There are so very many ways to divide the world into two different kinds of people — including, of course, the people who divide the world in two different kinds of people and the ones who do not.
For argument’s sake, let’s divide the world into people who cannot imagine sharing their homes with smelly, needy, noisy, labor-intensive dogs, on the one sad hand, and the people who cannot imagine their lives without the wet noses, wagging tails, puppy-dog eyes, and pure unquestioning love that dogs offer, on the other.
It’s possible to convert people who don’t want dogs into dog lovers. (It’s hard to go the other way, although sometimes people who want dogs can’t have them. That’s another matter entirely.)
But there are times when life seems bleak, or at least empty and looming — times like, say, this exact one, when covid-19 has shut down life as we know it, and we either stare at our screens or make our own amusements — when people who haven’t had dogs start thinking about what it would feel like to have a companion who loves you a lot and doesn’t talk back.
But how do you get one? Especially now. Where do you go? What should you look for? What does this dog-talk mean? How do you decode it?
That’s where Lyn Ofrane of Teaneck comes in.
Ms. Ofrane is a portrait photographer; to be successful at an artistic career means that you must combine talent and passion. She’s done that. She has a studio in her home; she’s taken pictures for nearly 40 years. But now she’s in her 60s, and in the last few years her desire to devote herself to photography has waned and another interest has taken over. “I’ve had a passion for animals for years,” she said. Particularly dogs.
“I had dogs growing up,” in Scranton, Pennsylvania, she said. “In the early ’60s, breeding dogs was a reputable profession, and reputable people did it. We started adopting dogs.
“We started a humane society, and my mother would come home with dogs. We had a ton of dogs. And then, when we got married, we didn’t have a dog — I had twins! And then I had my studio, and I didn’t even think about having a dog.
“But then my mother passed away of cancer, many years ago — she was very young — and I started wanting to volunteer. So I inquired at Ramapo Bergen” — that’s the Ramapo Bergen Animal Rescue, where she’s now on the board — “and at that time, which was very different from now, it wasn’t the most organized place, and no one answered my call.
“But I am extremely stubborn.”
A bit later, when the rescue’s executive director “was a kid my kids’ age, and I knew him from Solomon Schechter, I started volunteering.”
It’s now “the number one no-kill shelter in Bergen County,” she said. “We partner with a whole bunch of other rescues and shelters,” and it does a lot of very good work. “It’s also very generous,” she said. “I have been able to pick up crates for people — they are not inexpensive — and water bowls, food bowls, and other important things. They help me help others.”
Her work at the shelter has made clear to her how many dogs there are who need homes, how many people there are who can provide those homes, how love can flow and grow between the dogs (and cats and other species as well) and the humans who make them part of their families.
It’s always been surprisingly complicated to get a rescue dog; covid-19 has made the process more difficult. Many dogs come to families in the northeast from the south, where they are rescued from abusive situations or shelters where they’d be euthanized. There’s a lot of logistics involved in that work. Now, it’s even harder.
Just as more families realize that this would be a great time to get a dog — they’re all at home, there’s no place to go and nothing much to do — it’s gotten harder to connect dogs and people. We’ve all heard about how broken links in the supply chain make it harder to get some supplies to people — think about toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic — and just apply that to dogs.
Ms. Ofrane works with families to figure out which dog might be best for them; how to look, what to look for, how to decode, what to expect, what to do.
“I’ve been helping people get dogs for years now,” she said. “But now, people are getting in touch with me 24/7 for help. I don’t charge anything to help; if people want to donate anything, they donate to the shelter.”
She feels strongly about how important it is to take dogs from shelters rather than buying them from pet shops or breeders. “Many people think that if you get a dog from a shelter, that dog is damaged, so they go and buy one” she said. “There are few reputable breeders now, and people can be fooled. They think their breeder isn’t like that, but often they are. Some of the dogs are ripped too young from their mothers, bred from animal puppy mills.” Ms. Ofrane can talk about some of those puppies — in fact she does — but that’s not part of a feel-good story like this one.
To segue to the feel-good part — “At shelters, we get a lot of dogs who are 18 months to 2 years old. When they were little, they were perfect. Fluffy. Cute. Their real personality doesn’t show, and a lot of people don’t put in the time for training, so we get a lot of them back.
