Tala’s Story: Lessons From a Mean Dog (Part Two)

Read Part One first…

Come Christmastime, I took Tala with me to North Carolina to visit my father. He’s the reason I have Aussies to begin with, and he adopted my very first foster dog, Tucker. I tried to convince him to adopt Tala, since there was plenty of reason to assume she was in fact Tucker’s mom (same county, I was just full of crap). He didn’t buy it, but we had a blast anyways. Tala enjoyed the snow and she was finally at the point where she could be completely off leash without issue. She still hated to be grabbed, and she snapped at me in the den when she had an accident and I jumped up with a “NO!” and went to put her out. Belly up, on the floor, I forgot about her little game and grabbed her. Whoops. This vacation, however, was a definite sign of our much better relationship. She trusted me, and she didn’t want to leave me.

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January brought heartworm treatment, finally. She still hadn’t gained much weight, but we opted to go ahead. Tala was such a trooper; she never complained, never acted the least bit sick or in pain with the injections. Two months later we had a clean bill of health, and a month after treatment, our little blue bug weighed 36 pounds! Tala learned how to play with toys, and she loved tossing a tennis ball to herself. She no longer needed a crate to sleep in, and spent her nights on the rug by my bed with Rugby.

Okay, I knew this would happen. Here’s where I’m going to start typing through my tears. Curse my womanly emotions.

100_8687We were nearing the year mark with Tala in foster care. My hatred for this little dog had turned a 180 and blossomed into full-fledged, unconditional love. It was more than just me caring about her, and more than just me liking her. I loved that dog with all of my heart. I remember one morning laying in bed and looking down to where she and Rugby rested on the rug together, grooming each other affectionately. I loved her, Rugby loved her, and I wanted nothing more than to keep her forever – whether forever was six months or three years. However, I was in undergrad, had two dogs already and couldn’t logically commit to a third. So I kept her up for adoption and fought back the tears every time I thought about her leaving.

It was nothing short of a miracle when my rep told me about a repeat adopter in North Carolina that only adopted senior dogs. They were interested in Tala. To date, nobody had been interested in my now eleven-year-old scrappy Aussie girl.  I had lots of mixed emotions, but they came down to South Carolina for a visit. There wasn’t much to it – she was my dog, and didn’t care too much about visitors, but they liked her and so we arranged a weekend for me to drive to their place to see how Tala did with their other two Aussies and the cows.

Tala did wonderfully, of course. I was so happy and so sad when the adopters said they would like to keep her. My success was also my worst nightmare; I had to say goodbye to a foster that was just short of a “heart-dog” in my life. I stood there in their kitchen, choking on my words and doing a really crappy job of holding back my tears (exactly like right now, thank goodness there’s nobody around to see me and wonder why the heck I’m sitting in the back of the law school auditorium crying). The sweet couple smiled and said they would give me some time with Tala, and as they closed the door behind them I sunk to the ground, wrapped my arms around her little neck and bawled. I cried like baby for fifteen minutes before I gathered myself enough to stand up and walk out to shake hands with the adopters, and thank them for giving my sweet girl the opportunity to have a great rest of her life. Then I left, and I cried the whole way home.

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Tala lived for two more years on her farm in North Carolina. She was pampered and adored, and could not have asked for a better “retirement” home. She passed away last spring; she had developed adenocarcinoma in her mammary glands – probably from years of puppy rearing – and succumbed to the cancer in her sleep one evening. Of all the heartbreaking calls I received last year concerning my foster dogs, hers was by and far the worst. I sat on the back steps and wept hard and long. I knew she was old, and I knew I would get the call eventually, but I was heartbroken all the same.

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In the year that I fostered that scrawny little blue dog, I learned more about fostering and rescue than many people learn in decades. I learned, first, that patience is not just a virtue – it’s a necessity. Dogs will learn, and they will adapt. There will always be foster dogs that are more difficult than others. The key to success with these “project dogs” is to never give up. They feel your frustration and animosity towards them, and it hurts them and makes them anxious. On the flip side, they can also feel your resolve and your patience. It may take weeks or months, but when you and the dog do finally reach an understanding, there’s nothing that can break that bond.

