A departure, for the moment, from the subject of the NYCACC.
For years it has been my habit to write about special dogs I have known who have passed on, typically dogs I have known in rescue, dogs I have cared for, or dogs whom I have provided hospice care for. This is the first time I have tried to – or had to – write about one of my own, long term, adopted dogs, my Ginger – a very special and talented girl.
I met Ginger (then known as Butterscotch) on a joint Best Friends/Pets Alive puppy mill rescue in 2007, one of 178 breeding dogs rescued from a shuttered West Virginia puppy mill. I was volunteering at the Pets Alive kennels because there was TONS of work to do, and I kept coming back to this terrified little dog. Most of the dogs were fairly normal, loving, and attention seeking, but not Ginger – a tiny 15lb Cocker Spaniel.
When a person would enter Ginger’s pen, she would huddle with her roommate in the furthest corner to try to get away. She was terrified of people and the unfamiliar situation around her, but she would try to curl up and hide instead of lashing out. I spent a long time sitting with her and eventually would make sure that part of every day I spent there was picking her up and taking her into the lobby where she would slowly meet other people and dogs while I held her, talked to her, and petted her. At first I could not put her down on leash because she would try to run somewhere, anywhere, to escape.
Another big hurdle was outside – the first time I stepped out of doors with her she panicked and if I set her down she would try to go get under something. She was unfamiliar with grass, spooked by blowing leaves, terrified by vehicles – but slowly, I started to see progress.
I thought about adopting her but I wasn’t sure – I already had Jessie, could I handle two dogs in New York City? (If only I could have seen a few years down the road, when I’d have many more!) I was on the fence. And then, one day as I was preparing to carry her back to her kennel after a lobby visit, she looked up and licked my cheek, and the decision was made. My application went in that day.
Ginger settled into NYC apartment life nicely with her best friend, my roommate’s dog Sadie, and of course Jessie. It took her days to come out of her crate for the first time, but once she did there was no stopping her – and she quickly started learning about the world at large, growing to love us and love her walks and time outside. Although she was shy around new people, at home she was a very loving, affectionate and fun dog. She had a stumpy little tail that would wag like crazy, so fast it was almost vibrating.
She came with me up to Pets Alive to volunteer and grew to love the outdoors there that had once terrified her so. I never used a leash on her there, she would follow me everywhere and go off on her little side explorations, bounding madly through the woods, and then come back to me. It was also there that I began to discover her affinity for other dogs. Small, female, and harmless, Ginger also possessed incredible greeting skills and knew exactly how to put other dogs at ease. She would help me socialize dogs, walking beside us, and was the first dog friend to Pets Alive dogs like Bindi and Cam.
Soon we were off to Best Friends, where I worked as a dog caregiver. Ginger came to work with me every day and was part of the “kitchen crew” in our buildings – she would frequently be seen with other staff dogs Minnie and Gracie as well as whatever dog visitors we had in the kitchen at the time. It was here at Best Friends that her socialization kicked into high gear – we had lots of different volunteers in our area, and with the help of some tasty treats she met many more people. Eventually, she had the run of the place and was trusted to sit outside or inside as she pleased and join us on walks or not as she wished.
She also continued to meet dogs at Best Friends, including dogs who were thought not to like other dogs, and she proved that many of them could get along with the right companion. Big, small, she met them all – and hung out with them sometimes when I would bring dogs home.
When we returned to New York is when Ginger really started to hit her “shelter therapy” dog stride. Pets Alive took over another shelter, now Pets Alive West, in Elmsford NY. This shelter gone wrong had turned into a hoarding situation prior to Pets Alive taking it over, with many dogs who had lived alone in concrete runs for years – some for a decade or more – after being mislabeled “dog aggressive”. Newly installed Director of Behavior and Training Misa Martin knew that every dog needed an individual evaluation and Ginger was ready to help. She met hundreds of dogs there, helping us figure out the social abilities of the dogs and create play groups for the ones where it was appropriate to do so. Over her time with me Ginger met hundreds of shelter dogs, from pit bulls seized by law enforcement from dogfighters to enormous Shepherds to big, shaggy Rottweilers to tiny and terrified chihuahuas – and she did it all without a leash, following me around the shelter at my heels.
Ginger passed away last week very suddenly and without warning in her sleep of cardiac arrest. She never made a peep as she slipped away, and I am left without her. A dog who was once terrified of everything who eventually loved to snuggle and whose tail was always, always wagging, sometimes too fast for a camera to catch. A dog who thought it was incredibly hilarious to nibble on my beard hair and loved to ride in the car or nap beside me. A dog I had for too little time and who devoted so much of it to helping other dogs.
We will meet again, Ginger. I miss you.