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Three-Time Foster Failures

Dawn(Dawn, Summer 2014)

dawn4(Dawn, Winter 2015)

The biggest thing that went down during the blackout: we’re keeping Dawn. Forever. In my defense I voted no. It’s not that I don’t love her, but I had my mind settled on four dogs. I thought four would be the perfect number for our family. It would be like the old days, when Mason could walk two, and I could walk two. ALL four actually fit in my little Honda Civic.

I knew things weren’t going my way when I tried getting Mason to agree on a time for a meet and greet. Dawn’s potential adopter was a perfect fit. She is an active, semi-retired woman. She has another dog she takes everywhere with her. Mason didn’t want to hear about any of it.

Within five minutes our conversation turned into a rare screaming match. The second our voices went a few octaves above normal, the dogs scattered, looking over their shoulders with that WTF expression. Our fight ended with Mason throwing his coffee off the deck and yelling “What would I like to do? What I’d like to do is pay Dawn’s hundred dollar adoption fee and f*ck it.”

Later that week, walking with my friend and dog sitter Lino Chavez, I told him Dawn might have found her new family. Lino is possibly the most supportive friend in the universe. He’s the guy that calls me everyday when Mason’s on the road, just to make sure I’m okay. But when I told him about Dawn leaving the Farnival, he said in his broken, musical English, “Meleezza, nooooo. Dawn is peaceful.”

Even my dogs were against me. The day before Dawn’s meet and greet, I walked into the bedroom, glanced at the bed, and stopped in my tracks. The cuteness factor was overwhelming, like a snapshot from a dog calendar. Our pack – Adriana, Floyd, Sara, and Meadow – were all sitting on the bed. Dawn was snuggled between Sara and Floyd. Ade had her head resting on Dawn’s back. Meadow was on the fringe of their cuddle fest, wearing her goofy smile.

As I turned away, I caught Dawn’s glance. She was staring at me with those innocent eyes, looking as happy as any other mutt. How could she look so innocent after seeing so much? She’s lived a lot for a three-year-old dog. I thought about how she witnessed her whole pack get killed, how she survived alone on the street for way too long, how she birthed and fed nineteen puppies. I thought about how downtrodden she’d looked in that ghetto. But look at her now. She is peaceful here.

“Who wants Dawn to stay at the Farnival?” I asked.

Five tails whapped against the comforter until it was all I could hear, like drum beats reverberating yes. I was done fighting it. Officially, Mason and I are three-time foster failures.

Finding the Perfect Home for Dawn


(Dawn, March 2015)

We met Dawn in June 2014. She was a feral stray living on the streets of a run-down, low-income community in Springfield, TN. When I say feral, I mean until last December a human had never touched her. ICHBA heard about her after she had a litter of eight pups under a pile of brush and trash.

I clearly remember seeing Dawn for the first time. She walked with her head hanging low, as though exhausted, tail tucked, teats sagging from so many pups sucking on them. Mud stained her paws and nose. Her coat was dull and ragged. She moved within a few feet of us, close but not close enough to touch.

Dawn didn’t trust humans because when she was six months old, the Springfield Police Department massacred her entire pack. We first heard about the incident from residents on Smith Street and later confirmed the report with the police department. After several complaints about twelve feral dogs harming property between Smith and Josephine Street, the S.P.D. set chickens loose in a field. When the dogs ran after the live bait, the police department opened fire with shotguns, sometimes shooting the animals two or three times. The only dog that survived was Dawn.

Sometimes, I imagine what it must have been like for Dawn during that terrible day, hiding in some drainage ditch or hunkering behind a tree while the whole world exploded and her pack screamed, the scent of blood thick. Dawn had lived through a war zone.

Mason, Donna, and I tracked Dawn – mostly by foot – down every back alley and through every abandoned lot in Springfield during a soupy hot Tennessee summer. We tried catching her using sedatives, tranquilizers, catchpoles, and nets but we failed each time. We even had Springfield Animal Control engaged in our efforts, but Dawn’s a supremely intuitive creature. She outfoxed all of us.

