This all started about a year ago. Things were calming down in my life after a long spell of crisis. My daily schedule was starting to look like a normal mom’s and I was getting a decent amount of sleep each night. We had also successfully integrated a found kitten into our family, which already included a dog and another semi-feral cat. So, why I felt overcome with the need to answer a red alert at the animal shelter is beyond me.
You know those posts they put on Facebook with the faces of all the animals that will be put down that week if they aren’t adopted? It was one of those that my daughter would share.
I feel for those animals, but I can’t respond because I have a responsibility to my own family and current pets. I mean, we need to be able to care for ourselves adequately before we take on more. We also already cover most of our furniture, dorm room style, and I rarely sleep through the night without a cat waking me for something. We didn’t really need more strange routines to counteract pet hair/ claws/ behavior. We also wanted to be free to travel more, as our lives allowed, without too many needy beings left behind. But there they were, the doofiest looking eyes stared at me out of a slightly mangey coat. I knew I was supposed to get her.
I’m not someone who says “I feel like God wants me to do this” about acquiring things. I don’t see my whims as that important in the scheme of things. Maybe I’d think that about acts of service or difficult tasks, but not when it comes to just getting stuff. I could easily see myself thinking, “God does not want me to do this.” I usually hold my own desires at arm’s length for a long time, considering and testing my motives for wanting to fulfill them. But it is as clear to me today as it was then. I was supposed to do it.
Some perspective on how odd this is: I do love animals, but saving them wasn’t high on my list of priorities. I had just seen the end of my grandfather’s life after a long battle with the overwhelming symptoms of dementia. I was still caring for my grandmother and straining under the responsibility. I didn’t know it then, but she would be joining him soon. People, people who are part of my soul, were on my mind at this time. Whether or not I had the fortitude to walk alongside another loved one until the end, was what haunted my thoughts. Hashing out why meds weren’t being delivered on time, talking at great length with her about why this or that treatment was necessary, going to doctors, wondering how I could possibly get supper on the table before 9:00 at night, or just finding myself wasting my free moments of the day staring straight ahead in a stupor- these were a normal day’s activities. Dogs and cats were comic relief, that’s all.
But, within a week, Ella (I think they give every other female this name) was in our house as a foster, with a chance of adoption. When I say in our house, I mean only barely. She was bouncing off the walls of our house. It groaned at the studs to contain her. Good grief, she was 2 and had had a litter of puppies. How could she be this high-energy? Apparently, our old lab, Mo, was unusually chill. The two relatives whom he constantly tried to mount might beg to differ, though.
Anyway, she came to us having recovered from the parvo that killed all of her litter of pups, but one. After the shelter got her, that little one soon died and she slowly recovered. She’d been there for over three months with no prospects of adoption. She still wasn’t spayed, might have hip damage from being hit by a car, and had heartworms to boot. That was a whole unnecessary ordeal with a vet I don’t normally use who didn’t explain low-cost heartworm treatment very well and didn’t inform me that the shelter would handle her spaying. Needless to say, I cried thinking my husband wouldn’t want a shelter dog that was $1000 out of the box. Why had I felt so sure I was supposed to do this?
We got it sorted out, though. Heartworm treatment wasn’t prohibitive. The hip, though once hurt, was probably only acting up because she kept jumping in and out of the old claw-foot tub if the bathroom door was left open. If my husband still had concerns, they were dispelled after a few nights of her curling up in his lap, if a 50-pound dog can do that.
She was actually a very pretty dog, now that her coat was filling in. She looked, and acted, all chocolate lab, except for a head that revealed she was a German Shepherd mix. She was also better at communicating than the average dog. She could distinctly whine, “I’m bored” better than any idle child. She continues to crack us up, daily.
But those were difficult months for me. I devoted all of my free time to getting her used to our cats and disciplining any tendency to race toward them. She spent a lot of time in a giant cage we set up in our living room. It was the focal point of our decor for many months. It’s okay, I didn’t have time to entertain guests and, like I said, we have mismatched covers over everything anyway.
Walks became a dragging down the Iditarod. It was exactly like you could expect walking an unsocialized lab to be. I had to walk each of my dogs separately because their combined pulling force was just too much for me, but the exercise was important to get her crazies out for better behavior in the home. This took up many evenings when I would have been trying to catch up on my rest. The whole process just took time, to the dismay of visiting relatives. Pieces of furniture were seen as springboards for her never-ending game of parkour. I remember a period of a few weeks where the only thing that seemed to calm her constant restlessness was the sound of the t.v. Every night became a Netflix marathon night.
During the day I kept rolled-up newspapers, affectionately called boppers, in every room for swatting if she lunged toward the cats or got too wild. Every day, we put her on lead and let the cats loose to integrate them for a time. Instead of focusing on restoring my own physical and mental well-being for the next crisis, I was spending lots of quality time with animals, all of which we had saved from some poor fate. God really does know what He is doing.
Redemption became the theme. It was in the background of all of my thoughts, all of my personal doubts and hopes. Through that whole period of training that wild beast, I was considering the cost of my freedom. I was watching her grow, but I was growing beneath the surface too. To quote my sister: Ella was completely comfortable with herself at all times- more than any animal or person I have ever seen. She was redeemed, and she was owning it.
Our real breakthrough came after she was spayed. She was doped up for a couple of days, too drugged to scooby-doo all over the place. Finally, our cats could come and thoroughly inspect her. From that point forward, everything became easier. She’s not jumping on people, has no desire to bolt through any opened door, and doesn’t require a cage at all. Once she got out of our yard and came right back because we are her people. She is a true companion animal, the only one of our pets who always loves affection. She also tested heartworm free a couple of weeks ago.
The icing, on all of this, was last Monday when she graduated from Novice Obedience class and won second place in the “trial.” Yes, this was after a tie for first, in a group of only four dogs, but she did really well. (Actually, I made a mistake that may have cost her first place.)
I don’t know if anyone will even read this far in this post. It’s very pet-centric, but I wanted to have this here for me to remember this redemption-as-therapy that helped me during a difficult time. I like thinking that I, too, have been redeemed from a poor fate. And that redemption cost God something. How will I live my life to own it?
Tonight I will be taking both of my dogs, at the same time, for a peaceful stroll. No more pulling my shoulder out of place. No need for The Bopper in my back pocket. We are now a team, a family.