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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.

Farnival Update: Never Say Never

Adriana and Meadow

I started this blog as way to raise awareness for the animal overpopulation problem in rural Tennessee. When I stopped fostering, I thought I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I was wrong. Over the past three years, I encountered situations unique to being a dog mom, so unique that I composed blog posts in my head, scrawled notes across that invisible notepad addressed to every dog-loving freak out there. For instance, one day I stared at my mutt’s nose sweat swirled across the Honda’s windows and instantly thought, that’s art. On another occasion, I pulled a tick out of Meadow’s clenched butthole with a pair of tweezers and thought, who could possibly understand?  Needless to say, I really missed y’all.

There is never any one reason for a big life change. In retrospect I can’t pin the end of our fostering days on Loubie alone. A big problem with doing any kind of rescue work is that it doesn’t pay. After fostering 30 dogs in two years, I had 53 bucks in my savings account. I had to return to a full-time paying job. So, besides being a dog mom to four fantastic, hilarious, and complicated rescue mutts, I’m an assistant director on a television crew that travels over 100 days a year with the NHRA Drag Racing Tour. Balancing a career in television sports with my pack presents a whole other set of issues we’ll address in the months to come. Have you ever had problems finding the right dog-sitter? Have you ever missed your dogs so much you walk through pet stores just for the smell?

Also coming up: we’ll check in with our friends at ICHBA, interview a lionfish hunter from the Florida Keys, and visit the Puget Sound Goat Rescue, where I’ll introduce you to Rosebud, a three-legged goat.

FYI: At the Farnival we treat animals with as much respect as humans and make no apologies for it.

Dog Hair is Everywhere

Meadow

I can’t cook for poop, so don’t get your hopes up, but I do occasionally prepare a few dishes. A broccoli, ricotta, and onion quiche is one of them. Yesterday, I spent thirty minutes shredding the Parmesan, chopping the broccoli and onions, whipping the ricotta and eggs. The dish baked for 55 minutes, then cooled for ten. When it was ready, I stabbed a big piece with my fork and analyzed the creamy mixture stuffed with vibrant green broccoli (cooked el dente) and sweet juicy onions. The crust was toasted to perfection. The smell alone made me salivate.

Right before I took the first bite, I saw a piece of dog hair baked into the egg concoction. The single strand was longish and light, meaning it was either Meadow’s or Floyd’s. It was too long to be Adriana’s and too pale to be Sara’s. It could easily have belonged to any of them because all our mutts shed. We saved all four from some roadside or other, in some stage of desperation. A human might think the least they could do is keep their fur to themselves for one bloody season. But, it never stops. It falls like snow not rain, continuously, softly layering every surface through every season. Clean sheets, mopped floors, and vacuumed rugs last seconds, not hours.

Mason and I battle it, still. We installed hardwood and tile floors, exchanged our comfy cloth couch and “big-ass” chair for leather. We sweep five times a week, bathe the dogs monthly, and brush them weekly. But the futility of our efforts stared at me from a quiche I spent almost two hours cooking. I paused for less than a second, less time than it took for another strand of dog hair to land somewhere, then shoved the bite into my mouth. I told myself if I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t have known anyway. Besides, it didn’t change the taste at all.

Tony and his Foster Grandmother

tony leaf(Tony)

I got the call a few days before my mother arrived in Nashville for a four-day visit from Reston, VA. Over the phone, Tammi B. explained that her family was interested in adopting Tony. Tami was married with two sons, a daughter, and a cat that fetched. She shared the story of a beloved dog, saying when he passed away they had held a memorial service.

As I listened to her, rain poured outside my office window, but Tony and his gangsta sidekick Adriana didn’t care. I saw them happily wrestling in the mosh pit or chasing each other across the yard, kicking up muddy water with their paws. They were both filthy.

I talked to Tami B. for about thirty minutes, but within ten I knew her family would be a great fit for Tony. She was knowledgeable about dogs in general, and more importantly she didn’t even pause when I warned her about T-bone’s energy level. Besides, she lives in Terre Haute, Indiana, and was willing to adopt Tony despite the distance. They had been searching for the perfect puppy, she explained.

I felt both happy and sad. I knew letting Tony go was going to be hard, but I was glad my mother would have a chance to say goodbye. During the weeks leading up to my mom’s visit, every time she called all she had wanted to know about was Tony. She had bottle fed him when he was three weeks old, and it created a bond between them that even Tony remembered.