“Hopefully, they will end up with families who will take care of them.”
For that reason, “I don’t help people adopt puppies,” she continued; a dog’s personality doesn’t come through until it’s about 18 months old, and she wants people who know what they’re getting.
She’s been getting a lot of calls from the observant Jewish community, both in Teaneck and from farther away. “What I love about the community is that if they like you, then you’re in,” she said. She learned that first from her photography work — once a family likes the pictures you’re taken for them, their friends will call. “That’s what’s happening now with dogs,” she said. And much as she loves working with anyone who’s interested in adopting a dog, she most loves working in the Jewish community. “It’s a mitzvah,” she said. “It’s such an important thing to do.” And the mitzvah is the family’s — but it’s also hers.
What’s going on now, in the covid-era dog adoption world? “Here’s the deal,” Ms. Ofrane said. “There used to be tons of dogs, but not enough people applying for them. And now, people who have been considering adoption have the time, but there are 10 or 15 applications for every dog.”
She’s worked with about 12 families in the last few months.
This is how it works.
Shelters and rescues post online, on sites like PetFinder. Prospective pet owners may be overwhelmed by what they see, but they find appealing dogs and apply for them. Those dogs may be in shelters — brick-and-mortar places with kennels — or in rescues — the homes of people who foster them until they’re ready to move on to a more permanent situation.
“Most reputable shelters and rescues will not do same-day adoptions,” Ms. Ofrane said. “They check references.”
“There’s no average time,” she said. “Some people take just a few days, but others take a few months. Some people literally look every day. And it’s not like you send in only one application. Some sent in 15 or more.”
Each application must be approved; every shelter and rescue does it differently, and they do not share applications. Ms. Ofrane compares it to the way college applications used to be, before the common application made part of the process easier. You have to repeat a lot of basic information, in similar but different ways. “When I was applying to college, we had to fill out 50 million applications,” she said. “I am waiting for that to happen in the dog rescue world. The problem is that some of the applications are 10 pages long, and they have been up there for years. The people in charge don’t even know how they work. So I help people go through it.”
Not surprisingly the process often isn’t smooth. “A lot of the time, the dog you wanted already was adopted, but you’ve already been approved,” she said. Before covid, that generally meant that the next time that shelter or rescue got a dog similar to the one you’d wanted, they’d call you; now that isn’t as likely to happen.
As she guides people through the process, Ms. Ofrane listens to them, and translates between them and the dog world. Many of them haven’t had dogs before; she helps them figure out what they think they want, and what they really want. Do they really want a big dog or a small one, can they really handle a dog who sheds, do they want one who’s more energetic or perhaps more placid? Once that’s done, “then we look on Pet Finder,” she said.
She helps them decode what they see there — just like any other insular group, dog people use terms with meanings that are specific to that group but unclear to outsiders. She also helps them craft their application; “I don’t create their answers, but I help them elaborate them.”
Once the dogs are in their new homes, if the family still wants help, Ms. Ofrane offers it. She can give advice based on knowledge and experience.
And she can also give art.
Before covid, “I was using my studio to shoot pictures of anybody who fostered, rescued, or adopted any kind of animal, as long as the animal wouldn’t flip out in my studio,” she said. “I’d take free photos for them.” Now, during the pandemic, “I can’t bring anyone into my studio, but I still can take photographs in the park.” She loves being able to offer those whole-family photographs to her clients.
Marc Meltzer of Teaneck is among those clients.
“I grew up without a dog and always wanted one,” Mr. Meltzer said. In fact, he and his wife, Michal Telem, had adopted a rescue two years ago. “It came about a little randomly, from an email off the Teaneck shuls list, and it was not a great fit. Ultimately we found her a new, better-fitting home in Syracuse.” That experience taught Mr. Meltzer and Ms. Telem two things — that they wanted a dog, and they needed a better way to go about finding one.
The pandemic provided the opportunity.
“I knew that we would be there for midday walks for at least a number of months,” he said; he’s an attorney in Manhattan, and his wife teaches at Solomon Schechter in New Milford. Their daughters, Aliza, who is about to turn 8, and Naama, 5 1/2, are old enough to enjoy a dog, they thought.
