MEANT TO BE (RESCUED)
MEANT TO BE (RESCUED): STORIES OF SHELTER DOGS AND THEIR HUMANS
October is national “Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month,” so what better time to celebrate what our rescued companions mean to us? Parents of rescued dogs love to tell their stories. Here are just a few.
SECOND, THIRD, FOURTH, AND EVEN FIFTH CHANCES
As the proud “mom” of four, I will of course start by sharing my own canine kids’ stories, four paws at a time.
The pastabulous four, from left to right: Fusilli, Bow Tie, Noodle, and Gnocchi
Noodle came into my life a few months after I bought my house, or rather a large yard with a house attached to it. At the time, I had a little Corgi mix named Lenny, who had been spoiled as the only child for several years (side note: Lenny’s story also has a twist in the plot, as I learned that the wonderful human who had rescued him sadly passed away in a tragic car accident a few weeks after I adopted him). One gray morning in November, I was browsing Petfinder, and I saw Marty, a 9-pound white fluffy Poodle-Bichon mix, who had been found roaming the streets of Tuscola with a rope tied around his neck. Despite his fifteen-minutes of fame on WCIA, a local TV station, as the “Pet on the Set,” he had been at the shelter waiting to be rescued for a few weeks. When I called Douglas County Animal Control & Shelter, I was told that a man was there filling out an application for him and getting ready to take him home. Not meant to be, I thought. But hours later, I got a phone call from the shelter letting me know that Marty had been returned. Apparently, he was supposed to be a surprise birthday present for the man’s wife, but the surprise was on him when she said she did not want a dog. I got in the car and went straight to Tuscola with Lenny, and Noodle (Marty) came home with us. The first days together were difficult, as I made just about every possible mistake you can make when introducing a new member to the pack. A week later, since the two of them were still not getting along, I called the shelter to see if they thought it would be best for them to take him back. Thankfully, nobody picked up the phone, and I took that a sign that Noodle was meant to be with us. And now I cannot imagine my life, and especially my lap, without him.
About a year and a half after adopting Noodle, I lost my little Lenny to cancer. My heart and my house felt incomplete. There was so much silence. Anyone who has lost a four-legged member of the family knows that silence all too well. Considering adopting another dog was heartbreaking but also therapeutic in a way. Somewhere out there, a dog needed the same love I had given Lenny. And that dog was Gnocchi (formerly known as Preston), a Corgi mix who had had a horrible life. I first saw him on Petfinder, and I emailed Paradise Pet, a boarding facility who had rescued him. I got no response. I emailed them again. Nothing. I called. And then I understood why they had been reluctant to respond. Gnocchi was not just “shy” as his Petfinder ad indicated; his past experiences with humans made him very scared of almost everyone, and the only way he knew to cope with his fear was to be aggressive. After his six years of neglect and abuse, after being passed around from shelter to shelter, after several vets saying they were unable to approach him, and after 9 months at this boarding facility, they were skeptical about who would be able to handle him. I convinced them to let me go meet him. He growled at me and did not want me to get anywhere close to him, but it did not faze me. I felt that we were meant to rescue each other. At home, he spent the entire first day underneath the dining room table. I sat on the floor so he could see me play with Noodle, eat dinner, get work done. That night, I made a little bed for him next to the table, in case he wanted to come out, and I went to bed. A few minutes later, I heard him running down the hallway. He jumped up on the bed and put his head on my lap. He was home.
A year and a half later, I got the “adoption bug” again. And yet another gray morning in November, I went to the Vermillion County Animal Shelter. I had seen a couple of dogs on their Facebook page that seemed like they could be good additions to the family. Among the many scared faces, wagging tails, and loud barking, there was a black-and-white Pointer-Terrier mix sitting quietly. Emmy, now known as Bow Tie, had peed on her bed, and she looked scared, nervous, and confused. When she was let out of the kennel to meet me, she didn’t jump, she didn’t bark; she just climbed on my lap and stole my heart. I had never seen such a sweet and mellow 9-month-old puppy. I was unsure about how Noodle and Gnocchi would react to having a new pack mate, but if it was ever going to work, it had to be with a sweetheart like her. When I told the staff I wanted to adopt her, they said “OK, but there is something you should know.” They took me into a small office to talk to me privately. I was nervous. Here we go again with a special case, I thought. Luckily, it was nothing bad. They just wanted me to know that Emmy had been sponsored by the people who had found her roaming the streets of Danville, and so I didn’t have to pay for her adoption fee. They just wanted to make sure I was picking her for the right reasons and not just because she was “free.” I knew I would pay it forward to someone else (keep reading!). Bow Tie is an integral member of our pack. She is Miss Congeniality: she gets along and plays with all of them, keeping the peace and making everyone happy.
