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Pure Guesswork

lucy look


Tomorrow afternoon Geoff Reed and I are going to visit Lucy’s possible new home. ICHBA calls this visit a meet and greet. It’s the last step in ICHBA’s adoption process. If we think her new family is suitable, then we’ll leave her there. If not, Lucy’s coming back with us.

Geoff and I talked on the phone yesterday and agreed that if for one second we get a bad vibe, then we’ll tell the family it’s not going to work out. It would be a hard thing to explain to the parents and their two little girls, but Donna, ICHBA’s founder, gave me a tip last year that I carry with me to every “meet and greet.” She said that if I put the dog’s well being before any human feelings, then it’s easier to say no. And she’s right.

Still, picking the right home is complicated. I’ve been wrong three times out of twenty eight. Those bad decisions eat at me for the same reason that I can tell the wrong family no. When the dogs are my number one priority and I fail them, it feels like I stepped on a nail, a rusty one.

The problem with making the right call about a family is that up to a certain point, it’s all a guessing game, a gamble. Families can have great recommendations from friends and veterinarians, positive interviews with both the foster family and Donna, amiable meet and greets, yet still end up returning the dog six months after they adopted them.

It’s always nice to know you’re not alone, and I’m finding a lot of companionship in David Wroblewski’s book The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. In general, his writing is singing to my dog-loving heart, but in particular, I’m finding quotes reflecting my feelings about picking the right home. The novel is a big book about a deaf boy named Edgar and his dog Almondine, but it’s worth the time.  (Thanks for the recommendation, Todd Langston.) In this scene, Edgar and his father are discussing the possibility of socializing an adult feral dog:

“Every time I think about that dog, something your grandfather used to say comes to mind. He hated placing pups, really hated it. That’s why he started keeping them until they were yearlings-said most people had no idea how to handle a pup. Wrecked their dogs before they were six months old…Anyway, what I mean is, he hated having to choose where the dogs went. He thought it was pure guesswork. (80)”

I’ll let you know if Geoff and I guess right or not as soon as possible.

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.

Welcome Back, Lucy

Lucy Break 1Lucy returned to the Farnival on Thursday after two weeks of vacationing in Nashville with her co-foster parent Geoff Reed. She’s like a different dog. When she stayed here last month, she was either a timid or aggressive loner, but being at Geoff’s house did wonders for her self-confidence. In the two days she’s been back, Lucy’s been acting like a normal, playful, well-adjusted canine. Because of her aggressive history, I’ve been closely supervising her play sessions with any other dog, but so far (fingers crossed) no more fights have broken out.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s weight is still an issue. Even after a month of diet and tons of exercise, she’s clocking in at 47 pounds, meaning she’s only lost 3 pounds and needs to drop 7 more. Poor Lucy. I walked her Kardashian-sized rump off this morning. At the end of our hot, sweaty, five-mile hike, I let Lucy get a drink in a small waterfall. She sat down in the cold, streaming water, panting so hard her whole body shook, and gave me that “are you kidding me, lady” look. I told her welcome back.

Tony a.k.a. T-bone Update: Gun-Shy

After fostering twenty-eight canines in eighteen months, I’ve gotten a little psycho about my recently adopted dogs. I like to stay in touch, at least for the first couple of months, with the families. I don’t ask for more than a smiley face text. But after picking the wrong home too many times, I’m gun-shy. The worst feeling ever is when a foster dog returns because things didn’t work out at their new homes.

Tony, a four-month-old puppy, left the Farnival at the end of April, so I’m still keeping close tabs on him. I texted his new mom, Tammy, last Thursday, asking about T-bone. Never heard back. Five days passed. I texted again. No response.

I tried to keep my worries contained, but of course the worst possible scenarios ran through my head. What if a car hit him and they’re afraid to tell me? What if he ran away and they have no idea where he is?

I finally dug out Tammy’s email address from an adoption application and emailed her. I heard back after twelve hours of obsessively checking my computer. She apologized profusely. Tammy’s daughter had dropped her phone in Tony’s water bowl, and it took her a few days to get another one. T-bone’s doing great. Look how handsome he’s becoming:



A Conversation about Rosie

ade & rose smile

(Ade and Rosie)

I had a thirty-minute conversation with Rosie’s potential adopter Chris last night. Holy poop. I think this is the one. I warned him that we’ve spent too much time training Rosie to have him screw it all up. When he answered that he thinks any dog problems are ultimately the human’s fault, I wanted to kiss him. Just keep your fingers, toes, and butt cheeks crossed that this works out like I’m hoping it will. I’ll keep you posted.