They heard about Ms. Ofrane from friends down the block, who’d worked with her and are happy with their dog. “We knew that the last time we were too hasty, and too ignorant. We needed a Sherpa. So we got in touch with Lyn, right after Pesach.
“She’s very passionate about rescue dogs, and she provided the knowledge to fill the gaps we had in terms of how to read the listings.
“We have a friend who is a real estate broker who knows how to read apartment listings. We had to know how to read between the lines. She was able to discourage us from dogs that we thought would be good for us but wouldn’t be. We were concerned about the dog’s energy level, and we had to decode what we were reading. We had to be able to understand the various ways of describing whether a dog is good with children.
“And she helped us craft our answers on the application, so that they were honest but we would get the best opportunity. We were honest about having rehomed a dog; we knew that it could get us blacklisted, and we would have struggled more about how to write it had we done it on our own.”
The Meltzer-Telem family first heard about Toasty “on a Facebook post of one of the rescues that Lyn identified for us. It was late on a Thursday, and we didn’t get to look at it until the kids were in bed. We filled out the application using the model we had worked on with her.” It didn’t hurt to apply.
The next day, Ms. Telem read the listing carefully. It said the dog would be “ideal for a retired couple with a fenced yard. Michal said that would be ideal.” They had learned what that meant — that the dog wasn’t demanding. “He’s between 2 and 3, and that is what we were looking for.”
Ms. Telem talked to Ms. Ofrane, who confirmed that the rescue was trustworthy, and that the dog seemed a good fit for the family. “So I was cooking Shabbat dinner, and Michal had that conversation, and then she said, ‘We are getting a dog on Sunday,’” Mr. Meltzer said. It was around Memorial Day; the process had taken somewhere between three and four weeks.
Toasty, an Australian cattle dog, came from Georgia; he’d been living on a golf course, where apparently he’d been abandoned by a family who’d done some rudimentary training before they’d tired of him, or he’d somehow gotten lost. He was driven up to a parking lot at a mall in Lyndhurst. “I drove there with my older daughter; we’d been to a drive-by birthday party before, so we were there toward the end of the pick-up time,” Mr. Meltzer said. “Everyone was masked, and he was in a little playpen. Two people from the rescue were there for about half an hour, so we had the chance to meet him and walk him around a little bit, just to be sure he wasn’t too afraid of us.
“He was foster to adopt, so we had two weeks to be sure he wouldn’t reject us, but he seemed happy and comfortable.” He’s part of the family now.
“Our daughters love him,” Mr. Meltzer said. “And he’s very placid. He’s barked only twice in six weeks, and both times it was fully justified.”
Michele Major of Teaneck is the director of educational technology at Ma’ayanot High School. She grew up with dogs, but she and her husband, Brian, did not have any. Mr. Major, a lawyer who spends long hours at work in Manhattan, had not had a dog growing up, and he was not interested. There are five children in the family — Tzivia, 17; Chavi, 16; Aron, just about to turn 14; Mordy, almost 11; and Orly, 9 — and both parents have demanding jobs.
Still, the idea of having a dog was alluring, so “we were a foster family,” Ms. Major said. Her youngest child was afraid of dogs. “She could see one on the other side of the street, and she’d freeze.
“I know the benefits of having a dog, and to be so scared is a terrible thing. So I tried to convince my husband to have one, so we looked into fostering.”
About three years ago, they brought the first fostered dog home. “It took my daughter three days to leave the stairs,” she said. That dog stayed at their house for a few days; it had been lost and was reunited with its owner. “That was a happy ending, but my daughter was so sad.”
The Majors kept on fostering; the more they said yes, the more calls they got. It turns out that families like the Majors are perfect for dogs transitioning to homes with children. “I explained to my kids that we were the stop between a dog being in a bad situation and going to their fur-ever homes,” Ms. Major said; she spells that “fur-ever, not forever,” she added.
Then the calls dried up.
That was when covid hit, and the need for fosters, like the need for adoptive families, collapsed along with the supply chain of dogs from the south. “And I saw Lyn Ofrane on Facebook, and I reached out to her,” Ms. Major said; although Ms. Ofrane usually works with families looking to adopt, “she said sure. And we talked for a long time.”
