Celebrate Your Pet’s “Gotcha Day!”

dogsmilingBy Darlene Duggan

I love it when my worlds collide, and right now there is a major collision going on. My family is in the process of bringing home our daughter from China, and after more than four years of preparation it feels so good to announce that we finally have travel dates—at the end of the summer, we will become a happy family of five (well of course we count our dogs as family, so “happy family of seven,” really)!

There are so many parallels between my work in the sheltering field and the experience we’ve had with adoption. When we first started meeting with our agency and social workers, I was hesitant to express those comparisons—worried they would think that I was demeaning the adoption process or suggesting that a child is like an animal. However, as time moved on, I became more confident in utilizing my sheltering experience to understand and appreciate the background in which my daughter has grown up. After realizing the comparison was not humiliating orphaned children, but in fact celebrated creating new families through adoption, all the cards fell into place, and I am now much more confident discussing those similarities with our social workers.

And, speaking of celebrating, one of my favorite things that adoptive parents do after their children have come home is celebrate an annual “Gotcha Day.”. Gotcha Day is what adoption circles have come to affectionately call the day they finally meet their new children and become a forever family. After months of paperwork and seeing limited photos of your child, this is the day when it all becomes tangible and you hold your baby for the first time—certainly a momentous day to celebrate each year. After reading and hearing so much about Gotcha Day celebrations, it got me to thinking about how we recognize our beloved pets’ Gotcha Days.

For parents adopting from China, their child’s actual birth date is usually unknown, so while birthdays are celebrated, Gotcha Days often play an equally important role. For those of us that share our homes with former shelter pets, you can appreciate the similarity of this situation—most of us do not know the actual birth date of our animal, so celebrating their adoption day (i.e. their Gotcha Day) takes on a greater significance.

April 12, a few days after my husband and I had gotten married, marks the day we walked into a crowded adoption room at our local shelter and I pulled the first puppy I could reach without getting elbowed out of the way by the crowd. Ten years later, Sidney Einstein and I have such an indestructibly strong connection (for all you chemistry aficionados out there, I call my bond with her “covalent’!), one I could have never anticipated back on Gotcha Day. For our second dog, Sabrina DaVinci, January 19 marks her unintentional Gotcha Day. On that day, she was returned to the shelter where I worked an emaciated and scared little puppy, and I volunteered to take her home as a foster and get her into adoption shape. Well, she quickly proved how perfectly she fit into our family and never left!

Although I have always known our Gotcha Day anniversaries, we have never really celebrated or officially recognized the occasion. But, I have now been inspired to make some commemoration of the event for the dogs, one that our daughters can get involved with and help celebrate as well. Google “Humane Society Gotcha Day” or “Animal Gotcha Day” and you will see many people out there who also celebrate their pets’ adoption anniversary.

How about you—do you celebrate Gotcha Day? If so, what are some things you have done to recognize the occasion? Share in the comments!

Darlene Duggan worked for many years behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, explores the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry.


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