Young Rupert has the telltale signs of abuse on his right foot, where a yellow sock conceals his latest injury.
Abandoned after years of neglect, his malnourished body includes a couple of sore spots the size of a quarter. In his cage, he has only his big brown eyes with which to plead for adoptive parents.
Of course, if Rupert were a child and not a tan Labrador from parts unknown, he wouldn't be locked in a kennel in a small cage along with a roomful of angry pit bulls, Dobermans and unidentifiable mutts.
In a fair world, Rupert wouldn't be stuck inside the Toronto Human Society all weekend. He'd be at home with me.
I agreed to obedience training after a quick stroll of the grounds with Rupert. We casually strolled the premises with the poise of an old married couple. But after spending an hour demonizing poor Rupert as a would-be baby killer (Rupert rated a yellow on the THS doggy danger scale, only one up from placid green), a Humane Society staffer suddenly declared me unfit to parent.
It seems I failed the second interview after answering the question "What would you do if the dog suddenly turned aggressive once you got him home?"
"Hmm, well, um, I guess I'd come back here," I stammered as the Adoption Centre manager scribbled more notes in my file. I could've adopted an entire Third World family with much less effort and paperwork.
"I mean, if he turns into a real animal," I rambled on, clearly out of my league, "I guess I'd bring him back here where he can see a vet."
The THS wouldn't bite.
"We really don't think you'd be a good match for this dog. Why don't you go look around for something smaller, something less aggressive," replied Rupert's warden for the umpteenth time.
I returned to the kennel to look for my dawg. In the midst of a raging cacophony of pent-up pups, I found Rupert just as his handler was preparing to take him outside.
Somehow, in the midst of all this canine chaos, Rupert remained an island of tranquility - not a single bark, not so much as a growl. I gave him one last pat on the muzzle and told him I'd be back to free him soon.
With 20 minutes to lock-up, I dashed back to the office to plead my case once again. I repeated my qualifications: no kids, work from home, fully enclosed backyard, minutes away from several parks.
I told her I'd been looking for a Lab for a while but didn't want to add to the pet population problem by resorting to a puppy mill. And I wasn't interested in anything that could fit in a purse. Alas, the THS would not budge.
"This is not the right dog for you. I have three dogs myself, and one of them, like Rupert, is a real job. You're not going to have fun with this dog," continued an assistant before the warden used her wild card. "A dog like this could easily attack a child at a park. You don't want someone getting bit and suing you, do you?"
Actually, I reminded her, the dog in question had never bit anybody. (Do dogs deserve habeas corpus?) According to the THS website, Rupert had only gently nudged a few children. It's hardly surprising for a big dog to show unbridled enthusiasm after endless hours of confinement.
Besides, wondered the dog-owner friend who had accompanied me, if this dog is such a danger, how come people can walk in off the street, into the kennel and pat him through the bars on his cage?
But the air was as full of condescension as it was of animal feces. "I know dogs - from practically before I was born - and this isn't the one for you," the warden said.
I wondered how an animal shelter could be so selective, but as my eyes scanned the desk in front of me, I noticed Rupert had had other visitors since my initial interview. Resigned to my fate, I left in frustration, hoping a different defender of unwanted dogs would be on duty the next time I visited. But regrettably, two days later, Rupert's cage was empty and my dream of helping rehabilitate an orphaned Lab had to be put on hold.
I'm happy Rupert's finally found a home, but I remain angry that the THS was so selective in its screening. It seems the gatekeepers, while trying to protect their furry fiefdom, would rather send strong candidates for adoption home empty-handed than take their paws off the proverbial leash. That's a dog gone shame.
Humane society's doggy adoption rules
According to Stacey Lunn, a canine services coordinator at the Toronto Human Society: "The application process starts with an interview. If this is successful, the potential owner does a meet-and-greet with the pet and staff observe to see how well they get along and get an idea of the handling skill of potential adopters. "Sometimes we give prospective owners the opportunity to come down every day and walk the dog, and we'll show them how to teach obedience so everyone's comfortable. If there's a dog with no known behavioural issues, the new owner could potentially take it home right away. But we're not going to give a red-level dog to someone without the experience or the will to learn.
"What often happens is that someone comes in and puts up a fight for an animal. We give him or her the option of training with us. We don't often just say no flat out - we offer opportunities to learn. Then we decide based on their commitment whether or not it'll be a match."
The code the Humane Society uses to rate the danger dogs pose the public: Green - Easy to handle, good-natured.
Yellow - Some aggression.
Orange - Specific behavioural issues like food/toy possessiveness, dog aggression, nervousness.
Red - Dominant personality, needs obedience training.
Compiled by ANDREA LAU