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Foster Dogs Who Fell in Love

Meadow and Bentley

It was love at first sight for both, one sniff of the behind and they were inseparable.

I miss fostering homeless mutts for a thousand different reasons, but watching the relationships they formed is one of the top five. In fact, the most beautiful love story I ever witnessed happened between our foster dogs Meadow and Bentley.

On a frigid morning five years ago, their silhouettes emerged in the backyard. I watched them from my office window, fingers suspended over the keypad. I was working on a project with an approaching deadline.

The mutts wore similar blond coats, and in the cold pale air, their fur looked white. I had no idea how long they’d been playing outside, but they were locked in the midst of it at sunrise. If the past ten days were any indication, they would rack up two more wrestling matches before bed.

Their dance looked like a mash-up of ballet and rugby. Meadow leaped, twirled, and lunged around him as elegantly as a ballerina. Bentley acted like the rugby player, agile but unsure how to focus his energy, all legs and muscle. He was a Lab-pit mix and wore his fur short and wiry, while Meadow’s fluffed long and wavy. They both weighed around fifty-five pounds, but he was taller and she was wider. He was clumsier. She was faster.

When their shapes crystallized under the morning sun, I realized I hadn’t gotten any work done because I couldn’t tear my eyes from Meadow and Bentley. Their affection was exhilarating, intoxicating, unfiltered. They couldn’t talk, yet their body language screamed their love, as though they stood on the rooftop with megaphones.

I told myself to focus and clicked open Gmail. I had a note that made me swallow hard, twice. Donna, ICHBA’s head honcho, wrote that Bentley got adopted. An ex-military dog handler, someone who could handle his aggression issues wanted him. They were moving to Alaska.

It was the best news possible. I couldn’t have scripted a better outcome. Yet, I couldn’t celebrate, not quite. It meant separating Meadow and Bentley. Like Romeo and Juliet, their relationship was doomed from the start. Except, it wasn’t so much where they came from. It was that they were heading in separate directions.

***

I was cutting up a pound of strawberries when Meadow and Bentley burst through the doggie door. They had just finished their second round of wrestling.

Meadow dropped on the kitchen’s tile floor and panted in fast huffs. Bentley, equally hot, bounded next to her. In the human world, he’d be called whipped, but canines don’t recognize labels. He feverishly licked her long snout. Meadow, annoyed by his affection, abruptly stood up and pranced into the living room.

Bentley was dumbfounded. He rotated his maw from side-to-side, sniffed the floor where she had been resting. Then, he settled for licking her drool.

Both of the dogs had special needs. Meadow had been adopted and returned once, Bentley twice. Bentley suffered from fear aggression and attacked whatever and whoever was closest whenever he saw strangers. Meadow, on the other hand, didn’t mind being around any human or dog, but she shredded shoes, rugs, towels, furniture, and children’s toys when she was alone.

Back then, I thought it was strange that these two special needs dogs found each other. It was love at first sight for both, one sniff of the behind and they were inseparable. I had wondered if they sensed each other’s neediness. In retrospect, I realize that’s exactly what they did. Don’t dogs do the same for us? Don’t they sniff out our emotional issues, then try their best to heal them? Why wouldn’t they do it for each other?

An hour after she snubbed him, Meadow dropped a Kong by his paw. Now, she wanted him to play. Meadow’s fur was still slightly wet from running through the dewy grass and it kinked around her ears like an 80’s hairdo. She was a one-of-a-kind beauty and completely aware of it. Bentley didn’t even try to get off the dog bed. Instead, he gently nipped at her ear. She plopped down, threw her head over his neck and fell asleep within minutes. They napped the entire afternoon cuddled against each other.

***

That evening Bentley and Meadow circled the yard. The winter sun was setting fast but they were unfazed by the fading light. It was their last dance, their last few hours together. They sprinted so fast that when they stopped, they needed a few yards to slow down, like a runway for a plane. Once in a while, they clashed in a flurry of paws and tails. What a wonderful way to say I love you.

They couldn’t have known it was their last dance. Or did they? Dogs can read microscopic body language. Did my body communicate the unease I felt about saying goodbye to a dog who had lived with us for four months? The unease I felt about separating Meadow and Bentley? Or was I projecting my feelings?

