Once upon a time, a girl and a boy fell in love. They started an animal family together, adopting two tabby cats over the last five years. But something was missing. They yearned for a puppy to round out their family, and about six months ago, their wish was granted. Her name is Lily.
She was adopted from our local SPCA after nearly a year of deliberation over whether we were ready to get a dog. The two cats in our life have always been relatively independent (apart from the occasional need for cuddles), and we both knew that a dog was a much bigger commitment. This would mean daily walks and possibly rigorous training. And if we were going to get a rescue, then it could also mean that we might get a dog with some serious baggage or bad habits that we would need to break. It would mean more monthly expenses to pay for food and treats…not to mention inevitable trips to the vet. (Usually I knock on wood when I mention something I don’t want to jinx, but since Lily is sitting by my feet and she’ll bound off toward the door thinking someone’s visiting, I’ll leave it be.)
While there were several good arguments for waiting a few more years, there was something that clicked for us in 2013. I’ve heard so many times that women reach a certain age, and suddenly, they want a baby. Well, this year, I got doggie fever and we decided we just needed to take the plunge. I am so happy we did. It was early on and an easy decision for us, to rescue a dog. We did have certain breeds we were each partial to – I’ve always favored Labradors and he loves Border Collies – but we both felt strange about tracking down a dog breeder when there were dogs already out there looking for a good home. A quick search of Kijiji made this all the more clear; it was heartbreaking to see the number of pages with dogs for sale and knowing that some of these pups might end up abandoned if their owner gave up on the sale. Getting a rescue felt right – we would give a dog a second chance in her forever home, a term we came to know well in our endless searches online.
Imagine our surprise when we found Lily and heard her story – this wouldn’t be her second chance at a home, it would be her fourth. Since she had arrived at the SPCA, she was adopted and returned twice. This means that she was in three separate homes before we brought her into our family. Three different owners in just over a year – she was only 15 months old when we adopted her! I don’t know how she ended up at the SPCA in the first place; the only data the woman had on file was that the dog had been returned twice because of destructive behavior when left home alone. In short, she was a destructive puppy, probably suffering from separation anxiety. The woman helping us delivered the news as though the dog had the plague, but we asked to meet her anyway. The dog we saw looked completely distraught and in need of love – couldn’t her behavior simply be lack of exercise?
After a few minutes in a tiny meeting room, it was hard to get a handle on who this dog really was. She was wily but shaky, nervous but sweet, and scared, so very scared. She had the coloring of a German Shepherd but was incredibly thin, to the point that she looked like she might be starving. We had been told we could try to take her for a walk if we were interested, so we took her out into the rainy city street to see if she would still be so terrified of us. Within seconds of turning the corner away from the SPCA building, we finally got a true understanding of the dog’s personality. She was practically on her hind legs sprinting down the street out of excitement. Our theory that she would probably need a lot of exercise was quickly proven, and when I saw the look of love in my man’s eyes, I knew it was a done deal. (Remember, he was a fan of Border Collies, so the idea of an excitable and energetic dog was right up his alley.)
We took the leap and brought her home with us, and have never looked back. It was only a week after getting her that we realized that her tiny frame wasn’t for lack of eating – a dog walker we passed on the trails commented that she had the body shape of a Whippet and an online search proved the observation was quite astute. This dog was born to run. The destructive behavior made so much sense given the amount of energy she has – without an outlet, what else was she supposed to do? The file at the SPCA indicated that she had been left alone for up to 8 or 9 hours a day and we assume that she was living in the city previously, not out where we are, with walking trails only minutes away. Our first trip to a fenced dog park was thrilling – she ran so fast, we were speechless. To this day I have never seen her run at the speed she did the first time we let her run wild in that field.
Knowing that she might have separation anxiety when left home alone was a risk we took when we rescued her. Fortunately, we both have jobs that accommodate a schedule where she is not alone for extensive amounts of time. My position at work allows for working remotely part-time while my better half is self-employed and makes his own hours. We adjusted and try to keep a relatively stable routine for Lily. After reading up on dogs that have anxiety issues, I learned that the repetition and familiarity of a routine is good for the dog, plus long walks and lots of exercise. We have not had many problems or accidents, but take special care to be sure there is nothing left out when we leave her home alone, locked in our mudroom.
It is times like this that I am grateful and simultaneously in awe of the power of the Internet to supply me with an unending wealth of information – this time about dogs, dog training, rescue dogs, animal psychology, breeds, mix breeds, the list goes on. The first month with Lily was a blur of long walks, excursions to dog parks, and hours of reading online. I’d had cats my entire life, but this was my first dog. There was so much to learn – there is still so much to learn – and I picked up some basics. Whippets are known as “Velcro dogs” because they adore being close to their owners (and are therefore more prone to separation anxiety). German Shepherds are incredibly intelligent and are bred for guarding (thus must be kept occupied and will bark their heads off if they think someone is at the door). A Kong filled with peanut butter is an excellent distraction when you leave an easily bored Velcro dog at home.
Each day I feel our bond growing stronger, and I see her learning that this is really her home, that she is safe, that we are here to stay. It has been interesting to watch her transform as this sets in – of course, with this comes new challenges, like making sure she doesn’t take advantage or get too comfortable! In the new year, we hope to save up enough money to take her to training classes, so we can perfect the art of walking Lily. She still likes to run ahead and could easily take me down if I’m not paying attention. As I said, there is still so much to learn, and I love every minute of it. And lovely Lily lived (is living) happily ever after.