Thursday, December 21, 2000

Mall satellite

SPCA is letting the dogs out

        Outside Northgate Mall, desperate shoppers stalk each other for parking spaces. This is a custom almost as old as the commercialization of Christmas. You can see it at any mall in America.

        Inside is something you can find only in Cincinnati.

        Amid Muzak carols, along the concourse near Lazarus, you can hear Baha Men's “Who Let the Dogs Out?” accompanied by the occasional, entirely authentic “woof, woof.”

        It's a new satellite of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Its the animal shelter, the dog pound, with no doggy aroma, no din from nervous inmates. A white German shepherd accepts with dignity the cautious overture of a small child. She does not have to poke her fingers through a chain-link fence. A beagle-esque dog perches on a couch. Upholstered furniture, pictures on the wall. Wool carpet.

Another mouth to feed
        Harold Dates “let the dogs out,” which is just the sort of thing you'd expect him to do. During 25 years as SPCA chief, he has brought dogs to hospitals and orphanages and churches. And, of course, to homes.

        But most of the dogs he sees are in cages. Strays waiting to be found. Christmas puppies that grew up and chewed the arm off the love seat. Dogs that barked too much. Dogs that turned the Aubusson carpet into a latrine area.

        A few years ago, Harold was hearing people say they didn't have enough money to feed another mouth. He believed them and started a canine soup kitchen. And he has arranged for the elderly to get free animals.

        Sometimes if you don't have much else in your life, a good dog can give you a reason to get up in the morning. At least, that's what Harold thinks. But he says it only works out if “we give them ways to keep bad things from happening. Information. Education.”

        A young couple spends a little time with a medium-sized black dog and with the volunteer on the other end of the leash. How big will the dog be when she's grown? Is she housebroken? Why is she here? How much does she eat? Does she like kids?

        About 50 volunteers take turns at the mall location, supervised by Daryl Meyerrenke, who doesn't have much trouble convincing workers to come to this place.

        “They love this environment,” Daryl says. And so do the dogs. All that barking in the main kennel gets on their nerves, too. “Animals know they are in a special place. They are relaxed and benefit from the one-on-one exposure, which hopefully decreases their stay at the SPCA.”

A home for keeps
        In the five weeks since the center opened, more than 65 dogs and cats have found homes.

        Browsers not only have a chance to ask questions about the dog, but they can see what he looks like on a chintz couch, under a dining room table. Being adorable. Misbehaving.

        Maybe they'll decide they'd rather have a fish.

        That's OK, too. Harold works hard — and listens hard — to help people make decisions they can live with. For keeps.

        Anyway, it's called the Companion Animal Center, and it's in a suburban mall where desperate, last-minute shoppers right now are trolling the perfume and jewelry aisles looking for something valuable. We who personally have known a good dog would insist that those who follow the woofing may instead find something priceless.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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