Second, I learned that the dogs that touch our hearts are not the ones that we need or that we want or like, they’re the ones that need us. And we don’t get to choose which dogs need us – they just appear, and it’s up to us to recognize their need and be the rescuer they’ve been waiting for. I’m not religious, but I do believe that things happen for a reason. Tala came into my life to make me a better person, and a better rescuer. I might have saved her life, but I owe her more than I could ever repay. She is the dog I think of when I’m frustrated with a foster. She is a memory that makes me smile and laugh, and she is the reason that I do what I do. She didn’t deserve the life she lived, but damn if she was going to take the fire out of her. If only humans could learn to live with such positivity and resiliency.

Rescue is hard. Fostering is hard. Balancing school, work, and life in general with this mission of dog rescue is incredibly hard. The heartbreak when we lose a dog that we loved so very much, even when it wasn’t even “our” dog, is excruciating. It’s always worth it, however, because every dog and the lessons they impart during their time with us makes us better human beings.

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Meet the Ladies (using “ladies” very loosely here…)

I have never really been a female dog kind of person – probably because, let’s be honest, I’m enough bitch for one household. My boy dogs have always filled my emotional needs as pseudo-boyfriends and best friends, and even in my human life I typically avoid members of the same sex. As someone who has had predominately male friends since I was in the sixth grade, I typically don’t have the patience for normal girlish antics (this is not always the case – I do require some level of “girl-talk” and shopping in my life, just not the normal level expected from most females).

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Somehow, despite all of this, I have managed to acquire three female dogs, affectionately referred to as “the girls”.  For the most part, these three are treated as a single unit, except the times that I single Delaney or Cady out for time away from Kara – Cady especially, because it’s nothing short of torture to subject a dog of her mental capacity to tolerating Boykins 24/7.  [I should note that this is only for Columbia activities. Activities that take place out of town where it is impractical to take all four dogs, they are separated into “Alpha Team” and “Bravo Team. Alpha Team includes the Aussies, and Bravo the Boykins. This works out well considering the nature of the two breeds and what each breed considers to be more entertaining than the other – the Aussies don’t exactly appreciate swimming days, and the Boykins could care less about a trip to the mountains.]

IMG_3006Delaney, despite my typical disdain for female dogs, was purposefully purchased from a Boykin Spaniel breeder in Kershaw, South Carolina. I had a male dog, and opposite gender pairings are the easiest to manange. She was, like Rugby, four months old and a remnant of a litter taking too long to sell. Unlike Rugby, however, there was not so much the instant bond with Delaney, and frankly I preferred the outgoing nature of one of her sisters. However, I am somewhat of a snob when it comes to a proportional dog, and Delaney was the only one of the puppies whose legs matched the length of her body. Boykins have a tendency to be quite squat in stature, and I am not a fan. So, I put my deposit down for the long-legged puppy, and returned two weeks later to bring her home. Delaney is a special girl.  It’s no secret that she is named after my favorite bar at that time, and she was purchased more to fill a void than because I truly needed a second dog. Not to say I got a second dog frivolously – I had thought it through, Rugby did enjoy having a friend around and would become quite sad when his foster siblings were adopted, and I knew and loved the Boykin breed well. The void-filling was simply the final deciding factor, and the last in a series of steps to declare my independence from an emotional trap that need not be discussed in further detail.

Delaney is a princess. A very special, very silly princess. I don’t keep her groomed very tidily, so her curls are unruly, her pigtail-like ears long, her feet display tufts of brown fur, and her “alfalfa sprout” makes her look not much different than a Who. Delaney decided early on that she was not made for sleeping on floors, and demanded a bed of her own, though she really prefers human furniture. Once we taught her to swim, she was always in the water, and she loves the game of fetch just as much as any good retriever (though she’s not OCD like her sister about it). She doesn’t always like to bring it back, however, especially if her sister is in the game. She is also a cheater, and will stay in the outfield waiting for the ball while the others in the game sit obediently by our sides while we throw. Delaney hates children, and if she’s in trouble she will begins to flail wildly to avoid being held or caught. She’s the type of dog that discipline has no affect on, as it just upsets her and makes her forget everything. There’s little reason to discipline her now though. She will be four years old on Valentine’s Day, and the only thing she really does “bad” is her tendency to bolt when guns are fired. Oh, and she crunches tennis balls.

