I’ve been reading a lot of dog books lately. Partly, it’s because my upcoming book will be my first in this genre, and I want to get to know what’s already out there and the writers who publish these books. But mostly, I’ve become a bit addicted. I love reading about people’s experiences with dogs. It’s not just educational and entertaining, it’s also inspiring.
In Amy Sutherland’s book, RESCUING PENNY JANE, she writes about her experiences volunteering at a shelter, sharing a perspective I’ve never heard since I meet my dogs after they’ve left the shelter. I like to think that there are volunteers like Amy at the shelters where our dogs come from. Sutherland is a shelter volunteer, walking dogs every Friday for a local Animal Rescue League. She’s also a journalist and author, so of course, she overanalyzes and writes about her experience.
While it can be momentarily dense with information on shelter dogs, Rescuing Penny Jane is an exploration of the rescue dog world, but also Sutherland’s story of adopting a difficult rescue dog and sticking it out. She writes that she won’t be one of ‘them’, confiding that in becoming a regular at the shelter she is privy to the staff’s feelings about people who return dogs. And so, even though it strains her marriage, she sticks it out with Penny Jane, a fearful and more or less, feral dog.
Sutherland’s words remind me of my own experience with more than a few of my foster dogs. I write in this blog about the funny, the touching, the messy, and occasionally the heartbreak, but each story eventually culminates in one happy ending after another. What I rarely write about is how sometimes I reach my limit and more often sometimes my husband reaches his limit. There have been teary late-night walks waiting for a foster dog to just pee, already. There have been mornings spent on my knees scrubbing carpets and grumbling mangled curse words and masked threats (who am I going to offend? The dogs?). There have been plenty of words typed and then deleted, planned posts that never materialized, and frustrations outlined in detail for my husband even as I stroke the furry head of the offender. For a few hours, sometimes a day or two, I’m done. “Once this one is gone- no more fosters!”
So when Sutherland’s husband says, “It would be easier to return Penny Jane than to get a divorce.” I don’t laugh. I know he’s not joking. Sutherland’s frustration and tears are familiar, and I read her story with a lump in my throat. I’ve thought so many of the same things.
There is one comment she makes relatively early in the book that struck me so much that I got up to find a pen so I could underline it. She wrote –
“…countless shelter dogs made me realize that they were not so much homeless as humanless, and that that was worse.”
That’s exactly it.
So many of these dogs who arrive on transport have seemed to be looking for something. They scan our yard, scramble through our house, their eyes searching. I offer treats and touches, a warm bed, a bowl of food, but many of them seem distracted as if they’ve misplaced something (or someone). It takes a few days before they settle in and stop straining at the windows and doors.
When I hear of a lost dog (or when one of my own has gotten out), I wonder, what are they running from? We’ve offered them shelter and food and safety, things that they haven’t had and desperately need. But Sutherland’s words helped me see – they are not running from my home, they are looking for their human.
In the early weeks with Gala, I worried about her getting out. She was the consummate escape artist and had too many adventures to count. Lucky for us (although unlucky for her on one occasion), she was distracted in her flight by the presence of our horses, and we were always able to catch her before she left our property.
Whenever she escapes now, I don’t worry. I know she won’t go far. Gala may not have a forever home; she is decidedly homeless, but, at least to her mind, she is not humanless. Not only has she learned her lesson with the horses (the hard way), but she has laid claim to us. We are her humans.
She managed to open the unlocked levered door recently and zipped out up the hill. I stepped out on the porch and watched her run crazy loops in the yard, one eye on me to see if I would chase her. When I opened the door to go back inside, as if I was leaving her, she froze for a moment before racing pell-mell back to the house, not wanting to be left outside without me.
Last summer, I spent a few days in New York City. As usual, my radar was tuned to the dogs and I marveled at the fancy ones carried in purses and pushed in strollers, but what really struck me was the number of dogs that belonged to homeless people. Late at night, we’d walk down a sidewalk and see figures wrapped in blankets with a leash around their wrist and their dog sitting at attention, guarding over his person. Those dogs were homeless in the truest sense, but they were not humanless.
I suppose that’s what we are doing as fosters- giving these homeless dogs a temporary human. I’ve thought a lot about that as we prepare to launch Gala into the next step of her journey (see below). Will it break her heart to leave me? Will she think she’s been abandoned again? Perhaps, but I hope she won’t feel that way for long. New humans will step in so that she isn’t humanless during this time of homelessness.
And soon enough, I’m sure, she will have both a forever home and a forever human of her very own.
In late February, Gala has a reservation at a training facility in Virginia. She will spend two weeks there with a trainer who is expert at deciphering a dog’s fear. He’ll work with her and then with her new foster (and maybe me, because I’m curious, too) on how to manage her so that she can continue to build her confidence.
After she finishes her training, she’ll move to a new foster home that is a quieter setting where she won’t have to worry about a constant flow of teenagers through the house or foster dogs coming and going. And more importantly, so Gracie can have her house (and her humans) back. I’ll still be available for dog-sitting and support. I haven’t given up on this dog, and I look forward to meeting the lucky people who become her humans.
If you’re looking for some good dog-books to read, I recommend:
- Walking with Peety by Eric O’Grey (the story of a morbidly obese man whose doctor prescribes adopting a rescue dog)
- The Dogs of Proud Spirit by Melanie Sue Bowles (the story of the dogs rescued and loved on the ranch, Proud Spirit)
- Dogged Pursuit by Robert Rodi (the FUNNY story of a quirky rescue dog in the world of agility competition)
- Little Boy Blue (the story of one rescue dog’s journey) and The Dog Merchants (an investigation into the buying/selling/rescuing world of dogs both purebred and rescued) both by Kim Kavin
I’ve got a stack to make my way through, and I’ll pass along those recommendations periodically on the blog or in the Another Good Dog, facebook group.
If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more regular updates of foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group.