Saturday, December 30, 2006

To all the dogs I've loved before

The decision to get a dog, the first dog of our adult lives, was a difficult one – with this week last year being the climax of some painful and emotional days.

I can't say exactly how it began, the nagging urge to get a dog. My best guess would be spending a brief amount of time with a young, stray beagle we met at a gas stop in Ohio on our September 2005 motorcycle journey. She was friendly and curious and having the time of her life saying hello to everyone frequenting the gas station. Mark followed her to the field next door and they had a fast and furious chase session. We later realized she had made an impression on us. We would have scooped her up and taken her with us had we been on four wheels rather than two. Since that wasn't an option we continued on but didn't stop hoping that the "snoutbeagle" was alright.

September and October came and went, the whole time the idea of what it would be like to have a dog – maybe even a beagle – kept coming back to me. I went for frequent exercise walks and couldn't help but think that my walks would be enhanced with a dog companion. The thought of making the leap into dog ownership didn't stay with me long though when I remembered the shedding, the doggy odor, the cleaning up poo, the commitment of time everyday, and the thought that we might be stranded at home because we have a dog. No more motorbike trips, no more weekend getaways – nah, having a dog just wasn't worth it.

On one particularly slow afternoon, a couple of days before Thanksgiving last year, I found myself on Out of curiosity I did a search for beagles in our area. One beagle/dachshund mix named Sophie caught my attention. She had been a stray and was located at a shelter in northern Illinois. Part beagle, part dachshund (the breed of dog I grew up with), she seemed perfect and I secretly fell in love with her. Checking the next day I realized she was no longer on petfinder but I couldn't stop thinking about her. A couple days later she was back and I called the shelter to confirm her availability. She had been adopted but then brought back due to the adopter feeling she wasn't of strong enough health to give a young dog the exercise she needed. That was it. It was a sign. With a four day Thanksgiving holiday in front of me I decided I would take a trip to meet her.

Of course this was news to Mark, and I had to get him on board. I showed him her photo. He was less than impressed. I told him I wanted to meet her. He reminded me we didn't want a dog – remember the hair, the poo, the commitment, the smell. He wouldn't budge. Besides, if he were to consider a dog he'd rather have a beagle than a goofy beagle/dachshund mix. I was tortured. In my mixed-up head I loved her without even meeting her and eventually, on the very last day of the Thanksgiving holiday, I stole away to Illinois to meet her.

Getting there was an adventure. I kept telling myself I was going more for the sake of taking a scenic drive rather than meeting a dog. But once I got there the emotion hit me. I hadn't been to an animal shelter in years and it was noisy with a row of anxious barking dogs. No sign of Sophie ... until the door opened and a family of four walked in with a cute brown and black dog. I recognized her immediately and she greeted me briefly with a wag and a sniff as they walked by. She was put back in a kennel and the family, in the middle of deciding whether or not to take her, left the room. I found myself alone with the dogs. I bent down to say hello. She looked past me. I talked to her. She paced back and forth, wanting to be released again. I definitely wasn't on her mind. I was asked if I wanted to take her out to meet her and I said no, the other family looked so interested and we weren't sure we were even ready to get a dog yet. I must have looked heartbroken though. The lady consoled me by telling me my dog was still out there waiting for me. I left feeling sad and defeated. Sophie didn't give me a second glance. In my heart I knew she wasn't my dog. It turned out the family of four did adopt her in the end.

The idea of adopting a dog kicked into high gear after this and eventually Mark was visiting petfinder as well. Still, neither of us were convinced if dog ownership was for us but curiosity was getting the best of us.

I took a trip the following Saturday to the Wisconsin Humane Society and was immediately impressed with this clean, cheerful, and bright place. I was on a mission to meet a girl beagle named Chloe. She was described online as a "wallflower" and she was indeed shy when I met her. But she was darling and sweet and I felt we could bring her out of her shell. Mark joined me early the following week and we spent quite a lot of time with her. She seemed to be slightly more comfortable around Mark and looked at him longingly with her heavily eye-lined beagle eyes. She was winning us over, but we still weren't sure.

After more discussion we thought we would go back to get her on Thursday. But Thursday we had a huge snowstorm so we postponed our trip to after work on Friday. Friday arrived and the WHS Web site said she was no longer available. I was sad but it was meant to be. She must have gone to a good home. I never called WHS to confirm that she had been adopted.

So we visited three more beagles at another local humane society that weekend. None of them compared to Chloe in my mind but Mark became very fond of beagle named Red. Red was a boy dog and I really wanted a girl dog. Red looked very masculine and I was attracted to the more refined look of a female beagle. Red didn't have the dark black eyeliner I found so attractive in Chloe. And Red loved us, he really loved us. When we spent time alone with him all his attention was on us. He played, he climbed on us, and most of all he jumped. He jumped and jumped and nothing could convince him to not jump. We filled out the application to adopt him.

