Over the last few years, rescuing dogs has become somewhat of a hobby for me. While most people want to get a little puppy when they think about bringing a dog into their family, it is their older brothers and sisters on death row in various shelters and rescue organizations that call out to me. I don’t think everyone realizes what great dogs can be found at animal shelters. And even the ones that maybe start out not-so-great–with a little time and lots of loving, they become the most special. You’ll see what I mean.
Hi, my name is Nicole, and I am an adoptaholic.
My compulsion to adopt dogs started in June of 2007. I had just finished my first year of college and was turning the big one-nine (i.e. 19). I also happened to be in Mexico, studying marine conservation/coastal resources through the School for Field Studies in Puerto San Carlos, Baja California Sur. My addiction begins here.
I had never had a dog growing up — my mom always used the “I’d be the one to take care of it!” excuse. Perhaps that is at the root of my addiction–some innate need to make up for all those lost years. Anyway, dogs had not played a large part in my life before this point. The closest I had come to owning a dog was hanging out with Stone E. (“Stoney”) Smith, my uncle’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever. By this time he was getting up there in terms of years – nearly in double digits, I think. Even so, he would fetch until his knees gave out, fishing balls and toys from the sides of the pool. And he only fell in once.
Ok, back to Mexico: About two weeks into the program, I started to hear a rumor that Rebekka, one of the professors, was looking for someone to permanently adopt a puppy she had come to shelter that past spring. Apparently, a box of puppies had been abandoned up the road on the beach. The professors and students at the school had essentially taken them in and started caring for them during the spring semester program. All of the puppies but one had been taken home by these students when they left Puerto San Carlos in May. Molly, a black and tan Shepard-looking pup, was the only one left.
At this point in time, despite being adorable, Molly didn’t have a lot going for her. She was terrified of everyone. You could not get within a few feet of her without her taking off — except if you had food, but even then, if you dared move your hand toward her as if to pet or grab her, she was gone. Even with Rebekka, Molly was fickle.
Nevertheless, I got it into my head that I wanted this dog. She needed a home — Rebekka was set to leave for the summer break after our program, and Molly wasn’t a dog she could easily fly back and forth as she came and left the school. In two weeks, Molly would be fending for herself in an already stray-riddled Mexican town. Unless I took her home.
It took several phone calls, a lot of begging, possibly some crying, and a lot of guilting–but in the end, I got what I wanted. Molly came home to live with my aunt and uncle and good ol’ Stoney, and I moved in to their house for the rest of the summer to spend my time with Molly. Within three weeks, Molly was acting like a normal dog — all fears forgotten. We had a good summer.
(She eventually became somewhat of a terror–bullying, stealing, and generally mischief-making. In fact, my family has nicknamed her Wicked Wanda. Trust me, it’s fitting.)
But then I had to go back to school and leave my Molly behind. Granted, I was only 45 minutes away. Even so, I missed her, and I decided to start volunteering at the Crawford County Humane Society to help fill that void. It didn’t take long before I was making that phone call: [sobbing voice] “Mom, I found a dog like Molly, and she’s so scared and all she wants to do is cuddle against you and give you kisses and she’s so sad and pathetic…”
After a second trip to the Humane Society that day, I came home with Bailey. This time, however, we went to my parent’s house. (I think my mom was trying to bribe me to move back home by finally getting me a dog.)
Bailey is a Chow-German Shepard mix, although she is one of the sweetest dogs you will ever meet. She’s generally as pathetic as she looks, especially when I visit with my dogs and she feels neglected. She’s used to being the only baby in the house (my mom and dad spoil her), and she gets all out of joint when she has to share it.
So by this point, I had adopted two dogs–Molly and Bailey. Molly was living with my aunt and uncle and Bailey, with my parents. Of course, because I was away at school, the dogs became less mine and more my family’s. Though all I wanted was to be able to have a house where I could rescue a dog of my own, I unfortunately was still in school and living in a dorm. That, however, was all about to change.
In the summer of 2008 I began dating a man that, at that point, I expected to marry. I unofficially and then officially moved in with him, and suddenly I had an apartment, and a front yard, and a backyard, and a job (I was still in school, of course). Commuting back and forth to Meadville, I continued my classes at Allegheny but lived and worked in Erie. With all of these things (an apartment, a yard, and a job), what else could I do but get another dog? (I told you, it was becoming an addiction. In my defense, however, my parents and aunt and uncle refused to hand over Bailey or Molly… so what else was I to do?) Again there were several phone calls, lots of begging, definitely some crying, but again–I finally got my way. Mark and I adopted Irish from the Crawford County Humane Society in October of 2008.
Though they didn’t tell me at the time, my family could not see what I saw in this dog. He was big and furry, with long, thick and dirty matted hair. And he liked to pee on everything. And I mean everything. Every time something was moved — even it was simply a laundry basket moved from one side of the room to the other, he had to pee on it. Had to. Every time. He was my baby though, and I loved him.
Without a doubt, Irish is the most “chill” dog I have ever seen. Everything he does is slow — he gets up slow, he walks slow, he takes cookies slow. He is super gentle, and if I had had more time to train him, he would have made an excellent therapy dog. He loves being with people but doesn’t need a lot of action. The only things I’ve ever really seen get him going are playing soccer and chasing bumblebees.
