A few weeks ago I posted a picture of a dog, calling it “the perfect photo.” Well, I think this one is even better.

Meet Tess, a two week old Blue Heeler. She and her two healthy brothers were born in the Skagit Valley Humane Society where I’ve been volunteering the last few weeks. Her mother June and the suspected father were found and brought into the shelter just a couple of weeks before that. The staff there has been taking great care of them since then.

Tess was unfortunately born with a severely deformed right front leg. There was a discussion about whether or not to save her. This is the main county shelter that takes in all dogs and cats without question. That means when all the space is full, the animals must go somewhere else. A lucky few get into the local no-kill shelters, but they only take highly adoptable pets. A tiny number get into specialized shelters for older or troublesome animals (like pit bulls). The rest are euthanized.

The Skagit Valley Humane Society isn’t a no-kill shelter, but they put down very few animals. There’s no timetable for adoption, and unless the dog is extremely sick and unlikely to recover, or extremely dangerous. Some of the dogs have been there for a long, long time.

So back to Tess. Given the cost of removing her leg, and the possibility that she wouldn’t survive, the shelter was considering euthanizing her. I was working that day and watched as a group of staff formed to discuss Tess. Someone suggested that the staff pitch in for the surgery.

Remember that the people working at a shelter are doing it out of love (or they should be), not because they’re being paid well. Most of the staff also volunteers since there’s a lot more work to be done than there’s budget to pay for. These are some of the best people I’ve ever met. But they aren’t rich. Pitching in to save a puppy, which is just this week’s big problem, is a real hardship.

Anyway, as you can see from the picture above, Tess had the surgery and she’s doing really well. She’ll certainly be adopted in a few weeks when she and her brothers are ready.

A happy ending.

But not really. Whoever adopts Tess would likely have adopted a different dog if she was euthanized. That dog probably won’t get adopted at all now. He or she, along with 3-4 million other dogs and cats, will be euthanized in the U.S. this year alone.

A good friend of mine is getting married later this year. A couple of weeks ago she told me she and her fiance will be getting a dog or two in the near future, and they know exactly what kind they want. She knows I’m a dog person and I think she told me because she thought I’d be excited for her.

I wasn’t excited for her. I strongly suggested that instead of buying from a breeder they adopt their dogs instead from a shelter. It may not be a purebred (although 25% of the dogs in shelters are), but instead of making the dog and cat overpopulation worse they can make the situation better.

My friend can balance out the situation with Tess by making the decision now to adopt only from a shelter. That dog that wouldn’t be adopted because Tess lived would now have a home.

Both of my dogs, Laguna and Buddy, are shelter dogs. They’re more or less purebred labrador. Given how hard it is for me to leave the shelter after I volunteer I suspect that I’ll have one or two more dogs by the end of the year.

But that still leaves 4 million dogs and cats that will be killed this year. So please, consider adopting a shelter animal. You won’t regret it.

PS – Cleaning the shelter, which mostly means cleaning up a lot of dog shit, is a highly humbling experience. Even if you’re just going there to walk the dogs, volunteer. It’s stunning how few people do. If they knew how great they’d feel afterwards the shelters could start charging people to work there. I started off thinking I’d volunteer for a half day every week or two. But after seeing how short handed they are, I’m gladly volunteering three mornings a week now.

Here’s a picture I took today, just after finishing the cleaning, of a spaniel mix who was abandoned by his owners. He’s one of my favorites and I keep thinking he’ll be adopted when I come back next, but he never is.

PPS – It’s amazing to me that there is no vet in the county that is willing to donate their time for free to the shelter. There are a few that give discounted rates, mostly for neutering and spaying, but vet bills are still a very significant cost for the shelter. It seems to me that it would be a great deal for the vets if one or two of them were willing to do all work for free that the shelter needed, including their costs for materials and medication, in exchange for publicity in the shelter and on the website. But none apparently want to. Even the local newspaper charges full price for adoption ads. Shameful.

