After losing my childhood dog Floyd in the spring of 1988, it was only a matter of months before I wanted another puppy to help fill that huge void. But my mom was done cleaning up after dogs (and, I think, done with the great loss experienced). After years in my mom’s house, I ended up in a rental with Danny – my now hubby – that didn’t allow dogs, which resulted in another nine years without a dog!
From the day Danny and I bought our house in the spring of 2007, I started to nag him about getting a dog. He kept insisting we wait until the fall. I reluctantly agreed—mostly because my work schedule wouldn’t give me a chance to take two weeks off to be home with an adopted pup until November.
Finally, we were set to go to the shelter the weekend before Thanksgiving. Since we both work, we had decided two dogs could keep each other company during the day. We were set on two male dogs. However, I wanted spanking fresh, eight week old puppies. My hubby was insisting we get pups older than six months. I was determined to win this battle. I wanted to see my babies from the start.
So, on Saturday, November 17, 2007, at about noon, we arrive at the shelter. Lining the four walls of the shelter’s main room are cages of older dogs that look heartbreakingly sad, just like the ones flashing on screen in those adoption promoting commercials with Sarah McLachlan’s voice singing “in the arms of the angel.” This main room is packed with people, it is utter chaos, and we have no idea how to even begin this process.
We’re approached by this caricature of a woman—she has to be six feet tall, with long bobbed, banged hair, and wearing 4-inch platform heels and a one-piece silver tube top/mini-skirt (visualize a drag queen doing a performance of “Dancing Queen”). She’s all, “What are you boys here for today?” We look at each other like, she WORKS here? We quickly say we want two puppies and she replies, “You’re here so late! They go fast and may all be gone! Go into that room back there, and if you see a puppy you like, stand in front of the cage and don’t let anyone else near it!”
I have never seen such utter lunacy in my life. There are approximately fifty people smashed up against cages in a little alcove so no one else can get near them. The puppies that we assume must be in the cages (because we sure can’t see any) must be practically suffocating, not to mention terrified. THIS is the shelter’s system? We look at each other in bewilderment, then spot someone in a non-ABBA knockoff, official shelter uniform. She tells us there are more puppies in another room in back, separated because they have kennel coughs or infections. We discover a very small selection of puppies, one of which seems like our type of dog. We ask another uniformed worker about him, and say we actually want two, and she replies, “We don’t let people adopt more than one puppy under six months old because they bring them back once they discover it’s too much to handle.” She walks away, leaving me and my hubby numb and crushed. I feel my eyes sinking into my skull as I mutter, “We’re not getting puppies today.”
We quickly formulate a scheme to take one puppy, then run to another shelter and adopt a second. We’re desperate. We simply have to get two puppies, and we have to get them today because we have already arranged all our time off to be with them.
So, we’re standing in the midst of this puppy-denying disaster, surrounded by pushing people with kids and baby carriages (You know how cared for their pups are going to be), when our six foot disco ball of pseudo-drag queen appears out of nowhere and says, “Did you find any puppies?” We tell her the terrible news about the “limit-one-puppy-per-customer” rule, which you would think she would have known about if she actually worked there. So she says, “Well, why don’t you go look at the older dogs in front? They need homes, too.”
We feign smiling and say, “yeah, okay” and walk off glumly, soon plodding our way past one dejected dog after another. It’s really hard to see the cuteness in a dog when it looks like it’s simply so sick of putting all this effort into charming passersby, and now lies in a puddle of its own sadness (that’s a metaphor—I’m not saying they were sleeping in their own pee).
We reach this one cage on the far side of the room, where there are no people around. Sleeping as if attached at the ribs are these two adorable rust colored puppies. The sign on the cage says “Rhodesian Ridgeback Mix. Double Adoption Only.” We glance at each other in confusion. Why are they so cute and still here? Why aren’t there any people around them at all??? We sort of wake them with a finger through the cage to pet their little noses. They stir, and at first they look confused and tired, and then they begin to just sniff us out. And then they become a little more animated. And our hearts melt.
“We have to take them,” I say, my heart beating over time. My hubby grabs the “adopt me” card from the cage and goes to get someone to help us. I stand there, ready to beat off anyone who comes near the cage with a dog bone if need be. The two puppies look anxious to get out of the cage and play. They’re eight months old. One is a female. The shelter people have named them “Donald and Daisy” according to the sign on the cage. None of these truths was part of our plan, but it doesn’t matter. It is like that drag angel had descended from the heavens to lead us to this cage.
Before long, we’re out in a yard surrounded by a six foot fence, playing with these two puppies, who prove to be a lot more animated than they had been in the cage. We are being supervised by one of the uniformed young women who works at the shelter—who is also obviously “interviewing” us. A few things become clear about these calf-high puppies right away. She is a trouble maker and he is passive. She likes to tease and torment him and he seems to secretly enjoy it. She does everything in her power to try to get over the six foot fence…including nearly scaling it. At this point, the staff employee warns us that this breed is known for being able to jump and climb so we’d better have a tall fence. The little female dog finds her way onto a park bench, knowing it will bring her closer to the top of the fence. It is at this point that the staff worker has to intervene and prevent her from getting over it. Perhaps the little puppy has tried this trick before and the worker doesn’t want us to know just what we’re in for?
We begin two hours of grueling paperwork. The worker explains that the two puppies, brother and sister, had been rescued from a pound that found them on the street a month before. When they tried to separate them, the two puppies had meltdowns, crying and howling. The shelter staff realized the only way they could rescue the pups was if they made it a double adoption, something they normally don’t do…and the reason the siblings had been sitting at the shelter for a month. Nobody who saw them was ready to commit to having two puppies.
