How do I do it? How do I let dogs and puppies go to new homes? How do I foster rescues, then let them go to a new family? How do I keep from getting so attached that I can’t let them go?
I was emailing Barb, who adopted our Sadie when she was 5 years old. Sadie passed away in November 2011, at 11.5 years old (I still have to edit and compile her tribute page.). Upon my request, Barb sent me a bunch of great photos of Sadie and we have been talking about what Barb might do next. Sadie lived the majority of her life with Barb and made a huge impact on Barb and her family. Due to her age and health, Barb doesn’t think she should take on a dog long term. She was mulling over the idea of fostering for rescue. Barb was trying to understand how I could place a dog after living with them for 5 years, and at the same time she thanked me for having such a personality. Sadie was so special to Barb, and she wouldn’t have experienced that if I had kept Sadie myself.
Many people cannot re-home a dog. Once a person lives with a dog, they feel they are responsible for the dog, good or bad, even if that dog is not ‘right’ for them or their home. Most of my family fall into this category. They have dogs that they complain about daily, hardly speaking a positive thing about the animal. It is said with “Oh well, you know <so and so>, we still love them”. The media and animal rights activist also spew forth “A dog is for life, not until…”. Personally, I think this concept is selfish and often harmful to the dogs. My grandmother had a mini poodle when I was a child. He was a sweet dog, but grandmother never had a nice thing to say about him. He was not right for her personality or home. She kept that dog his entire life, but only because ‘that is the responsible thing to do’.
Sadie and Barb. Sadie was an active therapy dog and a certified hearing service dog for Barb. These are things she never would have experienced staying with me, not to mention the help she provided Barb.
I have the ability to know if a home will provide a better environment for a dog. Sadie is an excellent example. When Barb contacted me and gave me the specific needs she had, I knew the right dog was Sadie. She was everything Barb needed in a dog. Sadie was not truly happy living with us. She was a gentle soul, very sweet. Merlot was dominant and I am a dominant person. Even though Sadie came to live with us at 8 months and left with Barb when she was 5, she never was comfortable with Merlot or me. He was to much dog for her, I was to much Human! This caused her to develop some stress habits. She would eat socks, get into things, cause issues. I told Barb about her baggage when I placed her, but she never once ate anything that wasn’t food or treat while living with Barb. It proved to me I had found the right home for Miss Sadie. She thrived in a home with no other dogs, no small children, only two gentle adults who never told her to do anything. Barb simply asked her very gently if she would please do <insert typical dog command> and Sadie would do it, with bells on!
Major, Merlot, and Sadie. When all three lived with us in Huntsville, AL.
The same could be said for Major, Merlot’s brother. Major was with us for 5 years, and when Stacey and her family contacted me about adding another dog, I knew Major was a good match for them and their home. I can tell you Major touched that family more than any dog they have owned. Major was special to them, something more to that family than he was in ours. It was the right choice and he was loved beyond measure by Stacey.
My sister first pointed out how I was different years ago. She said it was rare, and that I should use it as a gift. This ability made me the perfect breeder and rescuer. I can take in an animal, evaluate them, and hopefully decide the best home based on the information I have. I didn’t foster my breeding dogs when I was showing / breeding Shibas, so I had a lot of experience re-homing adult dogs. I couldn’t continue to breed (and stay happily married) by keeping every dog after they were done having puppies. Also, at that time I was heavily involved with both Setter and Shiba Inu rescue. I lost count of the number of both breeds I took in and found homes. For about 5 years we always had a rescue or two in house. Once my allergies became an issue, Keith put his foot down on the shedding dogs. I became involved with Standard Poodles and there are thankfully, very few that come into rescue that are not quickly fostered and found homes. Both the Setters and the Shiba Inu took a more specific family dynamic and required extensive rehabilitation for problem behavior. Ask anyone looking for an adult Standard Poodle and you will get an ear full about how few there are to be found.
I believe one specific event made me who I am today. When I was 12 years old I decided I wanted to buy my own dog. I talked to my parents and they helped me sell a few things (goodbye Barbie Dreamhouse!) to attain the cash for my first purchase. This wasn’t going to be a family dog, it was going to be MY dog. I researched breeds, looked in the paper every day, compared how much money I had saved to my options. I found an ad in the paper about champion sired Irish Setters. I talked to mom and I called to inquire. She had one male left and after a short visit I brought him home. Rip was 12 weeks old and the apple of my eye. The breeder supplied me the number of Rip’s sire. I wanted to try conformation showing, so I gave her a call, which started my lifelong love of dog shows. My first dog was finally a reality. I trained him all myself and teaching a hyper Irish Setter to walk on a leash when your 12 years old with zero experience was a sharp learning curve! After a while Rip and I became a team. He and I did everything together, we learned together, we made mistakes together. I learned how to strip and groom a Setter for AKC shows. I taught him how to stack for conformation showing. I taught him to swim in our pool. To jump our fence and open the gate with his nose (ok, not the smartest choices.). He was my dog. He only listened to me. My dad would get so angry when he would tell Rip to do something, and the dog would turn and look at me for conformation. That was the moment I knew he was mine. Years passed. I grew up and moved on to college. My father passed away when I was 18. My mother eventually remarried. I was in my second year of college and my Mom and Bill were moving from Arkansas up to Michigan. They asked me what we should do with Rip. They didn’t have time for him. He was suffering from lack of attention after I went to college, but they would keep him for me if I wanted. I made one of the hardest decision of my life. I phoned a lady who had another Irish Setter and asked if she would take him. She loved my boy and eagerly took him in. Rip and Amber, the sweet female Irish Setter, became best friends. He had a great life after me, but boy… what a hard call.
I learned two things from Rip. 1. How to let a dog go, if it is the best choice for the dog. 2. How to know if a dog is suppose to be mine. This second thing is something I have only experienced twice in my life. Letting a dog go, one that was meant to be my dog is something I will never do again. I will never allow myself to get in a situation where I have to let the Rip or Merlot of my life go. On the same note, I cannot allow a dog who wasn’t completely special to me stay here if a home came along that would offer that dog, and family, a chance to experience something amazing. If you have never had the complete devotion of a “heart dog”, then I pray you have that experience sometime in your life. I’ve been blessed twice. The second, my Merlot, I was there for his entire life. I was there to hold his head when he passed on. He knew I did everything for him I could. I didn’t send him away to someone else, he was / is mine forever.
That’s why I do what I do. If only one of you out there finds a dog that changes you, touches your heart like no other, then I am happy. To most of the dogs in my life I am only a temporary caregiver, there until they find that special person. Barb experienced that with Sadie and for that I am more than blessed. Stacey had that with Major. How many more people can I help experience this gift? I don’t know, but I am going to keep doing what I do, until I am no longer able to do it. Maybe someday I will strike gold again and be blessed with number three.
Merlot - always in my heart!