I can probably blame my father. And my grandmother before him. It’s in the blood. We Iveys see an animal in need and turn into a combination of Superman and Saint Francis of Assisi (Dad’s family is Catholic, so while I’m Jewish, I’m well familiar with the patron saint of animals), rescuing everything from dogs and cats to falcons, baby squirrels, turtles, and once, a snake. My grandmother tamed abused horses. My father hand-fed a hummingbird for an entire winter before I was born. And I? I started volunteering with an animal rescue group that was doing everything it could to save the unwanted and unloved from death row in a city shelter.
Three years ago, I started visiting their storefront adoption center and volunteering to walk dogs and cuddle kitties.
Two years ago, unable to bear the thought of healthy kittens being euthanized, Ross and I agreed to foster a mama cat and her two recently weaned babies—just until the babies got big enough to be spayed, and find them forever homes. (We succeeded with one kitten and eventually adopted the other kitten and her mother ourselves after we were unable to find them suitable homes, thus bringing our cat count to four.)
Yesterday, we brought a dog home. That’s her, above.
She was not the dog we were looking for. Our plan had been for a male puppy—rescued, yes, but small and cuddly and without a care in the world. In fact, there was one ready and waiting for us: and adorable shepherd-retriever mix with soft fur and a sweet disposition. But then we met her. She had clearly come from a bad place. She had scabs and scars all over her face and down her legs. Unlike all of the other dogs at the city shelter, who would rush the fronts of their pens and bark at passerby, she cowered toward the back of her pen. When the adoption coordinator first entered with a leash, the dog cowered in the corner and whimpered softly. She walked crouched over, down the long hallway at the animal control facility, with her ears back, her tail between her legs.
And then we got her outside and something happened. She was transformed. Her tail was up, her body relaxed. A puppy came to say hello, and she said hello right back: the two of them rolled around in the grass, still attached to their leashes. And when our girl reached the end of hers, she turned around and trotted back to us, as if to ask for permission to play a little longer. I was halfway in love, but we weren’t ready to commit. We still had to meet that puppy, and the house was not yet dog-proof, and dear lord, what of the cats? But we couldn’t stop thinking about her. And a few days later, when we went to visit her again en route to meet the other dog and one of the shelter employees told us she was at risk for euthanasia because she was “shut down” and not exciting to potential adopters, I felt like my heart was going to explode. When we said goodbye to her, it was like she knew we’d be back.
And an hour and a half later, we were.
This weekly-ish column will be devoted to the trials and tribulations of being first-time rescue dog parents: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Not a dog person? No problem: I’m sure the cats will make plenty of cameos, too.
P.S. No, she doesn’t have a name yet. There are a few we have in mind, but we’re hoping that as she settles in over the next day or two, one of the names will jump out at us as “the one.” To be continued!
Photo by author, remixed on Instagram.