We have two dogs. Our first, Georgia, was purchased with money I had received for my birthday when Miss J was three and M was one. My mother had given me the money with strict orders that I must "Buy something for myself" with it. It was not to be put toward bills or other household expenses. Admittedly, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the shock and surprise in her voice when she asked what I had bought and I answered simply, "a dog."
People thought we were insane. Our son was but a year old with a lengthy list of medical and developmental concerns and an uncertain future. What business did we have getting a dog?
I saw it differently. We needed something different to focus on. We needed a different kind of chaos in our lives...a good chaos. We needed something else to do and talk about besides what was happening with M. For me, it was a perfect idea.
I spent my days playing with Miss J, managing M's care and training a nippy, chewing puppy. It was perfect.
We loved the joy that Georgia brought to our lives so much that four years later, Mr. A and I thought about getting a second dog. I loved the idea of having two dogs and felt Georgia would benefit from having a playmate.
This time, we decided to adopt from a local shelter. I had promised seven year old Miss J that she could be part of picking the dog. Miss J and I visited the shelter and looked at all the dogs. I hadn't noticed that Miss J had wandered off until I heard her call from another part of the shelter, "Mom! Come here!"
Far away from all the other dogs, quarantined from the rest, was a dog. She was a tall, lanky dog, curled up into an impossibly small donut on the cement floor of the cage. Bones protruded from her spine, hips and ribs. Her sad eyes told a story of a life hard lived.
"I want her." Miss J told me. She wasn't asking me for the dog. She was telling me.
"Honey, " I began, "She looks very sick. We don't know what her story is. I'm not sure this is the dog for us. Let's keep looking."
Miss J didn't budge. "Mom. No. She needs us."
I looked at the sickly dog and I looked at Miss J. I sighed and asked one of the volunteers about the dog.
There wasn't much information on her. She was new to the shelter and was an owner surrender. No one was sure why. She was listed as being a purebred black lab, about a year old, although she looked like she may have some Great Dane in her. She was emaciated and may have been abused. She was quite ill with an infection and was on her third round of antibiotics. If we decided to adopt her, we'd have to wait until she off the medicine and her health had improved.
I looked at the scared, shivering dog and I thanked the volunteer for the info and we left. Miss J sat quietly on the ride home. Finally she said, "She needs us. She's had a hard life and we can give her a good one."
Miss J had the best intentions and the best heart. But she was a little girl who still didn't understand there was so much more to consider. I wasn't sure I had what it took to essentially rehabilitate a dog like this. She looked so sickly I wasn't even convinced she would live.
But I couldn't stop thinking about her. I couldn't stop thinking that perhaps Miss J was right. Perhaps, because of all that we had endured, we were the perfect family for this dog.
Without telling my family, I returned to the shelter the next day to see the dog the volunteers had named, "Shady."
I sat by her cage and talked to her. She came to me. I petted her. Her head was low and her tail tucked between her legs. She was shaking. She was due for her medication and the volunteer handed me the pill. Shady took it without a fuss. She curled up onto the towel that was laid on the cement floor for her and fell asleep.
Mr. A and I discussed it further. As a family, we returned to the shelter again to see Shady. We took her out into the play area. She was shy and uncertain, but appeared to be gentle and sweet.
Two days later I returned again with M and his wheelchair and tried to walk Shady on a leash. She would need some training, but she already knew some basic commands. The shelter volunteer handed Miss J the leash. Miss J commanded, "Heel" and took Shady to her left side and proudly lead her around the play area.
I returned one more time with the entire family, including Georgia, to see how the two dogs got along. She remained quiet and reserved, but showed no signs of aggression. For the first time, I saw the hint of a tail wag. I was watching Shady closely and she was passing every test.
We'd visited Shady several times and had come to like her. Her health was improving and she would soon be ready for adoption. We had to made a decision. Mr and I turned to Miss J and asked, "Do you still want her?"
Shady curled into a ball in my lap and slept on me the entire ride home. She was calm and quiet when I scrubbed her tip to tail that night with Johnson's baby shampoo.
It felt right.
When it was time for bed, we crated Shady. She howled and barked that entire first night. I discovered she wasn't housebroken. She chewed up everything in sight. The next morning she bolted out the door and took off running.
I began to second guess my decision to bring this dog into our home. I asked Mr. A if we'd made a mistake and if he felt we should return her.
"You can't" he told me. "She's ours now."
Slowly things improved. She learned to walk nicely on a leash beside Georgia and she stopped running off at every opportunity. She became housebroken and she stopped chewing on things that did not belong to her. She does remain a counter surfer though; a habit I suspect may never be broken.
Her health improved. She reached her ideal weight. Her coat thickened and took on a glossy shine. Her copper colored eyes were lively and bright. Though she had been emaciated, she never guarded her food. When M would crawl up beside her as she ate and would stick his fingers in her bowl, she never once snapped or growled. She would gently eat around his hands.
She is still a nervous dog, but she is no longer fearful of everything she encounters. My biggest concern for our guests' safety with Shady is centered around her constantly wagging tail. She wags with her entire body and with such force that her tail will slap you like a whip. Her excited tail has left red lashes on the legs of unsuspecting guests more than once.
Georgia was initially unsure of this interloper who invaded her space, but the two now enjoy each other's company.
By no means a watch dog, when new people come to our home, she hides behind my legs; yet if Mr. A or I roughhouse or play wrestle with the kids too much, she will bark loudly until we stop. When we take a family walk, she cries if Miss J ventures too far ahead of the pack. At home, Shady is my constant companion and follows me wherever I go.(She sleeps beside me as I write this.) And each afternoon, when she hears the engine of the school bus rambling down our street, she runs to the front door to wait for Miss J to return home from school. If Miss J spends too much time talking to her friends and takes too long to walk through the door, Shady will whine at the door as if to say, "Hurry up! I've been waiting for you all day!"
Shady has been with us for nearly three years. Miss J was quite right when she said that Shady needed us, just as we needed her. She is the right fit for our perfectly imperfect family.