There’s this dog I know. Her name is Penny. She’s a brindle, tall, muscle-y, grey muzzled pit bull. She was found in a park and brought to the shelter in September 2016. She walked right up to the front door, unleashed, without hesitation or fear and straight into my heart. She let me leash her easily, she was checked in and from that point on, was pretty much always on my mind. Her care-free entrance to the shelter and the way her life would change the moment she walked through the door was very visceral for me- in ways that I am still not sure I can fully explain. I knew we’d do right by her, I believed she’d be okay, but I so often thought about her happy-go-lucky approach to the building and feared the loss of that side of her- the easy, breezy, go-with-the-flow side that I encountered on the other side of the door.
And, over time, my fears were realized. She was not a fan of people approaching her kennel- she barked and lunged, she was mouthy, she caused injury to her own face. I made a sign asking people not to put their hands up to her kennel unless they were handing her a treat. That worked wonders when they followed instructions, but not everyone did. I knew this was not an aggressive dog, but continuing to convince others got harder and harder to do over time. But I was not willing to give up on her, so she spent lots of time at my desk. She trained like a pro, she was a social butterfly, she played with toys and she napped. She went for long walks with a dedicated volunteer. She screeched on the brakes when she had to go back to her kennel and it was heartbreaking. We persevered.
When I left my job in February, Penny was the last of “my” dogs who hadn’t yet been adopted. I left WHS on good terms, knowing that she was in good hands with the volunteer who was a crucial part of Team Penny, and that my former boss would let me know if things started looking bleak for her. I stayed away for a while, mostly out of self-preservation. Despite loving my job, I ultimately needed to step away from sheltering. My heart has it’s limits and they had been reached for reasons that had little to do with the facility, my co-workers, the animals, etc. I am simply not made of strong enough stuff. But, I never stopped thinking of her. After some time had gone by, I made a few trips to visit with her, even bringing her up to New Hope to walk around, decompress and experience “real” life a bit and it was wonderful.
But, things did get bleaker. She broke skin on a volunteer’s finger when they both reached for a toy, which landed her on bite hold (which is the law) and she was injuring herself again. There were legitimate concerns, questions and conversations about how ethical it was to keep this dog living in the shelter. Given her age, her size, her coloring and her “breed”, her chances always seemed a bit lower than younger, cuter, fluffier and smaller dogs to begin with. I made some pleas to my local network and had a few people interested, but nothing panned out.
A few weeks went by. My friend Laura, who runs Sugar Skull Pittie Rescue agreed to pull Penny if we found a foster ahead of time. My former boss kept me in the loop about his concerns and then it got worse. She was trying to push through the guillotine door that separated the outside and inside of the kennel and push through the front gate, which was chain link, causing herself injury and real concern about her behavioral well-being. It suddenly got very real. She needed out and ASAP.
I reluctantly made a public plea. I was reluctant because my bandwidth for drama is low- and Rescue Drama is real and I didn’t want her to end up in a situation that was potentially not much better, I wanted her to have a life and have it be a good one the moment she walked out those doors for the last time. I also had no option of bringing her home myself, and so I knew that I needed to cast as wide a net as possible.
My public plea went wild. I got lots of inquiries and so many of my friends shared my post far and wide. One friend shared widest. My friend Carol, who is a critical care vet in Wisconsin called a friend of hers from vet school who works in my region. That vet went into work that night and asked her staff if anyone was interested in fostering and someone said yes. She had just lost a senior pit bull she had recently adopted and was ready to open her home again, at least temporarily. Her name is Chrissie, and she called me at about 8:15 the next morning. 15 minutes after her shift ended. And so began the Restoring of My Faith in Humanity. We talked for a while, Chrissie talked to her boyfriend and the very next day, May 12th, 2017, after 8 months in the shelter, Penny’s BFF, Todd and I were on our way to drop her off to her new life.
Things got off to a rocky start. After sleeping off the stress, Penny became a bit mouthy and was humping quite a bit. Chrissie and I talked about the long-term effects of stress and about taking things super slow. I also don’t believe in forcing or coercing people into situations that are not workable for them, and let her know that if it was too much, that was okay- I’d work something else out.
But, Chrissie is a smart, savvy woman and slowed things down a bit- they let Penny approach them for affection, rewarded her for nice behavior, redirected her when she got worked up and later that week, I got a text that things had improved. I tried very hard to not text her too often- I didn’t want to insert myself into their lives, but I wanted her to know I was here. We’ve been in contact somewhat regularly over the past month and I got pictures of Penny resting, then with toys and then with kids. Chrissie went about everything exactly right- slow and steady. One thing at a time. Her thoughtfulness at the process blew me away every single time we talked. The fondness that she and Dave shared for Penny was obvious and they seemed determined not to blow it by pushing her too fast. So many things are so often overlooked by people in their excitement at having a new dog in their lives- not because they are bad people, but because they don’t always understand what kennel stress is and how it can take time to dissipate, and that for some dogs, behaviors are going to pop out due to anxiety that maybe they weren’t bargaining for and that they don’t know how to address. And this is how Chrissie Restored My Faith in Humanity- simply by recognizing Penny’s behavior for what it was and adjusting her own behavior and expectations as a result.
Today, I got the message I was hoping for: Chrissie and Dave wanted to include Penny in their lives permanently. I screeched and jumped for joy in front of a group of New Jersey cops who clearly thought I was nuts. It took me a while to be able to say what I wanted to say to Chrissie, and the best I could come up with was that I am grateful beyond words. This woman, who didn’t know me from Adam, took my word for it that this was a good, deserving dog- who was special to me in ways I couldn’t even fully describe, and then opened her heart and her home. And though she was thoughtful and considered in her approach, she did this almost without hesitation and proved to be the angel Penny needed.
This post is long. But, it needs to be. This is a story that will stick with me forever. I had very real moments of thinking that Penny wouldn’t make it and I couldn’t bear the thought of her no longer being alive. And it’s about more than Penny. It’s about thoughtful and responsible sheltering. It’s about the good of people. It’s about the things that draw us together being stronger than the things that tear us apart. It’s about love.
It took a veritable village to get here. Todd Sokol. Jack Griffin. Jose Perez. Laura Juliano. Carol Haak. Chrissie and Dave.
My heart is so full it keeps leaking out of my eyes.