We were approved a couple days later and decided we needed to go back to spend time with him, just to be sure. Mark would have taken him right then and there but I was dragging my feet. Was it Red and his hyper manner? Was it me, suddenly panicking because we were so close to making the dog commitment? I didn't know, it didn't feel right. We kept him on hold a couple days longer.

I was tortured. I couldn't decide. I confided in my friend, Debbie, who did everything in her power to convince me of the joy of dog ownership. Finally I decided I needed to spend time with Red without Mark. During lunch one day I went back and played with Red. He was still very playful and loving. But he was a handful. He intimidated me. I couldn't do it. I finally said no and thankfully there was a family waiting to adopt him after us.

Not taking Red broke Mark of the whole idea. He still looked at petfinder like I did but didn't have the intention of visiting any more dogs.

The week between Christmas and New Year's arrived. Five whole days off where I had nothing to do but think about adopting a dog. Checking petfinder every morning, I found another girl beagle at WHS. I got there right when they opened and stood in line to meet her. She had just had a litter of puppies and was spayed the day before. She was weak and quiet from her surgery and when I spent time with her she curled up in my lap and stayed there. I put her on hold and went home to do research on dogs who've had puppies and then spayed and also to talk to Mark. We weren't on the same page, I was feeling too weak and emotional to make a strong case so we let her go. I still went back to WHS to see her and she was already being adopted and taken home by her new family. Another happy ending for another beagle.

The next evening Mark and I took a trip to Best Buy. Obsessed, I made my way to the computers on display and checked petfinder. There she was, I was sure of it – Chloe. Different photos than what WHS displayed and this time she was at the Appleton Humane Society, but I was sure it was the same dog that WHS had listed as no longer available. I pulled Mark over and he was convinced as well. That evening I filled out the application form and we prepared to drive to Appleton in the morning to arrive before they opened. We were going to bring home our new dog the very next day!

The drive to Appleton was full of anticipation and we made great time, resulting in a half hour wait in the parking lot. We were armed with the application and printouts of the petfinder pages. At long last the wait was over and we were pushing our paperwork across the front desk. It was confirmed this was indeed the same Chloe, that since she had been at WHS for a few weeks without being adopted she was transferred to Appleton. Then she said it – the lady behind the desk said she was adopted on Tuesday. I quickly told her that was impossible, we had just seen her on petfinder for the first time yesterday, Wednesday. She simply told me that they aren't always able to update petfinder in a timely matter, she checked the records, and apologized. They have a box of tissue on the front desk for good reason. I broke out in tears. I was crushed. They lady told us they had another beagle mix, why don't we go back, and since Chloe hadn't been taken to her new home yet, we saw her one last time. Beautiful, a ridiculous amount of eyeliner, and actually quite confident-looking, I told her to enjoy her new home. Still in tears, we left. I was done. This time I was broken.

But Mark continued to look on petfinder. The evening before New Year's Eve he called me to the computer to look at a boy beagle called Timothy. He was handsome and had a nice amount of eyeliner. He had huge feet and large floppy ears. And he was in a foster home almost all the way on the opposite side of the state.

It seemed our dog had found us.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A dog and his person

This story from NBC's Today Show severely impeded my mascara application this morning. Watch the video here.

The video is worth watching if you are looking for the tear-jerking factor, but below is the story from Denver's NBC affiliate if reading is a better option at the moment:

Top athlete survives 3 days in wilderness after 60-foot fall
Danelle Ballengee, one of the top female adventure racers in the world, is recovering at Denver Health Medical Center's ICU after suffering severe injuries from a nearly 60 foot fall in a remote area of Moab, Utah.

Stranded for three days, Ballengee says her dog saved her life by bringing help to her.

Last Wednesday, while taking a short run in Moab, Ballengee says she took a step and it was pure ice causing her to fall close to 60 feet.

From her hospital bed at Denver Health Ballengee told 9NEWS, "After I landed the first thing I realized is that I wasn't paralyzed and my second thought is, 'I've got to get out of here, I'm in the middle of nowhere.'"

Ballengee broke her pelvis in four spots. It took her five hours to crawl a quarter of a mile where she waited for two cold nights for help.

Taz, Ballengee's dog, stayed by her body for warmth on the first night and even though she says he would repeatedly leave her (presumably to look for help) he would always come back.

"I definitely thought about how easy it would be . . . to just stop moving and to just lay down and just go to sleep and just die."

Ballengee says Taz ran away on the morning of the third day and rescuers later told her they saw the dog about five miles from where she was. The dog barked at the rescuers, but wouldn't go near them. Ultimately, the rescuers say they followed Taz all the way to Ballengee, 52 hours after she had fallen.

Rescue teams were alerted after Ballengee's neighbor noticed she had not returned home and reported her missing.

Friends of Ballengee say if anyone can recover from this it is Danelle. She faces three to six months of recovery before she can walk again and likely a year until full recovery.

It's settled. I'm taking Diesel with me wherever I go. Put to the test, I have no doubt he would do the same thing.

If he wasn't distracted by snouting that is.