62 thoughts on “Tess

  1. My god, Mike. This is your best post – ever.

  2. findanish says:

    This photo alone has made me adopt one. Cheers!

  3. Nat Brown says:

    Delighted to know you are an animal person. Agree that it’s shameful that the local newspaper charges full price for ads. Vets I would suggest you give a pass with respect to volunteering their time — I know several vets and they have an enormous amount of schooling and specialized training for their licensing which they have spent years (and gone into debt) to get. The pay for vets is such that for many of these fine folks it is really already more about passion than about pay — many of them have more debt and more years of school than human MD’s in a specialty. To wit, check the car that your vet is driving — it’s not a BMW.

  4. Jeanette C. says:

    I was going to volunteer at an animal shelter once. I was all set for my volunteer training and I drove to the shelter. I sat in the car. I never got out. I couldn’t do it. I am really impressed Mike that you are doing this.

  5. Respect for posting this.

  6. Don Dodge says:

    Mike, You are the man! Tess and the shelter are lucky to have you!!
    BTW, it was great to see you last week at the YC Demo Day. I miss you…we all do.

  7. Alexia Tsotsis says:

    My aunt is a vet in Athens, and she has a three legged dog; They are they best for families, because they teach kids a lot about life.

    • Ugh, this double typo comment thing is going to annoy me for the rest of my life, or at least the rest of this week. Also I’m pretty sure Mike paid for Tess’ treatment, which is just too freaking heartwarming.

  8. Jeanette C. says:

    I was set to volunteer at an animal shelter once. I signed up for the training, drove to the place and sat in the car. I never got out. My heart was broken before I could even get out of the car. I called the volunteer lady and told her I could not volunteer. I volunteered with horses and kids with disabilities. That was a bit easier to deal with. It was emotional to see kids who had never spoken to their parents say their first words.

    Good for you Mike. I’m actually impressed.

  9. Your compassion for dogs is your best quality Mike. Big hug for Laguna.

  10. Jason Harnum says:

    Maybe that’s a stretch (best post ever) but spot on & people needed to be reminded; Adopt a Shelter Pet..I’ll gladly donate as many pet tags as you’d like Mike.

  11. Reminds me that I haven’t volunteered recently enough at our local shelter, which is completely run by volunteers…even the icky cleaning. Very rewarding experience…and the dog kisses aren’t half bad either.

  12. Good for you, Mike. My wife donated time for a few years to an animal shelter here in Portland. She loved every minute of it and hopes, with our two girls both going to school over the next two years, to do it again. She still talks lovingly of the dogs she helped train and clean up after!

    I thought you might be interested in a program starting here called Hannah Pet Society. Their goal is to work hard to bring pets and people together. They start with a survey and trial to match pet and people, and then provide lifetime vet, food, etc., for your adopted pet. I have no particular affiliation except we adopted a beagle mix puppy from them three weeks ago, our second dog. Apparently they get most of their pets from a SoCal Humane Society. (Our other dog is a husky mix from a local pound.)

  13. Alexia Tsotsis says:

    My aunt is a vet in Athens, and her family has adopted a three-legged dog; They are the best for families, because they teach kids a lot about life.

  14. Amanda Lee says:

    she’s precious! 🙂

  15. Joe G says:

    This is awesome.

  16. I used to volunteer at a local shelter where I eventually adopted a cat (she’s a biter, but I love her), but somewhere along the way, with school and startups, I forgot about how much that place meant to me, and how much joy those animals gave me. It’s shocking to hear that 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized a year–I had no idea the number is that high. Thanks for reminding me how important shelters are and how much they need our support. I’m going to go adopt a bazillion kitties now 🙂

    Excellent post.

    • twyla muir says:

      most of the animals that we have had over the years have been from shelters.the animals have truly been amazing so loving ,i would advise anyone go to your nearest shelter and bring a lifelong friend home.