Ms. Ofrane suggested that Ms. Major apply to some rescues, and she did. “And then she said, ‘Hey, Michele, what about Greyhound Rescue?’ And I said, ‘No. they’re huge.’
“It was bashert.” So yes, reader, it’s true. The Majors’ dog, Roux, is a greyhound.
The rescue was reluctant to place Roux in a foster home, but eventually agreed; they tried to talk Ms. Major into thinking about adoption, but she didn’t want that. But they took Roux home, and it was love.
Not that it was easy. “They brought us Roux, and she stood outside for 40 minutes like a statue, until I finally convinced her to come in. I said to the kids, ‘You have to give her space. Ignore her. Let her approach you.’ And then she started feeling more comfortable.
“Greyhounds are used to sleeping with other greyhounds, and she slept downstairs, so she would cry at night. She didn’t know where her pack was. That happened for two nights. So then I slept on the couch for a week and a half. I was her pack leader, and she knew where I was. She didn’t cry any more.
“So then I finally decided to bring her bed upstairs. She could sleep in the hall, where she could hear me and see me.” That worked. “She doesn’t cry.”
Roux was still a foster, though. That was fine until the rescue told Ms. Major that another family wanted her, and was about to submit an application. Would Ms. Major talk to that family as a preparation to hand the dog off to them?
“I was like a deer in the headlights,” she said. “We had her only for three weeks, but it was coronatime.” Time moves oddly now; three weeks seemed like an eternity. Roux was a Major by then. “I said that I was not ready to give this dog up.”
The people at the rescue told Ms. Major that the foster family always had priority on a dog, but they had only three days. “It was Tuesday, and I had until Friday. I knew that my kids would be heartbroken to give her up. She was the match for us.
“She is a couch potato. She is not high maintenance. If I am 10 minutes late for a walk, she’s fine. We get each other. She gives my kids space, and they give her space.” The problem was convincing her husband.
“On Thursday night, I said to my husband, ‘They want me to speak to an adoptive family, and I really want to adopt her. I want her to be my dog.
“My husband is an amazing partner and husband and father.” His hesitation was about how his work schedule, once he’s back in the office, would preclude him from committing to walking the dog regularly, and about how his wife would work it around her schedule, but he agreed.
“So I called the rescue back, and said I want to adopt, but I don’t want to tell my children until I’m sure that it’ll be approved.”
It was, so she and her husband prepared the big reveal.
Ms. Major went to Petco; the store has a machine that makes dog tags that includes their names and contact information; she got a tag that says Roux and has the Major family’s address. “I also bought a purple paisley collar that I feel fits her personality,” Ms. Major said.
That night, “We all watched ‘Call of the Wild’ together,” she continued. Not coincidentally, “It’s about a dog.
“We streamed it, and at the end of the movie, my husband said, ‘There must be an extra credit outtake scene here,’ so we started watching it.
“I had videoed the tag being engraved at Petco.” That’s what streamed over the family’s big-screen TV. “One of my kids said, ‘This is the weirdest outtake.’ And then one of my kids said, ‘Is that a dog tag? Are we adopting Roux?’
“All of my kids were so excited. They were so emotional.
“My kids love Roux,” she continued. “It’s amazing for us. It gives them companionship and structure.” She walks the dog with the kids, and that gives her the chance to spend time alone with each child. “We are so happy to have her. Greyhounds are great family dogs. They’re calm, and they love their human family.” And they’re like cheetahs; they are incredibly fast for very short times; if you have a fenced-in yard, they can give a spectacular show. “They zoom at 40 miles an hour, and then that’s it. They’re done.”
Ms. Major is thrilled with Roux, and she’s grateful to Ms. Ofrane. “Lyn is unbelievable,” she said. “She was such a huge support to me. I put her in touch with friends who were thinking of adopting. It’s so amazing; each of those families decided to adopt a dog, and we know that these dogs are being rescued. They’re saved, and they’re in these amazing homes.
“It’s such a very good feeling.”
If you want to get in touch with Ms. Ofrane to learn more about adopting a dog, find her on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.