During the course of the next six months, Dawn had nineteen puppies, all of which ICHBA rehomed. But we were never able to get our hands on the mother until Christmas Eve morning 2014, when we trapped her under an ink black, pre-dawn sky in a crumbling shack where she had birthed her last litter of puppies. For Donna, Mason, and I catching her was like winning the Super Bowl. We were fist bumping, ass slapping, high-fiving every which way. Even now, we all still consider catching her our greatest achievement yet.

Dawn didn’t trust us fast. It took weeks before she allowed me to touch her without bolting for a corner. In fact, we discussed getting her fixed, then releasing her back to Smith Street because we never thought we’d be able to socialize her. We rationalized that if she had a collar, she wouldn’t suffer the same fate as her former pack.

But we just couldn’t do it. We couldn’t give up on a dog that had already suffered so much. Instead, everybody pitched in and my whole posse – Mason, Donna, Nancy, Charlotte, Lino, Jim, and most importantly my pack – taught Dawn that being touched by humans isn’t so bad.

Watching Dawn a year after I first saw her is like seeing a different dog. Her coat is sleek, black, and shiny. Her eyes are happy and thoughtful. She wags her tail, suns on the deck, and walks on a leash just like any other dog. She’s still shy, timid even, but once in a great while, she’ll kiss my cheek.

The other day I told Mason about someone interested in adopting Dawn. The gentleman said that he doesn’t have any other animals and that she would need to be crated for eight hours a day. Mason immediately shook his head no.

“If anyone deserves a perfect home, its Dawn,” he said.

Pretty Boy Floyd Falls for Dawn

floyd close up


It was the middle of the night. The bedroom fan rhythmically whirled. The window was open, and a soft breeze carrying the scent of honeysuckle blew through the screen. A warm front was moving in from the south. Wondering what had woken me up, I heard Floyd’s tail thumping against the hardwood floor. He sleeps next to the bed.

Paws pitter-pattered down the hallway and I assumed Floyd’s sister Sara was moving to her own sleeping space in the spare bedroom. Even though Floyd is currently the only male in a pack of seven dogs, he’s never cared about any other female except for his littermate and me. But as her clicking nails moved closer and Floyd’s tail whapped harder, I recognized the distinctive jingle of the tags on Dawn’s collar. Floyd was excited about seeing our foster dog Dawn.

Since that night, I’ve noticed them playing on several occasions. Once, I even walked by when Floyd was rolling on his back and jawing back and forth with her. Could our Pretty Boy Floyd finally be falling in love? It makes sense, doesn’t it? Dawn’s is beautiful, her coat as shiny as coal, plus she exudes the worldliness of street life.

A Lucky Bird

Lucy Break 3

It was early afternoon on Friday, a warm sunny day. Besides a rare logging truck, the traffic on our rural road was light, the house quiet. I had opened every window to let in the fresh spring air. A soft breeze blew through the bedroom as I swept the forever-shedding dog hair into piles on the hardwood floors. Outside, I heard a boatload of birds twittering back and forth. Their songs were animated and cheerful.

All eight dogs were snoozing on the deck. Some, like Meadow, preferred napping in the shade and others like Rosie, Lucy, and Dawn stretched out in the sun, soaking up the rays like sunbathers on a Florida beach. The deck has a fence, and I had opened the kitchen door, propping it with a rock, so the wind didn’t slam it closed. I wanted the dogs to have access to their water bowl. Once in a while I’d poke my head out the door, but everyone seemed perfectly content, and for a full thirty minutes I was able to get lost in my thoughts while I cleaned house.

A stampede of charging dogs broke through the peaceful afternoon like a herd of elephants. Our whole pack stormed down the hallway, tags jingling, paws stomping, and bolted into the office. When I got there, I saw Ade and Rosie trying to climb the bookshelves after a little bird that fluttered against the wall. He couldn’t have been bigger than my palm with pale gray and white feathers, a black beak, and terrified eyes.

