I really don't want to write this, but there is a rage welling up inside me that begs release. For me, writing is cathartic — like having a therapist at my fingertips — so here we go.
With senior citizenship upon me, I have dedicated the past year or two to personal wellness, finding and sharing joy, and shunning stress and negativity whenever possible. The latter is the most challenging of the three, but integral to the first two. I've found the key (if you can't simply avoid them) is to meet stress, tension and negativity head-on, deal with them and release them. Move on. Even my broken Toro mugs have been sent down the river, so to speak.
My sources of joy are simple: my wife, my daughters and their husbands, my dogs, my books, my guitars and piano, my chainsaw and tractor, fireplace and our summer home in the Maritimes. Our dogs are always toward the top of the list. So it was with great anticipation (and a bit of fatigue) that we welcomed our third rescue, Ellie, the Friday of GIS week. We had to pick her up near Hartford, CT, at 8:30 that morning (a 4-hour drive for us), so I had a 90 minute nap between getting home from GIS at 1:30 AM and turning around for Hartford.
The van transporting about a dozen dogs from Kentucky arrived on time, and it was a joyous occasion. I wish I could have just stepped back and watched the meet-n-greets between rescues and new dog-parents, but our new Golden Retriever emerged and of course took center stage for us. A quick pee (for her), a walk-around to stretch the legs and we headed to her new home in Vermont.
Our series of four Goldens (three at one time, years ago) has been replaced in recent years by two rescues, Frosty (a Labrador/Great Pyrenees mix from this same rescue agency in Kentucky) and Marley, a chubby bucket-fed yard dog who came up from Atlanta two years ago. Both Frosty and Marley were "marketed" as Golden mixes but neither has a drop of Golden DNA in them, not that it really matters.
Since we lost the last of our Goldens last April, my wife has wanted another and has been scouring the rescue sites. Available Goldens get snapped up quickly, so (as with many other things) it boils down to who one knows. This one happened to come up through the same agency through which we got Frosty (a true 'agency' as they never touch the dogs, which go from shelter to foster home to their forever home up here), so we had a leg up on the other 80 applicants and got her.
The details on Ellie's history were sketchy. "Three year old female, purebred, somewhat timid, just weaning a small litter of puppies, housebroken, 50 lbs., would do well with a mentor dog in the home." She appeared very thin in her photos. Fifty pounds was being generous.
We thought the puppy thing was a little odd as nobody in their right mind would give up Golden puppies, which usually fetch $1800-$2500 each, but we didn't dwell on it. It did occur to me that she might have been seized from a shut-down puppy mill, which would explain a few things.
Upon arriving home, a quick introductory walk and the other dogs seemed to accept her, but she hesitated before coming into the house and quickly found a safe space between a sofa and upholstered chair. She was ravenous, tentative around me (less so with Patty), generally skittish. Didn't seem to know her name, didn't respond to praise, not interested in toys. It was like the "lights were on but nobody's home". She gradually took treats from our hands. Peed on the carpet a few times. Didn't seem to connect going outside with doing her business, except #2. No attempt to jump on the sofa, no interest in the multiple dog beds we have around the house. She slept on the floor along Patty's side of our bed. But she did walk well on a leash, trotting along with the other two.
Didn't seem to know her name, didn't respond to praise, not interested in toys. It was like the "lights were on but nobody's home".
Fast forward a few days to yesterday, when we took her to our vet for a checkup. "Well, she's a beautiful dog but she's more like 6 years old than 3, missing a few teeth probably from decay, has had multiple litters judging from her well-worn nipples, and... you see this yellow-stained skin and fur on her belly? That's from laying on a concrete floor in her own waste for years."
Hence my rage at those responsible, puppy mill or whoever they are. And some lesser irritation with the rescue agency, which was less than forthright with us. Hey, we would have taken her anyway, but forewarned is better than surprised by this type of thing, and a little honesty goes a long way.
Upon relating the story to my colleagues, John Reitman said, "There's a special place in hell for anyone who would do that to a dog."
So we have another project dog (Frosty was a year-long project), but that's OK. There's an odd sense of wonderment when putting myself into Ellie's paws and realizing how everything is new to her at this stage of her life. All the smells on our walks... the squirrel scampering across the driveway and the hawk overhead this morning... the coyotes howling at night... the UPS truck that drives the other two nuts. New snow underfoot. The calm of the fire in the fireplace and the sound of an acoustic guitar. A leaf blowing across the snow. Birds at the feeders. So much that we take for granted.
There's much work to be done. She has never been up or down stairs. Isn't thrilled with the car. We will beef her up to our specifications, teach her how to play fetch. Frosty has already shared his stuffed toys with her, one of which she proceeded to rip the tag off of. And she reached up and grabbed a few pieces of paper hanging off the edge of a table and started to rip them up. That's the Golden genes coming out. All good.
Our job will be to help her forget the negativity and neglect of the first half of her life and blossom into a real dog. The second half of her life is now on a much happier trajectory than it was just a short time ago, and that brings joy to us as well. Yesterday I lifted her up onto our bed so she could enjoy her first pack nap with me and the other two dogs, and she reveled in it... as did I.
Positive feedback can be difficult to come by these days, but just rescue a dog and they will thank you every day, even if starting out in small but meaningful ways.