I Have Your Dog

FaceI have your dog.

I remember very clearly the first time I saw her. A photo was posted on Facebook with a plea for a senior dog that had been surrendered to City of Tulsa Animal Welfare (TAW). The photo featured a very dignified, rosy-tan female pit bull dog. Her ears were cropped to tiny triangles with sharp little points, her big eyes were calm and looking straight ahead. Her name was Stormy.

Nothing tugs at the heartstrings quite like a senior dog surrendered to fate at an over-crowded city shelter. It is all too often a very sad ending to a long, loyal life. “Someone save her…She looks scared…she looks so sad!” The comments came flooding in.

As I revisited the photo, what I saw was a dog who appeared to be surprisingly calm in the chaos of the shelter environment. She was resting on a cot and the expression on her face was…what? Fear? No. Sorrow? Nope, not that either. The expression I read could only be described as one of patient expectation. This dog was waiting, apparently confident that this turn of events did not represent her final chapter.

I had to respect this dog’s bravado. And what the heck? I had a dog bed to spare and an extra bowl or two. I could easily let this dog come live out her remaining days on the farm with me, my partner Jim, and the furry canine herd that is our family.

I clicked on the comment bar and typed three simple words, “I’ll take her.”

I have your dog.

When I arrived at the shelter the following day to claim my new little “grandma dog,” I first stopped in to finalize the adoption with Jean Jenkins, TAW manager.

As always with these cases, my mind was struggling to understand how someone could turn their supposedly beloved dog over to a public shelter. It’s easy to immediately vilify the person; painting a picture of someone callous and uncaring in your mind.

I asked Jean if she knew Stormy’s story. She confirmed she had been present when the woman came in to relinquish ownership of the elderly pit bull. While she didn’t know specific details, she said it was clear that Stormy’s former owner was very upset. Jean understood she had fallen on hard times and could no longer afford to take care of her dog. Apparently, the dog, having been with this woman since she was a tiny puppy, was well-loved.

“She left the shelter in tears,” Jean said with a sympathetic shrug. I tried to imagine a scenario that would force me to surrender my beloved dogs to an uncertain future. Thankfully, I can’t begin to envision anything that would push me to that point. But emotionally, I allowed myself to walk in that woman’s shoes and my heart felt the weight and despair of her situation. I believe this was not a deliberate act of abandonment, but rather a last-resort act of desperation.

I have your dog.

Jean and I walked through the heavy, metal door into the main kennel of the shelter. About halfway through the building, Jean turned down a row to the left and stopped at the third pen. There, facing away from us and still lying in a seemingly relaxed fashion on her cot, was my new dog, Stormy. As Jean opened the gate, Stormy turned and as her soft, expressive eyes met mine, her air of expectation so clear to me in her initial photo, was immediately replaced with what I can only describe as recognition.

“Ahhhh, good, you’re here. I’ve been waiting for you,” I could almost hear her say in a voice similar to my memory of my own grandmother’s soothing tone. “Let’s go home now.” And so, I slipped my soft lead over her silver-highlighted head and led her down the main isle of the kennel, a cacophony of barking voices echoing around us as if to cheer her on.

Once in the car, we took a quick, first selfie portrait together to share on the post that had only 24 hours before brought Stormy to my attention. I think I just typed a simple message with it: She’s safe now.

I have your dog.

50883613_10218751900452280_4761211271863336960_oStormy’s transition into our home was quite honestly very anticlimactic. For an old dog, reported to be into her 16th year, who was so suddenly uprooted and thrust into a totally new and unfamiliar world, Stormy took everything very much in stride. She met each of her new four-legged housemates with a wagging tail and calm demeanor. She wandered around the house and explored the yard, stopping with her nose held high to gather the scent of the horses in the adjoining pasture. She relieved herself appropriately and learned there was a dog door that allowed her to come and go from the house as she pleased. She discovered the water bowl and spent a moment lapping a cool drink before settling into what would become her favorite bed.

Everything about the wise old gal was serene and matter-of-fact, almost as if she already knew this was to be her next and final home. There was no learning curve, no jitters, no confusion. There was only quiet confidence; an immediate acceptance of these new people, these new dogs, and this new place as her family, her home.

That very first night, her sweet silver face popped up over the side of our bed with a questioning, hopeful look in her eyes. “Well, come on up, girl,” I encouraged, patting the open spot beside me. Stormy climbed the little stairs that led onto the bed and settled in by my right side, soon snoring none-too-softly in my ear. This has been her space every night for the 18 months since she arrived and it’s hers for as long as she chooses to stay in this life. Frankly, she is perfectly healthy, has a hearty appetite, and is still full of spunk. I expect to sleep happily crowded for some time to come.

I have your dog.

I have often thought of Stormy’s former owner. She has no idea what become of her dog. I wonder if that haunts her. Maybe she’ll stumble onto this story and recognize the big eyes framed by silver fur in the photo. I want her to know that Stormy is doing great. She is happy, she is very loved, and she will be safe for the rest of her life. I hope the woman who left the shelter in tears reads my words and they give her peace. I want her to know that I am continuing the good care she obviously gave Stormy. I want her to know that Stormy is not in our home out of pity, she is a treasure and we are grateful to have her.

