Do you remember the sweet CharlieDog & Friends pups we gave away? Well, Little Luca was my favorite. I have always had a soft spot for white-faced pitties, and just because she’s stuffed, doesn’t mean she is any exception to that rule. So, it was really difficult for me to part with her. However, I know a special little girl who could use some extra love in her life. You can read more about her story, here. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. This little lady has never been one to hold onto toys, but Luca goes along with her on all of her adventures. Every. Where. Talk about positive pittie publicity!
I would hope that by now, it is pretty evident that I absolutely adore my dogs. I take great pride in them, as well as in the way I care for them. In fact, I think the greatest compliment anyone has ever given me, is when they say; “Man, if there is a life after this, I want to come back as one of your dogs!” While I love pretty much everything about these four-legged fur balls with whom I share my life, there are just some moments that my heart swells with pride and affection. I bet you can relate…
1) When they are content or joyful
Especially when I think about where Georgia and Gaige probably came from, it makes me incredibly happy when I see our pups enjoying their lives to the fullest. Whether that is when they are in hot pursuit of an animal in our open fields, or slumbering all cuddled together under our down comforter, I feel so great knowing that their lives are better because of me. I live for moments when I can bring them sheer and unbridled joy… ears-a-flying, tongue-a-slobbering, head-hangin-outa-the-window-style.
2) When they depend on me
While I would never wish fear or anxiety on my dogs, I feel invincible when they come to me for guidance or reassurance. These dogs, with their powerful muscles and athletic limbs, turn to me when they need assurance that the world is a safe place. Whether it is a visit to the vet or when I have to tend to a wound, their trust in me is steadfast and pure. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it, but it means the world to me.
3) When other people are lovin’ up on them
Of course I think my dogs are the greatest. Don’t we all? But those moments when someone else stops to recognize all of the heart and courage and beauty that they bring to this world? I think that’s kinda what dog ownership is all about. Whether it’s a stranger on the street, all of you friends here, or the people that mean the most in my life, when I see the bonds my dogs share with others, it reaffirms all of the pride I have in them. And if it’s someone fragile that they are bonding with? Fo’ gedaboutit. My wild, exhuberant dogs seem to have this switch… put them around a child or someone elderly, and they become like little lambs, gentle and sweet, cuddley and quiet. Try to tell me that they don’t understand us. I dare you.
4) When they’re all together
If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you may remember that it took us months to acclimatize the dogs to the point where they could coexist in the house. Georgia came to us a bundle of nerves, with little trust for anyone around her, human or animal. She even thought the cat was out to get her! The poor girl just had no confidence in herself or anything in her environment. But to see our pack now, you would never know that we had ever experienced any issues. These dogs have a strong yet intricate bond that ties them together. You see it in the way they move through the house, and the way they all snuggle in bed together, sharing their space and their favorite people. It’s in the way they play tug of war, growling and barking and enjoying all that it means to be a carefree pup. It’s even in the way they guard the house, communicating silently as each takes their post at a window until an intruder approaches. One of the three sounds the alarm, and the troops come running for backup. They’ve learned to respect one another’s space, but they’ve also become dependent upon each other. Take one away, and the others pout and whine. Our dogs are true friends. I don’t know if they do it because they know it is what I expect of them, or if it is because they have a need for the kinship of other dogs, but I do know that I love it.
5) When we’re snuggling
Morning snuggles with the dogs are my favorite. Part. Of my day. Paws down! While we don’t usually allow the dogs to sleep through the night in our bed, once J is out of the house, they know that the dog bed rules go with him. One by one, they leap into the bed as delicately as is possible for 3 dogs with a combined weight of almost 250 pounds! They creep quietly along the mattress, careful not to disturb me, in case I might decide to kick them out. Sleepily I smile to myself, loving that their favorite place on earth is just wherever I am. Each selects their perfect spot, snuggled right up against me, but still somehow in contact with the others. We rest peacefully together, until I make the first stirs… maybe a yawn or stretch, or an arm reaching toward the night stand for my phone. Then all bets are off… they leap from their positions, shake off their slumbers, and grab for a toy. They know that once I’m up, fun begins, and they can’t wait to get their days started!
6) When they’re being naughty
Believe it or not, J told me early on that one of the things he had first loved about me was the way I treated my dog. He said that I was strict with him, and he admired my sense of discipline. At the same time, I was affectionate and spoiled him rotten when he was good. I think it’s safe to say that this is exactly how I approach my relationship with our dogs to this day. I hold high standards for their obedience, and think that discipline and structure are a vital part of their lives. At the same time, I think that if our dogs could speak, they would happily tell you that there are no dogs on this planet more loved and well cared for.