While the shelter people are calling our references and all that kind of stuff, we begin to talk about names. Donald and Daisy was simply NOT happening. So we steer directly to TV show characters. No male character on the Golden Girls. Roseanne and Dan would leave us with THREE Dans in our house. I focus on my favorite reruns. “Mr. Sheffield and Miss Fine!” I exclaim. “He’s calm and passive, she’s flirty and teasing.” My hubby Danny’s face lights up, but he says, “We can’t call her Miss Fine. We’ll call her Fran for short, but her full name will be Fran Fine.” And I say, “Yeah, but every time she does something wrong, we’ll bellow, ‘MISS FINE!’ And considering she’s naughty all the time, we’re always going to be calling her that.” And that was it. We had ourselves two puppies named Sheffield and Miss Fine.
Finally, the shelter people are ready to escort us out of the building with our two puppies. The excitement is overwhelming. The shelter people hand us the leashes outside the door, we begin to walk away with the pups, and hear some passerby say, “Oh! You adopted Donald and Daisy!” I shoot a look that says, “NOT!” We make our way to the parking lot. We exchange expressions that say, “O…M…G…What did we just get ourselves in to???” Here we are alone with these two puppies, two sets of strangers. They don’t know us, they don’t trust us. Heck, they probably don’t even feel a need to listen to us!
We spend about five minutes trying to get them into the back seat of our car, with no clue as to how much experience they have in cars. They sure seem nervous and scared by the whole concept. So I climb into the back with them. I sit in between them, holding them close to me. By now, we have been at the shelter for FIVE hours. It is dark out already. My hubby drives home extra slowly. I have my arms around them. We wonder what they are thinking. They don’t know where they are going, they must wonder why they are being taken away from their “home” in the cage on the concrete floor at the shelter.
Finally at our home, we walk them into the house to what will be their “bedroom” at night, a small mudroom for coming into the house from inclement weather. With a gate in place at the doorway to the kitchen, it will become their little space until they are old enough to roam the house on their own when we aren’t around. In preparation for the arrival of our theoretical dogs, we had already adorned the space with doggy decorations on the walls, dog bowls, toys, two big doggy bed pillows and a blanket. The puppies walk in, still on their leashes, plop down on the pillows without a second thought and curl up together.
We stare at them in confusion, and finally I say, “Doggies, we have a whole house to show you.”
We have to lead them by their leashes into the space that we call home—kitchen, dining room, library, living room. Sprawled on the floor in front of the fireplace is a bunch of blankets and pillows. This is my special place, which I’d adopted when we moved in that spring. I call it the “cozy corner,” and I often fall asleep in front of the fireplace while watching television.
Within minutes, the four of us are on the pillows and blankets in the cozy corner. And something magical happens. It was as if this is the place and the people the pups had been waiting for. They snuggle up against us in true pack fashion, and all four of us fall asleep. It was an experience I’d been waiting to have again for 19 years, ever since the last time I’d cuddled in bed with Floyd.
I’ve since lost all ownership of the cozy corner. The pillows that sit there now belong solely to Sheffy and Miss Fine. I’m allowed to nestle myself right alongside the pillows.
That first night, and for a couple of weeks after that, Danny insisted that the puppies needed to be brought into their “bedroom” to sleep at night. First few nights, they went willingly, but as they began to appreciate the joys of having a whole house, they became more reluctant. And so did I. There was no way that, once we were both back to work, I wanted them spending all night in the mudroom and then all DAY in the mudroom while we were at work. So I began to sleep in the cozy corner with them at night…and despite my initial fears that they would get up and roam the house on their own, wreaking havoc because they were still just puppies, they spent the entire night cuddled up against me. I slept with one eye open. If they did stir, I’d feel it, and immediately wake up. I’d let them out to do their business if needed, but mostly they just wanted to shift positions and go right back to sleep.
The original agreement was, no dogs in our bed. We were determined to stick to it—that and no table scraps, no dogs on the couch, etc…. So I tried setting up some pillows for them on our bedroom floor to recreate the cozy corner experience. Danny got in bed and I got on the floor by the pillows. Miss Fine curled up beside me, but Sheffield jumped onto our bed! We made him get off the bed. He stood there for a second with his chin resting on the edge of the mattress, looking at Danny, then moving just his eyebrows and eyes to glance at me…and then jumped on again! We made him get off again. We started to giggle on his third leap onto the bed. We were laughing so hard we had tears springing from our eyes on his fourth time up.
The next morning, all four of us woke up in bed together. And it has been that way ever since.
It truly is life-altering to have dogs. They constantly keep us laughing at their antics (you should have seen the day Sheffy got a peanut butter sandwich stuck to the roof of his mouth) or “aawing” at how cute they are (like when Miss Fine retires to bed by herself, curling up into a ball on the pillows because she simply can’t keep her eyes open another minute). They get us outside, giving us a reason to enjoy our big yard. They get us back to nature, telling us every few hours that we need to take them out for another stroll around the pond in the woods at the end of our block. They remind us of how amazing it is to be responsible for another life. And they’ve made us believe that we can save every dog in the world!
Rescuing a dog from a shelter is the most fulfilling experience and I could see it becoming an addiction. We talk all the time about what may have happened to our puppies if we hadn’t taken them home. We wonder what would have become of their emotional well-being if the shelter had decided that the only way to get them adopted was to separate them. I can’t put into words how much these two love each other, most often still attached at the hip like they were the first time we saw them in that cage at the shelter.
Now, when we see those Sarah McLachlan adoption commercials, we both get teary-eyed. Yes, we’re sad for the dogs in the commercial, but it also hits home, reminding us that our puppies were in that same place before they found us (with the help of the disco ball drag queen ABBA angel!). It often gets us thinking—can we handle one, maybe two more dogs since we can offer them a great home…?
See lots more videos of my pups (because I’m obsessed with them) on my YouTube channel.