Monday, June 13, 2011

Woof, Woof!

I am a sucker for dogs. “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened” is one my favorite quotes. I can be stopped at a traffic light and see a dog hanging out of a car window or riding in the back soaking up the fresh air and I can’t take my eyes off of it. It makes me smile. I’m more of a big dog fan, but little dogs are cool, too, as long as they’re not yipping at my heels. We often hear about cat ladies on the news, you know, an old lady living in squalor with 76 cats overrunning her home, (or often times her trailer!) with cat feces in every spot the camera shows us. The camera also always shows the police having to hold the poor little lady back as the SPCA carts her precious cats off in cages. It’s actually pretty sad.

I always joke that I’ll never be the cat lady but I could quite possibly end up being the dog lady, minus the feces all over the house. If I’m ever lucky enough to acquire some land I could very possibly end up taking in every stray dog I came across and being accused of dog hoarding.

There’s something to be said about coming home to someone greeting you with a tail wagging at full speed, regardless of how you look or feel. No matter what kind of day you’ve had, or what kind of mood you may be in, the dog is always there, ever so faithfully awaiting your arrival, thrilled beyond measure when you walk through that door. Well, that’s a typical dog greeting one can expect unless said dog or dogs have misbehaved while their master was away. i.e. rummaged through the trash, chewed up a newspaper or left a little (or often big) surprise that they instinctively know you will not be happy to see. So, as long as your dog hasn’t misbehaved while you were away, your loyal companion will be eagerly waiting for you as you walk through the door with the warmest of welcome, without fail. I can’t think of anyone else in my life that is ever as happy to see me as my dogs are. Hence, another one of my favorite quotes is “My goal is to someday be the person my dog thinks I am.”

A few years ago I became involved as a volunteer for a local dog rescue group. I worked as their foster coordinator, which basically involved making calls and emailing our foster families to check on the progress of our foster dogs. I also attended their pet adoptions and other events to help with various things such as setting up, walking the dogs or talking to potential adopters. Due to some issues within the group, I no longer do that and haven’t been actively involved with a rescue group for about a year now and am truly missing it. It was something I really enjoyed doing and I also met some great people in the process. Hopefully, I’ll find the time to become actively involved with another rescue group again in the near future.

In the meantime, I do what I can, when I can on my own. I keep a “rescue kit” under the back seat in my truck. It’s a plastic container that contains disposable bowls, dog food, cat food, dog snacks, water and a leash & collar. If I spot a stray I will almost always stop and feed it, and sometimes I’ll attempt to coax it to me with the intention of taking it home, temporarily, until I can network and find it a home. Most of the time, the strays are skittish and won’t let me approach and will run off. In that case, I always leave some food.

After our dog Abby passed away we decided we wanted to eventually foster dogs instead of adopting a second dog. Lady was our first foster dog and she left her paw prints embedded deeply into my heart. When I met Lady, we had only discussed fostering but still had not decided it was time. I had only gone to select a dog from the shelter to pick up for a weekend visit. Sometimes rescue groups will ask for volunteers to take a dog home for a few days just to get them out of the kennel environment for a while where they can receive some outside interaction and socialization. They figure that a few days spent with someone are better than nothing, even though it’s only temporary and they have to return to the shelter. So I went to the shelter to pick out a dog to visit with us for a few days.

I probably had about 15 dogs to choose from. I walked from kennel to kennel reading each dog’s bio, sticking my hand through the wire cages to show them some affection. Some were receptive, some not so much. Some barked non-stop and some just stared at me or cowered. On first glance there was nothing special about Lady. She wasn’t the prettiest of dogs and nothing about her seemed to stand out. I have a hard time even making minor decisions so this was no easy task. I walked around and around and around but there was just something about Lady that kept drawing me back over to her. I’d have to say it was the way her big brown eyes followed me around the room. She really caught my attention. Once I learned that she had been with the rescue group for about a year and had been kenneled most of that time due to a shortage of foster homes, it made my decision easier. Lady was getting out of jail for a few days.

She was used to leashes and car rides from being transported to and from the vet and to adoptions and rode in my truck seat like a little Lady, sitting up staring out the window. She was such a sweetheart and after only spending a few days with her we had learned about her personality and quirks. Sadly, we didn’t feel that we were ready to take on fostering just yet so it was always understood that she would be returning to the shelter, which was actually a “haven” or home for dogs, but they were still kenneled most of the time. I was a little sad, but okay until I got her back to the haven and met the volunteer who was going to take her from me and put her into her kennel. Lady looked at me with those big brown eyes and watched every move I made while I was in the house. I sadly said my goodbyes then used the restroom and as I walked to the door to leave I glanced over and she was sitting wide-eyed and upright staring intently at me as if to say, “Where are you going? You’re leaving me here? No, wait. You can’t do that. We’re buddies now. Please take me back to the place with the other dogs and the rooms that I can roam freely in. I want to play ball in the back yard again. You’re not really leaving me here, right?” I’m really not exaggerating about her eyes. It was like she was communicating with me and begging me not to go. She seemed confident that I was going to open the kennel and we’d be leaving together and I felt horrible. I had no idea how bad it would make me feel. It was an hour’s drive back home and I sobbed the entire way.

