The Dogs You Meet at a Rescue Event
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
As both a dog lover and a dog professional, my favorite part of being a sponsor or vendor at dog related events is visiting with the actual dogs, even though sometimes my heart feels like it is going to break when I hear the stories of the dogs’ lives before they were rescued. In fact it is a given that Jackson and Tinkerbell will sniff me from head to toe immediately upon my return home in what I call the Labrador Inquisition, after I’ve been petting dogs of all shapes and sizes and holding and snuggling young puppies.
The dogs at these events are usually a mixture of rescue dogs who are up for adoption and dogs who have accompanied their owners to check out the event. Sometimes rescue volunteers will bring their own dogs as ambassadors for the rescue.
Talking to the fosters and volunteers about the stories of the dogs who are available for adoption is always bittersweet because although there is joy at the fact that the dogs are now safe from euthanasia and will eventually find their forever homes, there is sadness and pain in so many of their backgrounds. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, there are continually more ways that humans have failed dogs before they reached the heroes who have saved them and who are fostering them and seeking their forever homes.
One of the key points that I made in my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner, is that we often have no way of knowing what a dog has been through before it steps its first paw into your home, whether the dog is a small puppy or a senior dog. That is one of the reasons it is so critical to be compassionate and understanding of what the dog might have been through, particularly because they cannot tell their story to us.
Among the dogs I met in the last few weeks were three puppies from a litter of nine who were still waiting for their forever homes. Six of their siblings were already adopted and two of the three were adopted at the event. Their mother had been rescued after being locked in a shed, left all alone to deliver her puppies without proper food, water, or human assistance. Of course whoever locked her into the shed would likely not have assisted with her delivery anyway, as not only did he or she lock her in the shed, but they bolted it shut to ensure that she would not escape. I forgot to ask who found her or how they found her as I snuggled one of her babies to my cheek and wondered for about the millionth time “what the hell is wrong with some people” and said a thank you to the universe for saving her and her unborn litter. With her puppies now old enough to go to their forever homes, she too had been adopted into a loving home.
There was the four-year old male Basset Hound who had been a hunting dog and had never been inside a home. As the daughter of a bird hunter whose dogs slept on the bed next to him, I do not understand how you could hunt with a dog who is not also your best friend, constant companion, and sleeping buddy. The only time I ever saw my father cry when I was a child was when our beloved Snoop passed away, leaving me appalled at whoever had owned this sweet male Basset Hound and not loved up on him every possible moment. Fortunately he is being fostered in a home in which he gets plenty of love, and I was happy to sit on the ground and pet him, telling the foster, “If I apply, don’t approve me, I could easily fall in love with this sweet boy and I cannot have another dog!”
Being fostered at the same home was a senior female Basset Hound who had been found as a stray. My heart broke as I thought of her being lost and afraid, fending for herself in a town or in the woods, and I hoped that if nothing else, she had gotten lost from a loving family instead of just being dumped on her own. I was grateful that she no longer had to be alone or afraid.
Last weekend I met an eight year old Golden Retriever who had been surrendered by a puppy mill farmer. She had never been inside a home and was essentially learning how to really, truly be a dog and enjoy life instead of producing litter after litter after litter of puppies. As she walked through the event with her foster-mother and foster-sister she seemed to cling to them as if terrified of losing the one comfort in life that she had ever experienced. When they stopped to look at something or meet someone she literally threw herself to the ground as if unsure of what to do or how to act. If her foster doesn’t “fail” and adopt her for herself, I am quite sure she will flourish with a loving human who is patient, calm, and consistent and who lets her become the confident dog that she was born to be.
At the same event where I met the puppy mill momma, I met two five-month old Chihuahuas who had literally been rescued from a shelter one day before they were scheduled to be euthanized. They were litter mates, scared to death, literally clinging to their foster from the rescue organization that had saved them. They are like so many dogs who have been through so much bad stuff and are entirely unable to tell us their stories as they learn to trust humans as someone good and positive in their life.
I never stop being amazed at how dogs can overcome their pasts and learn to live happily with humans, to trust in the fact that even though some people failed them and were cruel to them through abuse, neglect, or both, that other people are there to help them, to love them, to care for them. So many humans have a hard time looking to the future instead of being bogged down trying to get over or recreate the past, that once again we can learn so much from these dogs who have been treated like they feel nothing but in reality feel so much.