A lot of times when people come in to look at our adoption dogs it is because they are looking to replace one they have lost. I have heard tons of stories about dogs that are no longer with us. I always sympathized with people…listening intently and comforting them when needed. Soon I began to wonder how I would handle such a horrible situation but the truth is nothing prepared me for losing my own dog.
If you go a few posts back I told the story of how I adopted Fifi. She stole my heart almost instantly and I knew she was meant to be in my life. Just after midnight on June 22 she took her last breath and the grief that followed was nothing I could have ever expected. The day following her death I couldn’t leave the couch. I didn’t eat. I just cried and cried. It didn’t take long before I got an outpouring of support from friends and family. It meant so much to me that so many people knew how much I loved her and how special she was. The almost 5 years that I had we were practically inseparable and I felt a huge void when she was gone. I wanted nothing more than to hold her again, pet her and smell the fur on the top of her head.
Grief is a strange thing and some days are better than others. There are times when the loss of my sweet baby girl weighs so heavily on me I feel like I can’t breath. But I wouldn’t trade our time together for anything in the world. And I can’t thank Fifi enough for choosing me to be her mom.
Soulmates come in many forms. In romance. In friendship. And yes, even in our pets. Those of us in animal welfare often find those and bring them home. But at some point our homes are full and that means that we meet these amazing animals and have to be okay with the fact that they cannot be yours.
Fran was just that for me. She was a spunky little thing that bonded with me instantly and I felt an insane connection with her that I had only felt with my own two dogs. I would come into work on weekends just to take her hiking or on walks or just to spend time with her. It didn’t take long before I started thinking about adopting her. I knew having three dogs would be hard but I would figure it out. I simply couldn’t imagine her going home with anyone but me. And that is when her future owner came in. He was looking for a companion because he was retiring and he said that Fran was exactly what he was looking for. He visited her for a month before taking her home. I’ll never forget watching her walk out the door. Tears welled up in my eyes and I was shocked how heartbroken I felt. Selfishly I wished that it would have been me taking her home but I knew that she would be extremely loved and spoiled with her new family. So I knew I had to let her go.
I have seen her a couple of times since then. She is happy and totally bonded with her owner. There have been other dogs that I have been close to but none compare to Fran. I’ll always think of her fondly and she’ll have a little piece of my heart.
I have talked to probably hundreds of people over the past few years about what they are looking for when adding a dog to their family. And I always put it the same way. It is like picking a person to date…you have to have a connection and you have to think they’re cute. The reaction is pretty much always the same, they start laughing. But I’m serious. It is a huge commitment to adopt an animal and even though it might be a good fit on paper, it has to be a good fit in person as well.
It is a big responsibility to help someone find their new best friend. Sometimes I hit the nail on the head. Sometimes I’m way off. But when a great match happens there is no greater feeling. Our adoption dogs often become like my own pet. I love them and care for them and that can be a hard thing to pass off to someone else. But nothing fills my heart more than when someone adopts a dog and they follow up with me saying how happy they are. It is amazing to see everything come full circle. From meeting a dog for the first time and gaining their trust, to building a relationship and then sending them off to start a new chapter of their life with their forever family. I have had adopters send me photos of previous adoption dogs living their new, happy lives and quite a few times I have had people stay in touch with me over long periods of time. I don’t think anything brings a bigger smile to my face than seeing a dog living how they are supposed to…with love and adoration and a big cushy dog bed.
At times I forget how we must look to our pets. Do they think we are insane people who are constantly watching them go to the bathroom? All joking aside I feel like when animals come into a shelter setting we forget how scary it can be. New place. New smells. New people. And tons of other animals. It must be incredibly unnerving.
Recently we got in a dog. Well, a puppy to be exact. She was only 6 months old and because she was so young we assumed she would be a happy, bouncing pup. We were wrong. A coworker of mine informed me that when she tried to enter her kennel, Lily charged her and tried to bite her shoe. It didn’t take long for most people to become weary of her. I couldn’t understand how everyone could be so put off by this dog so I decided I would look for myself. As I approached her kennel Lily started growling and showing me every sign she didn’t want me there. It soon progressed to barking and lunging. That’s when I realized she was shaking, almost uncontrollably. She was terrified. And I was this looming person she didn’t know standing in front of her kennel. To add to it on the inside of her kennel she faced an enormous barking dog. So what did I do? I got down on the floor. I made myself small and vulnerable and let her sniff me. It took about two minutes before I turned around and saw her tail wagging. I decided to cover the inside of her kennel as well so she didn’t have to be face to face with an unknown dog. Before I knew it we were friends.
A situation like that put it all in perspective for me. We have to think like a dog. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and truly try to understand how overwhelming entering a shelter can be. I think that is the least we can do for these animals that end up homeless through no fault of their own.
Sometimes I have to be realistic that not every animal that comes through our shelter will have a happy adoption ending. Sometimes things don’t end the way I want them to. That is just the realistic side of working with homeless animals. And it is also one of the hardest things to deal with.
In my 7 years working at an animal shelter I have seen dogs and cats be put down for both health and behavioral issues. And each time it tears me apart. I’ll never forget the first dog I had bonded with that we had to euthanize. Her health deteriorated quickly and we could see she was suffering. So when we made the decision to put her to sleep I sat with her as she crossed over, just so that she knew how loved she was. There have been others since her that still make me tear up thinking about them, even though it is years later.
It must be hard for those pets that have to end their lives without an owner. It has become my routine to be with them as they pass. Hold them. Love them. Let them know that their memory will live on. Because that’s what they deserve. And when it’s over I spread their ashes somewhere beautiful. Someplace where their soul can be free.