What I did know, even then, was that dogs are masters of living in the moment, and even if they had known about their impending goodbye they wouldn’t have acted any differently. On that evening, all that mattered to Bentley and Meadow was each other. So, I watched those two homeless mutts dancing their last dance and felt a profound sense of gratitude, gratitude for witnessing such a beautiful love story.

Thank you, Meadow.

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Last week we took Meadow and Dawn to the Springfield library to visit a group of three to five year-old children gathered for story time. When we got there the focus became less about a character called Penny the Pig and more about fist bumping Meadow. After the ten plus children got their chance to high five Meadow, they started heading back inside for more popcorn. Kids’ attention spans are about as long as firing firecrackers.

But one little girl named Ana didn’t want to leave. She had shiny hair, pink shorts, and a dimpled smile. At one point, I handed her Meadow’s leash, and you’d have thought I pulled a star from the sky. She lit up. Ana had come to the library with her grandmother, who stood off to the side, quietly taking pictures. The older woman never stopped smiling.

Ana wouldn’t let Meadow kiss her, but she turned away from her licks with such an enthusiastic giggle it tempted Meadow to keep trying. After running up and down the sidewalk with Meadow by her side wasn’t enough, Ana asked me if she could walk Meadow and Dawn. She was a bold little girl, but she had a few problems managing both leashes. She finally conceded that as a beginning dog walker she should probably only handle one at a time.

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When we said our goodbyes, Ana’s smile disappeared. Her eyes widened. I swear a shadow moved over our heads. My heart melted right then and there. I asked her if she would mind helping me walk Meadow to the car. Miraculously, Ana’s smile returned.

Later that night, I wrapped my arms around Meadow – who had been snoring on the couch since we got home – and whispered into her shaggy ear, “Thank you for making a little girl’s day.”

P.S. Meadow and I are both hoping we see Ana again this week at the library. We also heard a rumor Rosie might be making a guest appearance at story time. We’re crossing our fingers and paws.

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Overcoming An Adoption Slump

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Adoptions have been extraordinarily slow for the past couple months. It’s not only Rosie that’s been at the Farnival too long, but Dawn has been here close to six months now. I’ve been told that every rescue agency goes through a slump. But it’s hard to be patient.

Normally, ICHBA posts ads on Craig’s List and Petfinders, and within a few weeks, months maybe, the dogs find homes. Up until December, it’s been a very successful way to rehome animals. Obviously, the game has changed. The good news is that ICHBA has decided to meet the current challenge head on by stepping up our marketing game. The agency has launched a Facebook page and is designing a website, which I’ll announce as soon as it’s finished.

Last week Donna and I took the dogs to the 2015 Springfield Art Walk, where we passed out cards and mingled with Chief of Police David Thompson. We’ve applied for a membership with PetSmart Charities, which means (if we get accepted) we’ll be able to set up camp with our pups at their store any day of the week. And lastly, on June 13th ICHBA will have a booth at Springfield’s Taste of Country, where people can meet the adoptable dogs or get a high-five from Meadow for a buck.

I’m totally excited about all the changes happening for ICHBA in 2015. I’ll keep you posted.

Meadow’s Bad Hair Day(s)

Mead and ball(Meadow, pre-haircut)

I know my favorite canine philosopher Cesar Millan would say that I’m projecting human feelings onto my dog, but Meadow was not happy about her haircut for at least three days. She normally wears her hair long and flowing, but after a skunk sprayed her, we had to shave it off.

Her moping started as soon as we picked her up from the “salon.” We had brought two other dogs, Tony and Adriana, along for the ride, and she greeted them both with an uncharacteristic growl. She didn’t play in the mosh pit for several days nor would she sleep in our bed.

The other dogs weren’t sure about her new haircut either. The morning after we had her fur shaved Meadow stood up on the couch, and Adriana started snarling at her as though she didn’t recognize her. Like who’s the new chick?

Things finally turned around on Friday. Meadow, still brooding about her short fur, trotted beside me under a drizzling sky as we walked down the bluff towards the trails in our backyard. At that point, it’d been pouring for twenty-four straight hours, so by mid morning on Friday our normally dry creek had more water flowing through it than it had all winter. I’d say two feet of rushing water, enough to make crossing sloppy but not enough to stop us. We’ve had a lot of precipitation in Middle Tennessee over the past month, and sunshine has seemed nonexistent.

