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.

We’ve Got Wag!

ImageWe have a new/old spotted soul wandering through our home. I wrote about Gus a few posts ago. Didn’t read it? Hmmm…then this may not make much sense. You can catch up here if you’d like.

The Reader’s Digest version is that on May 15, we received word via Facebook of a senior Dalmatian in a small shelter not far from our farm. We have rescued Dalmatians for a very long time (I was a founding member of the Tulsa Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc. in 1989—the height of all the Disney 101 hoopla), and in addition to loving spots, we have a particular soft spot for senior dogs.  When we learned of this old boy, Jim didn’t think twice. He just went to get our new/old foster dog.

When I described Gus in my initial post, I spoke of a dog that was thin, seemed tired, and seemed a bit numb. He didn’t show emotion—fear, happiness, stress, contentment…nothing. Most notably, his tail just hung straight down behind him.

Dalmatians are a bit famous for their tails. They are to extend like a saber, an extension of the dog’s spine. They are to have a subtle upward curve, but not curl over the dog’s back. Most notably, Dalmatians almost always wag their tails, whether it be delight, excitement, playfulness, or any number of upbeat emotions. Dalmatians are generally happy dogs and those tails can actually become quite the weapon. A good thwack from a boisterous Dalmatian tail can seriously smart.

But Gus’ tail just remained still. There was no joy. There was no happy-to-see you. Not just yet.

The comment made most often after my first Gus tale (play on words…right…right?), was something related to hoping Gus would give us a wag soon.

Drumroll, please!

I am so pleased to announce that one day shy of Gus’ two week anniversary as a member of our family, TODAY I came home to find Gus looking straight at me with his tail arched upward, fanning the air in a beautiful, rhythmic wag. TODAY Gus found his wag.

Take whatever joy he was feeling in that moment and multiply it by about a zillion. That’s the feeling that immediately soared into my heart.

Image

Gus and I are all sketchy! This is how you make a blurry, not-great photo kind of groovy. Effects are fun!

We’ve been welcoming Gus home every day for 13 days. Today, he finally returned the favor with the most beautiful welcome home anyone could hope to see. Good boy, Gus.

Facebook. It Wasn’t A Huge Waste of Time This Time, Betty.

ImageLet me start by saying that I love Betty White. Truly. I adore her.

First, she is ageless. She is living proof that if you love what you do and keep working, you can live a long, healthy, fun-filled life. She is also a huge animal lover and advocate, serving as a trustee for the Morris Animal Foundation since 1971.

I’ve grown up watching her on sitcoms, in movies, and even as a host of Saturday Night Live. It’s this latter appearance where she made a statement that I think she might rethink if she knew Gus. Who is Gus, you ask? Hang on. I’ll explain.

After landing the SNL hosting gig following a successful Facebook campaign entitled “Betty White to Host SNL (please?),” White, in her opening monologue, said:

I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.

Ok, the monologue was hysterical and Betty was a complete and total homerun for SNL. But Facebook…a huge waste of time? Betty, meet Gus. He thinks Facebook is awesome.

In addition to being a place where friends, new and old, connect; a place where people share photos, funny thoughts, emotions, and, sometimes, just too darn much information, Facebook has also become a valuable networking tool for helping connect homeless pets with potential adopters or rescue groups.

ImageAh, the power of the share. I was glancing through my FB newsfeed the other day when I noticed that a friend (thanks Venus!) had tagged me in a post about a dog in a nearby animal shelter. I get tagged on a lot of these posts as people network for different animals and shelters. This one, however, immediately piqued my interest.

The photo showed a Dalmatian. Yes, my beloved breed of choice. And it was not only a Dalmatian, but it was a senior. Oh, there’s another one of my weaknesses.  Sweet old guys.

In a flash, I re-shared the post with a one word question/tag…Jim?

I know I mention in a lot of posts what a great guy Jim is. I think we’re up to reason number 576,432 why I love Jim. This will make reason number 576,433. Jim didn’t question a thing…he just sent a message asking me if I was calling the shelter or if he should. And in mere moments, there was another message that simply said: I’m picking him up at noon.

No debate. There was no we-already-have-enough-foster-dogs comment. There was just a quick decision that this old guy would not spend his last days in a shelter. Go Jim!

Upon arriving at the shelter, the animal control officer told Jim that he knew very little about the old dog. In fact, the only thing that was actually known about him was that he was shoved from a moving pickup truck into the road in front of the local fire station. Well, of course. What a responsible, compassionate move. Because, as we all know, part of the firefighters’ code of ethics requires that they must immediately take responsibility for all unwanted Dalmatians. Sure.

So the old throw-away dog who would become “Gus” went for a ride with Jim away from the tiny, but determined animal shelter in Mannford, Oklahoma, back to meet our veterinarian and good friend, Dr. Lauren. Lauren allows all of our dogs to be on a first name basis with her. She’s cool like that.

