Usually I write about content and marketing here. But today I’m temporarily returning to this site’s roots with a personal story.
Nine years ago I drove from Boston to Connecticut to pick up an almost one-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Abby. She was to be a foster dog for a short while, until the rescue group found her a permanent home.
The details were murky: A family somewhere in NY had surrendered her – something about how they bought her from a pet store, and she spent much of her time at home in a cage. I guess her original owners knew she deserved more. And so they gave her to Rescue, to give her a second chance.
The first time I met Abby she was tiptoeing like a cat along the back of the Rescue coordinator’s couch, acting like she owned the place. (She didn’t.)
She was lithe and athletic and smart, and she had a spunky, relaxed attitude. Rescue dogs can be fearful or confused or clingy or withdrawn. But Abby wasn’t any of those things. Her one issue was that she had a tendency to bolt; the hours spent cooped up in a cage seemed to condition her to run when she had the chance.
You’d think she’d be detached and cool, given what we knew of her history. But she wasn’t. Something about her that day seemed almost human: The way she was friendly but slightly reserved, not unlike how even the most open, friendly people you meet still know enough to keep something back.
It’s weird to call a dog polite, but she kind of was.
She’d been through a lot of transition in the last few days – going from her original home to a series of hand offs that ultimately landed her here, sitting on the back of the couch, wagging her tail and pawing the air in my direction in a wave hello. She seemed to be an optimist.
At home I wasn’t too sure about her. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her — I did. A lot.
But I also had three other dogs and two active kids and a crazy career. And I thought she’d be better off in a house where she was more the sole focus, instead of part of the chaos. The last thing I wanted was for her to be ignored again.
But you know what? Abby herself had other ideas.
She made friends with our big alpha Labrador mix and became second-in-command on daily yard patrol. It was funny to watch them – a 45-pound Lab accompanied by a 16-pound sidekick, patrolling the perimeter of the yard for chipmunk perpetrators. She got our goofy big boy Simon to play. She avoided the high-strung, complex Chile unless it was on his terms.
Abby was there when you needed her and fine to be chill when you didn’t. People liked her who don’t usually like dogs. “She’s a rescue?!” they’d say, incredulous.
“Yes,” I’d say. “She’s one in a million.”
“So she’s available for adoption?” they’d ask.
And I started to hesitate a little on the response. I wasn’t sure anymore. She was one in a million.
So within a few weeks, she had found her place in the pack. And pretty soon none of us — not even Abby, I bet — could remember another life.
She stayed with us — a rare “failed foster.” We became permanently part of her second chance.
She wasn’t perfect: That obsession with doors, and her knee-jerk impulse to bolt through any open door when she saw it.
We live on a busy street. I was terrified of her getting out on the street side, and my then 8-year-old made signs for all the exterior doors: KEEP DOORS CLOSED. With her markers, she drew happy faces and four dogs with wagging tails.
One day not long after Abby came to live with us, the kids had set up a lemonade stand in the front yard. I forgot for a second – isn’t that all it ever takes? – and as I cracked open the front door to warn the kids away from the road, Abby scooted between my legs and raced toward the road, straight into the path of an oncoming car.
You know that feeling when you witness something horrific, that you are powerless to affect? Time seems to both speed up and slow down at once: Me screaming NOOOOOoooooo at Abby as she bolted from the house; the kids screaming at her to stop; the car not seeing her or slowing; and Abby slipping under the wheels and disappearing, like a spring bloom under the lawnmower.
The last thing I could make out was her spinning under the carriage of the car, which had now stopped, and the driver was getting out.
And then – astonishingly! – Abby was moving, too, crawling out from underneath the car, and running – she was actually running! — back.
I wish I could say that she ran straight to me, and that she sailed full into my open arms. That would be a good finish.
But I can’t, because she didn’t. Instead, she ran straight past me, back to the door she had just come through. She sat there on the stoop, shaking and slightly bloodied and confusingly but miraculously fine.
She was doing what she always did, this time in reverse: She was waiting for the door to open.
And suddenly that second chance had become a third.
Yesterday our little Abby turned 10. The kids are bigger and less underfoot. All of her 4-legged pack mates are sadly now gone — from old age or illness, leaving her the sole focus I had thought she’d always want to be.
She’s still lithe and smart and spunky. To get my attention, she still paws at the air as a kind of cue, like she did 9 years ago in Connecticut. She’s still as polite as the kid who sits in the first row at Sunday School.
But she’s no longer obsessed with swinging doors. And –- thankfully — she no longer bolts, maybe because she’s finally figured out that there’s no longer anything to escape.
It strikes me now that Abby is happy mostly because she’s now the kind of dog who loves things as they are. She no longer wonders how they could be better. Because what’s the point of that? That’s the one way she’s not at all human.
Sometimes I forget she’s no longer a puppy, because she climbs up on the back of the big puffy chair like she owns it.
Because now she does.
Thanks to her original family, too, for the hard choice they made to give Abby the gift of a better life. (It might’ve been the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.)
If you are considering pet adoption, please consider rescue. There are many wonderful dogs like Abby — and others who are nothing like her at all, except in the need for a restart.