September 10, 2015

Finding Fido

I thought I wanted to adopt a dog. Then I became convinced. Then I became obsessed. I wanted to adopt a rescue, a stray, an unwanted animal. It turns out in the world of pet adoption, I had to wait for the dog to adopt me.

Back in my younger days, puppies were available like ripe tomatoes in late summer – in the classified ads in newspapers, on street corners, at farmers markets. People would be grateful if you just grabbed one as you rode by on your bike, slowing down only to scooch it comfortably into your basket. I know they were terrible times. I know about the abuse, neglect, stupidity of my fellow humans.

But here’s the thing.  One year ago today, our pup finally found us. We’d passed the application process, passed the home inspection (the first and only one we made it to). After 14 tries.

Before that, there was Kenny, Maddie,  Remy, Cassidy, Lya, Sansa, Tex, Robby, Sheamus, Benji, another Benji, a schnauzer whose name has vaporized in my head, Pixy, and then, finally, Morgan. We’ve dubbed him Captain Morgan – Terrier of the High Seas.

If you had plotted my emotions on a graph during that nine month search, I looked like a parabola. Websites like petfinder and adopt a pet probably thought I was some kind of computer virus. I checked their sites daily, sometimes more, in case a new little guy had arrived. I’d get excited. I’d email. I’d fill in an application. And I’d wait. I ended up sobbing more than once. And more than once I just said to myself, “forget it. It can’t be this hard. I quit.”

It wasn’t like we were on some dogland security list or anything. We both grew up with dogs, and when I moved into an apartment I had a cat – then she had kittens – and I kept three of them – and they all lived to ripe old ages and nursed them through their final illnesses. And then we took in my mother in law’s dog when she went into a home. So we had some pedigree of experience.

Granted, some of the 14 just weren’t for us – one was a ‘nipper’, one had medical issues (kidneys, been there, done that). Another was so crazy we knew we couldn’t handle him, so we turned into rescuers ourselves, researching and sending info to the owners about how to surrender a dog you no longer want or can care for.  One agency will not adopt anywhere outside their region, even though we’re a mere half-hour from them. Two of them needed another dog in the house to give them some lessons on how to be a dog. At a pet adoption fair we filled in an application and then the dog was withdrawn as we stood there next to her waiting for our interview because she hadn’t been assessed yet. Many were adopted to other people. Dog #13 we were approved for, but when we tried to arrange a visit, our emails went unanswered. The only way I knew our girl was gone was when I went back to Petfinder and looked her up. I just stared at the screen in disbelief. It said ADOPTED! In upper casing, with an exclamation mark like it was a celebration or something.  I tried to confirm it with the rescue agency and they just never, ever responded.

Then last September 10th, after the application process, and after the home inspection, we headed 3 hours to the southwest, plowing our way through a storm system so bad I was leaning forward in the car to see if that dark swirling cloud that had descended onto the highway was, in fact, a tornado or just a rainpocalypse – and yes, thinking that, yet again, this was a sign that this dog wasn’t for us – we finally met Morgan. He was at CK Animal Rescue in Chatham, Ontario.

He comes from Alabama – a lot of rescues come from the US up to Canada through a sort of canine underground railroad with rescuers, foster homes, and convoys, bringing the dogs here to avoid what is, apparently, a very high kill rate in shelters across the US (one report in Maclean’s from 2013 put the number at 60%, compared to Canada’s 14%). And CK Animal Rescue founder Nancy Ball takes more than her share. CKAR also fosters dogs of military personnel who have to go overseas, they give free dog food to anyone who is at risk of having to give up their pet because of economic hardship, and they help anyone living in an abusive household who won’t leave because they don’t want to leave their pets behind. They find temporary shelter for the pets – it’s called the purple leash campaign. And something I never, ever thought of.

And, they answer their emails. They were lovely, efficient, caring and determined to find the right home for Morgan. He'd been in Canada for a couple of months, and his Canadian fosters were with him when we arrived. Nancy told them to go for coffee because she needed to see Morgan’s reaction to us without them there. “I’ll know in 15 minutes if this is going to work,” she told them.

He sniffed around us. His ears back, his eyes pleading for us to be kind – he has the most amazing eyes and under his scruffy fur, enormous inch-long black eyelashes which he uses to full effect.  He sniffed around the floor and Steve crouched down to hold out his hand. Morgan lifted his paw and put it on Steve’s hand. Steve scratched his chest. Morgan licked his hand. Then he did the same
thing to me.

Finally, I went to sit on the couch and Morgan crawled under the coffee table and stuck his head up at my knees. I patted my lap to encourage him and he jumped up into my arms.

“That’s what I was looking for,” Nancy said as she snapped photos of the whole process.

Now that I know him so well, it’s absolutely amazing he did that. He is so shy and timid of strangers he is only now after a year willing to come out from behind my legs when we meet people on the street. And just barely. He might, on a good day, sniff people’s outstretched fingers, and on the best days will allow a scritch under his chin. It makes that first evening with him a bit of a miracle.

Within a few minutes we had the papers signed, the money transferred (the cost included all his shots, his neutering and a microchip) and we had a little dog curled up in the back seat of our car. As we headed east again, we drove straight back into the rainstorm and the dark, and it was so bad that we (neither of us timid drivers) pulled off the highway for the night. Morgan took it all in stride. We found a hotel, he decided that was the life for him, and he slept all night curled up against my stomach.

Captain Morgan, terrier of the high seas had adopted us. He is smaller than we expected, hardly sheds, doesn’t bark much (except at our landlady…sigh…and not even at the mailman when he comes to the door), and is smarter than a fifth grader. He’s still timid but getting better, he loves us to bits, and he makes me howl with laughter at least once a day. His character has just blossomed. His best bestie is the cat next door who has always considered our casa his casa.

I can’t believe Morgan has been in our lives for a whole year already. He turned two in the summer and I know what will happen, I’ve lived through this movie before – it will flash by. But in the meantime I guess, I will just put up with the demands for cuddles, and the early mornings, and the blast off into mud puddles face first, and the fearsome tearing apart of stuffed bears, dogs, ferrets and gators, oh and a living room full of sticks and snowballs, and the standing between me and the kitchen cabinets as I cook, and the rocket sled chases of squirrels and raccoons, and the stretching bravado of confronting the badass black cat in the alley. Because, after all, he is the terrier of the high seas. And he’s mine.


kmfk2 said...

I haven't finished this blog post as I have to dash out to do errands but am so inspired by the story. Also I have had an interesting journey of my own and need to blog it for our local shelter GTHS. I just finished all the paperwork and am the very proud new guardian of a sweet senior black as your boot Cocker Spaniel named Samara‼️�� thanks Nic for sharing be continued.....Kathleen

Anonymous said...

He is a sweet boy and I am thrilled that he now comes into our yard... promptly has a poop and even takes a treat from me! What a guy!! Nic2