This winter break is extra special for me because I am getting to spend it bonding with my new rescue pup! I grew up having dogs and my husband and I have had dogs together most of our marriage (I think in the 19 years we've been together, we only haven't had a dog for about 2 to 2 1/2 of those years!).
We moved to our current house in 2003. To the day, a year later, a new family moved in next door and their female dog had had a big litter of puppies. As The Youngest was pretty little (about 20 months old), she was obsessed. I remember getting her out of the van after getting home from daycare and she would run over to the fence separating our houses and drop to her knees to see all of the puppies! Needless to say, we had to get one. We had Morgan for 10 years. He was a great dog and loved by all. When he was about 7 we got a puppy, Hershey. Hershey loved Morgan, Morgan did not love Hershey. At all. I'm quite sure his face in some of the pictures we have of them meeting is saying, "What is THIS thing?" :)
We lost Morgan in 2014. He had had some health issues, including a tumor that was growing behind his eye. The vets were confident it wasn't cancerous and it didn't ever seem to bother him but he was losing his hearing and had some other issues happening. He fell down the stairs and broke his leg and the poor ole boy was just miserable. So we had to make the hard decision to put him down. It was awful. I took a day off work because I was so sad about it.
Hershey missed his big brother so much. It was probably a month before he stopped looking around for Morgan. (I later learned that it takes 3-4 weeks for another animal to finally lose the scent of the other pet.) Hershey has been a constant companion for us since we got him in 2011. We didn't think we were going to have to worry about losing him any time soon.
Unfortunately, he developed some fatty tissue on one of his back legs. We took him to the vet and they even did a biopsy but it came back negative. They thought it was just an infection starting up. We put him on an antibiotic and thought that was the end of it. He completed the round of antibiotics but there didn't seem to be much change in it. About a week after the antibiotic round was done, the spot turned rock hard and it seemed to be growing. We knew it was beginning to bother Hershey because he would bite at it and finally we had to put a cone on him so he wouldn't mess with it when we were all gone at work and school.
My husband took him back to the vet on a Tuesday and the vet said, "there is no easy way to tell you, but it's definitely cancer." They even reviewed the previous records from the last visit and couldn't believe that the biopsy had come back negative before. They told us to keep him comfortable and as long as he was eating and seemed happy, to expect him to have about 3-5 months.
Less than a week later, we were at the Animal Emergency Hospital and we were losing him. It was heartbreaking, especially because he was only 8 years old and he had been so healthy in the weeks leading up to that. The cancer was very aggressive and hit him fast and furious.
I was devastated. I stopped sleeping well. I was eating my feelings (and I knew it). I stopped going to the gym. I spent a lot of time journaling and a lot of time in therapy talking about Hershey and trying to figure out why his loss was affecting me so much. I knew that I was also devastated when we lost Morgan, but I think I also recognized that having Hershey there allowed us to be comforted. There wasn't just an empty space the way there was when Hershey was gone.
Finally, after speaking at length about it to my therapist, and some friends, I realized what it really was.
Way back in 2010 when I began to blog for the first time, I was on medical leave. I had left an extremely abusive classroom situation and was at home dealing with depression, anxiety and some post-traumatic stress (as the abuse in the classroom triggered memories of my childhood abuse that I had suppressed). It occurred to me as I was really exploring my feelings about Hershey's loss that when I was home during that medical leave, I was alone 5 days per week for about 6-7 hours a day while my husband and kids were all in school or at work. Who was there with me? Morgan. He never left my side actually.
Last November (2018) when my depression hit an incredible low point, probably the lowest it had ever been when I was feeling dark and not myself at all, who was there? Hershey. While I did not take time away from work last year to deal with my depression, I did rely on the dog being there when I was sad. He was 100% my husband's dog (if there was a choice between the two of us, it wasn't going to be me), but instinctively, he seemed to know when I was really sad and needed some extra TLC. He would seek me out and put his head on my leg so I'd pet him or he'd come lay by me on the couch. These dogs had been my emotional support animals and I didn't even know it. They were just always there and gave me the extra love and support I needed when my anxiety and/or depression were getting the better of me.
