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A Valentine's Day love story...sort of

02/14/02 12:00AM By Cheryl Hanna

My very-single friend Joel finally decided to make a major life change, and answered a personal ad.

It read:

ME: Cleaver, curious, athletic, patient, faithful and passionate, with substance and taste.

YOU: Artistic, educated, gentle and understanding, into hikes, bikes, and water sports.

DESIRED: Monogamous, meaningful future.

Make your love connection with Charlie.

It sounded like a match made in heaven, but Joel was bit nervous, never having done something quite like this before, so I offered to go with him to meet Charlie.

Talk about drop dead gorgeous! Charlie had big eyes, shiny hair - just a little slobbery.

Yes, slobbery.

You see, Joel answered a personal ad placed by the San Francisco SPCA. Charlie is a dog, and there are thousands of animals in shelters nationwide hoping to meet that special someone.

Susan O'Cane, the executive director of the Humane Society of Chittenden County offers some advice for those thinking about opening their hearts to a pet. She says, "Many people choose an animal like they choose a mate - based on looks alone."

With 50% of marriages ending in divorce these days, she likes to remind prospective pet partners to look for long-term compatibility, not just love at first-sight.

Although opposites often attract, if you are a couch potato, an active animal is probably nota good long-term companion.

To encourage more thoughtful match-making, some shelters offer Project Pajama Party. Your would-be pet can spend the night to test the how suited the two of you really are.

Also, everyone in the home should meet the prospective pet first, including other animals. Family conflict can kill any relationship, no matter how strong the bond.

What do pets want in companions these days? Responsibility. So make sure you live in a place that accepts animals, and that you can afford you're their expenses. Many pets can be easy, but seldom are they cheap. And you can't take your pets for granted. They will expect you to be around.

All long-term relationships require work and compromise, O'Cane stresses, but it's worth it for the fun and companionship you get in return.

Now, those with commitment issues can flirt with the idea by volunteering at your local shelter. The residents love the company, especially those who have been in shelter for a while. In Vermont, barring some medical or behavioral issue, animals can stay in shelters as long as it takes to find Mr. or Ms. Right.

So stop looking for love in all the wrong places and go on-line. The Vermont Humane Federation and other agencies have websites where you can search for a soul mate.

As for Joel and Charlie, well, it didn't work out. Charlie is shy and found someone who is a better match, even though Joel was convinced he could change him if he only had a chance. Broken hearted as he may be, Joel still has hope. He is off to meet a Brittany - spaniel that is - named Bumper. Today of all days. I think it's a good sign that she just might be the one.

This is Cheryl Hanna. Happy Valentine's Day.

--Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.
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