“Yeah, so I have this dog I need to get rid of…”
The first time I picked up the shelter phone to be greeted that way my reaction was visceral, physical, like being punched. Gradually my skin thickened; on a slow day I would hear some variation on the phrase only four or five times, but on a busy weekend the phone would ring that way non-stop. Some I could help; many I couldn’t – every organization has a limit to their resources and ours were particularly scarce. I grew accustomed to being yelled at, to people demanding things that I could not possibly give them, expecting for someone to unconditionally pick up the pieces that they would or could not.
I lost a lot of faith in humanity, in human nature, until the circumstance of one dog pushed me to lose nearly all of it – and then gain it back.
It started with a variation on the usual phone call, a man who wanted to bring his dog back to the shelter… after ten years. He explained that his elderly mother-in-law was moving in with them, and there was just no way she could handle a dog in the home. We’ll do anything to keep a dog in a home, and we offered training or any other assistance he could possibly think of, but he rejected all suggestions. Drew was coming back. I made an appointment with the family to come in and bring Drew back to the shelter.
I dreaded the appointed day and rejoiced inside when they didn’t show – but it was short-lived, it turned out they were just late. I had expected a dog that might scare an elderly woman – maybe he was jumpy, or mouthy, or hyper. Instead I met Drew, a thoroughly settled, calm, and well-behaved lab/pointer mix who clocked in at a little over 12 years old. A senior himself, he was being turned in at the time in his life when he most needed his family.
They had some illusions. Many people do; trying to justify what they’re doing, I suppose. We went over the whys again and they repeated that their elderly relative just would not tolerate the presence of a dog in any way, although they praised his perfect behavior and good nature and temperament. As they were winding down their justification, the woman said “and besides, you know… he’s getting old.” Ah. Well. There we have it, then.
I took them back into the kennels where Drew would be living; I showed them the small, bare, cold concrete and chain link run where he would likely live out his time. I told them that with our staffing levels and volunteer numbers he would be walked a few times a week at best. I explained to them that although we promote them heavily, senior dogs are much less likely to be adopted – which is a shame because they are wonderful, wonderful pets. After all of that, I said that if this is was still what they wanted to do, I would get the paperwork for them. They accepted without hesitation.
I handed them the packet and took Drew into the back with me. I took him into an empty office where I could sit with him for a bit. As I sat down I burst out sobbing for him, for this old dog who was being discarded by his family after a morning of so many other sad stories. Ever kindly and composed, Drew stayed near me – confused but comforting. As I pulled myself together he went towards the door, wanting to get back to the lobby and to the people who had left him behind.
Once they left I went over their paperwork. On the phone I’d asked them to bring any available medical records, but they had brought none because he hadn’t been to a vet in more than five years, not even when they thought he was dying. His paperwork also indicated that he had seizures every few months. If his bloodwork came back normal, Drew was likely epileptic.
Drew spent the day in a pen in the lobby, and when the end of the day came I couldn’t bring myself to put him in a kennel. Instead, I put him in my car. I figured the worst that could happen if he didn’t get along with my three was a trip back to the shelter where I could crate him for the evening.
For a dog who had never lived with other dogs, Drew set foot in the apartment and navigated like a pro. He greeted everyone politely, showed appropriate submission to the two Top Dogs who care about such things, and demonstrated to the fearful one that he was not a threat. Within a few minutes they were all getting along like they’d known each other all their lives. My pit bull, who generally doesn’t like other males, even played and roughhoused a little bit with Drew! He was great on a leash, enjoyed his walks with us, and was a joy to have around the house – interested and close without being needy, a comforting presence, playful, gentle and affectionate.
For the next few days I talked about Drew on the shelter’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and took him home with me at night. He got a lot of attention, and quickly an application – a family was coming to see him! The evening before his adoption appointment, I took him home as usual. He woke me up in the wee hours of the morning whining, restless, pacing – something he had never done before. I took him out to relieve himself, but that wasn’t it – he was uneasy and took a long time to settle down and go back to sleep.
I was in the shower that morning when I heard a loud thump and my other dogs started barking. I called out to them to be quiet but it took a while for it to dawn on me what had likely happened – when it did I quickly jumped out of the shower again to be unfortunately correct. The thump was Drew falling off the bed; he was in the midst of a grand mal seizure. I cleared the floor around him and put a dog bed under his head. There is little you can do for a dog who is seizing other than to try to make sure that they don’t hurt themselves, all you can do it wait for it to be over. The seconds ticked by like days as the jerking of his limbs slowed, then stopped and he slowly wobbled to his feet. He still wanted to go, so we went out on our morning walk with the others, Drew unsteady and confused but improving rapidly as the aftereffects of the seizure dissipated.
I called our head of adoptions to advise him of what had happened and asked him to call Drew’s potential adopters and let them know the situation. When I arrived at work with Drew, he was his normal self again – and the family was still coming to meet him.
They came in, a couple with their friendly young pointer and two kids. I talked to them for a while and tried to answer every question. They spent a long time with him, eventually going off on their own to talk among themselves and their kids about the commitment they were thinking about making and what it would mean to their family. And then they came back to the desk for the adoption paperwork. Drew was going home, a home he has been in now for a few months and that I hear he is doing fantastically in. They are fantastic people.
Don’t ever buy into “unwanted animals”. As hard as it is to remember sometimes, as hard as it is to believe sometimes, there is a home out there somewhere for every dog and cat you can possibly think of, even this 12 year old epileptic, gone in a matter of days to a great home that will benefit as much from him as he will from them. For every unfeeling, uncaring person who abandons an animal in their time of need there is a wonderful person who will cherish them as they deserve.