I don’t know where Irish came from–he had a bit of a “rescue” personality: needy, afraid to be left alone or behind, timid, flinching occasionally, not quite sure how to play at first. After we finally got him to stop peeing on things, he made an excellent pet. When I moved to North Carolina, I decided to leave him with my aunt and uncle who have a nice backyard for him to play in. (Yes, the same aunt and uncle who also have Molly… and yes, I know, I have a tendency to hand out dogs…though I call it finding them a good home).
It was only a few months later that the compulsion struck again. I was speaking with a professor in the English department of Allegheny College, and the professor next door happened to have a little black Pomeranian. Well that night, after I got home, I happened to mention to Mark that it would be cool to get a little dog like that someday… and he wasn’t opposed to it. A Petfinder.com search later, two weeks gone by, and we were driving to Grove City, Pennsylvania to pick up “Foxy,” who we renamed Phish (aka “Phishy”).
Phishy was a super cute and fun but incredibly gross dog. He puked. A lot. Occasionally, he peed. And he barked. A lot (though the nights I was home alone, I was glad for his bark!) Anyway, we still loved him. He had come to the shelter after someone saw him being thrown from a van. As he had been picked up right away, and while at the shelter, lived in the woman’s house and slept with her other dogs in the bed, he didn’t really have that “shelter mentality.” We had hoped that Irish and Phish would become friends, but they mostly just coexisted.
When Mark and I broke up three years later, I kept Irish, while he took Phish. That had always been the division, for whatever reason–Irish was “my” dog while Phish was “his.” That didn’t make losing Phish any easier though.
So now I am at four dogs over the course of four years: Molly, Bailey, Irish, and Phish.
This past spring, I began taking Irish over to my aunt and uncle’s house every day to play with their dog and run around their backyard while I was at work. They were pretty much running a doggy daycare for me at this point. As the weather warmed, my aunt began to hint at keeping Irish for longer periods of time… after work, overnight, on the weekends. It just so happened to be Mother’s Day when I asked my mom what Aunt Michele might think of keeping Irish, since he was happier having a friend (though she was a bully) and a backyard. It turns out Aunt Michele had already asked mom the same thing–she just didn’t want to offend me! So that’s how Irish found his second home…
Four dogs, four homes, CHECK.
Of course, after Irish went to live with my aunt and uncle, I decided I wanted to get another dog–this time, an apartment dog. A little Pomeranian like Phishy. I did my Petfinder search, and after contacting a few shelters, I settled on a dog named Fannie from the Maple Hill Farm Toy Breed Rescue in Butler, Ohio. The dogs at this shelter come largely from puppy mills, or commercial breeding facilities. Basically, dogs are raised to be bred, live their entire lives in small cages, and have very little human contact. They don’t live with a family, they aren’t given love, and they oftentimes breed until they die.
This is the picture I fell in love with.
Fannie (or as I now call her, Izzy) came from such a breeder when she was three years old. She clearly had had no human contact, because simply being touched or held caused her to shake all over. She was at the Maple Hill Farm Toy Breed Rescue for three years by the time I found her.
When I took her home, she was still terrified of people. She hated me. Flat out hated. She hid in her crate, and then when I took the crate away, her corner 24/7. For the first three days, she wouldn’t go to the bathroom. She was so terrified of being outside, that she ran immediately to the door. She had no clue what a leash was for, and she freaked out every time it brushed against her. Her heart pounded and her teeth chattered in fear when I held her, and she was terrified of toys and stuffed animals. And she really really hated me.
At that point, I didn’t think Izzy would ever be a normal dog. I wasn’t sure she would ever learn to play, or take walks, or cuddle. She sat in her corner all day and all night. If I picked her up and brought her to my lap, at the very first opportunity, she would bolt. It was pathetic. Of course, I still loved her. But she hated me.
Over time though, she started to get better. She still hung out in her corner at my apartment, but when I brought her to friend’s houses, I was all the new rage with her. She couldn’t get enough of sitting on my lap–even sleeping in bed with me! Apparently, I was the safest place in the room. But again, as soon as we returned home, she was back to her corner. Still, there were some lasting improvements: she knew how to walk on a leash, she loved to eat treats, and she didn’t shake when you held her. And she was still the sweetest and most adorable thing around. So there was progress.
Now, it has been seven months since I adopted her, and she is a completely different dog. She’s happy, and she plays. Time has helped, of course, but a big part of this recent success has been my most recent (and for now, last) adoption: Nalla. I found Nalla on Petfinder. She was heartworm positive and needed a home to live in while she was undergoing treatment. I volunteered to foster her, and after successfully completing her heartworm treatment, I officially adopted her.
Nalla is not sure what to make of me. She likes to follow me around outside, and she is happy to take my treats, but I still make her nervous. She runs away when I get too close to her, and she huddles down when I try to pick her up. Nonetheless, she has made an incredible impact on Izzy. Izzy has learned to play (though not with toys–my dogs like socks), and jealousy pushes her out of her comfort zone to seek attention when I’m focusing on Nalla.
Despite the jealousy, they are truly the best of friends–and of all the dogs I have adopted, I have never seen any act this way. They follow each other everywhere. They sleep in the crate together (willingly–I leave it open). They hide in the closet together. One hops on the couch, the other hops on the couch. One hops down, the other hops down. They seriously cannot get enough of each other, and adopting Nalla (yes, she was my sixth) was the best decision I’ve recently made. In fact, if you talk to any of my placement homes (my parents, my aunt and uncle, and Mark), I’m confident they would tell you just how special their dogs are and how glad they are I found them.
You really don’t need to get a puppy to get something special.