PATTERSON — My first favorite was Grant, a friendly, handsome rottweiler mix.
In the fall of 2008, I became a volunteer at Westside Animals for Adoption, a dog rescue/adoption program based in Patterson. I walk the dogs, play with them,teach them basic obedience.
One morning, I decided to find out if Grant played ball, and he treated me to a spectacle I’ll never forget.
He didn’t just fetch the ball. He bounded around the yard, again and again, like it was his introduction to the greatest game ever played. He was graceful, beautiful and absolutely ecstatic. It just about took my breath away.
Grant is one of more than 100 dogs for which we’ve found homes. The 2-year-old program is an offshoot of Best Friends Pet Resort, Augusta Farley’s full-service kennel, and the adoption dogs share the indoor-outdoor facility with BestFriends clients.
I joined the dog adoption program after retiring from The Bee following 28 yearsin the sports department. If my wonderful golden retriever, Annie, could talk, she’d tell you my new “career” was no surprise.
I was a sucker for Grant.
And Little Girl, the black pit bull mix who would shake her butt back and forth when she saw me or another volunteer coming down the corridor. She wasn’t much for playing; she just wanted someone to be with and love. She found a family and we’ve heard she’s doing well.
And Elvis, a stoic English pointer with sad eyes who crept into our hearts by affectionately sticking his head into our stomachs. Elvis came back to us from one seemingly perfect match because it turned out he jumped 4-foot fences(Elvis!); he later hit pay dirt with a kind old fellow who lives in FrazierPark down near Bakersfield.
And Cody, a big, strong, rambunctious black beauty who looks like a crossbetween a Labrador and a limousine. Cody is a lover, but a lover who could playfree safety for the 49ers.
He’s the proverbial bull in a china closet.
Cody is still with us, unfortunately. Still looking for a home.
Our adoption fee is $200 or less. Before they’re candidates for adoption, ourdogs are spayed or neutered, microchipped and have their rabies shots.
Though saying goodbye to our four-legged friends is hard to do, finding them anew home is a cause for celebration.
Of course, we’re not just making the animals happy.
We get e-mails and phone calls that make it clear that their new owners havefound a new best friend.
There’s the young couple from San Francisco who came down to adopt Tucker, an adorable young border collie.
Tucker took to the woman almost instantly; he found the man’s over-the-topenthusiasm a little overwhelming at first, but I assured him that Tucker soon would be his buddy, too.
Well, Tucker is doing fine in the big city. Playing in parks (he taught himself to roll over just by seeing another dog do it). Loving his masters.
He’s not Tucker now. He is “Bowie,” from a very long name that includes musicsuperstar David Bowie.
Their favorite Bowie thing? Tucker has his own distinctive soundtrack, aside from the usual doggy sounds, and he uses this straight-from-the-gut recital to wake up his humans when he jumps on their bed every morning.
Sometimes we know a lot about these dogs. Sometimes we don’t. We have straysfound on the road with no identification, dogs left behind in yards by ownerswho faced foreclosure, dogs we picked out from shelters.
Often we have to guess how old they are by looking athow much tartar is on their teeth.
We take in the dogs we think are good candidates for adoption.
Some dogs we foster for other rescue groups — German shepherds, houndsand pit bulls, for instance.
One of the dogs we love the most is Mama, an abused 8-year-old pit bullwho is dog aggressive and will require a single-dog home.
Mama melts our hearts.
Watch her splash in the plastic wading pool in our play yard and smile fromear to ear as we shower her with affection, and you wonder how someone couldbe so cruel.
All of us love dogs. Carol and Corey and all the other volunteers. Best Friendsemployees Colleen and Kathy, who have two dogs each they dote on, and Claudia, who has a T-shirt that reads “I Fall in Love Twice a Day.” Augusta, who raises and trains Belgian Malinois (think of a quick, smart, slightly smaller German shepherd) the expert with a ton of compassion and a realist’s view that not all dogs are candidates for adoption.
Isis never got adopted. We loved the pit bull mix that would nudge up against you and look into your eyes and flash a silly smile you hoped would never go away.
But sometimes Isis would snap at strangers for no apparent reason. Even if that was 1 percent of the time, we couldn’t risk adopting her out, so she was taken to the shelter, where she was probably put down.
That was a sad, sad day.
I still think of Isis, more than I want to. I remember walking on a trail by Best Friends, where rabbits abound, and Isis seeing a rabbit and jerking the leash out of my hand, and taking off full speed and disappearing around a corner as I yelled for her to come back. She came back, because I was there. I wonder what would have happened to Isis if she had kept running and never come back that day.
There have been a few others we decided weren’t good candidates for adoption.
But mostly, overwhelmingly, these are happy stories we’re privileged to share as we strive to bring about happy endings for our canine friends and the good people who take them home.
Just recently, we hit a twofer! A young border collie named Deegan and a cute a little black dachshund mix named Cricket, both adopted by a San Jose family.
The husband had owned a border collie before, and his wife wanted a small dog.
Who woulda thunk it?
Cricket quickly bonded with the man, and Deegan became the wife’s good buddy.
That kind of surprise is just fine with us.
That kind of surprise makes us smile.
Like Meg makes us smile; she’s a friendly rottweiler mix who swims (we have abig pool) like Michael Phelps and leaps like Michael Jordan when she sees a butterfly. Like Buddy the cocker spaniel and Biscuit the Lab mix, looking cute and oh so ridiculous relaxing spread-eagled on the kennel floor. And our LBDs (little brown dogs like Chico the Chihuahua and his friends), who chase oneanother around the play yard like out-of-control wind-up toys.
For more information about Westside Animals for Adoption, call Best Friends Pet Resort at 892-3114 or visit www.westsideanimalsforadoption.webs.com.
Tom Holliday is a retired Bee sportswriter, columnist andeditor.