Life with dogs

The joy of welcoming a new four-legged friend into my pack

A few months ago I came really close to spending an unseemly amount of money to buy a German shepherd puppy, an animal whose parents were champions with impeccable breeding, conformation, agility and health.

But the day before my appointment to meet the dog—a step that for me would result in no turning back—I called the Bay Area breeder and canceled our appointment. I instantly felt relief. And that's mostly because there are so many unwanted dogs, including purebred German shepherds, in need of homes. In fact, according to the ASPCA, 7.6 million animals enter U.S. shelters each year and, sadly, about 2.4 million healthy and otherwise adoptable pets are put down.

For a long time, my heart has been called to rescue a dog. Another one, actually. My husband and I adopted a furry little Bichon Frisé from Butte Humane Society about three years ago. Lucy's been a great addition to our family, but she's more of my husband's companion. I'm a large-dog person, and I've longed to have a big pal for several years.

It took me quite a while to feel that way after having to euthanize my shepherd, Boaz. I bought 8-week-old Bo from a backyard breeder in Marysville when I was in my second year of college and ignorant of the ills of that kind of operation. Shortly thereafter I got a job at a veterinarian's office and learned from X-rays that he'd have hip issues his entire life. Keeping Bo lean and healthy allowed him to lead an active and pain-free life in his younger years, and medicine aided him toward the end, when he was nearly 14 years old.

Boaz was much loved and is still missed, and it's only in the past few years that I've started to feel ready to look for a new buddy. And since I now know better than to buy a dog from a disreputable breeder, and because there are so many great homeless dogs in the world, I started poking around the websites of California German shepherd rescue organizations. A few dogs have piqued my interest over the years, but last week something clicked. A Sacramento-based group posted a picture of a young shepherd mix called Syrio who was described as a very chill dog.

My husband, son and I traveled down to Rocklin last weekend and, well, we fell right in love with Syrio, a gangly 7-month-old boy who clearly has some wire-haired parentage. The rescue folks are leaning toward Irish Wolfhound, which would explain his size and adorably bearded face. There were several gorgeous purebred shepherds up for adoption, too, but we could tell Syrio was our guy.

His foster parents, a wonderful couple who are also caring for another rescued shepherd, spent hours with us as we asked questions about Syrio's temperament. And this Friday, they are heading up to Chico with him. Our foster-to-adopt trial begins then and I'm taking the day off to help him adjust to what I hope will be his forever home.

I've learned a lot of lessons during my journey in this world. A big one is that dogs make life better.