I was really getting worried that things were going to end bad for the bird because I couldn’t catch him. In less than a minute, the little guy did a whole lot of damage, knocking over a paper-mâché Don Quixote figurine, a framed picture, a cat-shaped bookend, and a stack of National Geographic magazines. But then again, I couldn’t really blame him. Eight beasts that wanted to tear him to shreds were watching his flight with drooling anticipation.

Luckily, in his frantic escape attempt, the bird started flapping against the window. I opened it wider and suddenly he was free. I felt ridiculously happy watching that lucky bird careen across the yard then disappear into the trees. But when I turned around, there were sixteen eyes glaring at me like I just ruined the best part of their day.

A Dog’s Intuition

It was relatively easy to choose which dogs to take on Tony’s last walk yesterday. I went with the “Smith Street Family,” deciding on his mother, Dawn, and his half-sister, Adriana.

The plan was that once we finished our four-mile hike, we would drop T-bone off at Donna’s so she could transport him half the way to Indiana, where she would meet with his new family. Leaving the house for the last time with Tony meant gathering his food, blanket, leash, and paperwork.

Normally, once the dogs hear their leashes jingling, they group by the kitchen door, waiting to go to the car. But yesterday morning the second I grabbed their ropes, Adriana and Tony bolted in the opposite direction, through the doggie door and into the backyard. They ran to their favorite play spot, my old garden, and sat there, side by side, not moving a muscle when I called and called for them.

Over the past five months, as Tony matured from a nursing puppy to a thirty-pound hellion, his friendship with Adriana grew stronger and stronger. Those two became a pair of original gangstas, chasing down moles, chewing up sticks, digging holes, eating worms, tearing up flip-flops, rolling in mud, and staying in the yard until well after dark. Without a doubt, Ade will miss him the most.

I had held my tears in check all morning, but when I saw them sitting in the garden, as though protesting, I lost it. I don’t know if Adriana and T-bone were responding to me collecting Tony’s things, or if they smelled my anxiety and sadness, but they were acting like they knew when we left Tony would never come back. I felt both angry and awed. I was mad that they were making leaving so hard, but I was amazed at their intuition.

Finally, I walked outside, tears in my eyes, wanting to keep them all but knowing I can’t. Tony and Ade stayed still as statues while I leashed them up, not moving until I led them to the car. Once inside they curled up together on the too-small passenger seat and spooned for the entire ten-mile ride into town.

t-bone(Tony and Adriana spooning, April 25, 2015)

Preparations for T-bone’s Adoption

DSC_0555(Tony, February 2015)

Tony has two more days at the Farnival. On Saturday morning, I’ll take him for his final walk with our pack. Immediately after, he’ll leave for his new home in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was three weeks old when he arrived here, and he’ll be five months old when he leaves. We’re all he’s ever known.

Mason and I put a lot of effort into Tony. We wanted to because he’s the last of Dawn’s litter. After she birthed nineteen puppies, we felt like we owed it to her. Besides socializing Tony, we house, leash, and crate-trained him plus taught him hand signals for sitting and high-fives. He’s been fixed and vaccinated. He rides like a dream in the car. He knows manners, such as sitting and waiting for his food and treats. He never begs.

Like most endeavors involving dogs, all our time training him was rewarded a thousand times over. I’ve honestly never met such a jovial little creature. Tony is the kind of puppy that has never, ever met a stranger and his open-pawed acceptance of everybody and anybody inspired me on a daily basis.

The days before a foster dog leaves are never easy, but with Tony it’s particularly hard. Yesterday, Mason had to fly to Texas for work, so he said his goodbyes early. I watched him pick Tony up and hold him above his head, while that puppy’s tail whipped back and forth, as though anticipating some kind of new game. “Take care of you,” Mason said before he lost it, cursed, and left.

As for me, I’m trying not to think about Saturday morning at the same time I’m compiling a list entitled “Preparations for T-bone” So far, it includes: wash his favorite blanket, remove his Farnival dog tag, give him a bath, pack his dog food, leash, and a few rawhides. A list makes Tony’s leaving sound so simple and efficient, yet it’s anything but.