When I was about 17, I bought a Yorkshire terrier puppy. I had become quite the entrepreneur to make the $450 I needed. I wanted to do everything right.
I enrolled us in a dog training class at our local humane society. It was through that class that I started to learn more about the shelter and I wanted to be involved.
I became a volunteer. I cleaned kennels and rotated dogs to the exercise yard and back. I helped set up for an event by picking up trash and printing fliers.
And several years later, when my husband and I decided we wanted a dog, we went back to that shelter.
My First Adoption
We had an idea of what we wanted. I think we wanted a shepherd mix. We probably also wanted a puppy. That was nearly 30 years ago, but as that is the typical ‘want’ of potential adopters, it was likely we fell into that category as well.
We walked around and peered in each kennel and cage. So many desperate faces jumping up to greet us.
And then we saw her. In a bottom kennel, sitting perfectly still, with perfect posture, was Coco. A mix of American Staffordshire Terrier and German Shorthair Pointer.
She possibly had other breeds mixed in, but those two were obvious.
She was not who we were looking for.
However, she was exactly who we needed and wanted.
We filled out the paperwork and took her home.
We were not prepared for her, though. I was working at my family’s horse business and my husband was a driver. He worked every other day for 16 hours.
The day after we brought her home, I took her with me to work. I was working in the barn and there was a thunderstorm. Unbeknownst to me, the wind had blown open the barn door and Coco left.
When I saw the barn door open, I immediately started to look for her. It was a big barn, maybe she was in a stall. I mean, why on Earth would she go out into a thunderstorm?
She was not in the barn. She was gone. I jumped in the car and started driving around the roads looking for her.
I finally called the shelter to let them know I had lost the dog I had just adopted. I was told that they had just received a call from somebody who lived on my road who had found a dog matching Coco’s description.
She seemed happy to see me.
Still no idea why she left me.
Lesson learned. They don’t always have well-thought out plans. Sometimes they do things that make no sense at all.
For a couple weeks after that, I secured the barn doors firmly and tied her to a stall door with a very long line.
In that first week of having her, my husband was arriving home late one night. I was already in bed. Coco was on the floor next to the bed. I woke to a very low, very serious growl. I then heard my husband at the front door. Coco was up and I put my hand on her collar. I told her it was ok, but she was quite dubious.
I yelled to my husband, “Hey, babe?”
“Yeah?” He responded?
“Start talking. Coco is not sure who you are?”
And he did… and after a few words Coco relaxed and started wiggling her butt. And I let her go.
Coco was with me for many years. We had guessed she was 2 when we adopted her. And we then guessed she was about 14 when she was finally ready to leave us.
And in that time, she peed on the floor a couple times, got into the garbage once, broke a door once, threw up on the couch and bed a couple times…. And was the best dog we could ever have imagined.
What would I do differently if adopting a dog?
Glad you asked. Having adopted many dogs from many different shelters and rescues over the decades since I first met Coco, I’ve learned a few things.
I no longer have a particular breed or look or size in mind. I currently, as of this writing, have 5.
I own a property with my brother and he expressed interest in having a dog that he could wrestle with. At the time, I had 3 little dogs.
I know a lot of people in the rescue world. I had been a driver with a friend who created a business, a side hustle, to transport rescue dogs from the south to the north east. Every two weeks, she would rent a van, we would load it with kennels and go pick up a couple dozen dogs and puppies and head north.
I had since moved from there, but kept in touch with her. I mentioned that we were open to adopting a larger dog and preferred a dog that didn’t have any options.
I didn’t want to bring home a dog that could have a dozen great homes clamoring for him.
I knew there were thousands of dogs that were overlooked due to age or breed or missing an eye or a leg. And our only prerequisite was that they needed to be friendly. Friendly to other dogs and other animals, and people.
My friend, Elena, immediately thought of a German Shepherd, Max, who had been in the shelter for nearly 6 months and whom they guessed was about 5 1/2 years old. Seemed quite sweet and yet was continually overlooked.
I was planning on taking a road trip, with my current pack, to go visit her, so made plans to adopt him if we connected when we met.
I should clarify, I didn’t need some sort of dreamy, chemical reaction… I just needed to see he had an interest in me and that he seemed very friendly.
And he did.
We put him back in his kennel while we took care of other business. I was not ready to take him that day as I was staying with my friend who also had her own dogs and a foster and we were planning on leaving to see some sites and go to dinner.
I wanted to set Max up for success.
Elena was taking a look at all the new arrivals and making notes on each. She would then go home and start emailing all the rescues up north and trying to find a place to take these dogs that she felt would have a better chance elsewhere.
I walked along behind her and we chatted about this dog and that, but honestly I was already thinking about the drive home to the Black Hills with Max.