Cady is my old girl. I love her, so very much. I saw a posting on Facebook one day about a pregnant Aussie in rural Georgia who had very little time left. She had belonged to a hoarder, and when that person died, it was up to animal control to go collect the animals. I’m not sure how many there were, I don’t really want to know. I just know that most of them never made it out.  It was Cady’s puppies that saved her, because this animal control unit actually had a heart, and knew that even if Cady was too unsocialized to be helped, her puppies need not suffer the same fate. We arranged a flight from Georgia to Columbia for Cady, and I picked her up in January (2012). On Valentine’s Day, Cady gave birth to nine beautiful black tricolor puppies (and chewed through some drywall and a door before doing so). We raised and placed the puppies, and for the next year I fostered Cady, trying my hardest to place her with anyone I thought could love a dumpy little dog that lived under the bed. We called her the troll, because she really only ever came out from under the bed to use the bathroom and rip up the carpet and eat the blinds when we forgot to crate her before leaving. Cady did find one adopter, and I sent her off in August to live with a woman who was quite hell-bent on taking home a dog. On the 30th day of a 30-day money-back contract, the woman called me and said she was bringing Cady back, because Cady wasn’t cuddly enough. I am still firmly of the opinion that Cady never intended to be owned by anyone but me, as she nearly pranced back into the house, stub of a tail wagging, and she was even happy to see my boyfriend who she previously thought was a terrible monster. It was January of 2013 still before I signed the papers for Cady, and only because I was resigning from the rescue she was listed through and would not allow them to take her away from me. That night, Cady lay beside me on the couch and put her head in my lap; I think I cried.IMG_2209

Cady is my poster child for recovery. When I got her, she was nearly untouchable. She was never aggressive, but always terrified. Men and strangers were murderers in her eyes. However, I refused to allow her to be consumed by her fear. I took her everywhere, and made her deal with houseguests. I never allowed anyone to violate her space, I simply removed her escape routes and made her deal with it. I am sure than many trainers would chastise my methods, but today, two years later, Cady politely requests attention from male strangers. She loads up in a car readily, she has wonderful recall, and she even has a sit-stay about 70% of the time. I can still see uneasiness on her face sometimes, but I also see bravery and resilience. She broke through her own barriers and became the dog she should have been allowed to be from the start.

Finally, there is Kara.  While Cady is the poster child for recovery, Kara might possibly be the poster child for why you shouldn’t do drugs while pregnant, or deprive a puppy of oxygen. Maybe that’s what happened? Maybe she took just a little too long to get out of the birth canal? That’s right, let’s not blame it on Kara or on whoever raised her, let’s just call it chance and plain bad luck.IMG_3057

Well, we can blame something on her owner. We can blame the fact that she ended up on I-95, starved, covered in ticks, heartworm positive and very pregnant on them. She was seen on the side of the interstate for two weeks before a kind woman caught her. I never wanted Kara, and I demanded that she be moved to a new foster home within 24 hours. I was too overwhelmed, had too many foster dogs already.  Some days, I kick myself for not sticking fervently to that demand. Alas, Kara never did leave my home. She had eight little bitty purebred Boykin puppies who all found wonderful homes, and after all of Kara’s treatment, I kept her, too. Kara is pure athlete, a hunting machine with a spot-on nose and the tenacity to take on the biggest of bears, if said bear had whatever she was supposed to be retrieving. She screams in delight at the thought of running through fields and cackles like a hyena when she is angry. Daily, I find myself sighing in exasperation at her. She eats Q-tips out of my bathroom trash, breaks out of every crate that isn’t zip-tied, pees in her crate, pisses off every one of her dog siblings, barks in her crate all night long, and is the single most obsessive IMG_3094dog I have ever met. I love her, I really do. I love her. I love her. She’ll get better one day…

The stories about Kara are nearly endless, and for the sake of this extremely long post, I’ll save them for individual postings to keep you all laughing as time goes by. She’s a funny dog, for sure, especially when you’re not the one cleaning up her mess or paying her vet bills. She teaches me weekly the blessings of patience and understanding. I’m not saying I really need those lessons, but she thinks I do, so I’ll accept them with open arms and remind myself that violence is never the answer.

That’s all for today, aren’t you glad? Until!

An Introduction (to my dog)

I’m not going to introduce myself; talking about myself is not one of my favorite pastimes, and I suppose if I keep this up long enough, you’ll catch hints here and there about where I’m from and the experiences I’ve had.