When I got home I couldn’t quit crying and to make matters worse the volunteer called to tell me that Lady had sat up for a long time after I left watching the door as if she expected me to come back any moment to get her. On top of that I had also gotten an email that had just been made for the website to promote Lady’s adoption. It was photos of her from the shelter with a sad, sad song playing in the background. My husband was outside smoking a cigar and I went outside and literally sobbed on his shoulder. I wanted to go back and get her but I knew we couldn’t keep her and we’d agreed to wait a while to foster because it’s a big responsibility.

He hated seeing me like this but wasn’t convinced that I’d ever be able to ever let her go and we’d already agreed no second dog. I explained that if I was giving her up to a loving family and not returning her back to the haven, where she still spent much of her time in a kennel that I could do it. I could let her go. I just couldn’t leave her in the haven waiting for someone to see in her what we saw in her. It could be months, or even longer before someone chose her and I just couldn’t let her stay there wondering where I’d gone and why. He agreed to us fostering her, if I promised to actively try to find her a home, to attend adoption events with her and to circulate her adoption flyer and video and not to try to “sneak” her in as a permanent fixture. I hugged him so tight! I jumped back in my car and drove right back there that very night to go get Lady. It was just like the volunteer said. She was sitting up in her kennel staring at the door almost as if she knew I would be back, that there had to have been a mistake. She was right! We had bonded and there was no way I could leave her there. I owed it to her to find her a loving home and to ensure she had a good life and I promised her that I would.

Two months later Lady was adopted by someone who works with my husband. She saw her adoption flyer posted in the break room and immediately fell in love with her. She proved herself to be a perfect fit for Lady and responsible dog owner so she was approved to adopt her. When we took her to her new home I still cried because it’s always hard to say goodbye, but I knew without a doubt that she was “home”. She had found her destined place in this world and it made me so happy that she was finally going to have the life she deserved.

It’s been a year and a half since now since Lady found her forever home and we get regular updates on her. I came home recently and saw a stack of glossy photos laying on the table. It only took me a moment to realize they were of Lady enjoying a beautiful day at the beach and it made my day. I visited her a few months after the adoption and hope to see her again soon. I’m hoping that she’ll still remember me after all this time. I like to think that I’m kind of special to her, too.

We ended up fostering for a few months but had to stop when we inherited a second dog from a dying relative, but about a year ago we picked up a wandering stray from outside of a restaurant that we frequent. It was a cold and rainy night and he was more than happy to come to us for some food. He was friendly and seemed to be happy when we put him into the truck and took him home. His hair was horribly matted and he was infested with fleas. That night I sat on the back porch and with scissors started cutting the knots and matted pieces of fur and trimmed around his eyes so he could see, then bathed him and made him a bed in the garage. He went right over to that bed, curled up and we never heard a peep out of him all night. The next day I took him to the vet to have him scanned for a microchip, which he didn’t have, had him examined and got him a rabies shot. He was so matted that I had to break down and get him groomed. When I picked him up he looked like a totally different dog. He was adorable and once the fleas were gone he got to come inside.

I really felt like he had belonged to someone at one time because of his habits and how well adjusted he was, but he’d obviously been living on the streets for a while to be in such bad shape. Hoping someone was looking for him I posted ads on Craigslist and around the neighborhood but no one ever claimed him. We kept him for a month before one of my friends convinced her mom to take him and I hear that he’s spoiled rotten.

Currently, we have Jaxon, our 4 year-old German Shepherd rescue, Echo our 3 year-old German Shepherd (inherited from an aunt) and Charlie, our 3 year-old grand-dog Lab-Hound mix rescue living with us. It is a constant battle trying to keep the pet dander and dog hair from taking over the front room of our house where the dogs stay and don’t get me started on the condition of our back yard and covered patio. It looks like land mines have gone off with all of the holes out back and we could start our own fertilizer manufacturing plant with the amount of poop we have to scoop. We certainly won’t be in the running for yard of the month thanks to our four legged babies, but I’d much rather dodge dog bombs and avoid falling into one of those holes than to give up a life with my dogs.

In addition, we also have another rescue temporarily living in our garage (since April 21st), bringing our grand total of furry friends to 4! I’ll share the story of how she ended up there the next time I write. Her story has to be my best rescue story yet. Of course, her ending has yet to be written, but considering where she came from and what she has already survived, I know it will be a happy ending. She is destined for someone out there and will greatly enrich their lives. It’s just going to take some time before she is ready and we find that special person or family, but we will.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

I loved reading this story, Mom! I dearly miss our sweet Lady girl! If only you had waited a week you could have thrown Zoey into the story, too.