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SPCA helped us find perfect pup

Several years ago, after the premature loss of our dog, my wife and I decided to get another. In the past, that meant researching numerous breeds, deciding on their strong and weak points and finally selecting a dog that fit our home and lifestyle. Next, we would carefully choose a reputable breeder, take a trip to see the canine parents and, after selecting the perfect pup, fork over plenty of cash.

This time, however, we decided to try to simplify the process. So off we went to the SPCA. We quickly learned that the Erie County SPCA is dedicated to finding homes for delightful animals of all types and sizes. We also discovered that selecting a dog can be a challenging, fun-filled and engaging experience with surprising results.

Upon entering the building you are immediately treated to pleasant surroundings, with dedicated, polite employees and volunteers whose only goal is to find loving, stable homes for animals that have nothing to give but loyal companionship and unconditional love. The challenging part is selecting the pet that is right for you from so many animals, large and small, quiet and loud, shy and outgoing.

The most difficult part is looking into the faces of all those animals as they look back at you and seem to say, please choose me! As we slowly walked past the dogs, we could only imagine what brought them here and how fortunate they were to have another chance to love and be loved. The fun part is stopping at each kennel and greeting the canine with a kindly pat on the head and receiving a friendly response.

Five years ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, it was our good fortune to find a 5-month-old Lab mix named Sam. As a puppy in his kennel, he appeared somewhat shy, but otherwise happy and healthy. We wanted to get a better look, so off we went to the Meet and Greet Puppy Room, where we were able to interact with the frisky pup. Since we do not live in a mansion, my concern was directed to his very large paws. But he quickly softened our hearts as he cuddled up to my wife and looked at me with those sad eyes.

My dear wife kept insisting his paws didn't look that large, and so, with some inner reservations, I agreed, and several days later Sam was sleeping in our home. Now for the surprising results.

Fast forward five years to our 105-pound canine, who looks large, eats large and, well, you can guess the rest. Do we have regrets? Absolutely not. He just might be the smartest, most obedient and loving dog we have ever had. We can't imagine our lives without him, and will forever be grateful to the SPCA for its assistance in bringing him to us.

The benefits, however, don't stop there, because a dog of that size needs plenty of exercise. At first it was a chore, but now our daily walk in Como Park in Lancaster has become one of my favorite things to do. It's not only good for him, but great therapy for my 68-year-old bones. We walk regardless of weather -- rain or shine, hot or cold, ice or snow. The park is a dog- and people-friendly place with plenty of natural trails, well-manicured lawns and numerous places to sit and rest. I love it.

So, when walking with Sam and someone hollers out "put a saddle on him" or "who is walking who?" I smile and think, life is good for this retired old guy and his faithful canine companion. If you are looking for a pet to fulfill your life, I would like to suggest you start and end with the Erie County SPCA or any of our local adoption agencies.

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Norbert Marciniak, a recent retiree from Depew, enjoys walking his loyal companion, Sam, every day in the park.

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