Instead, I’m going to introduce the four-legged creatures in my life. In reality, they are the ones who make me who I am; they are basically an extension of my personality. They’re also the most important things in my life. I suppose my family and friends should be, but in the same manner that one’s children become the most important things in their lives, my dogs and cats are mine. I am solely responsible for their well-being, their happiness, and therefore it is their priority that molds the course of my day to day. And I’m completely okay with that; this life isn’t for everyone, but it’s for me. Plus, getting me to talk about much else is a feat in itself.

The first on our list is Rugby. He’s the first on every one of my lists, and may always be. The ridiculously irritating emotional side of me will come out just writing this; this dog is the best friend I have ever had. He is my “heart dog”. When I was seventeen years old, my first Aussie, Digger, was hit by a car and killed. I don’t know if I’ll ever not blame myself for this, and I know I will never forget the feeling when I came home that night from work with the dog bed I had just spent my paycheck on, asking where he was. I cried for days. That summer I went to live for a bit with my father in Oregon. My dad (I’ll try to act like an adult and refrain from calling him “Daddy” for the purposes of this blog) is the one who introduced me to Aussies way back when. I was holding up okay as far as being dog-less went, but one say after hiking we stopped to buy cherries from a roadside stand, and I saw a little head pop up over a low wall. I knew that face; it was an Aussie puppy. I could have very well pup-napped the little thing, but instead I just cuddled it and held back the urge to cry. That night I started looking for puppies in the area. I found two breeders, and set my mind on one in Gearhart. I wanted a blue merle, and I wanted an eight week old. Digger had been a red tricolor, and I got him at six months old, so I wanted something different. There was one other breeder about an hour away, but they only had a four month old red tricolor. I immediately decided against that puppy and started making arrangements with the Gearhart breeder. However, one day we decided to go hiking at Saddle Mountain, which happened to be right by the “other” breeder. My dad convinced me we should stop by and just check them out – what could it hurt? We had time to kill anyways.

532271_10150896606687467_1420456990_nRugby was being housed alone in a stall. All of his siblings had been purchased long ago when they were little and squishy. Rugby was goofy, lanky already, with a silly face. They let him out of the stall and I knelt down to say hello. His paws went to my shoulders, and he tucked his muzzle up under my chin and just stood there, hugging me. It was all I could do to not cry in front of the whole barn of people. Needless to say, I had my puppy. We brought him home the next week, and I took him everywhere with me until it was time to fly back to South Carolina. He actually had to stay behind for another two weeks until my stepmother flew out, because my plane wasn’t outfitted for live cargo.

Since then, Rugby has been my constant companion. He is the world’s most amazing dog, and I promise I’m not biased. He’s beautiful, funny, talkative, athletic, friendly, cuddly, naughty, short-tempered, stubborn, adventurous, and too smart for his own good. Remember how I said dogs are an extension of their people? See, you’re getting to know me already. He adores all people, especially my family and friends. I take him to restaurants and bars, and my friends are happier to see him then they are me, I think. He does this terribly obnoxious squealing thing when he’s excited to see someone, and jumps up, spins his body around and falls into their arms, because he knows he’s notallowed to put his paws on people. He despises puppies and takes other dogs’ actions way too seriously. He won’t start a fight, but good luck getting him to quit one. He fights dirty, too, because he knows that the other dog will bite his neck, which happens to be protected by a massive mane, so while they do that he grabs a leg and thrashes. It’s quite ugly.

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 He tolerates my boyfriends, but essentially uses them for attention and play, until he’s ready to cuddle with mom. Then he steps on their faces while he jumps to see me. He is protective in what I call the “Lassie” way, as opposed to the “Cujo” way. I don’t know that he would ever bite a person, no matter what they were doing to me or him, but he will sink his teeth into my shirt and drag me across a room to remove me from a situation. He hates livestock, dirt bikes, and trampolines. He loves hiking and camping.

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Rugby will be seven years old in a week. I see the white hairs coming in on his face and it fills me with sadness. I need him to live forever. Where will I ever find another friend like him?

I realize now how long this has gotten. I’ve got to go; there’s a temporary foster coming in from Fayetteville shortly. I’ll write about the girls later. I promise I won’t just write about the dogs – but I will write mostly about them, so be prepared.

Until then!