The day I met Bow Tie, I told one of my friends: “If this works out, I might go for a fourth one.” And so I did a few months later. I went back to Vermillion County Animal Shelter to look at another little dog I had seen on their Facebook page named Ricardo, just like my dad, but after he barked and growled at my sweet Bow Tie, I knew it was definitely not meant to be. I got back in the car and was ready to leave, but I stopped the engine and went back to take another look at the dogs. And there I saw Cooper, a black-and-white Jack Russell Terrier. He was sitting pretty, looking at people walk by, while all the other dogs around him were jumping for attention. I asked about him. The staff looked at each other and then asked me again if I was really asking about Cooper. This time, there was indeed something very special about him: 12 pages of relinquishing history, to be exact. I would be his fifth home in his two years of life. Can I pick them or what? Before committing to anything, they asked me to read all of his paperwork. He had been returned for being “too hyper” and “too destructive.” None of those people were meant to be his owners. It was obvious that they had no idea that JRTs are called “Jack Russell Terrors” for a reason. I saw a lot of me in him: a hardheaded and feisty problem-solver who is always looking to learn or do something new. He had both physical and emotional scars, not only for having been abandoned so many times, but also having been shot with a BB gun (I asked him about that incident but he declined to comment at this time). Out of all the dogs I adopted, he was the only one who really knew his name, but I wanted him to be an official member of the “pasta crew,” and I had to change his name. One of his previous owners had described his personality as “a clown,” and so I figured the name Silly Fusilli would be just perfect for him. With the help from a local trainer(Jodie Vee’s), a behaviorist (Dr. Sally Foote), and daycare at The Dog Den, Fusilli’s fifth time was the charm. He is now a dog of many talents, excelling at Flyball, Agility, and Barn Hunt among many other things. It took a village to make my pack work, but I cannot recall what life is like with fewer than sixteen paws. I had to learn all about privileges of rank, resource guarding, separation anxiety, and even canine massage, but more importantly, I learned the true meaning of patience and perseverance.
WHO RESCUED WHO?
In addition to being the proud “mom” of four, I am also the proud “godmother” (or dogmother?) of three: Conchita, Charlie Emma, and Diego.
My goddaughter Conchita is a black-and-white Terrier mix from Vermillion County Animal Shelter, who may or may not be the second cousin twice removed of my own black-and-white Terriers from Vermillion County. A friend of mine had been talking about getting a dog, and she had even been to the Humane Society to see a few dogs. As soon as I heard that, I hired myself as her canine matchmaker. I reviewed the profiles of adoptable dogs in various shelters around Central Illinois, and I shared with her the ones I felt were the best fit. As a true dog lover, she loved them all, but one in particular did the trick: a cute Beagle up for adoption in Vermillion County. I told her I would not only be willing to drive her to Tilton, but I would also sponsor him and pay the adoption fee, just like someone else had sponsored Bow Tie when I adopted her. And one gray Friday afternoon in January, off we went to meet him. When we got there, we learned that he had been pulled by a rescue group, but he could still be adopted. As we were walking to the kennel where the Beagle was, I saw this cute black-and-white girl, and I knew we could not leave without asking about her. But we were there for the Beagle, so I didn’t say anything. When the beagle was out of the kennel, he was all over the place. He would be a handful without lots of exercise, especially outdoors, and he had sores on his legs, possibly needing some immediate treatment (i.e., big vet bills). He was probably not a good fit for a grad student living in a small apartment and with an even smaller budget. Since he was bound to be rescued anyway, I felt we were meant to rescue someone else. “What about that little black and white dog?” I asked my friend. “Which one?” she replied. Apparently, she had not even seen her. And after a short walk together, my friend fell in love with Angelica, the cute Terrier mix. She had only been at the shelter for a few days; the staff had not even been able to post information about her. She was in good health, very sweet, relatively well-behaved, and I had no doubt it was a good match. The day Conchita (renamed after one of my friend’s favorite authors) came home, my friend wrote on Facebook: “She is here, and she is perfect.” And now, no matter how far-from-perfect my friend’s day is, she knows Conchita will make it all better.
