Sunday, May 22, 2011

Love at First Click: My Internet Best Friend

With a little help from Facebook, websites, and friends on the internet, I have a new love.  Losing Dallas just a month ago, I wasn't sure I wanted to look at dog adoptions right away -but  rather enjoy the chance to be away from home longer, not have to take walks in the rain and so on.  That lasted a few weeks.  I miss the companionship, I like walks in the rain, and I love having a dog.

Dudley grew up in Missouri and was rescued from a kill shelter by For the Love of Labs, an organization of dedicated volunteers that was started when someone saw a photo of a yellow lab that was to be euthanized at a high kill shelter the next day.  The lab was taken off death row, given a forever home and a new life and the organization was born.  Based in Connecticut, they have volunteers nationwide.  Their rescues are listed on PetFinder.

From a dedicated For the Love of Labs volunteer, Michelle, I received photos and descriptions that included Dudley.  Immediately I likened this dog search by internet to dating and job hunting using the same vehicle; they all involved resume-sharing, exchanging likes and dislikes, unrealistic expectations, photos that might do more harm than good, and first meetings that could be disastrous.
After completing the application, I quickly heard from Cathy, the volunteer in Missouri who was overseeing his placement with a foster family and his ultimate adoption. Much like online dating, which I have tried and failed at, I was captured by one photo and description, but worried about the fit, the personality and the needs (this was, after all a male dog, not at all unlike male humans).  
I almost backed out when I saw a forlorn photo of him and I thought "if he isn't a happy dog, how can we be a match?"   Who wants to be the cheerleader all the time?  I've had that dating experience and there isn't much in it for the cheerleader.  What I hadn't considered is that this poor dog had been on death row, saved by volunteers and spent time in multiple homes since being dumped by his owner.  What did he have to look happy about?  Maybe what he needed was someone to love him.
Dudley checks out the pond
I meditated and prayed about it and waited for a sign.  Sure enough, I got more than one.  I was about to get a new best friend.
Rescue adoptions can involve home visits, a contribution to cover transport, shots and other expenses, and answering some serious questions about how you plan to care for a dog for the rest of its life (example:  "What happens to the dog if you move?").  Volunteers go to considerable time and expense to place these animals who encountered bad luck that wasn't their fault.  They are fostered and carefully described on the website, cared for, given medical treatment and determined to be ready for adoption  before they and their families are nurtured through the process.

Cathy gave me regular progress reports and arranged transport on the Alpha Dog Transport, a dog transport program that safely gets rescues from a temporary situation to their new families.  He was to ride from Missouri to Pennsylvania where I would meet him for the first time.  
I did what new moms-to-be do: I hoarded stuff.  Leashes, collars, a tag with name and address, food, treats, toys, a bed.   I found a used dog crate, knowing I probably would never use it for my already housebroken 2-3 year old boy.

Meeting the transport involved a 2.5 hour drive each way, arriving at 4 am.  Denise, another volunteer, kindly volunteered to wait at the pickup location starting at 3 am until I could arrive about 4 am.  What a dedicated volunteer!
In the parking lot of a gas station, I tried to get a good look at him - but it was 4 am!  I confirmed he was brown and very short and his whole body wiggled when he wagged his tail.  This was far better than any strange cyber date.  

Now that he's home, he is doing a lot of sleeping, trying out all the rugs and the cool temperatures of the wood and stone floors.  He has started sentry duty in the backyard, carefully marking all the spots, tolerating the much larger and more energetic black lab next door, and barking at a neighbor her sun hat and dark glasses as she approached the fence.  He's enjoyed his neighborhood walks and has met lots of dogs.  He is so good with other dogs, never aggressive or rude.  He has marked the 'hood and sniffed it to his little heart's content.  
He's learning to sit (this really means he is getting a lot of yummy freeze dried duck treats courtesy of my sister...he isn't getting the "sit" thing yet).  But when I ask him, leash in hand, if he wants to go for a walk, he wiggles every part of his body and barks!  It's great.  

I'm thrilled I have a companion.  He's just a really flexible guy who wants to live his life in the calm. I might be able to take some lessons from my new cyberdog.  He's certainly a match that was only possible because of the wonders of the internet and the willpower of a lot of dedicated volunteers.

If you are thinking of an adoption, please consider a dog who has been rescued.  They are ready to be loved, and the volunteers help ensure that the dogs are a good fit for you and your family.

Lucky the frog
Great Blue Heron above the pond
One of Dudley's new jobs is guarding the pond from the great blue heron who has been in the yard today, presumably with an eye on those juicy frogs that I liberated from the international market (see blog Lucky Frog Liberation) since he has already enjoyed the fish.  His other job is keeping the rabbits out of the garden.  Since we lost Dallas last month, several baby bunnies have arrived, getting ready to eat all of my flowers and vegetables. They will likely be moving to the other side of the fence now that Dudley is in charge.  

