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.

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  • John, what a beautiful tribute to a incredibly special dog! I know your heart is still breaking from this, but it sounds like you gave her a wonderful second chance at life!

  • bsaunders

    What a special baby. I’m so sorry for your loss, John. It seems you had a great life together.

  • Daphne

    A beautiful tribute John. I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for being willing to share…

  • Thank you John.

    Be seeing you, Ginger.

  • Karen palchanes

    Awww….that was sooooo sweet John…you were both lucky to have crossed each others paths…..thank God she had you…what a great legacy to leave behind….RIP girl….

  • db

    What a precious soul – and now she has work to do at the Rainbow Bridge, no doubt. I wouldn’t be surprised that she is the “official greeter” to the new arrivals.

    Thank you for sharing Ginger with us. I’m so very sorry for your loss – I’m sure her passing leaves a huge hole in your heart and life. She has left this world a better place for having been in it.

  • Janet Tobin

    Lovely, John. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lisa

    I’m crying as I read this. Thank you so much not only for sharing her story but also for sharing her with the rescue world. My own rescue, Gracie, came from a hoarder and was saved by Pets Alive. She is sometimes shy and just yesterday she was scared by a blowing leaf…Gingers legacy will live in with all of the dogs she helps socialize and with all of the people who knew her.

  • That was such a beautiful story, beautifully told. I am so glad Ginger found her way into your life, and you into hers.

  • Terri Correnti

    WOW!! Thank you for sharing Ginger with us John! Your story just tore at my heart. You were both blessed to have each other. She is absolutely beautiful!! I just can’t find the right words to express how sad I feel for your loss. She will be with you always.

  • Zak Nilsson

    Ah man, what a special dog. I’m sorry you didn’t have more time with her. Also I didn’t know she met Dakota at one point, did she help him earn his purple collar? I bet she did, in some way. What a great dog. After what she suffered at the puppy mill, she deserved the life she had with you.

    • She did, in a way… when Dakota first came in he was thought to be aggressive and lived alone. I didn’t think so, so I took him home. I think that picture is from one of his first visits. (For those of you following along at home, Dakota is the HUGE Malamute in the picture with Ginger!)

  • Karen F

    My deepest condolences on your loss, John. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

  • Monika Roosa

    My heart breaks for you, John. You were truly blessed to have her in your life, and she was blessed to have you as her person. May she rest in peace. We’ll miss seeing her at PAM. xoxo

  • Misa Martin

    John, it was an honor to work with Ginger and to be included on her list of “trustworthy and often treat-giving humans”. I miss playing “Let’s find Ginger!” and finding her merrily hunting along the cat poop trail. Certainly we couldn’t have accomplished all that we did without Ginger, without the Tiny Spaniel, the Shark, your dear sweet wonderful friend.

    • Oh, how could I forget to mention her love for kitty snacks… 🙂

  • I am so sorry for your loss of your dog Ginger. Your loss will be felt for years to come and to help get threw it you will have those special memory’s of Ginger. You gave her a True Home, True Love and she got to experience a real life because of you. Thank your for sharing this great story about Ginger.

  • Karen Miller

    What a great testimony to little Ginger. I feel lucky to have known her. I so love the photo of Ginger, Gracie & Minnie…a totally awesome, loving crew. And, the one with Dakota which shows how tiny she was. Our shelter recently took in 5 border collies who fit your story about the early Ginger. 2 socialized quickly & 1 was adopted within 2 weeks. I hope the other 3 (sent to border collie rescue) have met someone like you to teach them to love and be happy.

  • I’m so sorry – I recall you mentioning doing a necropsy to determine the cause of death – Did anything come of it?


    • Cardiac arrest of unknown cause. Only significant finding on necropsy was unusual amount of gas and food in her stomach – the vet theorizes that if she laid in exactly the right way to pinch off the exit to her stomach and if it inflated enough to put significant pressure on an artery that could in theory cause cardiac arrest, but that’s a one in a million chance, a freak medical event.

  • Dianne R

    I’m so sorry for your loss. My aby mix died in his sleep while I was at the reception for the No Kill conference in 2010. I came home a little early to give the other cat his insulin and found Smudge curled up in the closet, cold and stiff. I felt so guilty, I yelled at Nathan the next day and he assured me there was nothing I could do and the shelter vet said it was his heart. He was 12 1/2 and the size of a Maine coon – around 24 lbs.

    What a lovely story and an amazing little dog!

  • Remarkable story and pup. The photos were great at capturing her journey and so expressive, my fav was the last pic. Such a sweetheart. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing.

  • I just found your site and wanted to tell you that I am so sorry for your loss. Ginger was an amazing little dog. I’m glad she had you for the time she had left.