters, peacocks (yes, peacocks) and other animals the facility accepted in 2009, 74 percent found homes. Hopefully, things get even better at the new building.
But even with its decent track record, Table Mountain, like every other animal shelter, is not perfect. Last year 25 percent of “adoptable” cats were killed, as were 10 percent of similarly adoptable dogs.
Though that’s well below local and national averages, it’s still a lot of lifeless paws.
But shelters are hardly to blame. Pet overpopulation is a product of our civilization, and it’s a problem we’re more than capable of solving.
Aside from the ubiquitous message of spaying and neutering pets, Table Mountain advocates adoption. At least 25 percent of all shelter dogs are purebred, which provides a compassionate alternative to breeders, puppy mills and pet stores.
Personally, though, I’m a fan of mutts. They’re unique and tend to be high on character.
And every time I pet my new friend’s timid little head, I can’t help but think that there are a lot of Olivers out there, waiting.
Emile Hallez Williams is a staff writer for Evergreen Newspapers.