Today marks my one-year anniversary of having a rescue dog in my home as a foster parent (for LuvFurMutts rescue, if anyone is curious). It was a twisted road getting here, but the experience and sweet little Ami have changed my life.
Like many kids, when I was young, I was desperate for a dog. I couldn't have one, though, because of allergies. I also had other severe environmental allergies, so my parents didn't want to add to the strain. They finally decided something had to be done, though, when they caught me snuggling the hamster.
(Willow. Very friendly and gentle, but dumb as a box of rocks.)
So my parents did some research and discovered the Bichon Frise, a hypoallergenic breed. Most kids want a car for their sixteenth birthday. I was jubilantly happy to get a puppy - or more specifically, the promise of a puppy, for the litter hadn't been born yet. It came from a backyard breeder; at the time, my parents didn't know enough to be alarmed by this. When the litter was still only a few weeks old, I went to visit and chose a puppy. Since they were all little white puffs, the family marked the one I had chosen.
Fast forward a few more weeks, and my family goes to pick up the pup. We're watching them play in the yard. One pup detours off from the rest, and the others follow. Uhoh. The alpha.
My mother: "Which one is ours?"
"Oh, that one."
So that was Nimi (rhymes with Timmy) - short for Nimue, the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. As new dog owners, she ran the whole family ragged and knew exactly how to get what she wanted. She was also a cuddly sweetheart ... and then the problems started.
It should have been alarming that Nimi developed kidney stones at three years old. She had surgery to remove them, and for a while, all seemed well ... but then she started getting sick, involving multiple trips to the emergency vet clinic. Her system wasn't processing / flushing toxins properly.
She needed subcutaneous fluids for months. To do this, I had to gently pierce her skin with a needle and then massage in liquid from an IV bag. Because it would pool up, we used to call it "saddlebagging." It could not have been a comfortable experience, but she dealt with it valiantly. As for me, I swallowed my panic; I've always been deathly afraid of needles.
Again, Nimi recovered. When she took another turn for the worse, I knew she wouldn't last long, but I was thinking in terms of months. I was stunned when I took her to the vet and he indicated organ failure. We had to make the decision to put her down.
Our wonderful vet gave us - basically at cost - powerful anti-nausea meds so Nimi could have a few comfortable days with her family. We spoiled her, gave her car rides, ice cream and everything a pup could want. And then my mother and I took her in for her final journey.
She was just shy of her ninth birthday.
The experience broke our hearts. It also (then) firmly set my resolve: I would only buy a dog from a highly reputable breeder. I couldn't go through this again.
It was a little over a year before my family could find the heart to welcome in another dog. This time, we dealt with an approved breeder in the north of the state. There was a single female pup, pictures emailed back and forth, and even a name tentatively chosen: Sophie.
My mother and I drove up together. Besides the pup we had come to see, there was a second puppy who had been a stud pick. (That is: the breeder's dog was the sire of another breeder's litter, and her payment was a pup from the litter.) While the female we had come to see bounced happily along, this second pup immediately tried to climb into my lap.
The breeder pushed her aside. "Oh, this one's needy," she said.
Well ... needy was exactly what we wanted. It took the whole drive home before the new addition had a name: Lexi, a Greek name which means "protector of humanity." Pretty hilarious in hindsight, considering she plays guard dog ... and monitors both her younger sister and my foster dog, barking loudly if they act sick or are doing something they shouldn't be.
Speaking of her younger sister ... a few years later, I added Peri to the pack, and things were never quite the same. She was - and still is - a little diva. She's also never been quite as healthy as Lexi, but her problems are minor: ear infections, a cherry eye, etc.
Fast-forward five years more. My mother started this one: she had become interested in animal rescue due to the story of Caitlin the pitbull and started sending me pictures and success stories. I loved seeing the dogs flourish and find homes, so on Facebook, I added a local rescue to my feed.
Then a tiny boy chihuahua mix popped up and I fell in love. "Oh, my gosh, I want him!" I gushed ... and my mother egged me on, so I applied. It was pure whim.
It was also the first of a handful of negative experiences I had with larger local rescues. My applications were either brushed off with "we got a ton of applications, so we will only be in touch if yours made it" or I was pushed to adopt right away. Considering I had two resident dogs to think about, I wasn't going to make any decision rashly. Lexi is fairly easy-going and I was pretty sure would be okay with a new dog, but Peri is an attention-seeking prima donna, so I wanted a trial before I committed.
What about the question of health, which so worried me? After my first whim-filled application, I did more research and found that often, mixed breeds are healthier than their purebred counterparts. And ultimately, too, I think seeing all the tough stories of the dogs and all they had been through showed me that there are no guarantees ... and all pups needed love and happiness.
After a few sincere disappointments - in particular, a pup I had fallen in love with, only to be informed that someone else had priority - I contacted another area writer, Laura Resnick, via Facebook. I had been watching her cat fostering posts for a while and asked her if she knew of something similar for dogs. She pointed me to LuvFurMutts.
Now usually, LFM's adoption events are/were on Saturdays, which is difficult for me since I work catering. By pure happenstance, though, the next upcoming event had been shifted to Sunday. I decided to go. I wasn't really interested in any of the dogs who were "attending" the event, but LFM had a litter of just-born puppies. It wouldn't hurt to feel out the rescue and meet folks.
That event went very well. I made some canine friends and just "clicked" with the LFM folks. The coordinator that day suggested that I foster until I decided to adopt ...
... and poor fool me, I applied.
Now, this was right around the holidays, so they were closing down intake and events until the new year. And when that year rolled around, the request came: could I take Ami?
At first, I thought I had made a big mistake. With a new dog in my home, I felt I had to be hypervigilant - not just because of her, but watching Peri and Lexi. Ami was frightened and clingy. And then ... she started to relax, and I started to relax, and it worked.
I've watched Ami grow and improve tremendously. I'm as proud as could be and looking forward to some day helping another dog. Now, after this long and winding road, I don't know if I would consider anything else but fostering and adopting.