Searching for a Schnauzer

Petfinder Had Turned Me Into an Addict—But My Addiction Was Rewarded

Tito, the mini schnauzer who stole our hearts.
© Jerry Belli

At some point I realized that my obsession with petfinder.com's dog listings was not unlike others" obsessions with the bids and countdowns on eBay or fresh hands on online poker sites. If there is one rule to Petfinder it is this: it's a fight for the cutest. Once you've made the leap—decided what kind of pet you want, what particular age and breed would best fit your life—what remains are only these thumbnail photos of furry, potential friends-to-be. And then witnessing, days later, as those pictures you've suddenly grown attached to gain the "pending" or "adopted!" label. The right picture, the right droopy eyes and shaggy coat (not to mention the occasional pair of oversized sunglasses) can suddenly make you consider a large, 9-year-old dog with medical issues.

We had no choice but to be very, very particular—and that, it turns out, is a good thing. For one, I've had allergies to animals my whole life, particularly cats, but to shedding-prone dogs, too. My husband, meanwhile, had done some remodeling on a home where the owners had two miniature schnauzers and had decided that this was the world's best dog in the process. Mini schnauzers have the signature scruffy old man look—bushy eyebrows, a beard, a keen watchfulness that gives them an air of intelligence. And the breed has other pluses: they're non-shedding, so as hypoallergenic as a dog can get; they're small, so ideal for a home like ours that's very modestly sized; and they're known for being both friendly and playful—a must for compatibility with our three-year-old daughter.

It helped when navigating Petfinder's listings to have a breed and age (puppy) in mind. What I hadn't prepared for was just how broad and sophisticated dog adoption has become. Many of the shelters in the Northeast, where we are located, are affiliated with shelters in the South and Midwest where animal protection laws remain lax and spaying and neutering pets is still not the norm. Consider Companion Pet Rescue & Transport of West Tennessee which has re-homed more than 5,000 unwanted dogs and puppies to the New England area. They use a service called Road Dogs Transport that coordinates driving the pups on select dates, and their active Facebook page is a place where supporters, current and potential adoptees can submit photos and comments.

In our case, I was nearly about to submit paperwork on a dog when that very morning I logged on to check Petfinder's listings (as had become my daily habit) to discover four new mini schnauzer puppies, two salt-and-pepper, and two white. The puppies were in Arkansas via the organization Springriver Animal Rescue Effort (SPARE) but affiliated with another shelter in New Hampshire called Annie's Place. The puppies" pregnant mother, who had most likely been used for breeding, had been left at the shelter with complications and died during childbirth. I submitted everything within the day and heard back quickly—and we were able to choose the male salt-and-pepper puppy named Tito.

Then began an agonizing several weeks as transport was repeatedly delayed when the transport company had recurring problems with their truck. Each trip will bring as many as 40 or more puppies and dogs to their “forever homes” as the rescue groups like to say, so there were a lot of anxious families who had made plans around a particular drop-off date. In the end, the pups were boarded on a plane and we met Tito at Logan Airport in Boston—a three-hour trip each way (for us) with an exasperated three-year-old in tow. It was worth it. Tito emerged from his crate docile and curious, with oversized ears, and the signature scruffy whiskers, his fur a blend of black, tan and white that was not quite like any schnauzer we'd ever seen. He was heartbreakingly cute. Tito also sat the entire ride home (barring potty and water breaks, of course) on my daughter's lap.

He was not entirely healthy at first, it would turn out, and needed rounds of treatment that cost quite a bit more than the adoption fees; and he and my daughter would not always prove to be the best-matched playmates (she's sometimes rough, he's often nippy), but when he's wagging his tail, riding on my lap in the car while looking at the window, fetching a ball or rolling over on his back for his daily belly-scratch, Tito has a way of bringing life into simple perspective. He doesn't ask for much, besides our nearness. He's so grateful. And so irrepressibly cute.

BRITA BELLI is editor of E and the proud mom of an adorable girl and an adorable mini schnauzer.