Are shelter puppies just too darn cute?

The stars backstage at my local shelter are the six Basset puppies (and their doting mama) that the staff saved from coccidiosis (an illness caused by a nasty single-celled parasite). A guy brought the two-week-old litter to the shelter, signing over the whole lot, saying “they were just pooping too much.” Well, they were pooping so much because they had diarrhea; one puppy died within minutes of arrival. But our brilliant vet tech whipped into action and saved those dang puppies – mama, poop, and all. And they have just gotten cuter and cuter and cuter.

They’ve been the delight of the staff, but now that they have finally tested clear of the parasites and have put on weight, they are nearly ready to go up for adoption. We volunteers and staff are all asking our friends who might want a Basset hound; we try not to actually say the word “puppy” – at least at first. Because we know from experience: even people who don’t really want a dog, or who aren’t really in a good place to have a dog, are going to want one of these pups on sight. They are just TOO CUTE.

We know that babies are cute, in part, to help their parents remember to like them, especially when said parents are exhausted and at the ends of their ropes. But the “cute factor” works against puppies in a shelter; all sorts of folks bring them home – only to return them to the shelter eight or so months later, when the cute has worn off and left a pile of chewed shoes behind.

I think I’m biased, but in my experience, when someone adopts an ill-mannered, gawky teenaged dog; or a dowdy middle-aged dog; or a bleary senior with bad breath, I tend to feel more confident about the placement. Those adopters can’t help but see the flaws, and are still ready to take the dogs into their hearts and homes. But people who are fixated on puppies make me nervous.

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