To say T-bone was delighted to see his foster grandmother would be an understatement. From the moment she walked in the house, he followed her around like a frisky shadow. Each morning when I let him out of his crate, he’d jump on her sleeping head and barrage her face with kisses. Whenever we got home from our mother-daughter excursions to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens or the movies, he’d ignore me and gallop straight to her, carrying a toy so they could play tug-of-war. They had a big time together.

On Sunday, when she had to leave, I took Tony with me to the airport to say goodbye. My mom said the hardest part of all was that he had no idea what was about to happen, and she had no way to tell him. I knew exactly how she felt. Grabbing his furry little head, she kissed his nose. He jumped after her, wanting to follow, and whining when he couldn’t. My mom didn’t start to cry until she called him her pet name “Tony Baloney” for the last time. Then, she obstinately stuck on her sunglasses, and we walked into the terminal.

I Don’t Like by Geoff Reed

About a year ago, Melissa and I met at a tutor-training session for the Nashville Adult Literacy Council. Our first exercise was to communicate as much as possible about ourselves to a partner in 2 minutes without either person saying or writing a word.

Melissa went first and started drawing pictures on a piece of paper and pointing to various tattoos on her body. After two minutes, the teacher asked me what I learned about her. I said she had a five- year- old daughter named Lucy.

Wrong. It turned out she had five dogs, and Lucy was a beloved, deceased German shepherd whose dog tag she had tattooed on her forearm. I had two rescue dogs at home that were a handful, and I couldn’t imagine what her life was like. We became fast friends and have remained so ever since.

Currently, I’m tutoring my second learner, a South-Korean young man we nicknamed “Lenny.” Lenny lives with his 2 younger brothers and parents, who run a successful dry cleaning business. He is quite the fashionisto, always decked out in some name-brand skinny jeans, expensive T- shirt and Nikes.

I’ve been meeting him twice a week for about 3 months, and he’s a challenge, to say the least. His English language skills are slowly improving, but his favorite expression is “I don’t like” to whatever topic I bring up. So far, I’ve discovered that his few interests in America, besides wearing stylish clothes, include Taylor Swift, Coca Cola, Marlboros and action movies. He’s obviously not thrilled with me, or his new life in Nashville, and although he’s always polite and cordial, he rarely smiles.

Sometimes, Melissa joins Lenny and I for a little conversation, and like me, she tries to get him to open up but has little success. I had learned early in our friendship that no topic is off limits to Melissa, and a while back the subject of Koreans enjoying the delicacy of young dogs came up.

“Is it true?” she asked. “Or is it just an urban legend, Lenny?”

“Yes, it’s true. I ate dog.” he answered. “But I don’t like.”

About a week after our dog-eating conversation, Melissa brought Meadow and 2 of the Magic 8 puppies to meet her own student Elena at a park across the street from the literacy school. Elena is a sweet Mexican woman who serves up platters of tacos, burritos and fajitas to hungry patrons at a hole-in-the wall joint on Charlotte Avenue that Melissa and I visit on occasion. Elena’s kids had wanted to see the puppies, and so they had gathered under a park pavilion for an English lesson, while the kids played with the dogs.

When I was leaving the Cohn School with Lenny, I called him to come over and chat with Melissa and Elena. He trudged across the grass with his head down, his Abercrombie and Fitch baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, wearing his trademark frown, trying not to get his white Nikes dirty.

It was crazy to watch, but within minutes, Meadow and the puppies worked their magical dog powers, and Lenny took off his hat,  kneeled on the ground and high-fived Meadow with the biggest toothy grin I had ever seen on his face.

“They’re up for adoption, Lenny,” I kidded him about the puppies, then glanced at Melissa, knowing by the look on her face she was remembering the dog as entrée story. “But there is NO WAY you are getting one!” I added.

We all laughed, even Elena, who liked Lenny, but thought eating raw fish was bad enough, so she really didn’t understand eating canine. Even though Lenny’s English skills are shaky, I think he got it that we were busting him because he laughed as hard as the rest of us.

Watching Lenny laugh, I realized that with the magical help of dogs, my student just might have turned the corner. Maybe we had finally found something he did like.

Lenny and Meadow(Lenny and Meadow)

photo-17(Lenny and Meadow)

Cody and Megan Garcia(Megan and Cody Garcia holding Livia and Adriana)

The Magic 8 are ready for Adoption

DSC_0362

DSC_0524

Six weeks and two days old, and the Magic 8 are already leaving the Farnival. Corrado “Junior” Soprano, the fattest, happiest, and most laid-­back puppy I’ve ever met was adopted yesterday afternoon by Austin and her HUGE mutt Jack. I think Junior and Jack are going to have a blast together. Before Mason and Donna left Austin’s house, Junior was already snuggling with his new brother.