Every once in a while a dog comes along who is more than just a pet. More than just a companion. A dog whose personality and demeanor resonates deep within your soul. I refer to those dogs as heart dogs.
In my lifetime I’ve had dogs of every conceivable breed, but up until recently I only had one dog that I considered a “heart dog”. He was a little junk yard puppy, shepherd mix, covered in fleas that I named Ent. That dog was my constant and beloved companion. He helped me through those difficult teenage years, and his death actually helped cement my relationship with the man who would become my husband. Ent was an incredible dog who read me like a book. I miss him still, 40 years later.
About four years ago I started looking for a dog to spend time in my office during the day. Almost every office on the sanctuary has a dog, cat or bunny who spends their days being socialized and keeping staff entertained, and then return to their homes at night. It was wonderful sharing my space with a puppy or dog who needed a little extra socialization or exposure to an indoor environment.
Somehow, over time, my “office dog” became an actual resident of Parrot Garden. We attached a run and doggy door to my office, and moved in dogs that needed a little extra care or attention. Vicktory Dog Squeaker was our first official resident. Squeaker was a fairly easy office mate. She was already human bonded, and had a constant companion in the wonderful woman who eventually adopted her. My office was just a safe place for her to recover from ACL surgery.
After Squeaker came Vicktory Dog Oscar……that little stoic boy who chose to simply withdraw mentally when things got too real or stressful. What a challenge that boy was! He did not take his comfort from humans. He didn’t want to be touched. He wouldn’t eat in front of people. He preferred to wedge himself into the tightest, smallest space possible (under or beside my desk). And he refused to walk on a leash, anywhere he didn’t want to….which included any place there were other humans, dogs or cars. I think he was the biggest challenge Kevin and I had ever faced. Getting him through his CGC test was a mammoth undertaking that took the efforts of a team of people dedicated to getting him into a home. The day he left the sanctuary with his mom Rachel, I sobbed for hours. I was praying that Rachel would accept him for who he was, and not expect too much. Rachel was the absolute perfect mom for Oscar. She was a first time dog owner, so she didn’t have any preconceived notions of how a dog was “supposed” to act. What a blessing she has been to him.
When Oscar was adopted, Vicktory Dog Layla moved in. Oh, what a goofy, amazing dog she was. She was incredibly social with people. She’d actually approach them by backing into them, to make sure they realized she expected butt scratches. She adored being the center of attention, and would cheerfully go from one person to the next, offering each one their own greeting. Kevin and I talked about adopting her, but she was very dog reactive and we lived with 3 other dogs. Layla totally stole my heart, and Kevin spent hours with her, coming up on his day’s off to continue working to help her pass her CGC. Layla was extremely comfortable at the Parrot Garden, so that’s where we did her Canine Good Citizen test…in the parking lot at Parrots. The moment she passed the test was so exciting, not only for us, but for the crowd of on-lookers, who had come to cheer her on.
Several of the Vicktory Dog families had a reunion here at the sanctuary 2 years ago, and Kevin and I took Layla with us, to introduce her to the visitors, and let them know she was newly eligible for adoption. At that reunion Layla met Tess and George, who were destined to become her parents. Tess was doing a 6-week internship at the sanctuary, and she spent all her free time with Layla, so they were already bonded by the time she went home. Once again, the perfect person adopted our girl. There is no one in the world more suited to being Layla’s mom than Tess.
With an empty office, I was again turned to DogTown to find my next resident…..and it was my boy Ray. Ray HATED Parrots. He is noise sensitive and the screams of the birds terrified him. He is also extremely fearful of new situations. In DogTown he appeared to be a happy, confident boy. But when we put him in a new, unfamiliar environment, he became a panicked mess. The two weeks he spent at Parrots were a nightmare for both of us. He kept climbing things, trying to escape and I spent all my time pulling him off my desk or the file cabinets, picking up the mess he had made in his flight for freedom. It was with great regret that I had to return him to Dogs.
But something had happened during those two weeks. I had fallen in love. This scared, naughty, excitable little brown dog had totally won my heart. My office felt lonely. Kevin was suddenly without a walking buddy. And I had zero interest in replacing him with a different dog. So Kevin and I made the decision to continue working with him, but at Dogs. We wanted to give him an opportunity to be adopted and go home…..and that meant getting him through his Canine Good Citizen test.
Kevin spent hours upon hours walking Ray, alone and with other caregivers and dogs. I spent hours each week with the trainers, helping teach Ray the things he needed to know to pass his CGC. And it soon became evident that the reason we so wanted him to succeed was because we wanted him to come home, with us. The day Ray finally passed his CGC was the day we applied to adopt him.
The only problem was, the sanctuary had made an agreement with the Sheriff of Kane County (where we live) that the Vicktory Dogs would never be adopted into the local community. Kevin and I were going to have to move across the border to Arizona if we wanted to take Ray home. So, we began the search for an appropriate home, that could easily be divided to keep Ray separated from the other dogs, at least at first. We were remarkably lucky to find the perfect home, with the perfect set-up. The huge backyard was easily divided into two large dog areas. Baby gates were easily installed to split the house in half.
The day Ray came home was one of the happiest of my life. That little brown dog has changed me in so many ways. He enjoys meeting new people, something that is difficult for me. But his insistence on being social meant I had to learn to talk to strangers. He helped teach me that some things are just not important. Ray would never deem to play fetch…that is totally not his style. But just spending time together is all we really needed to be happy.
In the two years since Ray came home, we have traveled together, played together, and even worked together. He has a crate set up in my new office, located in the Parrot Clinic where he doesn’t have to listen to the cacophony of 100 parrots. He is a creature of routine and I am happy to oblige that. We take our walk at the same time every day, and take the same route. On sunny days we go to lunch on the deck of the Village, where he holds court and wins peoples’ hearts.
Today I am sitting alone in my office, waiting to hear that Ray’s surgery is done and was successful. It is a sad and empty room without the sound of his snores. I am hopeful that today is a one time occurrence, and that he will be back where he belongs very soon. Please keep us both in your thoughts today….it’s going to be a long one.