[Non-trigger warning: This is NOT a sad story, just a dramatic one.]
We were visiting some hoarded dogs in animal control and taking pictures of them. Victoria had gone down one corridor to talk to the vet, who was there prepping some dogs for euthanasia for space reasons. The vet would administer the calming shot to each of the the dogs, then come around to euthanize them after it had kicked in.
I was in a different corridor trying to get a beagle down from a mountain of dog food. When that was resolved, Victoria told me that she needed me to meet a dog. He had made significant eye contact with her and it had made an impact. She told me that he was on the short list for euthanasia, and would I please meet him? I refused at first (we had so many dogs), but it’s really hard to say no to Victoria, so finally I agreed. We rounded the corner and Victoria took me to the dog’s cell. He was lying in the middle of his cell, lifeless.
I felt like vomiting. I noticed that he was a tawny dog with short legs and a full torso and eerily resembled my own beloved dog, Gingerella.Why did I have to put up objections? My stupid attempt to be “strong” had cost this dog his life.
Victoria got called away by one of the animal control officers while I attempted to compose myself. When she came back, she was beaming. It turned out that the dog had NOT been euthanized, he had just been given the sedating shot and was out like a light. You couldn’t even see him breathing.
Well, how could we not take that dog then? We told animal control that we would take him, and they told us that we needed to get him out of there ASAP because his space was desperately needed. Our vet was closing soon, so together we carried the seemingly lifeless body out to Victoria’s car, then a few minutes later, repeated the process in reverse at the vet’s office. Considering what a small town it was (animal welfare-wise), it was very possible that someone would see us hauling a dead dog into a vet’s office, which would have started a few tongues wagging.
Well, the little guy revived after a while, and we got him ready to be adopted. He was cute in a very mainstream way, so we didn’t anticipate any problems. We came up with the name “Pip” for him because there was something about his story that seemed Dickensian, and it suited his short little legs and somewhat jaunty way of moving about.
We put Pip in a foster home with one of our most experienced, unflappable fosters. She found he had a tendency to run away and roll in unimaginably vile things. Since she lived in the heart of Baltimore, that meant she did a lot of searching. She also found, more alarmingly, that she didn’t warm up to him — the only time this had ever happened while she fostered for us. (This is something she only recently confided in us.)
Well, we found an adopter for Pip, a very nice woman. All seemed fine for a little while, then we got a surprising call from her. Pip, she said, was not working out. He ran away constantly, which she took as a rejection, as most would. The word she used most often, though, was “loser.” Pip was a loser. A loser dog who ran away and was completely unrepentant about it, and didn’t seem to have much interest in her. She generously offered to keep him while we found him a home.
When I told our fosters about it, they were understandably outraged. Dogs weren’t losers. People were, if they called dogs losers.
Fortunately for Pip, the story did not end here. Referred by one of our volunteers, another family saw Pip and wanted to adopt him. They met with Pip’s first adopter, and were able to draw a few conclusions. First of all, Pip’s new mom noticed a lot of scratches on the door. From that she deduced that Pip spent a lot of time alone, and that he was anxious about it. Also, she noticed that the bed Pip was sleeping on was little more than a tattered blanket on the floor, so she surmised that he wasn’t getting a lot of pampering or cuddling. Pip’s adopter also said she didn’t like that when Pip wagged his tail, he would knock things off the coffee table.
(First of all, how on earth did we miss the warning signs about this woman? Well, that’s a story for another time, I guess.)
They took Pip home and renamed him Cooper. Within a few days, Cooper had escaped. They called their neighbors, looking everywhere for him. They lived near a woody area, and their neighbor reported that Cooper was running around the woods and looked like he was having a fantastic time. He was gone for 12 agonizing hours, but they left food for him, and eventually he came back, which was huge.
It was clear that Cooper was an escape artist, one of those dogs who could get out of any sort of fence. He continued to run away, which was scary for his family, which included several children. They had a family meeting and agreed that they would keep Cooper, but would be aware that there was a possibility that one day he would run away and never come back.
I want to pause for a second, because that decision was so brave and thoughtful that it deserves a little attention. There aren’t that many families who will keep a dog who might die from misadventure in their care. It’s just too agonizing for most of them, and I don’t blame them. So this decision was miraculous.
So they kept Cooper, and kept giving him love and attention. Gone was the blanket on the floor; instead, he slept at the foot of their bed. Gone were the extended absences; living with a stay-at-home mom and with a father who worked from home, Cooper would have someone with him for much of the day. Cooper grew to know and appreciate their family schedules, and if someone didn’t come home at the right time, or if people didn’t go to bed at the right time, he’d know it and become upset. (Cooper’s mom suspected that one of the causes of his wanderlust was anxiety.) He liked his family right where they should be, and they were his family now.
After a while, Cooper stopped running away. He is a very old dog now, and remains a beloved family member. His mom speaks about him with the familiarity of someone who truly knows and loves him. Cooper, she says, is incredibly mellow these days.