Of course, this realization brought on a little guilt. I realized I had totally just taken for granted the unconditional love I was getting from these animals. I loved them of course, but I certainly could see where *I* could have been a better dog mom with hindsight being 20/20 and all.
As such, I told The Husband that I needed a dog in my life. It was so beyond a want. I explained all of this to my therapist and she also agreed that this was not a want for me; it was a need. I hadn't slept well in over a month since Hershey had passed away and that was seriously going to begin to affect my job and my personal life.
I connected with some local shelters because I knew that Bissell was having its Clear the Shelters events coming up. We filled out our applications, had our vet give us a reference and prepared to meet some dogs. I went to the Humane Society and saw several dogs that I liked, but they either were not cat tolerant or they weren't good with small children. While I don't have a small child who lives with me, my 3 1/2 year old grandson is around enough that any dog we have has to be good with children. So that left all of those dogs off the list.
Then I connected with a shelter in the area I work in. It's only about 5-10 minutes up the road from my middle school so very easy for me to get there after work. We were interested in two dogs in particular. One was in a foster home and the other was in a shelter. We couldn't make the deadline for the Clear the Shelters event because of the foster mom's schedule but were happy to pay the adoption fee if we had a match.
On Sunday, December 15, we met a wonderful 3-4 year old Pitt Bull/Shar Pei mix named Dino. He has been in foster since early November because he was not doing well at the shelter. He had come in as a stray and is a beautiful animal. I had seen several of his pictures and the post his foster mom had made on the shelter's Facebook page and I was in love already. He is very sweet but they suspect he was abused by a man at some point because he takes a lot of time to warm up to men.
I was in love immediately. I didn't even want to meet the other dog because I knew I'd want to take them both home and that wasn't about to happen. We let the shelter folks know we definitely wanted to follow through with adopting Dino and I made arrangements with the foster mom and the shelter to finalize everything and pick him up on December 20 on my way home from work. This would be perfect because it was also the start of my winter break so we'd have time to help the dog adjust and settle in a bit.
We rechristened him as Odie because I just don't think he looks like a Dino. What's really funny is, the day that I signed the adoption packet, the woman at the shelter was verifying my employment and said, "Oh, you're a teacher, aren't you?" and I said, "Yes." She kind of chuckled and said, "that's funny because we dressed Dino/Odie up as a Teacher's Pet for Halloween!" How's that for irony? :)
I love this dog. He is seriously the sweetest. He's very obedient, learns quickly and is so loyal. He is taking a little longer to warm up to/get used to The Husband, but I think that's to be expected since we know he was likely mistreated by a man at some point. I've taken Odie on multiple walks around our neighborhood and he is amazing on a leash (that was not something I could ever say of Hershey!) and is so well behaved. He lets me dress him in doggy t-shirts and he sleeps at my feet to keep me safe. I love it.
I seriously have to question who rescued who? I have slept so soundly the last three nights he has been with us. I can feel the tension in my body slowly subsiding. I really wonder if he can sense that I was mistreated as a child just like he was and thus we instantly bonded.
I have taken my role as dog mom so much more serious this time, especially now that I understand how much of an impact my previous dogs had on my emotional well being. Odie is a dream dog. We even left him alone for several hours his 2nd night here so we could celebrate our daughter's birthday and he didn't leave a mess in the house or destroy anything either. (Honestly I was a little worried because you just never know with a new pet at home.) He is friendly, affectionate, a cuddler and so so loyal.
I've never adopted/rescued before. All the previous dogs I can remember having in my life we got as puppies. Puppies are overrated! I haven't had to house-train Odie because he already was. He knows some simple commands like sit and he comes when I call him (we are working on "stay") and it's so much better being past the potty training phase!
Again, I never really appreciated how much my previous dogs supported me emotionally. Now that I know that to be true, my bond with Odie is going to be so much stronger, I think. We walk together, we play together and we rest together. It's definitely the start of a beautiful friendship and I am almost convinced that he actually rescued me.