With all of that being said, there are some times that I just can’t get over how adorable they are when they’re bad. 95% of the time, our dogs are so focused on their ‘jobs’ and are incredibly eager to please us. But there are those moments where their instincts take over. They seem to forget all about any of the manners that they’ve learned, and take exceptional delight in the fact that they are dogs!
With Gaige, it happens when she is outdoors and doesn’t want to come inside (see photographic evidence, above). You can call and call and call her, but she pretends she hasn’t heard. She will trot slowly over to the furthest point of the yard, and plop herself down, staring at you in defiance. You will try throwing bits of hot dogs to her, shaking the treat bag, and bouncing around like a crazy person. All to no avail. Then when you’ve lost your patience, and decide to risk the late-night or early-morning walk in your bare feet, crazy hair, tee shirt, and underwear, she waits like a panther. You will stomp yourself over to her, muttering under your breath, and just when you think you are in arms’ reach of her collar, she will tuck her tail up under herself, and dash around the yard in sheer ecstasy, proud of her quick and conniving ways. If you can stay mad at her when she does this, you are a much tougher person than I!
7) When they are there for me
Tonka, especially, seems to have some sort of wire to my heart. Not only does he know when I am happy or sad, but he often seems to be aware of it before I am. He will come to me with an expression to match my own. If I am hurting, he will cuddle up as close as possible, and stare deep into my eyes. I swear he is trying to speak to me. But when I’m excited about something, he bounces around my feet, grabbing the nearest toy to celebrate with me. Talk about selflessness… this pup has it in spades.
8) When I think about the past
Mainly, it’s when I write posts like this. I think about all of the adventures I’ve shared with these dogs. And even the lows. These dogs have been there for me through everything, displaying a loyalty not rivaled by even my closest friends. They were all brought into my life for different reasons, and I wouldn’t be who I am without each of them.
Call me crazy, but I believe, in my heart of hearts, that we meet people for a reason. Some may just be shooting stars; a fleeting glimpse of ideals, meant to remind you of the things you needed to remember. Occasionally, these people may stay for a lifetime, a constant source of inspiration or drive. Rarer still, are the people that are our soul mates. It’s not often that I find people that remind me of myself, while still inspiring me to reach for more. In fact, up until this point, there was like one, one other person in the entire world that reminds me of myself. (She knows who she is!)
Anyways, as crazy as it might seem, I kind of have come to the conclusion that our three dogs are soul mates. We have three pups, whose backgrounds are all a little bit different, and yet they get along perfectly. There’s Tonka, the happy-go-lucky people-pleaser (and they say dogs are like their owners… psh.) Anyways, he was a dog park-dog, one that could make friends with even the most impolite of pups. Then, he was attacked by a male labrador three times in one summer, and he started to be tense and defensive around all dogs. It took us a while to get him to be calm and relaxed around other dogs again. While I know he will never be as carefree as before, I can trust him to be the mediator in dog groups, and know that he loves nothing more than a good romp in the yard with other well-mannered dogs.
Then came Gaige, who probably had little to no socialization before I found her. She has great manners within the hierarchy of our dogs, but can be a wild-child (read: annoying) when it comes to playing with new dogs. She gets way too wound-up and excitable, and loves to play rough. For those reasons, she typically only gets to play with our dogs, or other dogs that I’ve slowly introduced her to, and that have complimentary play styles. She and Tonka grew into great friends, who were never far from one another.
Finally there is Georgia. Most of you know her story, but after a troubled past, she was not fond of other dogs. She would wag her tail from afar, seemingly wanting to join in on the fun, but if they came close, she would sometimes snap or growl. Even given perfect opportunities, Georgia never actually tried to bite other dogs, but she was careful to remind them to keep their distance. Everyone told me that she would be best in a home without other dogs, but I just knew that if we could show her that our dogs would not harm her, she might just gain confidence from a relationship with them. After months of slowly reinforcing her positive associations with our dogs, we finally began to see sparks of companionship between the three of them.
For the longest time, we were most concerned about the females getting along, but it has come about that the two girls are pretty much inseparable. They sleep curled against one another, share toys, and are a speedy team on adventures through the woods in search of
moles sticks. I’ve never had a sister, but I am so enjoying watching the bond these two share. For as many times as we have grown frustrated with Gaige, while playing rough or being demanding or getting into everything, she has been a wonderful playmate for Georgia… slowly pulling her out of her shell, all the while reading her body language and responding accordingly. More importantly, even when Georgia occasionally ‘shot her down’ with a growl or snap in the early days, Gaige would respectfully give her some space, only to return a few hours later to delicately try again. I think I have something to learn from her indomitable spirit…
What is one of the most lasting lessons your dog(s) has taught you? Another giveaway is in the works for your response 🙂 Jennifer Jacobs Scarry, please email me at email@example.com to claim your prize from the last giveaway! It might look something like this…
My friend Morgan, over at Temporary Home, Permanent Love, wrote a really difficult piece last week (here). While she struggled with sharing the contents with her readers, it gave me the courage to share with all of you something I have definitely been procrastinating. Usually when I begin to write a post, I am anxious to get my thoughts out on
paper the screen, because it is clear to me what the ‘mood’ will be… sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes serious, sometimes silly. Rarely, is a post such a mix of emotions. And I don’t really know where to start. So I guess I will just say it, and hope that you, my readers, will be gentle and understanding… at the very least, I hope that you will read through to the end before you judge. Here goes nothing.