I have your dog.

She is very much my dog now, as I believe she was meant to be. Thank you.

One More Glance.

smily-bruce-2

I look in the rear view mirror and see his wide smile filling the frame. Another happy car ride for you. You have no idea that life is about to change.

A car ride! This is the best. Of course, any time I get to spend with her is the best. Except maybe that time she took me to the funny-smelling place where I took an unexpected nap and woke up missing some pretty important body parts. But that aside, car rides are great!

I’m babbling to him. I’m telling him about all of the good things that are about to happen. “Bruce! You’re going to have your own person to love. You’ll have a real home. You’ll be king of the castle…the only dog. All of the toys will be yours. All of the treats…yours. You’ll be allowed on the couch. You’ll have a yard! You’ll love having your own yard, won’t you boy? Right, good boy?” I think my dialogue is more for me than him. Does he notice the little warble in my voice?

She sure has a lot to say today. Usually she just listens to her books when we ride together. Blah, blah, blah, Bruce, blah, blah, blah, good boy, blah, blah, treats. She sounds kind of funny…WAIT…WHAT? WAS THAT…SQUIRREL! Was that a squirrel? Hey She-person…SQUIRREL!

Here it is. This is the address. I peer out of the window of my Jeep at a tidy little house with a small park next door. This looks good. I feel good about this. I take a deep breath and turn to Bruce, “Ready big guy? Do you want to go see Keith?”

Blah, blah, big guy (I love it when she calls me that). She sounds cheery. Too cheery. Something’s up. She-person smells kind of…what it that…nervous? Excited? Kind of like we all smell when we’re waiting for our breakfast at the place where I live with all of the other dogs. Excited, and a bit worried like maybe today they’ll forget to feed me this time. But they never do. They never forget.

I get out of the Jeep and open the rear passenger door. Bruce is right there to deliver a big sloppy kiss across the middle of my face. “Bruce! Ooooh….that was a messy one, big guy.” I wipe the saliva off my face with my sleeve, hoping there’s not a giant mascara smear to go with it. Bruce is a ninja when it comes to delivering those enthusiastic tongue washes. I snap the leash to his harness and let him jump out of the car.

Wait for it…wait for it. HAH! Got her. She’s so easy…and she acts all grossed out, but I know better. Ha ha ha ha. Got her good. I made that one extra drooly. You’re welcome She-person. Oh! My leash! Yay! A walk!

As we head across the front lawn to the house, Keith meets us at the door. He’s a tall, quiet man whose resting face has a gentle smile, unlike my resting face, which I’m told looks a bit angry. Who knew? I’m going to work on that. A resting face with a faint smile is so much more pleasant. It’s one of the reasons I feel so good about Keith. He’s calm, quiet, and easy-going.

Oh hey! It’s that man I met at the place where I live with all the other dogs. He’s nice. He took me for a walk yesterday and he knows all the good places I like to be scratched. How cool to get to see him again. This place smells like him all over. I think this is where he stays. We go inside and She-human takes my leash off. Permission to explore granted! Let’s get busy nose!

It’s a great sign. Bruce seems to remember Keith and seems very relaxed here. He’s off snooping around and Keith seems equally relaxed about it. It’s a nice home, but not too fancy. That’s good. I like homes where no one freaks out if the dog jumps on the couch or sloshes a bit of water when he laps with that wide grinning mouth. Oh hey, Bruce’s resting face is a smile too.

The humans follow along with me as I follow my nose. So many new smells! Oooo…this is a food room. I like the smells in here for sure. And this door seems to have a whole other world behind it. I press my snout hard to the base of the door and snort a bit as I inhale everything concealed on the other side. It smells wonderful! Someone needs to open this door for me. Oh, thanks He-human Keith…

We follow Bruce who immediately finds the kitchen and then the door that leads to the backyard. I tell Keith I’d like to see the yard, so he opens the door and Bruce rushes out with a quick swish of his tail. He’s in his glory trotting quickly around the perimeter of the fenced area. He stops to sniff, hike his leg, and take a quick back-scratching roll. Then he finds a spot a bit away from us and relieves himself. Well, I guess he’s not nervous. All systems seem to be working just fine. Make yourself at home Bruce. Finally. Make yourself at home.

Oh…grass! This is wonderful grass. And this huge tree! Oh, I know squirrels live in this tree. They have a real surprise in store for them if they come out right now. I’m pretending I’m not watching…but I’m watching. Oh yeah, I’m watching. This is great. I’m going over here to leave a little present. You know…the kind She-human seems to love to collect in little plastic bags. Humans are so weird.

After a few minutes, we call Bruce and head back inside. I tell Keith that everything looks good to me. He smiles and says he’s very excited and that he thinks Bruce will be a perfect fit. He’s really missed having a dog in the house since his old pit mix passed away at 17 glorious years of age. I agree…this feels like the perfect fit. I squat down to talk with Bruce for a moment.

“I love you, Bruce. Be a very good boy for Keith. This is your perfect home, big guy.”