  17. Erbo says:

    This applies to cats too, of course. I’ve adopted three from our local shelter, the Denver Dumb Friends League: Star, who was 9 when we adopted her and passed on after seven good years of life she wouldn’t otherwise have had; Maui, who is currently helping keep my ex-wife sane in Finland; and Penny, a mostly-black cat who graces our home now with her love. Definitely, if you’re looking for a cat, check the local shelter; there are plenty of kitties there who’d appreciate being given a forever home.

  18. bap says:

    This post brings me back to “it’s about the journey not the destination.” I’ve often recommended to people that it’s a good idea to set out to do hard things once in a while. You gain a sense of accomplishment, you learn something about the world, you learn something about yourself. You grow. Especially when those things bear emotional weight.

    If I recall correctly non-purebred (mutt) dogs tend to be heartier, live longer, and are more disease resistant.. Very often they are jovial, loving and family oriented. I’ve met a lot of pound puppies (of all ages) that really seemed to appreciate getting a (second) chance at a family.

    I know, that last bit is anthropomorphizing but what can I say? Two dogs live in our house. I don’t really think of them as ‘pets’ so much as short, furry, exuberant members of the family.

  19. Mike, as someone who’s adopted seven dogs and 2 cats over the years, I applaud everything you said here.

  20. Thank you for this thoughtful post. If more people knew about the grim shelter statistics, I want to believe more people would choose to adopt their next pet from their local shelter or rescue groups and maybe volunteer some of their time there too.

  21. Mike – great post – I’m too allergic to animals to volunteer in a shelter myself but I had a thought – has any shelter (such as the one you volunteer at) done a shelter animal version of “cute overload” – with the addition of adoption details associated with every photo posted of each animal?

    Just a random thought and sure the cute animals might get adopted first (I suspect they often already do) but in these days of cameraphones and apps like Instagram, Tumblr etc it seems like it wouldn’t be too hard for a shelter to figure out a way to take a photo of each animal, associate it with adoption details and post them to a feed somewhere? (of course just posting them online wouldn’t drive more adoptions by itself but it might be a starting point…. )

  22. When I lived in Colorado, a state that has 1.2 dogs per capita, I never understood the push for breeders. Boulder County Humane Society and Denver Dumb Friends League are fantastic shelters that while are not no-kill, have a 98% adoption rate, and accept dogs from all around the country. My dogs, Taylor (she was a stray from Oklahoma) and Billie (a heeler/collie mix whose hip I had to replace at age one), and three cats all came from shelters. My dad is a holistic vet (practices a mix of eastern and western medicine) who advocates shelter animals and a raw diet.

    I get families and people that want breeder animals, but, man they are so missing out on the amazing animals that come from shelters, and the amazing connection that is created by adopting.

    Mike, I agree with Chris on the quality of the post. (Its the first Ive ever commented on!)

  23. Rob Reilly says:

    You’re a good man, Michael. Keep up the good work.

  24. Major kudos for posting this Michael!. You’ve hit a major note here because I happen to love Blue Heelers which is certainly one of the less known breeds here..

    I volunteered with a local rescue group here and have personally rescued about 4 BH’s so far. I still keep my other mutt (lab/chow mix) which is also a rescue dog.

    My most recent adoption, a male BH named Cowboy (renamed to Enzo) was hit by a car and found himself with a pretty much shattered leg at a not so friendly shelter. The group I’ve volunteered with alerted me and I covered the surgery cost with an awesome vet in north dallas which pretty much did the surgery on pro bono / clinic cost basis ($750 or so).. Sadly, Enzo’s leg had to have an implant about a month later which was this time a very expensive surgery plus 2 months of rehab. Blue Heelers are phenomenal dogs, they are super brave, very hard working and almost totally immune to pain!

    As of writing, Enzo is now 46lbs (up from 21lbs when I got him) and is a completely different dog! Yesterday we did our first 6 mile run and he was totally loving it! Rescue dogs might be in some instances harder work but it’s totally worth it..

    PS Here’s a link to a very active Facebook group which deals with BH’s nationally but primarily focusing in TX (For the Love of Heelers); they have an extensive network of foster homes and get mobilized very fast to take BH dogs out of shelters.