We. Are keeping. Georgia (. or ! or ? or ?!)
Where We are Now
We are thrilled! Georgia has become an integral part of our family, and of our pack. She came to us a worried little bundle of rolls and wrinkles, who didn’t know how to play, was scared of raised hands, and would rather be alone than in the company of others. She was so intimidated by other dogs, that she would snarl and snap if they came too close… but we learned pretty quickly that she really was all bark, and no bite. These days, it is rare to find her anywhere but cuddled up on top of you, and when she is not cuddling, she is wrestling and bitey-mouthing and tug-of-waring with our pups over toys. She is truly like an entirely different dog. While I always held out hope for her improvement, Georgia now possesses a confidence that I truly never could have imagined that she would acquire. She wags her tail when passing even strange dogs on walks, is friendly with other pups at obedience school, and is happy to do anything we ask.
Once upon a time, many people urged me to consider placing Georgia as an ‘only-dog’. While I appreciated their guidance, in my heart, I couldn’t resign her to that fate. I felt strongly that if we took things slowly, she would be able to face her demons and overcome them. Most importantly, in the back of my mind, I even believed that she would one day learn to find solace and comfort in the company of other dogs. Not a day goes by, that I don’t feel pride and satisfaction in the outcome we have all achieved together. Still now, months later, I make Jonathan come running into the room each evening, when I see the dogs curled up in a puppy pile, or sharing their toys. We ooh and ahh, and bask in the glow of our little pack’s happiness and contentment.
How We Came to this Conclusion
When we had our first meet-and-greet (back in November, I think?!) Jonathan brought up the idea of making Georgia a permanent member of our family. I know I sound like a crazy person, but each time we took her to meet an adoptive family, she was petrified. Although I tried to deny it, for the sake of our sanity, neither of us could ignore the signs. She would cling to us, looking worriedly back and forth between our two sets of eyes, and sometimes even refuse to leave the car… it was like she knew we were considering sending her someplace else. We would try to make it a happy and pleasant experience, and I certainly don’t think we were exhibiting any negative body language that would deter her from feeling comfortable. Finally when we got home, she would velcro herself to our sides, following us even to the bathroom, and keeping her eyes on us at all times… ever our lazy couch potato, her anxiety even prevented her from sleeping soundly. Worse still, her digestive system would take a cruel hit, and it would take a few days for it to recover.
Nevertheless, I was convinced that once we found a family that was an ideal fit, it would feel right. We had a number of meet-and-greets, and they were all unsuccessful for varying reasons. One did not work out because Georgia was not friendly with their dog. In a few instances, the adopters backed out just before the meet and greets, for personal reasons. One adopter, whom I had my heart set on, felt that it was just not the right time for her to bring home a new dog. Jonathan would always give me a million reasons why each family wouldn’t fit, but I would quiet his fears, and I remained optimistic that we would find a family that could give her everything she deserved.
Finally, we found a family that was perfect on paper, and ended up being even more ideal in person. Jonathan and I woke up early one sunny, Sunday morning, and drove 4 hours (one way!) to meet them. To say we were invested and hopeful, would be an understatement. We met them, and it was a great match. Georgia was, of course, sweet and gentle with their children. She still clung to us, but the mother had experience with force-free training and the two week de-stress. It was all so perfect, and yet something just did not feel right. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, and literally experienced a moment of sheer panic. My head started to spin, my vision tunneled… I needed to get out of there. We politely said our goodbyes to the family and the people from the rescue, and got in our car to hurry away. We both sat in momentary silence. It felt like someone was trying to take OUR dog away. It was in this moment, that I knew we just couldn’t let her go. On paper, everything was perfect, and there were no excuses that either Jonathan or I could come up with. But somehow, we were panicked at the thought of saying goodbye.
