Having Billie Jean back with us has been really fun. She has an energy that shimmers off her and an eagerness to please that is refreshing. Like most cattle dogs, she has a lot to say and a huge repertoire of sounds. She is great company and an entertaining guest.
She is so much the dog I remember, but at the same time there is something different about her—a wariness, an uncertainty, that I don’t remember her having when we fostered her two years ago. Back then, I remember her as the ‘beauty queen from a movie scene’—all confidence and flash, wicked smart, with a movie star quality—a specialness that made her so very different from other dogs.
She is still wicked smart. I would love to get this girl on an agility course. And of course, she is still beautiful, quick, busy, and energetic. But there is a worry to her brow that was never there before. While she always shadowed me, now that need to be nearby can be clingy, sticky, and sometimes frustrating. She cries mercilessly when we are separated, eventually settling down, but not before letting everyone know of her unhappiness. I try to indulge her as much as I can because right now she needs the security of knowing I’m here and I won’t fail her.
For the last two years she has been a square peg trying to fit (and to be fitted) into a circular hole. There is nothing wrong with Billie and nothing wrong with the family who adopted her. It was just the wrong fit.
My regret as Billie’s foster is that I didn’t follow up. I never met her family in person, I had left the day before on a book tour. They’d sounded good on paper and via email, plus the Billie Jean I knew was an easy-going, smart, crate-trained, house-trained, amazing dog with a happy energy who loved (and was loved by) every person she met. My family did the adoption in my absence, snapped a cute picture of Billie and her adopters, and we went on with our busy summer. I never worried about Billie Jean. She could handle anything.
But not, apparently, life in suburbia. Not a life where she was crated for long days while her people worked. Not a life where she did not have an outside space to roam, could not play with other dogs, or be mentally and physically challenged. She acted out of her frustration, which led to her interaction with children, strangers, and other dogs being eliminated for everyone’s safety.
I wish I had known. I wish I had picked up the phone and followed up to see how she was doing. I know that the rescue does that, and I don’t know who was in charge of that follow up at the time of Billie Jean’s adoption, but somehow we failed her. And that weighs heavy on my heart. I’ve learned an important lesson, but it just about kills me that it happened at the expense of this beautiful dog.
And it just about killed her too. She was so depressed and miserable that at the time of her return, she was lashing out at everyone—human and dog. I’m so glad that her adopter did finally reach out to me and to OPH. I’m so grateful to be part of a rescue that does not give up on a dog. OPH sent Billie Jean to one of our training partners, Geraldine, to be assessed. We needed to know if she was still adoptable. If she was safe.
Geraldine called me on the second day she had Billie (who is now known as Pepper). She wanted to know what Billie was like before she was adopted. While she had yet to be able to touch her, she suspected that beneath the surface of this frustrated, confused, terrified dog there was something special and she just needed verification. We talked and I assured her that yes, two years ago when we fostered her, Billie was an amazing dog—one of my best and easiest fosters, ever.
A few days later, I got a text from Geraldine. She told me she’d had a break through with Billie Jean. She sent videos of Billie romping with other dogs, snuggling at her side, getting her belly scratched, curled up with other dogs. She said, “I love this dog. She’s incredible. I would adopt her if I had room.”
This past Friday, I met Geraldine in person when I went to pick up Billie Jean. I took Fanny along so that we could see how they would do together. In just the 90 minutes that I spent with Geraldine, I learned more about dogs, training, and my role as the human in charge than I’ve learned in months of classes. Within minutes of meeting her, my shy dog Fanny, who is afraid and reactive to strangers, was following Geraldine, tail wagging, putty in her hands, as we wandered amongst the dozen dogs in the yard .
By the time I left with Billie Jean and Fanny, I had a whole different level of understanding. I can’t wait to go back (and Geraldine told me I can, anytime) to watch this amazing, generous woman work with more dogs (I’d love to see her work with her horses too!). I want to follow her around like a sponge, soaking up all her knowledge.
Billie Jean is settling in with us now, enjoying hikes and walks and snuggles. I’m trying to infuse her with all the love and security and confidence I can. She is blossoming every day, letting go of some of the restless worry that she carries with her.
She has yet to let down and play with Fanny the way she once did with Frankie and the other fosters she played with during her last stay with us. For now, she likes their company, but she’d also like them to respect her space (and they are, although sometimes Fanny has to check that she still means it).
I’ve heard it said again and again that dogs are resilient, but I think some are more resilient than others. My Fanny Wiggles has not yet been able to bounce back from whatever trauma made her lose her trust in humans. We are making slow progress and I can see how much she wants to trust. I’m hopeful that we’ll get there one day.
Billie Jean, on the other hand, is a marvel. A month ago, we were talking about whether or not she would have to be euthanized because she was dangerous, and now she is happily curling up in bed with us, leading us along the trails, greeting strangers with unbounded excitement, and sharing the sofa with other dogs. I’ve always said she was something special. I looked up the rest of the lyrics to the song that she was named after (on the 80’s transport!).
‘She told me her name was Billie Jean, as she caused a scene
Then every head turned with eyes that dreamed of being the one
Who will dance on the floor in the round…’
Billie Jean still is that special. I know we will find her family even it takes a very long time. I won’t let this pup go again unless I am certain it is a family who can give her what she needs. Billie Jean deserves a great life—a life worthy of a beauty queen from a movie scene.
Thanks for reading!
If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com where you can also find more information on my new book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) or on the book’s very own Facebook page and Instagram account.
And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org. You can also hear stories of our shelter visits on our brand new podcast! Please comment, subscribe, and share wherever you get your podcasts!
Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.
If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs . It’s available anywhere books are sold.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.