With a quick kiss to his nose, I stand and turn for the door. In more than 25 years of fostering dogs and placing them in new homes, I’ve found it’s best to just go quickly. No prolonged goodbyes, no emotional hugs. Just turn and go, Nancy. You’ve done your job. This is the home Bruce deserves.

She-human and the nice man she calls Keith are talking again, so I’m taking the opportunity to sniff some more. I found a bag sitting by the door that smells exactly like my delicious food. And hey, there’s a plastic bag-not the kind they put my outside presents in, the carrying stuff kind of plastic bag-I think I smell my favorite toy in there and…yes! Some of those chewy things I love so much. Does Keith have a dog? I smell a dog, a very old dog, but I haven’t seen him. I don’t think he’s still here. But that is definitely my food and my stuff. What’s up with that?

I come back over to She-human and she gets right down in easy tongue-to-face range. Silly human! Her eyes seem a little bit wet…not the leaky kind of wet, just the shiny kind…and she’s saying another word I hear a lot from her…love. I understand that word because it makes me feel all good inside and usually comes with hugs and scratches in all the good places. I love you too, She-human. Then she says something about the nice he-human, Keith. I like Keith. His face smiles a lot like mine.

Then, kind of suddenly, she kisses me on the nose and turns to head out the door. I try to go with her, because I guess it’s time to go back to the place where I live with all of the other dogs. But Keith takes hold of my collar and says something about a treat, so I turn to see what he’s offering. I’m always up for a tasty treat.

I march quickly toward my Jeep. Don’t look back, I think. If he’s watching, you’ll just make it harder for him…and yourself. But I just can’t resist one fast glance over my shoulder. Through the glass storm door I can see Keith smiling down at Bruce, his new dog. Bruce has his back to the door and his tail is wagging wildly as he looks up into Keith’s face. Perfect, I think. It’s the best gift a foster dog can give me. No fuss and worry when I leave.

As I unlock the car door and climb inside, I whisper to the Universe knowing Bruce will somehow hear me. “Have the best life, big dog. Be happy, be safe, but know I’m always nearby if you need me. Always.” With that, I practice my new resting pleasant face and drive away.

Keith wasn’t bluffing! He did have a very nice dog biscuit for me. I crunch it up in two quick chomps. And then I remember…She-human. I turn to look through the door that seems like you can walk right through it, but trust me, you can’t. I’ll only make THAT mistake once. She-human is in the car, starting to pull away without me. It’s funny because I’m actually not worried. Something here feels pretty right.

I raise my most excellent nose into the air and sniff deeply. There it is. That’s her scent. I store the memory of that smell in a special spot deep in my mind. I will never forget it. And somehow, I think I’ll get to see her again from time to time. I think…no, I know. I know she’ll always be nearby. Always.

love-you-bruceBruce was a foster dog at my boarding facility, Pooches, for a long time. He showed up in our parking lot a tired, thin dog wearing a ridiculously thick collar with a heavy, industrial metal clasp hanging from it. It was obvious that Bruce had lived his life on a chain somewhere. Perhaps a guard dog, maybe a pet forgotten in a backyard.

We took him in. We helped him get healthy. We learned to trust each each other. We learned to love each other. Bruce was a very popular guy with everyone who worked at Pooches and everyone who met him on our daily walks. But he and I had something special. He was my big guy.

Bruce and I walked together nearly every day for about three and a half years. To some it seemed his perfect home might never show up…not many people line up to adopt middle-aged, 80 pound pit bull mixes. But I knew it would happen someday.

Bruce’s happily-ever-after finally arrived. It was a great day when I left him in a new, happy home. Oh sure, I miss him. I miss our walks and those big sloppy kisses, too. Every time I pass by the kennel run that was his at Pooches and see a different dog there, my heart tugs a bit. But then I smile knowing that Bruce has a real home and his very own person now.

Love you big guy. Have the BEST life.

scary-nan-and-bruce

This is our scary face. I think I’m scarier than Bruce.

 

Bernie’s Bedtime Story

Bernie

Bernie the lovable pit mix enjoying a little snuggle time with Jim.

“Tell me a story, Jim…you know, the one about how you rescued me,” pleaded Bernie.

– Moment of silence –

And without taking his eyes off the television, Jim answered, “I opened the car door and you jumped in.”

“Yeah,” sighed Bernie. “I love that story. Tell it again!”

It is entirely possible that this entire conversation was fabricated by the ever-present voices inside my head. These things happen.

However, Bernie’s rather unremarkable, Jim-was-at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time rescue is a very real tale with a good ending. This is not the case for many dogs who are dropped off to find the often fictitious “home in the country.” Fortunately for Bernie, Jim found him before the coyotes did.

Of course we can’t keep them all, so Bernie is here waiting for his perfect permanent home to “rescue” him once again. That’s when we get to add, “…and they all lived happily ever after…” before “the end.”

Bernie and JimAuthor’s follow-up…will it be a shock to tell you that Bernie DID find his happily-ever-after home right here at Tails You Win Farm? Yeah. Some things are just meant to be. Love you forever, Bernie dog. We can’t keep them all, but we can damn sure keep you!