Angelica, in her blanket-less kennel, is now Conchita in her blanket-full burrow
A mere few days after Conchita was rescued, I would play canine matchmaker yet again. Charlie Emma’s story could be titled “from pauper to princess.” A colleague of mine was pondering the possibility of getting a dog, and I knew I could help. For a couple of weeks, I flooded his Facebook page with posts of available dogs in various rescue groups and shelters. One of them got him excited enough to agree to go to the shelter with me. And it wasn’t Charlie Emma. It was a Labrador mix name Honey. Prior to learning about my colleague’s decision to get a dog, I had seen and even asked about Emma, an Australian Cattle Dog mix who had been at the Champaign County Humane Society for over two months. She had a timid look in her eyes, and she reminded me of Gnocchi. I could tell she had been through something rough, and she needed more than the TLC that most shelter dogs long for; she needed patience and understanding. When we got to the shelter, we were told that Honey had been adopted, so I went straight to see Emma, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She was very scared, and when we took her for a little walk, she didn’t want much to do with us. She had been rescued from an animal hoarder in Southern Illinois, where she lived in a small space with several other dogs in dire conditions. Given her lack of proper socialization, she was understandably uneasy around strangers of both the human and canine kinds. In addition to potential behavior issues, she had tested positive for heart worms, which made her quest to find a forever home even more difficult. Emma was literally the poster child for heart worm prevention: in the lobby there was a huge sign with her picture explaining how heart worm can be easily caught but also easily prevented. My friend thought she was a fine dog, but he kept asking to see other dogs. At one point, I said “stop wasting time; Emma is your dog.” I promised to help out with dog sitting as well as with her transition to a normal home. He still had to think about it. And after a few days of not-so-subtle convincing on my part, he said yes to the dog! Charlie Emma’s first days at home were an adjustment for everyone, but in less than a month she flourished into a goofy, charming, easy-going, goldfish-cracker-loving dog who is now practically Champaign royalty, often called “HRH” (Her Royal Highness) among the many who know and love her.
Emma, at the shelter, is now Her Royal Highness Charlie Emma, queen of the couch
The story of my godson Diego is one of heartbreak. My best friend and her husband had moved from Champaign to Charleston, SC, with their three-month old puppy, Henry, who was beyond adorable. He was a mutt of various incredibly cute small dogs, and wherever he went, everyone wanted to say hello to him. On the morning of their first day in Charleston, as they were dealing with the U-Haul truck, two movers, and a lot of chaos, my friend took a break to get some fresh air and rest before continuing with the move. She grabbed little Henry in her arms and walked out to the sidewalk, where two young girls right outside her door wanted to greet him. To this day, my friend regrets placing Henry on the ground because only a few seconds later, nothing would ever be the same. The sound of cars and new city life spooked little Henry, and he ran into the street. His life was taken immediately. A true hole, filled with nothing but silence, was left in their home. Any little bell or creak in the wood turned their heads in expectation of seeing him, only to result in a sad reminder of how much they missed him, and of all the things he would miss. They had been looking forward to Henry exploring and enjoying their new home, the new parks, the beaches. And now all they felt was distraught. They had to give themselves time to be hurt and cry; nothing was going to make that pain go away. As painful as it was to look at other dogs, they knew that rescuing a dog at a local shelter would help them heal some of the wounds. After days of limited sleep and almost no appetite, they drove out into the deep forests of South Carolina and got to “A Second Chance”, a very aptly-named outdoor no-kill shelter. Her husband fell in love immediately with two dogs that were born in the shelter and were three months old at the time (like Henry): Cody and his sister Goldie. As they interacted with both dogs, it became apparent that they were well-behaved, laid-back, quiet, happy-go-lucky puppies. After their application was approved, they were then faced with the difficult choice of picking only one of the two siblings. Cody was a bit smaller than Goldie, and for that reason they chose him. They felt confident that a sweet little girl like Goldie would be adopted soon after. They renamed him Diego because of his beach-bum attitude and hippie “beard.” Diego has spent countless days at the beach, gone kayaking, met and played with hundreds of other pups, and done so many other fun activities. My friend insists that she and her husband were the ones rescued by Diego rather than the other way around.