I then saw a kennel with a small white dog in it and he seemed super friendly. I thought about adopting him too, to keep my dad company. I could still care for it, but he was quiet enough that I thought he might like to lay on a bed with my dad.
Elena nodded and agreed but finally turned to me and said, “I thought you waned to adopt dogs that didn’t have other options.”
“This one has lots of options. He’s small, friendly… I can find him a home pretty quickly.” She paused. “That one in the first kennel doesn’t have any options.”
We walked back to the first kennel. I remembered the little dog that cowered against the back wall and growled and nipped at Elena when she went in to see it.
The little thing pushed against the back wall so hard, it would have melted into it if given the chance.
This dog would take work. Effort. A plan.
In short, it was not likely a happy ending.
This little dog was not a dog for my dad. It was a project for me.
I went in and sat down next to it. In my mind I created a whole story for it. There was nothing on the front of the kennel to say anything about it. That meant they knew nothing.
My made up fantasy was that this dog was about 8 years old and its elderly owner recently passed and nobody wanted it and so it was dumped at the shelter.
It was a lovely story without any evidence whatsoever.
My brother was looking forward to Max arriving home. I wasn’t sure how excited he’d be about another small dog. Especially this one.
I needed to think about it. Elena and I went home and she was into emails and sending pics she had taken and making plans for another van load of dogs heading north.
We were likely watching Game of Thrones and I was thinking about that little dog.
No name, no history, no prospects. Turns out, they weren’t even certain of the sex. I thought it was female, but I wasn’t going to touch her to be sure.
Apparently nobody at the shelter was taking that risk either. She had only been there a couple days when Elena and I had our visit.
She needed a couple more days to be sure nobody claimed her.
I talked about her for a couple hours while Elena smiled and nodded. And I finally said I’d take her. She needed to be spayed before she left the facility and I made arrangements to be there when it happened.
I wanted to be with her and talking to her and petting her as she woke up. I wanted to do everything I could to get her to connect with me. At the very least, to not take a chunk out of me.
I sat by her kennel as she slowly woke up and I petted her and let my arm rest near her nose and talked to her.
Elena and I had a full load on the trip home. I had Max in the backseat and newly named Pepper on my lap in the front. Elena had two in the back seat and one in a crate in the very back. We dropped a coupe off at fosters that Elena had set up and the other one was going back to her home with the rest of us. 10 dogs in that house with all of her and now all of mine (5) and her foster.
Pepper was still groggy on the trip home, but by the time we arrived, after dropping off the fosters and checking on Elena’s horses, she was pretty awake when we arrived home.
I had her wrapped in my flannel shirt and she was not trying to get away from me. No growling or grumbling. She seemed content.
I carried her into the house and put her on the couch next to me.
When I say her entire personality changed, it is an understatement. She saw the other dogs and leaped from the couch. She ran around and was so happy and silly that I thought she might tear her stitches.
She ran to both Elena and me and was playful and exuberant.
Hours later, she jumped on the couch and laid next to me. She was exhausted. As she rested, I pulled back her upper lip and saw the most perfect baby teeth you could imagine.
She was not 8 years old.. she was less than a year.
Well, I was committed now. I did question as to whether I should now try to rehome her as she was no longer the cowering, snarling, snapping old dog in the shelter.
She had lots of options now.
But, I had committed myself to her and she was part of the family.
As yet, a secret part of the family. I still hadn’t told my brother. I didn’t want to be logic-ed out of my decision.
A couple days later, we hit the road for our trip home to the Black Hills.
It was a two day drive. I think it was on the drive that I mentioned Pepper. When we arrived, my brother came out to meet us in the driveway. He rolled his eyes a bit at the Pepper, but he was so happy to have Max that he wasn’t going to complain.
That evening, we sat with the dogs and I told him the story of Pepper. And he knew there was no choice. She had to come home with us.
Over the next couple weeks, some friends expressed very serious interest in adopting Pepper from us. My brother would mention them and I would give it a thought.
Would she be better off with this other person?
Would I be ok letting her go?
And each time I decided the answers were no.
Pepper and Max had really bonded. For the first year of their being with us, it seemed every picture I had of one included the other.
Max would lay down and pepper would go lay down with him. He could curl up in a bed that he barely fit in and she would curl up on top.
If she went outside, he joined her.
And she was … still is… the toughest little dog I can imagine. She is fearless. She wrestles with Max and never lets up.
Someday I’ll tell you the story of when she fell down a well. Unharmed… and still fearless.
I’ve had Max and Pepper for going on 3 years now. So, we think that Max is almost/about 9 and Pepper is about 3 and 1/2 or 4.
They are still best buds and my pack of five wouldn’t be the same without either of them.
If you are now wondering if you should adopt a dog and how… head here.