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For some dogs, Ohio shelters become long-term home

HILLSBORO, Ohio (AP) — Dan the dog, a redbone coonhound with a crooked tail and an ornery personality, walked into the Highland County Humane Society on a Friday in September 2004. He is still there.

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Sweet Gold, a puppy up for adoption at the Jacksonville Humane Society, is still in a state of disbelief after Jaxon de Ville, the areas' largest feline, stopped by his cage on Friday Aug. 30, 2013, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Humane Society is hosting "Tailgate To Save Lives," through Monday, which includes free adoptions, hot dogs and a pet festival on Saturday and Sunday. On Friday the Jacksonville Jaguars' mascot and Roar cheerleaders greeted visitors. (AP Photo/Florida Times-Union/Bruce Lipsky)

This is a no-kill shelter, and Dan has been not killed now for about nine years. He has been placed four times in a "forever home," but it never worked out. Dan, it seems, does not like other dogs, and he is not crazy about children, either.

When visitors come to the shelter, Dan doesn't go out of his way to put on an act. He raises his eyes, and if a visitor stands there long enough, he lifts his head. But Dan will not be bothered to stand by the gate to act cute.

Dan has escaped twice. He got hit by a car the first time, so Melanie Dodson, the shelter director, picked him up and carried him to her Jeep. She brought him in for surgery. Dan came through it just fine.

Dan is 13 or 14 now. But he is fit, and a few months ago he got out again — somebody left the gate open — and spent a few days up in the woods behind the shelter outside of Hillsboro. Dodson heard him baying two nights straight as he ran through the woods, probably treeing raccoons and having the time of his life. But on the morning of the third day Dan was curled up at the front door.

"Danny is always happy to be back home," she said, scratching his head as he leaned against her leg. "I do believe he thinks this is home. He was either hungry or he wanted his bed back."

Dan's kennel is not much. Cement floors and walls, a dog door leading to an enclosed area outside to relieve himself. His dog bed and blanket lay atop a small wooden pallet.

A few times a day somebody takes him out to run around. When Dan has had enough he walks in on his own and waits by his door. He gets regular meals and small treats. Every once in a while he gets a can of cat food, a real favorite.

Sometimes Dodson takes him for a ride in her Jeep because he seems to like it. His favorite drive is out by Rocky Fork Lake.

Still, some people think this is just wrong.

"We've got people who think we are the most horrible people in the world, keeping a dog that long," Dodson said. "One lady said to just put him down. I told her: 'You come up and put the needle in him.' Dogs are not disposable items."

Raul Arce-Contreras of the Humane Society of the United States said it's always best for a dog to find a good home. But, he said, dogs can linger at no-kill shelters, especially smaller ones. And especially with a hard-to-place dog like Dan, who is not good with children and fights with other dogs.

"This is a classic situation where a dog can be at the shelter for a long time," Arce-Contreras said.

Dan was first picked up by the Highland County Animal Control division in September 2004. The dog warden, Jeff Vickers, found Dan running around Rocky Fork Lake.

Vickers knew this dog would be living on borrowed time at the pound.

Maybe his owner would claim him, but he had no tags. Maybe somebody would adopt him, but this dog was already a full-grown male, and a growly one, too.

So Vickers called Dodson at the Humane Society Shelter.

She called him Dan, after the redbone coonhound who has been breaking hearts for decades in "Where the Red Fern Grows."

Dan got lucky almost right away. A nice family with kids came by and adopted him. "Now I don't know exactly what happened, maybe the kids rushed him, maybe Danny told them to back off," Dodson said. "A few days later they brought him back."

Cute little dogs go quickly at the Highland County Humane Society. But a dog like Dan, who lacks, perhaps, an immediate cuteness, can be difficult to place.

A year later, an older woman, with no children and no other dogs, took Dan home. "I don't think she did anything wrong," Dodson said. "But Danny bit her. Just a little bite on the toe, but it frightened her. She brought him back, too."

A few years after that, a couple said they wanted Dan. Dodson was thrilled. "No kids. No other dogs. A big backyard. It was a perfect home," Dodson said. "A few days later I check in. I do a little drop-by."

The couple was not home, but Dodson heard Dan out back. He did not sound happy. She found him chained.

Dodson took him off the chain and brought him back to the shelter right then and there. Then she drove back to the house and dropped off the couple's check with a sternly written note. "That was not good enough," Dodson said simply. "No dog leaves here to be on the end of a chain."

A local judge knew about Dan and tried to take him home next. The judge had one small, older dog. Maybe that would be OK. It wasn't. Dan just does not play well with others. He came back to the shelter, and has been back ever since.

After all these years, maybe Dan would be happier to stick around. But Dodson thinks he deserves a couch to lie on. She thinks Dan would like a shade tree to sleep under during his last summer afternoons.

"But don't take Dan out of here because you feel sorry for him. He's fine. Take him because you want a great dog," Dodson said. "But you can count on that I will come visit. You write that down. Dan needs a good home, and I will check."

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