If you’ve ever volunteered or been employed in animal rescue, you will understand the rewards of adopting domestic animals who knew virtually no kindness before you.
All of our dogs were rescue dogs. When I first joined Mercy in Vancouver many years ago, the lovely Nancy Mason was running the organization and introduced me to one of the best dogs I ever knew.
Beauty entered our lives, home and hearts and still lives there in a little corner that lives on past her 16 years with us. The smartest dog I’ve ever known, she was one of those dogs who could find her way home from anywhere and often returned soaked through, smelling of the river when we lived in Richmond over two miles from the shore. When we had to euthanize her due to loss of function caused by an inoperable brain cancer, I wished her all the best on her journey to the gates of doggy heaven.
Amie was the first dog I connected with after Beauty. A blonde and black female German Shepherd, Amie was in a shelter when we first spotted her. She talked to me through the wires and I stuck my fingers through the squares where she licked them and put her paws up to mine as if to shake my hand. I told her she was coming home with me and a few days later when she was officially up for adoption, I returned to the shelter as early as possible.
There was no one in the front office when I arrived so I just waited. The door swung open and in walked a woman carrying a yowling cat in a cage. She set the cat on the counter and looked at me, tears pouring down her face.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s just so hard to say good-bye to her.”
“I know what you are going through. They are family,” I told her.
She nodded, sobbing and I put my arms around her because it just seemed the compassionate and right thing to do. An inner door opened and in stepped the shelter worker. The crying woman stepped back from me, looked at the worker and said to me, “You don’t work here?”
“No,” I said softly. She cried all the harder and the worker stared at us like we were both nuts. The woman gave the worker some information and fled, trying not to look back at her beloved cat one more time.
I told the worker why I was there and drove away with Amie in my car. Apparently, I was one of five people who wanted Amie. To this day, I’ll always believe that the reason I was given Amie was because I was kind to the woman who needed comforting over the loss of her ill cat.
Thus began an adventure with a dog that could actually “talk” and literally “dogged” us everywhere. Her connection to us so strong that she cried pitifully if we didn’t let her sleep by the bed. It was such a mournful cry, a low, distraught wailing, worse than any infant we’d ever heard with their heart broken, that we couldn’t deny her. Amie delighted our friends and family for years with her sweet personality until she developed a cancer. At just nine years old, she left to join her sister Beauty and, as a close friend of ours said, “Amie was the most human dog I ever knew.”
Our furry girls never knew one another nor did they know our third dog, Shaney Man. Shane arrived fresh from 18 months of being a guard dog (the rescue workers believe he was used to guard a grow-op). He had no clue what affectionate human touch was. He cringed if you carried anything crossways, a broom, a mop, anything that smacked of being a weapon.
Within months, he not only knew hand signals from a distance but went from not letting anyone touch him to being so affectionate, he would “thank” us for every kindness from feeding him to petting him.
One dark night just hours before Christmas, I lay recovering from what doctors thought was a life-threatening emergency surgery. My then husband entered the house with Shane and said, “That Effing dog has to go back. We can’t keep him. He nearly killed somebody.
Holding my bandage so that I didn’t strain against the stitches, I said,”Just calm down and tell me what happened, please.”
Apparently as he walked with Shane, a man approached them from behind and my ex had no idea until Shane lunged for the man. It was dark, cold, raining great guns so that even on the roof of the house it sounded like hail and this man approaches out of nowhere. The man swore, turned his umbrella as if to use it for a weapon and Shane lunged and destroyed the umbrella fourty ways to breakfast.
“JESUS CHRIST!!!” The man yelled as he ran down the street with his broken umbrella.
My husband said that Shane could have killed the guy.
“But he didn’t,” I said. “And he COULD have. He was just telling him to stay away from you. Nobody was hurt. The guy got a good scare but I bet he’ll think twice now before walking up behind a big dog and startling him. I don’t think the dog did anything wrong.”
Bear in mind, Shane was a handsome Shepherd cross who was very, very protective of us, our home, friends and family. As a good dog should be. He could stretch to over six feet tall and once when being taunted, body slammed the six foot fence and it gave way. He was never bothered by those taunters again.
But he was as startled on that stormy night as my husband was by this man and rescue dogs don’t take kindly to being startled. Shane didn’t even do well with men. At first. But after a time and two snapping snarls at my husband, they bonded and by the time we had to say our goodbyes to Shaney Man, he was well and truly my husband’s dog.
Like people we love and lose, our dogs are family, too, and we don’t forget them easily. Some of my fondest memories in life are of watching Beauty chase birds for miles and miles on the seabed when the tide was out. Or of Amie curling up in sleeping bags with the nieces and nephews on the living room floor just as if she was one of them. Shane knew when I was in medical crisis and for the year I spent recovering after surgery, he was glued to me, especially for the first three months.
I would awaken to relieve myself, let Shane out and then return to bed after a short walk around the house. Often, I fell asleep with one hand dangling over the side of the bed, resting in his fur. He stayed there at my side, never returning to his own bed until I was fully recovered. Sometimes I even woke up with my hand still resting there.
Doggone it, I miss having a dog. I agree with Winston Churchill who said,“The more I’m around people, the better I like my dog.”