Happy Adoption Day!
Two years (and a few days) ago my husband said to me, “Now we can get a dog.”
Just to back up a little: I love dogs. We almost always had one while I was growing up and through my young adulthood. My husband grew up in an apartment in New York City and never had a pet larger than a salamander. I had been wanting a dog since we bought our house in 1996. He kept telling me, “In a few years.” Those years kept going by.
Two years ago we had my mother living with us; we had bought a multifamily house so we could all move in together. I was her primary caregiver as her dementia progressed. It was a very stressful, emotional time. I think my husband knew that and thought that having a dog would be a stress-reliever and give me something to be happy about.
And yet when he said this I was a little reluctant. I’d gotten used to living without a dog, and I loved the freedom we had to travel anywhere on short or long notice or to spend an entire day out. But this wasn’t an offer I was willing to refuse. Besides, with my mother to care for, we weren’t able to travel anyway, and I had no idea how long this situation would last.
So the next day I was on the Internet, checking out adoptables. I’ve always had mixed breeds and loved them, and I wanted my next dog to be a “pound puppy.”
This is where I saw Honey. She was featured on the site for the RI SPCA. A cute picture of her little wrinkled head, with a bandana around her neck, captured me right away. She was about the size I wanted. She was female, which I also wanted. “A shy Shar-Pei terrier mix,” the profile said. Okay, she’s shy. So am I. It sounded like we’d be good for each other.
That Saturday we walked into the SPCA office. I held out the printout to the desk receptionist. “We’re interested in this dog,” I said.
“Oh, Honey,” she said in a tone of sympathy. “She’s been here a long time.”
Oh oh. “Why?” I asked with some trepidation.
The receptionist seemed a bit taken aback, as if thinking maybe she shouldn’t have said that, but she went on. “Well, she’s not the friendliest dog--doesn’t really show well…”.
Nevertheless, something told me she needed us. Later we found out that she had come into the shelter with her sister, who had been adopted a while earlier (she was friendlier) and that Honey herself had been adopted out but brought back because she was aggressive with children. Well, we didn’t have children, so we didn’t have to worry about that. Still, those weren’t things I was happy to hear.
On Wednesday, July 7, my husband’s day off, we went to pick her up. We had visited a pet store two nights before and bought supplies, including a crate (which I never liked the idea of but most people advise you to have) and a book called “The Adopted Dog Bible.” I was getting excited.
We took her out of the shelter on a leash, and the first thing she did was try to run after a squirrel. The second thing was dumping a load of s**t on the lawn, sending my husband back to get a bag. But she jumped right into the car and seemed fine on the way home. At home, we kept her out in the yard for a while. She sat. We sat. We petted her, stroked her, tried to make her feel comfortable. She didn’t move, didn’t try to get to know us, didn’t look at us.
After my husband went back to work the next day, I had one of my worst days ever. I cried. I was sure we had taken on too much. I was stretched so thin with my responsibility for my mother, I just didn’t know if I could handle another one. I didn’t know if I had the love to give her. We had set up the crate in my office to try to train Honey to it. She refused to go in. We put treats inside, but she wouldn’t go near it. The burden of trying to train this standoffish, timid dog seemed to be too much. I considered taking her back, all the while thinking, how can I do that to the poor little thing?
Yet this is how she won me over: I had put a treat in the crate and laid another one on my desktop. I left the room for a few minutes. When I came back, the treat in the crate was gone, and so was the one on my desk. I laughed. Then I knew she had spirit. I knelt down and hugged her. “I think you just saved your life,” I told her.
Honey isn’t an easy dog. Her Shar-Pei temperament makes her reserved, possessive, and wary of children and strangers, but also very loyal and a good watchdog. The border terrier in her sends her hightailing off after squirrels and sniffing at everything she passes but makes her devilishly cute. We don’t know what her past experiences were that contributed to her personality. It took her a long time to learn to be playful and affectionate with us. But we’ve seen a difference in her in two years. She is not as reactive as she was when we got her. She seems to be tolerating other dogs better. And now she will jump up on the couch with us and let us cuddle her. She loves playing with stuffed toys and having her belly rubbed. She rests her chin on my thigh when she’s begging for something to eat. I mean, who can resist that? And she is very smart.
And now I am so glad we have her. She's family, and we love her, and we know she loves us. She’s our baby. And today is her second Adoption Day. A day that calls for a bath and a dinner out at a restaurant with sidewalk tables. Happy Adoption Day to my Honey-pie!