As with any relationship, Dudley and I have a lot to learn about love and trust and comfort with one another.  So far I think I've fared better with my cyberdog than internet matchmaking or job hunting via the internet.  


For the Love of Labs
Next time a pet-loving friend has a birthday, or marks a special occasion, or you just feel like doing something nice, consider making a contribution in their honor.  For the Love of Labs could use the support, and your donation will go a long way toward helping a good dog find a loving forever home!


Alpha Dog Transport

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dog Party: Diary of the best last day

There were less than 24 hours to spend together after we found out that our dear Dallas, a 13 year old yellow lab, was dying and needed to be euthanized before the pain was great and he could no longer have a good best day.  Tearfully, we discussed it as a family, by telephone and text  en route from jobs and the vet.  We were solemn, measured, and determined in our quest for the best dog to have his last best day.
Some years ago I acquired a bowl to use for his daily chow – it pictures dogs in party hats and says “DOG PARTY!”  It epitomized Dallas and his view of life and the importance of mealtime.
Returning from the vet and before the sons arrived, I lay on the floor and held Dallas, cuddling his face in my hands, letting him rub his nose in the crook of my arm as he was apt to do when we were at the dinner table and he wanted attention or a share.
Dallas and I walked in the garden.  I sat on the log bench by the frog pond while he lay in the cool grass after walking the perimeter of the pond to ensure that he had forced every frog to leap into the water right in front of his nose.  I cried, he licked his paws, smilling in his doggy way as if he knew that a party was in the planning.
Son 1 arrived first, sad and heavy-hearted, bewildered that Dallas’s condition, not outwardly apparent save the swelling in his abdomen, seemed normal. We cried a bit, albeit with the reserve we first children tend to have, when we are together and unlikely to be too vulnerable by letting on the extent of the hurt.  Then he took Dallas for his last ride in the truck.  Perched on the front seat, Dallas looked like a hairy yellow adolescent schoolboy.  As they backed out of the driveway, he stuck his head out of the window and let the wind blow in his face, ears flying.  
I feel sure they talked about all the things they have always discussed together,  boy and his dog secrets he would soon take to his grave, and reminders of the fun they shared.  They drove past the home of Velvet, his black lab friend.  It was to her he would flee when someone accidentally left the garden gate open or was less than watchful when allowing him off leash.  It was a special time for Dallas with the boy who trained with him and served as disciplinarian in his formative years.
Son 2 arrived home and called “Hey Buddy” from the front door.  Dallas ran to greet him, carrying his stuffed bunny toy.  This is the boy for whom I got the dog.  After he stopped asking for a hedgehog at a very young age, he asked for a dog. Dallas came along when he was 8, a perfect age to get and love a dog.  Young pups together, they did not bond immediately; Dallas was a hyperactive handful, as was his boy.  It took time and love and eventually they became close friends.  Their usual game, in the later years, was “hide the treat” when Dallas waited patiently when told to “stay” in one room, while Robert hid a special treat and then called “come get it.”  It was sweet to watch them play again, recalling younger days when “stay” was a harder task for Dallas.
We held our family meeting, discussed the vet’s recommendations and cried.  Then I pulled out a photo album from Dallas’s first year and we told stories about his growing up.  “We all grew up together,”  one son noted.  Everyone took turns loving him and giving him treats and spending special time with him.  The brothers, now with homes of their own, decided to spend the night, in case Dallas went into distress, and to maximize the time together. 
New Year's Eve
Before bedtime, however, they decided that the last day should include all the forbidden foods he wanted and they walked to the store to buy bacon for breakfast.  After all it was to be a dog party.  Reading the book series Hank the Cowdog when they were very young, they learned how much dogs like bacon -  it is the best of all dog treats because it is usually not allowed.
favorite position
About 3 am Dallas requested to be let out in the garden and I joined him, having fallen asleep in tears and painfully aware that the day had arrived.  He took his time, as if realizing it was his last pre-dawn sentry, walking the perimeter of the garden, circling the pond, following his well-worn path behind the azaleas.  It was just light enough to see his body, moving more slowly than usual, weighted down by the massive tumor that was slowly killing him.  He had trouble getting up the steps at the end of his tour and I got behind him and gave him the extra push he needed. 
I lay on the floor beside him, giving him a share of my pillow and telling him how much I love him, speaking his name aloud again and again.  We both fell asleep for a time but the hard floor was more than my aging body could take. 
asleep on the bottom of the canoe
The boys arose early and we solemnly reviewed the plans for the day. They cooked and ate, with the help of Dallas the party dog, the whole pound of bacon.   While I tried to find a vet to come to the house, we eventually realized after many tries, that traveling vets don’t perform euthanasia on dogs that are not already patients.  So we made an appointment with our own vet, Dr. Schrader, at Suburban Animal Hospital, who was in fact the best choice of all. 