  25. Due largely to my parent’s inability to say no, they now have 3 cats and a dog. All from shelters. That’s what happens when you volunteer 🙂 Great post

  26. Beautiful post. I miss Laguna!

  27. Great post Mike and ironic timing given that I’ve committed to spend 1 day per week uncovering the root of the pet overpopulation problem and thinking of ways to use my programming skills to help fix it. I’d guess the biggest cause of pets w/o parents is ignorance. Another cause could be do to bad luck and a later event making it impossible for the owners to afford taking care of the pet. What are others?

    My first attempts at decreasing the number of euthanized pets will be around improving the tools in the adoption process. Someone I talked to this past weekend that works at a rescue said she’d love a tool to coordinate the transportation of adopted animals. A lot of the time, the adoptees live far away from the rescue. This is just one example but I’m looking for more.

    Where I’d really like to spend my time is on the root of the problem. Unfortunately, the cause seems like more of a people problem that can’t be solved through technology but I hope I’m wrong. Do you have any thoughts on the root cause and ways in which technology could help fix it?

    • KristenK says:

      let’s talk – we were just discussing this today about how there is a lot of passion and emotion and little organization. We have some great ideas on this.

      Much of the problems are due to education, thoughts on whether animals are sentient beings (ie “it’s just a dog…”), and money.

      But seriously, a group of us who work closely on the exact problems you’re mentioning have just begun putting together an outline of a plan for how to at least make the process easier. We could use your help! 🙂

  28. KristenK says:

    MIchael – I’m sharing this with all of my pet rescue volunteer friends. Some of them won’t know you who are 🙂 but the story is awesome and I love that you posted this and that you are volunteering at a shelter. We save such a small, small percentage and just yesterday lost a dog b/c the entire group set up to rescue her (found in the middle of a highway in LA, 10 years old, obviously used for breeding purposes) miscommunicated and she was taken to Devore, a horrible high kill shelter (as in they are marched straight to the back room off the bus!). I’ve not bawled like a baby for the senselessness and layers that this problem is and how carelessly people discount their pets when they’re old or inconvenient. Thanks for a great, great post.

  29. asdffdsa says:

    Well said Mike. I love this post. Shows an entirely different side of you. I am a huge dog lover as well and had a pitbull/black labrador mix I adopted from the Humane Society.

  30. Shelter work is reserved for those with the biggest hearts. Good for you Mike.

  31. Eric B says:

    Good of you to volunteer and good of you to raise this awareness. In the past you challenged people to solve the email problem. Perhaps you can cajole a few entrepreneurial brains into finding a way to help with this situation. 🙂

  32. Kayla Block says:

    Joseph, I don’t know if you’ve thought about it, but one reason why dogs (and probably cats too) end up in shelters is because of behavioral problems.
    I’ve often thought that if people could get help for those problems, they might keep their animals.
    There is a group out of…I think CO, that has a “hotline” (via email),where anyone can get free behavioral advice from specialists.

    I’ve wondered if there is some way to scale that.

    The power of the internet can do so much good. Perhaps it could help people save dogs from going to the shelter in the first place.

  33. Definitely on board with shelter pets. The best dogs (read only dogs) we had growing up were all from shelters.

  34. Bren Buras-Elsen says:

    Michael, a VC you are; but in spending your discretionary time and energies, you are an ‘angel’ investor in the truest sense!
    Heart of gold.

  35. Dima says:

    What about a start up (non profit) idea of a social network for people who adopted pets (stories, pictures etc. get shared) – raises awareness of the issue and creates a viral effect where it is most needed. Also, different humane societies will be able to upload their pets , show who got adopted and so on…..

  36. You rock for loving dogs so much and putting your time where your mouth is. In the end I admire people who commit time more than money.

    I own a purebred dog and I want to point out I bought mine from a responsible breeder who has no more than 2 litters a year and a 3 year wait for parents. I had to go through extensive checks, vet references, etc. And my breeder made me commit to neutering my dog and to letting her take him back if I ever thought about surrendering him (I’d have to be dead to do so). The ancestors of my dogs have been tested for all known hereditary issues, and my breeder has specialized in my breed for over 40 years.

