Saving a shelter dog…from homeless and hapless to happy and healthy

“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them. And filling an emptiness we didn’t even know we had.”

When I was in middle school I asked my mom for a dog.

Her response was to point to Shep, our fat, aging Beagle and say “But we have a dog.”

While I can’t say for certain, I am sure my 7th grade self rolled my eyes, let out an exasperated sigh and replied, “Yeah, but I want a real dog.”

black and white image of Beagle, teenage girl, and Terrier mix dog

Suzanne with our beagle Shep and terrier mix Bobbi Thomas

While not the most convincing argument, it proved to be an effective one. We were soon the proud owners of a small black and white Terrier mix we named Bobbi Thomas. Yes, our dog had two names. Fancy huh?

Fast forward 25 years and the players in the “Can we please get a dog? Can we? Can we?” had changed slightly.

Once again, I was the one asking for a dog, but it was my husband that I was appealing to this time.

It took some convincing. Not because he didn’t like dogs, but when your mom breeds St. Bernard’s whose average weight is 150 lbs. and produce turds the size of a dinner plate, it’s going to give you some pause.

I’m sure I used the children as an excuse (“But the boys really, really, really want a dog”) but I was the one who pined for four-legged companionship.

Once Kent had been convinced we needed a dog, our family drove to the local animal shelter and selected Toby, a beautiful black and white border collie. He was the first of six rescue dogs we have adopted over the years.

We are currently the proud owners of three shelter dogs. Toby, Shiloh and Daisy. They are spoiled rotten. I offer no excuses, they are family and bring us great joy. Baby talk is freely spoken and they are allowed on the furniture.

Toby-Shiloh-Daisy

A few weeks ago, Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, put out a desperate plea for the community’s help. They were far over capacity and they needed people to either adopt a dog, OR provide short-term foster care for large dogs over 40 pounds.

Several Facebook friends were active in the dog rescue and dog fostering community and I was intrigued. Could I introduce a FOURTH dog, albeit temporarily into our family? How would my dogs react to this interloper? More importantly, would we be able to take on the extra burden of walking, feeding, and cleaning up after another dog?

And…would my heart be able to bring a dog into our home and then let someone else adopt him?

I knew we could handle the extra work load, and would “worry” about a potential broken heart later. There were dogs that needed saving and they needed saving NOW.

Armed with good intentions Kent, Kinsey and I headed to the animal shelter. I’m not sure what was more shocking to my system. The overwhelming smell of urine, or the relentless staccato of barking dogs. Tears filled my eyes as I passed by each cage.

Some dogs barked and wagged their tails. Others just looked at me with large, brown eyes imploring me to stop and consider them for adoption.  “Please, pick me and get me out of this place! I promise I will be a good dog. PLEASE. PICK. ME.”

And then, there were the dogs who had simply given up. The noise, the smell, the desperation of this place was just too overwhelming, and they huddled in a corner too afraid to even make eye contact or engage with the world.

We circled the kennels at least four times, stopping to look at dogs that piqued our interest. We even took a few dogs out for short walks so they could stretch their legs and take a much needed potty break. Sadly, they were all returned to their respective kennels. For as deserving as each dog was, we knew they were not the right fit for OUR family. I uttered a silent prayer that the right family would find them soon.

There was one dog we kept gravitating to – the dog who had given up hope. We asked one of the volunteers if we could take “Dooley” out for a walk. Easier said than done.

He was terrified. He huddled in his corner and refused to get up. We literally had to drag him from the kennel before he would get up and walk outside with us. Finally, ears down and tail between his legs he scuttled outside.

Tentative at first, he let us pet his head and scratch under his chin. His large, expressive ears began to perk up ever so slightly. His tail slowly emerged from between his legs. With each step his anxiety lessened and his true personality began to reveal itself. Soon he was lying on the ground and welcoming belly rubs. Then his soft, pink tongue materialized and he licked our hands, and then our faces.

Yes, this was going to be our first foster dog.

When I began filling out the foster paperwork I was asked if I would be bringing Dooley back in a few days.

“Absolutely not!” I declared, “Dooley is going to live with us until he finds his forever home.”

His transformation from frightened and disengaged to handsome, affectionate and hopeful only took a few hours. We learned firsthand that you should never judge a dogs’s personality from their behavior(s) while at the shelter. Even those with the most robust of personalities can suffer from kennel stress.

shelter dog saved from euthanasia

These ears require their own zip code!

It took a few days for Dooley to adjust to his new environment. He had dogs and toys to play with, good food to eat, and was able to enjoy long walks. Best of all were the long naps. On floors and couches and even on beds! Life was good. But now came the hard part, finding him the “right” home.

We took him to a couple animal adoption fairs and while he received many admiring glances, there were no serious buyers.

One man was interested, but when he said his dogs were strictly “outdoor dogs” my enthusiasm for him as a potential adopter dropped to ZERO.

To say I was invested in this dog’s future would have been an understatement. I had after all written nearly two pages of notes about the care and feeding of THIS dog, and I was not going to hand him over to just anyone.

And then a wonderful woman named Dawn contacted the shelter because she had seen Dooley’s picture and she thought he might be a great addition to their family.  I called her on the phone and we talked for a good 30 minutes about his personality and his “quirks.” After reading Dooley’s detailed “bio” and seeing updated pictures she and her husband wanted to meet him and make sure he would get along with their dog.

It was a successful meet and greet and Dooley is now a member of their family.

So to address an earlier statement – would it be hard to bring a dog into our home, love him unconditionally and then give him up?

Yes and No. If we didn’t already have three rescue dogs, then we would have adopted him in a heartbeat. In this case, it was like an “open adoption.” I email Dawn often, “So…how is he doing?” and she shares pictures and funny stories about him on her Facebook page. I have the best of both worlds. I got to rescue an amazing dog, and then share him with people who I knew were going to take good care of him.

Mother Theresa said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

And that is why I want to continue to foster dogs. Because I made a difference in one dog’s life. And like ripples in a pond, he made a difference in his new family’s life. And so it goes. I’m willing to put up with some short-term heartache for that very reason.

 

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