What to Expect When You’re Rescuing

This isn’t the first time I’ve written a blog post about a dog, and it won’t be the last. While I am in every way a crazy dog person, what I love most about dogs is the connection and comfort they can provide to people.

So whether you’re with me in the dog lover camp or not, this post is for you. It’s not for Maya- she can’t read.

This is a post I’ve considered for years. I’ve wanted to write about my experience adopting Maya, but sharing my love for this perfect pup meant needing to be brave enough to share the not so perfect.

In a sense, this means breaking the rules of social media- allowing others behind the filtered curtain that our staged photos create. But perfection is the antithesis to scrappy. To be true to myself and this platform, I’m using my 26th birthday and Maya’s 5th birthday as the perfect time to embrace that.

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My boyfriend, Brandon, and I adopted Maya in August 2016. I was truly stopped dead in my tracks on the Secondhand Hounds site when I saw this brown-eyed beauty. We brought home the cuddliest two year-old pointer spaniel mix, originally from Arkansas, who spent 6 months with a loving foster family while she gave birth to 13 puppies and recovered from heart worm.

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While in her foster home, she was with dogs, puppies, kids, and was strategically kept away from the cats.

One of her first weeks with us, Brandon brought Maya to a dog park. She was accosted at the entrance by a dog jumping all over her and nipping at her. The owner was across the park socializing with other owners, not concerned by what her dog was doing.

That experience may be the source of the aggression she now has towards dogs, or it may have triggered a memory from her time as a stray. While navigating this dog aggression isn’t “what we signed up for,” it’s been an epiphany of what unconditional love looks like.

Laurel Braitman— science historian, author of Animal Madness, and owner of a Bernese Mountain dog with a canine compulsive disorder— explains it best in her TED Talk:

“But like with humans, sometimes it’s six months in before you realize that the person that you love has some issues. And most of us do not take the person we’re dating back to the bar where we met them or give them back to the friend that introduced us, or sign them back up on Match.com. We love them anyway, and we stick to it, and that is what I did with my dog.” 

If we knew then what we know now, I don’t think we would have thought Maya was the right dog for us. I don’t think we would have known we were strong enough to take on this challenge, and that one flaw doesn’t stand a chance in outweighing her amazing qualities. 

Since you may not be familiar, I’ll catch you up real quick. From a logistics stand point, she almost never barks, she enjoys napping while we are away at work all day, and she’s embraced her city life by monitoring the streets in her free time.

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My dad and his grand-dog on neighborhood watch

From a personality stand point, I’ll keep it brief. I don’t think any person has stepped foot in our house without Maya cuddling up to them on the couch and giving them more kisses than they bargained for. When we have parties, she embraces whatever outfit I give her and works the room, making sure she spends time with each guest and offers different toys that might catch their fancy. An Aquarius like her mama, hosting is her love language.

We’ve come to accept that while Maya’s great with people and kids; and a lot of hard work has earned her three dog friends, she’s never going to be “normal” around dogs.

After years of reflection, progress, and setbacks, I realized by not sharing this topic, I was isolating people who were experiencing the exact same thing. Worse, I was adding to the idea that everyone who adopts a dog or brings home a puppy will have a completely predictable and ordinary experience.

In reality, this isn’t the norm for everyone and our norms around dogs aren’t normal. If you think of a family dog you grew up with— regardless of your generation— dogs stayed at home…like dogs. But they probably weren’t home alone like a millennial’s 9-5 requires. They were likely with a stay at home parent, or you or a sibling had shifts and responsibilities.

As it’s become increasingly common to adopt a dog or buy a puppy at younger stages in one’s lifewe’ve brought animals into a wide variety of scenarios, and we expect a cookie cutter result. We’re putting pets into public, crowded spaces and assuming they’ll have a blast. Do you know how many people are out there that HATE public, crowded spaces? 

Hover over the photos to meet Maya’s three friends

Whether you bring home a purebred puppy or find your perfect rescue pup, there will also be something about them that is out of your control. Rather than this fact deterring you from making that step, I’m hoping to reiterate the importance of being adaptable and staying curious.

Aspiring dog owners, spend time thinking about how you would work through a variety of situations. Look forward to finding out what they enjoy, rather than deciding what your life will be like together before you even meet them.

If you think of how you try new experiences, it’s rarely diving in head first. Brandon and I tried a salsa class in January, and I am so glad he talked me into buying a single class rather than a 10-pack. Just like Maya, we’re gifted in other ways.

Now, I promised this wasn’t just about dogs, and it’s not. When it comes to navigating dog scenarios with Maya, some days are better than others. Some days, I thought we couldn’t live like this, but 99.9% of the time, I wonder how we ever lived without her.

This experience has made me aware of how often I assume every person I see, especially every person that looks like me, is experiencing the world just as I am.