    The purebreds in shelter phenomenon is largely a factor of puppy mills. These unscrupulous people breed dogs in filthy conditions, with no attention paid to genetic defects or personality of dog. After Beverly Hills Chihuahua came out, there was a huge explosion of these dogs in shelters thanks to puppy mills.

    So please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not all breeders are evil, and not all people who choose a purebred dog do so for the wrong reasons. In my case, I also own a cat I adopted from a shelter more than 13 years ago, one who was so sick she nearly died and required 3 rounds of antibiotics to cure her. So I hope my karma balances out.

    Kudos again to you though Mike, and the hundreds of people who volunteer time and money to care for those who cannot speak for themselves.

  37. Linelle Lane says:

    You are a good man, Mike. Last summer I adopted two kittens, brother and sister littermates, from the Sonoma Humane Society. Thank you for your service.

  38. Adam Jackson says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with adopting dogs from shelters (as opposed to breeders) but take a look at one thing before you do: does the dog have Separation Anxiety.

    I adopted one from a 2-bit shelter (now closed down) in NoPa in SF. They pushed hard for us to adopt and told more than a few lies to “move the product”. The dog is adorable but was abused and because of her separation anxiety, can never be left alone. If she is left alone she will bark incessantly and destroy all objects around her. She also cannot be crated. She bites the bars so hard that she bleeds. This is a serious emotional problem that is not totally uncommon in shelter dogs.

    Because my girlfriend and I have already attached to the dog, it’s not easy to get rid of her. We’re now spending countless hours (and tons of cash) training her out of it. The training is brutal.

    I totally agree with getting shelter dogs but check into this first before you adopt. I wish someone would’ve told us.

    • KristenK says:

      that happens but it’s thankfully relatively rare. In my lifetime I’ve placed over 150 dogs in homes and separation anxiety, while a PITA to deal with, is not that common honestly. Sounds like the shelter you got the dog from just pushing animals out the door – their goal is to move them out as fast as possible (whether out the front or back door) 😦

      The dogs often also behave much differently in the shelter than they do at home, but yes it’s also true that sometimes abuse never leaves them…. sad

  39. TruXter says:

    Passing this on to a few animal care friends. It’s nice circle I sit in. Everyone helps everyone. It always goes full circle. The pets are treated better this way.
    You write like me. Kinda all over the place as if talking to a crowd.

  40. divingdancer says:

    Thank you for this, Michael.

    My wife and I adopted our shelter cat, Cassie, on the day after Christmas two years ago. We had made a decision to stop by and make a small monetary contribution to help support their work. But when the first cat reached through the bars of the pen, looking for attention, we had to take her out and hold her. Needless to say, she went home with us. She’d spent 8 1/2 of the first 12 months of her life living in that pen. And although the shelter provided her with excellent care and love, nothing takes the place of having a home and a family. It distresses me to think how her life, and ours, would have been different if we hadn’t decided to stop by that day.

    We’re now monthly contributors to the shelter. They need our support, and we feel that we need to repay them for the care and love that they gave Cassie in the many months that she was in their care.

    If you are planning to take a cat or dog into your family, PLEASE adopt from a shelter.
    There will always be plenty of homes for dogs and cats from breeders. But most animals that find themselves in a shelter, usually through no fault of their own, have reached a dead end. Most will never again find a home. And believe me, they are every bit as loving, and lovable, as the purebreds.

  41. Can’t really add to the praise for this.

    Once we have energy abundance, early in the next decade, our task as a species will be to terraform the planet in the right way and try to get evolution moving forward rather than backward. This century has seen the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs, and it’s getting worse every day.

    Only abundant love for all animals, including (maybe especially) predator animals, can start getting us where we need to go.

    You’re ahead of your time, Michael.