Bleeding hearts in the garden - we'll remember Dallas every year when they bloom
We each spent private time with Dallas, holding and loving him, giving him treats and reflecting.  
catching snowballs
As a foursome, we recalled funny stories and the difficult start we had with the once-wayward addition who flunked two dog obedience classes before going to boot camp at Silverbrook Kennels in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  It was a six week residential program that broke a little of his wild spirit, taught us to be his disciplinarians, and helped him reform his bad habits.  In the process we learned to love him more. Trish Jagoda and her staff at the kennel became extended family who allowed him the extra time he needed to complete the program and helped us understand that it was our behavior that most influenced that of our wild and strong-willed dog.  The morning after his last day, Trish was one of the few people I emailed with the sad news and she responded with kind remembrances.
final resting spot, with toy on top
The boys selected a gravesite and began the sad and grueling task of digging his grave, among the azaleas in a shady spot where he could watch over our garden activity.  In the process of digging they found one of his old toys, buried perhaps to be found on that day (it is now resting on top).  Dallas and I went outside and watched their work. I believe he was tempted to help dig, but simply inspected and seemed to approve.  He knew something was going on and perhaps sensed that this revered spot was to be his.  We cried big tears.
Winter, 2010
Later we all took a walk, around the neighborhood where he walked twice daily.  We would always spell “W-A-L-K” because if you said the word he ran to the front door in anticipation of the act to follow.  Eventually he learned to spell so we stopped calling it anything at all. 
On our W-A-L-K, he left his mark on all the familiar bushes and telephone poles, and took special interest in the birds and squirrels we saw along the way.  He was tired but strong and seemed proud to have the family together, focused solely on his wants and needs. It was a beautiful day and we remarked that it was perfect weather for your last day.  A party kind of day with the saddest of overtones.
Dallas and his bunny
I began gathering remnants of dog ownership – the cans of food we used to encase the daily aspirin he took for joint pain; the bed he slept on in my office; the stuffed toys; the glucosamine supplements that he thought were dog treats; and his spare leash.  I chose an especially soft blanket for the important job of cuddling him during his last moments, and wrapping him for the burial. 
We climbed into the car with the saddest of thoughts, but trying to keep focused on making it the best possible for Dallas. I took his favorite liver treats with us, to give him while we waited and as often as he wanted.  He enjoyed another ride in the car.
Popping bubble wrap - a favorite activity
At the vet’s office, they kindly let in through a side door and had a palate prepared on the floor.  We spread out his funereal blanket and he began hyperventilating as he usually does at the vet, dreading whatever misery might await him.  Little did he know.
Christmas day mischief
Dr. Schrader had an emergency so we had more time together, snuggled around Dallas on the floor, stroking his head and telling him we loved him.  While suspicious of all the attention, he loved it.  He had love in his eyes and he enjoyed the entire bag of liver treats.  The doctor was kind and explained everything to us, and ensured that we understood that we were sparing him a very painful imminent death.  While Dallas seemed almost normal, we knew that he was putting on a show for us – wanting to be his best for the party and not demonstrating vulnerability or disappointing his family.
at Park Lake, Kentucky
The sedative relaxed him such that he could see and hear, but could not feel pain and then we whispered in his ear, “kwahari rifiki” (good-bye friend) and told him we loved him.  Soon the light went out of his eyes and he stopped breathing.  We knew he was in a better place and we sobbed uncontrollably, fearing the next steps in the party’s conclusion.
after rolling in cow manure in Greeneville, Tennessee
The saddest part of the day was watching the boys carry his limp body to the car.  Our single funeral procession headed home, ready to say our final good-byes.  We said a prayer for him, asked God to watch over him and connect him with my Dad and others in heaven, and buried him in the hole he had approved, with his stuffed bunny and other toys.  We cried, and occasionally told a Dallas story of something funny he did, while we covered his body with the rich soil.  And then the party was over.
Easter, 2011 - begging for jelly beans
In the morning sun
Lest you think we’re all in therapy over this, we are not. It’s been a week.  We’re adjusting and making adjustments. For the first couple of days, we each worried about one another, making calls during the day, checking to make sure we were ok and remembering special things about our beloved Dallas.  

He slowly claimed our hearts and will never leave.  I don’t think any other dog will ever be as good or as special.  But we definitely are all dog people now.  All three of us will probably have dogs again one day, and hopefully they will know one another as siblings or cousins. I’ll probably be the first to take the plunge again.  But not too soon. Meanwhile, we know we made his best day a great day and that he left this world happy and loved by us as much as he loved in return. 
on his last day, with his bunny

My other postings featuring Dallas the Dog


Dudley the little brown lab joined the family just one month after the Dog Party day.  He is a great companion and, while he will not replace Dallas, he has found a place in our hearts.  See blogs:

On the Withlacoochee Trail