As the community and media relations liaison for Hillsborough County Animal Services, Marti Ryan sees heartbreak and joy at the county shelter. Each day, lost and abandoned animals come in, and animals reunited with their owners and others who have been adopted go out. At home, Ryan has her own rescued dogs: Sergeant Shorty, a beagle and dachshund mix, and Azula, a Jack Russell terrier mix. Ryan talked with Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter recently about her dogs, why she loves them and tips for those considering adopting their own pets.
How did you choose your dogs?
I found (Sergeant Shorty) in a kennel. He has these enormous eyes — you couldn't miss him when walking by. I reached my hand in, and he immediately began to roll over on his back, submitting to me and wanting his belly rubbed. I took him to a pre-K class to do a dog bite prevention presentation and let the kids name him, even though I wasn't considering adopting him yet. They named him Shorty. We added Sergeant to his name because he's in charge of snacks and security.
Azula came into the shelter with a baby. Typically, in those cases, the puppy is chosen for adoption and the momma is left behind, and that's what happened. She is very spry. She is a great little dog.
Both of them were heartworm positive; that was one of the reasons no one was adopting them.
What is the greatest part of owning a pet?
They give you all this sense of joy and happiness. They are happy to see you no matter what. That whole unconditional love, a trite phrase you always hear. It may be overused, but it's true.
When training them, you may not have been able to do anything else right that day for anybody. You can't change the economy, pump more money into a business, cure health problems or make your boss happy. But these are things you can do. You can save a life. If you hadn't come along and taken the time and energy to change that dog's behavior, then that dog may have bit someone.
As a dog lover, is it hard to resist taking animals home from the shelter?
That's a universal challenge for anybody that I work with. There is a saying that when you take an animal in and end up keeping it, you are a foster failure. That's okay! If that dog fits with you and your home, then sure. It's not okay if you take on more than you can handle. You learn where the limits are.
But when a dog smiles and their teeth show like Mr. Ed, when that happens, I melt.
How do you balance working and being a good pet parent?
I'm married, and we have a child. We have a wonderful neighbor who helps us let our dogs out when we need help. I would help them with their pets, too.
If you don't have what you need in your community, look around at what your resources are. Go to a doggy day care, hire a dog sitter. I know we don't live in a Norman Rockwell painting. People do work long hours and have long commutes. But no matter how long I'm away, my dogs are still excited to see me, and I can't wait to see them.
Any tips for those thinking about adopting a pet from the shelter?
Be realistic. An animal is a living, breathing creature that needs your time, effort and commitment. It doesn't come with an instruction booklet. It's a little bit like having a baby.
Research the breed, but don't go to a shelter with a closed mind. Bond with your heart.
If you don't understand your pet once you get home, research, ask questions, seek training. No one will judge you if you don't speak cat or dog. But bringing the animal back in to the shelter because you don't understand it is not a good way to solve the problem.
*Edited for clarity and length.