Hi, my name is Katie, and I cannot resist Sarah McLachlan’s syrupy, warble-y siren call: “In the Arms of the Angel….” It is the PSA for the ASPCA, and it makes me FO (Freak Out) every time.
All those matted, mattery-eyed mongrels peering pathetically into the lens, beaming right to me on my couch. I’d adopt them all if my TV had One-Click Purchasing.
Bleeding-heart dog adoption is in my DNA. When I was four, my big sister brought home an apricot miniature poodle named Pockets from the Animal Humane Society.
Pockets was a bit of a Napoleon. Adorable as all get-out, he was also territorial, moody and a bit more resentful than is normal on the canine personality spectrum. I loved him wholeheartedly anyway.
To be honest, I didn’t even know you could buy a dog from a breeder until I was much older. I thought dogs came from the pound.
In 2006, when my husband and I moved into our downtown loft, the task of "getting a dog" suddenly topped my priority list. I brought my husband to the Humane Society, my hand itchy with the anticipation of signing adoption papers.
But the animals were mostly large breeds that needed room to roam. Disappointed, we turned to leave.
But then the door burst open. Sunlight filtered into the room along with a blast of cold air.
That’s when Molly the 8-year-old cockapoo, looking for all the world like a Muppet, pranced into the room, seemingly on sunbeams.
She was labeled a “senior” and already had big, cloudy cataracts in both eyes. But she was so vital, so happy ... So ours.
Molly brought joy wherever she went. And she went everywhere with us because she had a raging case of separation anxiety.
A man once pulled up next to our car at a stoplight and rolled down his window, bass thumping. “Hey man, nice cockapoo,” he said before pulling away.
Life after Molly
Losing Molly dropped my husband and me into deep chasms of grief. On the one hand, this was to be expected with a senior pooch. And yet, doesn’t grief always feel like a sucker punch, even if you steel yourself for it?
In my despair, I turned to the internet.
That’s when I discovered the foster-based method of dog rescue — all these tender-hearted Sarah McLachlan acolytes, scooping up homeless animals, in some cases transporting them across the country. These people would shelter the dogs, they would train them — basically doing the dirtiest work, often without compensation — until they found each one a “furever” home.
At Underdog Rescue, I spotted Murray the Coton de Tulear’s photo.
He was covered in long feathery white fur, like a Flokati rug, and he was panting. He looked like the life of the party. I was smitten.
We went to meet Murray a few days later. He tentatively tiptoed toward me, trying not to upset the carpet fibers. He refused to make eye contact. His tail dragged sadly behind him.
Even Murray’s foster mom allowed that he was pathetic by rescue standards.
“Everyone comes to see Murray,” she said. “But no one wants to take him home.”
“I will,” I said.
We soon realized Murray had no idea how to even be a dog. I decided the best cure for that would be another dog. A role model!
My plan was to find a mature, maybe senior, female dog. The more docile the better.
But then we saw Ernie-the-shih-tzu-bichon-mix’s photograph.
Young enough for his age to be measured in weeks, Ernie was an Ewok come to life, fed on a steady diet of squee pills.
Ernie had been separated from his mother too early, thrown into a barn and left to die. Why? Because he had an eye defect that was neither visible to the naked eye nor a threat to his health. Yet the breeder had deemed it too terrible a mark to let him live.
Caring Hands Animal Rescue of Minnesota took him in. They placed him with us after reference checks and a home visit.
Ernie showed his appreciation by destroying our wool rug, countless pairs of shoes, a few sweaters and the corners of our kitchen cabinets.
'The perfect fit'
Our new dogs quickly forged an Odd Couple-esque bond. Yes, I found myself questioning my sanity. But I couldn’t deny the benefits for my skittish Murray, who was beginning to pick up on Ernie’s more doglike behaviors.
Now they've been partners in crime for four years.
Don’t get me wrong, I'm not sure Murray will ever be “normal” by most standards. It took him three years to work up the gumption to jump on the couch and cuddle by my feet.
Ernie, on the other hand, will sit atop my head, on my lap, dance in a circle on his hind legs, whatever it takes for a moment’s attention.
So Murray spends his days, white hair flowing, in front of the heat vent in my bedroom. And Ernie takes joy in being a guard dog, even though he often misses the couch on his way to sticking his underbite out the window. Athleticism is not his strong point, but his loyalty is.
Just because I go all Sarah McLachlan Threat Level Orange with my dogs doesn’t mean potential adoptees must. There are plenty of dogs in rescue — purebreds, so-called designer dogs, mutts — that are waiting, with no discernible behavior or health issues.
Sure, there are lots of reasons why someone might choose a breeder. But for me, my philosophical and political sensibilities are better aligned with rescue dogs. They're the perfect fit.
If I were to draw a dog analogy, I’m not a cool, aloof Afghan. I'm not a stately German Shepherd. Nor a soulful mastiff. I am a personality mutt, an ambivert. I’m neurotic and loyal, by turns friendly and open and terrified and worried.
And I’ve always, always, always rooted for the underdog.
There is something magical about dog rescue. It feels good to find each other, to find love and companionship, despite all our quirks.
Katie Dohman is a freelance writer living in West St. Paul with one husband, two children and two rescue mutts. Find her @katiedohman on Twitter, at the Blooma yoga blog and on the pages of various magazines, newspapers and websites around the world.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.