Diego, the dog with a drawl… and with two types of ears
As for Goldie, Diego’s sister, her story would also have a happy ending (or rather, a happy beginning), but it would take a little longer. On a weekly basis, my friend checked the shelter’s website to see if she was still there. And there she was, from August until February. It was painful to think that Diego was enjoying himself so much while she waited behind bars for months on end. One day, her photo disappeared. And a month later, while my friend was browsing photos and posts on Reddit.com, a social media website based on user-provided-content, she found a photo of a small dog that looked exactly like Diego, sitting comfortably and happily on a bean bag chair. After messaging the user, it turns out that indeed that lucky little girl was Goldie!
TWO IN A MILLION
The final two stories feature two rescued pups with a very special “mom.” Jessica Sempek is the Director and Founder of Hospice Hearts, an all-volunteer animal rescue in Central Illinois that provides care to elderly cats and dogs whose owners are no longer able to care for them due to nursing home admission, serious illness, or death. Thus, Lady Bug and Chewie are two in a million of other pets who have been or eventually will be rescued directly or indirectly by Jessica’s selfless and generous acts. Lady Bug met this special lady about ten years ago. She had been relinquished to a high-kill shelter in Kentucky with one of her puppies after her owners had to move into their car. Deemed un-adoptable because of her fractious behavior, her days were numbered (spoiler alert: she survived!). A rescue organization in Wisconsin pulled her at the last minute, and timing was just perfect. Jessica had been looking for a dog for months, and when she saw this adorable Pekingese mix on Petfinder, she immediately knew Lady Bug was meant to be her dog.
Chewie and Lady Bug posing proudly with their awesome mom, Jessica
Six years later, a black-and-white Pointer mix named Chewie (aka, “the dog that loves too much”) joined their little pack. Chewie was in the right place at the right time after having been with the wrong person at the wrong landlord’s. Jessica was at the Champaign County Humane Society looking at another dog, but Chewie stole the spotlight, as he was the “Dog of the Day.” Jessica was taken by how even-tempered and calm he was (the operative word being *was*), and she decided to adopt him on a whim. During his holding period, she went to visit him daily and played ball with him. And one day, she took him home. He had at her at “woof,” and she had him at “home.” He has adored Jessica from day one, never forgetting that she gave him his freedom ride. And despite Chewie’s mischievous streak, which he masterfully concealed at the shelter, Jessica adores him and is forever grateful to both of them for teaching her the meaning of unconditional love and loyalty.
Adopting a dog is a long-term commitment that should not be taken lightly. If your current situation does not allow you to rescue a dog (or a second, third, fourth, or fifth dog!), there are many other ways in which you can help shelter dogs:
• Help spread the word by sharing adoptable pets on Facebook, Twitter, etc. You can also help out by inviting your social media friends to fundraising events.
• Check out the wish list of a local shelter or rescue organization; even if all you can afford to donate for now is a roll of paper towels worth less than $1, you are still helping. Shelters need much more than dog food or cat litter.
• Take advantage of the Amazon Smile program, which is the easiest way for you to help every time you shop, and at no cost to you. Instead of shopping at amazon.com, shop at smile.amazon.com, and a portion of the purchase price will be donated to a charitable organization of your choice, such as your local chapter of the ASPCA or Humane Society.
• Volunteer your time and skills at a local shelter. You can help out by taking pictures of available pets, helping out with social media marketing or fundraising, and even with some basic dog training, which can significantly increase their chances of being adopted.
• Instead of birthday presents, ask for donations. You can use platforms already set up by each organization, like the ASPCA Birthday Campaign,or you can set up your own through GoFundMe or DonationPlanet.