  42. I wonder if there’s a passionate website designer + photographer out there who would consider doing some pro bono work on their site? I’m sure a redesign would work wonders and help connect incredibly deserving animals with new owners.

  43. Jon says:

    Pound dogs rock. Breeders, not so much.

  44. Mike – I love that you love animals. Awesome. Please let me know if you have any bandwidth to help at a high level with Seattle Humane, where I volunteer as a board member. I can think of some great ways you could help.

    Only think I would add here, in addition to advocating for shelter adoptions, is to make sure everyone spays/neuters. Decreasing the input into the shelter system is going to be the biggest game changer in the next 10 years, if we truly work on it.

  45. Peter Urban says:

    Thanks for sharing something so personal. Both of our pups are adopted and we love them to bits. One of them (Jazz) is a blue healer / shiba inu cross – best dog ever, a true friend.

    Both were adopted several times just to be brought back to the shelter after a few days because the new owners could not handle them. That is why I wanted to bring up another point. Beyond adopting versus buying which is a must if you truly love dogs it is just as crucial to educate yourself on what kind of dog you are getting and by doing so what you are getting into. It still baffles me how many people are getting i.e. a husky and at first are proud that they take them around the block once a day and are then surprised when the dog chews up the entire apartment two weeks into their relationship – huskies need a minimum of *10 miles a day* to be anywhere near to being comfortable in their skin.

    Similar issues with other breeds (small dogs tend to bark more and have small bladders… so despite their size they are not always a good “apartment dog” etc)

    This is why it is so important that people not just adopt but also educate themslefes before hand on what breed fits their life and their vision of living with the animal. That will lead to happier doggy families and vastly reduced rates in abandoned dogs – at least I hope.

  46. Brad Hill says:

    Late to the party, but I deeply appreciate this post. My wife and I have done volunteer shelter work, and our two dogs are both hard-luck rescues. If anyone doubts that shelter dogs can make fabulous pets, check out these pics:


    OK, I admit I use any excuse to show off pictures of my dogs. But please people. Adopt from shelters. Help solve dog & cat overpopulation which causes so much suffering. Visit a shelter to have your heart expanded, broken, and healed.

  47. Onion Breath says:

    I have a two legged dog that likes sour gummy bears and voted twice for Obama.

  48. I think some of the issues with vets not wanting to volunteer is how they are treated from the shelter. Some shelters are very hard to deal with. Some of my personal friends that are vets got a bad taste in their mouth and sadly that has skewed their point of view on shelters.

    I work in the pet industry and usually have production samples or toys that don’t sell well that we like to donate. Usually we will donate them to a rescue as shelters are just too unfriendly.

    I would love to help out the shelter that you volunteer at, drop me a note.

    Also, depending on the time you wish to put into this, I have another idea that I would love to see done again that I think would benefit shelter dogs.

  49. Tim Stern says:

    +1 Mike. I started volunteering in the Seattle Humane Society in January but spending time with some amazing cats instead of dogs. Like you, I spend the majority of my time cleaning up after the cats and feeding them and the rest of my time wondering why more of these really awesome creatures don’t go home with new families. Fortunately, SHS is one of the no kill shelters in the area and takes in many animals that are not considered “highly adoptable”.

    I’d like to encourage any/all to volunteer in your community — whether it be with pets or other needy souls. And, if you can’t afford the time, please consider donations of money, good, or in-kind services. Shelters, such as the SHS, have fund-raising events and even if they can’t use the goods/services you offer, they can become a fund-raising vehicle for the shelter.

    And, if you’re animal-friendly but can’t take on the long-term commitment of adoption, please consider fostering an animal in your home.

  50. pemullen says:

    Hopefully Tess will find a happy home like Faith, the two-legged wonder dog.

  51. Megan says:

    How big will Tess get? I would LOVE a 3-legged dog! Anyhow, awesome post Mike. Not enough people out there use their audience to the advantage of making the world a better place, even more rarely for animals. Golf clap for the post, and for the pooper scoppin!

  52. Kairii says:

    Thinking like that is really azmiang

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