It’s given me a glimpse, even if it’s only the size of a pinhole in comparison, to the unconditional love parents have for their children and the commitment to adaptability that comes with that. When I see a kid running rampant at the grocery store, I save the passive aggressive glance (that I’ve now received) and remind myself they’re trying their best.

It’s been a huge learning experience in mine and Brandon’s relationship, of how we can work together as a team and stay the course even when it’s tempting to quit. We’ve had to think critically about whether we’re the best home for Maya, and how we can continue ensuring that.


Turns out, off-leash dog parks and dog birthday parties weren’t designed with a family like ours in mind. That’s fine, it’s a reminder of how many people go through their day-to-day with transportation, buildings, and jobs that weren’t designed with them in mind.

These are not meant to be apple-to-apple comparisons; rather, this awareness is what keeps me grounded on the not so perfect days. It’s what instantly makes me grateful for all that I have and all that I can do.

That gratitude is rooted in every day returning to a happy home— mind you, a condo in the city with a communal yard that we avoid— that’s filled with cuddles on the couch, items knocked over by Maya’s tail, cooking with a four legged shadow, endless laughter, and most importantly, the permission to come as you are.

Perfection need not apply.




Dog owners- I have so many tips on what is and isn’t helpful in my situation, training tips that have worked, things that have absolutely not, and so much more. If that’d be interesting for another post, let me know in the comments here or where you found this post!

 

Secondhand Hounds

From the background on my phone, to my day calendar at work, to collapsing on the ground to be on dog-level at any given opportunity, I do not try to hide my love for dogs. I’m shameless.

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Meeting my first Secondhand Hound, little did I know, at the 2014 Minneapolis Pride Festival

To all who I offer to dogsit for (strangers included), I am indeed serious, and clearly need to make business cards to get that message through. I’ve come close to tears talking about dogs I do not know, and tell stories about other’s dogs as if I am a part (or the sole) owner.

When I was little, I would get up close and personal with my Grandma’s small white poodle, Lady. She would bite me on the cheek every time I crossed the line, and I would comfort myself by hugging her and weeping into her fur. That’s unconditional love, people.

At 23 and a bit wiser, I found my way to Secondhand Hounds to get my dog fix through volunteering. A volunteer-run and foster-based shelter, Secondhand Hounds (SHH) finds temporary and permanent homes for dogs and cats that are rescued or brought in from a wide variety of scenarios.

I now start my Friday mornings letting out the animals that are in between fosters, and as a result temporarily staying at the shelter. This means sunrise walks, trying to trick very smart dogs into taking their medicine, rekindling my friendship with cats, and all the cuddling I had been missing. 

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Lady, part dalmatian and part pointer. Loves to cuddle and is a pro at eating the treat but spitting out the medicine
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Doxie, bulldog of some sort. So sweet! Not the most athletic, our walk ended shortly after this photoshoot 🙂

One morning, this also meant meeting an aggressive dog, who was very territorial of his space. I slowly and confidently introduced myself, and he started to be put at ease. He flinched as I put on his leash, which showed he had been abused prior to SHH. After going outside and giving him breakfast, we sat in his room as I pet him to get him more acclimated to the space. All was going well until we made eye contact, and he lunged at my face.

Unlike my younger self, I knew not to stick around. I quickly left his room, all the while subconsciously narrating to the dog, “I have to go, this is not going well.” In immense pain, I realized the bridge of my nose had been bitten very badly, along with a small bite on my chin.

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One week after the accident, other photos of the damage are left out for everyone’s benefit

I didn’t want to share this story too broadly out of fear of how it would reflect on Secondhand Hounds, who were nothing but amazing in responding to the situation. Many people asked me if I would go back to volunteering, or if I still felt the same way about dogs. All of which got the same response, of course.

Truth is, organizations like Secondhand Hounds are why accidents like this do not happen more often. I wasn’t attacked by a dog, rather this is the ripple effect of the abuse this dog has endured. It’s a ripple of someone who I imagine has been given one idea of how to manage anger, what it means to be masculine, and whether mental health should be talked about. 

I was recently reminded of this, when my dress was stolen from the locker room while I was teaching yoga. At first, I was upset and annoyed that I needed to go home for a different outfit to wear to work. However, once I changed and looked in the mirror, I noticed the scar on my nose and was reminded that there can always be more to a story. The new owner of my dress may have needed it more than I did; and either way, I am lucky to have a closet full of other options.

For the pain and fear that I experienced that early morning with this dog, I’m sure that moment of eye contact triggered the frequent feelings of pain and fear he has endured. This scar isn’t a reminder of that morning, it’s a reminder of why organizations like Secondhand Hounds matter. It’s not a reason to avoid dogs, it’s a reason to get involvedIt’s a reason to spread love and compassion whenever possible, because you never know who or what needs it most.