By Amy Christiansen Special to Published May 05, 2008 at 10:22 AM

Even after almost 10 years in this field, dogs continue to amaze me -- but sadly, people no longer surprise me. Every day, I see animals in terrible conditions but rarely do I get to know the people who put them there. Today was an exception.

A few weeks ago, "Betty" (name changed to protect identity) arrived at animal control with information regarding a possible owner. I assumed she had innocently and accidentally gotten away from her family and that she would likely be reclaimed within a day or two. We don't often receive Saint Bernards at animal control so she caught my attention a few days later when I noticed her still waiting for her family. I felt bad for her -- she seemed depressed, looked thin and acted old. I could not believe her family was letting her sit for such an extended period of time.

This week, as I was talking to one of the veterinary technicians, an office worker passed off the paperwork for "Betty" and stated that there had been no returned correspondence with the family by phone and no response to the sent certified letters. I was stunned.

But as I learned today, the family that bought "Betty" from a breeder an hour or so from Milwaukee was uneducated about and very ill-prepared for caring for a large breed dog (or perhaps any breed dog).

"Betty" is only 18 months old but she's had a rough life already.

As she grew in her first year of life, she became less welcome in the home and was banished to back yard. When the weather changed last fall, she was relocated to the basement. When it was apparent that she had developed a raging bladder infection, had begun to lose weight, and acquired a serious skin infection, it was apparently time for her to become someone else's problem.

Fortunately for "Betty" that "someone else" is a dedicated and diligent foster care home for the Companion Animal Resource and Adoption Center.

It is our mission to rehabilitate and rehome unclaimed stray (or otherwise abandoned) cats and dogs from animal control and we do it well.

All of our dogs live in trained foster care homes until placed into permanent, loving homes. "Betty" will require several weeks of care before she is available for adoption but when that time comes, we will be sure that her next family is her last. Like most responsible rescue groups and humane societies, we take our time in placing the animals in our care.

We don't think in terms of dollars and cents like many breeders and pet store owners might. We ensure that the applicants are well educated about basic animal care and prepared for the commitment that a particular breed might require. And we are there to offer guidance and support throughout the lifetime of the adopted pet even requiring the return of the animal if the family is unable or unwilling to care for the pet.

We are sometimes met with resistance to and questions about our adoption process but we make no apologies for it. We'd otherwise see many more like "Betty" in our local shelters.

She has a tough road ahead of her, but we will utilize all of our resources in an attempt to restore "Betty" mentally and physically and we are still very optimistic that she will be able to be paired with a loving family very soon. She is very forgiving and has a very tough and resilient spirit. We are all very hopeful that the damage is not permanent but only time will tell. 

Amy Christiansen Special to

Amy Christiansen is the Executive Director of the Companion Animal Resource and Adoption Center (CARAC). CARAC is located in the upper level of Southridge Mall and is dedicated to saving the unclaimed strays from the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission.

Amy grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee and now lives in Muskego with her husband and son and their three cats and three dogs. She also takes in the occasional foster dog.