Why We Ultimately Made this Decision
Over the next week, the topic of saying goodbye to Georgia was never far from my mind. A Christian at heart, I prayed daily for clarity in this decision. It was almost uncanny (or, as my mother-in-law would kindly remind me, perhaps providencial) but throughout that week, we took Georgia more places than usual; the vet’s office, local parks, the pet store, etc. Each time we went out, more often than ever before, people came up to us and asked to hear her story. By the end of every conversation, each person kindly and gently left us with words that were eerily similar… “But she looks like she’s meant to be with you,” “it seems like she’s already made the decision for you,” and “I think she is right where she belongs“. Before he left for work in the morning, when he called me around lunch time, and when he arrived home at night, Jonathan and I would always discuss her future and our decision. While he was adamant that her place in life was with us, I couldn’t shake the worry of disappointing everyone. A people-pleaser by nature, I didn’t want to think about delivering the news to the prospective family, my friends at the rescue, and of course, to all of you here on the blog. I had made a commitment to fostering, and I was going to stick with it. I was NOT going to be one of those ‘foster-failures’. I am not self-centered enough to believe that you all follow this blog with such loyalty that you would take our decision personally. However, with my dedication to fostering, and my previous “rants” against becoming a foster-failure, my pride had prevented me from considering this option all along.
I reached out to a few people about my struggle. One of them was my friend Morgan, and the others were friends from the rescue, Alanna and Casey. Everyone reminded me that I needed to put Georgia first. But what does that mean? To me, that was my greatest struggle… It had always been about Georgia for me, and in my mind, it would be incredibly traumatic for her to go to another family. At this point, she was finally integrated with both of our dogs in the house, and I was so proud of the strides she was making. She was completely settled into our family, and the thought of putting her into a whole new environment sounded cruel. When I thought about dogs like Gaige, I thought about dogs that were hardy and resilient. Put Gaige in any situation and environment, and she was likely to come out unscathed and happy. Georgia just isn’t that type of dog. She is sensitive and gentle, and always worried about having approval. You could even go so far as to call her emotionally needy… at least when compared to our little spitfire, Gaige. Maybe I was anthropomorphizing, but I thought that Georgia would be sitting in her new house, missing Jonathan, Tonka, Gaige, and me, and wondering what she did wrong. I couldn’t get her sad little face out of my head.
Where did we go wrong?
I’ve asked myself this question many times. I know some of you, particularly those hardened foster families, have been reading this post and are rolling your eyes. You think I’m making excuses for keeping our foster, when in reality, I just couldn’t let her go. Guess what? Maybe you’re right. I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that my decision was 100% selfless. What I can tell you is that I did not want a third dog. I especially did not want a third dog that wasn’t always fond of other dogs. But when I thought about Georgia, and Georgia alone, I kept coming back to this decision. It was the only one that felt right.
After having Georgia as a part of our household since October, perhaps the problem is that we kept her too long. Especially being our first foster, having her with us for 5 months makes her feel like one of the family. At the same time, it only took a few minutes for us to fall head over heels in love with her, so maybe the length of stay had little to do with it.
Another possibility is the investment of time and effort we made in overcoming her struggles. I know from my years spent competing with horses, that achieving a lofty goal with an animal is the surest way to form an unbreakable bond. We spent so much time breaking down Georgia’s walls and building up her confidence, that I felt we had become a team.
Worse still, maybe I am just not cut out for this lifestyle. I hate to admit that to myself, but perhaps I am not capable of loving and letting go. Finally, ome of you may have guessed that Jonathan and I experienced some unsettling loss this year, shortly after Georgia came to our home. I certainly would be naive if I did not believe that this had an effect on our attachment.
Yes, there are still times I feel immense guilt over our decision. Typically, that is when I am glancing into pleading puppy-dog eyes, staring out from behind bars, on my computer screen. But when Georgia was brought into my care, my commitment was to make decisions that were in HER best interest… not anyone else’s. I will always stand by the fact that I have done just that. This decision was not the ‘easy’ one. I didn’t make this decision because I needed Georgia in my life, or because I didn’t trust anyone to care for her the way we would. I made it because I believed in my heart, that this was meant to be, that she would be happiest with us. When Georgia faces a situation that is new or challenging, she always looks to me for guidance. Each day, she looks at me with grateful eyes, tail wagging gently against her sides, and I could swear she was thanking me from her heart. So while there are days that I wonder where we went ‘wrong,’ I can’t help by think that just maybe, this was part of someone’s plan all along… though whether that someone is Georgia or the Lord, I’m not sure we will ever know. Maybe there is a reason that God is dog spelled backward…
Actually, it does. I celebrated a birthday last weekend, and my amazing brother sent me this card. Not only that, but he also sent a little bit of moolah for me (because he said I do too much for the dogs, and should have something to spend on myself) and ALSO pledged a donation to our rescue, in my name. Can you say, “Awwwww“?! And yes ladies, he is single. 😉 But I must warn you that the application and interview process is stringent…
Thanks T-Bone! You are the best brother ever, and I didn’t need this card to prove it!