During his exam it was found that Gus was underweight by 15 pounds or more—approximately 30% shy of his ideal body weight. While he was thankfully free of heartworms, Dr. Lauren did find an advanced heart murmur and arthritis. He was treated for intestinal parasites. Both ears were crinkled from past hematomas, likely caused by ear infections. His teeth were pronounced, and I believe this is a technical medical term, extremely nasty. They guessed Gus’ age at somewhere around 12 years. I think they were being a bit generous. My guess is that his age has the word teen in it.

ImageWith further necessary testing and medical treatments on the horizon, Gus was first desperately in need of some good food and a comfortable place to rest.  Our home had plenty of both. And so Jim brought our new/old boy home.

Our current herd of on-purpose and foster dogs are no strangers to meeting newcomers. We have a bit of a revolving door around here. We always introduce a new dog carefully and gradually to be sure everyone is going to get along. Just because WE like a new dog, does not mean our existing canine residents will agree. We do not need a doggy smack-down in our living room.

In Gus’ case, his introduction to our furry family was blissfully anticlimactic. It was as if our other dogs—including a gang of rambunctious youngsters—appeared to immediately recognize that this sweet old guy was certainly no threat to any perceived doggy hierarchy. After many sniffs were exchanged, Gus set off in his stuttering gait to investigate his new situation, a parade of curious new friends tagging along.

I always wonder what must be passing through the minds of these old guys who have, for whatever reason, been abandoned in one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. Some seem elated to come into our home. Some come in showing fear and mistrust. Gus just seemed a bit numb.

His eyes were blank and empty. His tail hung limply. He accepted attention, but seemed to hardly notice scratches in all the right places, often moving along after a moment or two when any other dog would have stayed put, stretching and groaning in pleasure.

ImageFor the first several hours in our home, Gus just paced. He walked every inch of our house. He found the dog door, headed outside and paced the perimeter of our yard. Then he came back inside and paced the entire route again. Over and over and over.

Was there more wrong with Gus that initial exams did not reveal? Did Gus have potential to relax and enjoy whatever time he might have left? Or was he plagued by the dog version of Alzheimer’s disease?

The only thing that finally stopped Gus’ trek that first night was a bowl of food topped off with some enticing chunks of chicken. Ahhhhh! The old guy had a good appetite. He plopped flat to the floor with the bowl between his front legs and ate every last bite.

After a bit more pacing and frequent bouts of heart-murmur related, body wracking coughing, Gus finally found one of our 40,000 (perhaps I exaggerate) big soft dog beds and collapsed in exhaustion. That first night he slept for at least nine hours straight through. It was the kind of deep sleep that made me stop to watch for breathing every time I passed by him.

ImageThe next day was filled with more pacing, but also with increased interest every time I headed toward the dog food bin. Now, instead of random pacing, more often than not, Jim and I found Gus following close behind as we moved around there house. His eyes still seemed vacant, his tail was still motionless, but there was something more purposeful in his step.

Finally we would find him looking up to meet our eyes. Was there hope in those eyes? Some sort of expectation? Was there relief? Actually, what I believe I saw was the glimmer of growing trust.

Later, in Gus’ second evening with us, on one of his rounds through the house, he walked straight up to where Jim and I sat on the couch. As I leaned forward to pet him and scratch his bony back, Gus raised his head and very deliberately licked my nose.

Jim and I smiled at our new/old boy. Deep inside the old dog’s stoic facade, there really was a grateful, tail-thumping soul.

Now, following another visit to the vet less than a week after Jim picked him up at the shelter, I am happy to report that Gus has Imagegained nearly five pounds. He is now on four different medications—three to help stabilize his heart condition and one to bring comfort to arthritic joints. Gus paces less frequently, naps more frequently, and is prone to emitting a loud, melancholy howl if he can’t figure out where Jim and I are in the house. Any day now I expect to be blessed by the wag of his tail.

Our dear Gus now has a secure place to call home. He has also secured a place in our hearts. Our job from this point forward is to keep him comfortable, to meet his care requirements, to give him loving attention, and to make sure he enjoys good quality of life.  Whether he wants to stick around for a few weeks, a few months, or even more, we’re committed to giving Gus a good life. And someday, when he’s ready to go, we’ll be there to see him through. His story will not end alone in a cramped little shelter.

So, Betty.  Is Facebook really a huge waste of time?  This time, not so much. I know I speak for Gus when I say he agrees. I’m pretty sure you, dear Betty, would agree as well.   One simple share resulted in one sweet old life allowed a bit more time with a promise of dignity to the end.

Jim and I have taken in numerous senior dogs through the years. I can honestly tell you that some of our most cherished foster dogs have been our old guys. There is something so sweet and special about getting to know and love a dog that has several years under his belt. So many people say they could never give their hearts to a dog that may only be around for a short amount of time, and I can understand that thought. I would suggest, however, that the concept of quality vs quantity truly has meaning when learning to embrace the idea of fostering or adopting a senior. Whatever time we have with our old friends is so special. I would encourage anyone with a little extra space in their home… with a dog bed to spare…to consider adopting an older dog. In our world, they give back twice as much as they take.