Meadow hopped into a deeper portion – maybe three feet – created by the jagged edges of the limestone rocks lining the creek bed like a dragon’s spine. And suddenly, as though a switch had flipped, she stopped sulking and started acting like the fun-loving Meadow we all know and love. In fact, I couldn’t get her out of the creek. The water splashing on her nearly naked body must have felt like a shower after a five-day camping trip, because she leaped and sprinted, diving her face under, then licking at the drops that sprayed off her muzzle. I realized she’s probably never felt water so close to her skin before, and that she must be a skinny dipper at heart. In order to celebrate her newly discovered hobby, everyday this weekend I’ve taken her down back and let her romp.

I don’t know whether I was projecting human emotions onto Meadow about her bad hair-day mood or not. But I do know that when she gets wet, even with her fur sheared she still smells like skunk. I’m not even joking. This is one of those patience things isn’t it? Like I just have to wait it out?

Cabin Fever at the Farnival

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Snow, ice, and slush have blanketed yards and roads for over a week in middle Tennessee. That’s unheard of in Nashville.

At first, Mason and I loved it, acting like teenagers, stocking up on frozen pizza bites and sledding down the backyard. The dogs were just as delirious, careening after us and through the white flakes like they had found a new toy. Our joy lasted for several days.

But, over the weekend, when nobody could walk because a new storm had carried in several inches of ice, making surfaces as slick as a skating rink, everybody’s mood took a sour turn.

After a brief attempt, even the dogs gave up trying to play outside. Instead, unexercised and bored, they started raising hell inside. For two entire days, it was complete chaos. I went from reprimanding one dog to the other. At some point or another, I caught Tony munching on my I-phone, Adriana chewing up the remote control, Meadow jumping on the stove for a treat I’d forgotten about, and Dawn rooting through the bathroom garbage, searching for something, anything to tear apart.

Thankfully yesterday morning we were able to start walking again, making eight laps around our trails in the woods, and things have calmed down considerably. I know I’m not the only one – human or dog- thinking this, but I’m really ready for this winter to be over.

Dawn’s Red Vest: Dawn Update 2

Dawn star(Dawn)

On Friday morning Dawn sat next to the kitchen door and patiently waited for me to reach around her neck, attach her training collar and leash. She acted a little jittery when I pulled out a red vest, put it around her flank and closed the plastic buckle, but it’s the first time she’s worn “working” gear.

I grabbed her lead, and she followed me with a wagging tail, effortlessly hopping in the Honda’s backseat, finding a spot between Meadow and Adriana. They sniffed the red vest for a second, acknowledging her new attire, before sticking their noses against the window, adding to the slobbery art already smearing the glass.

We were going to the Springfield Greenway for a four-mile walk; Dawn knew the drill. It’s hard to believe that two months ago she’d been feral. I thought about her first ride in a car, when she’d been thrashing in Donna’s van on that Christmas Eve morning, bleeding from biting her own tongue in fear. It wasn’t that long ago.

The only reason we’ve been able to socialize her in two short months is because of our pack. As I’ve said before, our dogs did all the hard work, teaching Dawn everything – from how to get into a car to where to go to the bathroom. They had even taught her leash etiquette.

At the greenway she jumped out of the car onto the sidewalk and walked the next several miles using perfect manners. Once in a while, Adriana, our eight-month-old mutt, would find a stick or chestnut and egg her on, tempting her to play. Inevitably, Dawn would cave and I’d let a half-assed, tethered wrestling match break out, but the game rarely lasted longer than a minute before Dawn was back to walking in formation, leash slack, right beside the rest of her pack.

Dawn’s not perfect. She still chews shoes. She’ll bark at other dogs on the greenway, not aggressively but enough, and she’ll bark for her food bowl, but these are minor concerns and easily changed with consistent correction. Her biggest problem is that she’s still timid around humans.

When we got home from Friday’s walk, I unhooked Dawn’s nylon vest, and she seemed extraordinarily happy to have it off, but I told myself there’s no way she knows what it says. Besides, she’ll have to get used to it.

I brush the fur off the bright, meant-to-be-seen vest, hang it in the dog’s closet – filled with leashes, food, treats, brushes, clippers, medicine, shampoo, and paper towels – and shut the door behind me.

Dawn’s red vest reads Adopt Me. It’s time for a happy ending.