The Unabridged Story of the New Dog

We’ve had Daisy Duke for two months now, but adopting her was so emotionally draining that I’ve just now gotten the emotional distance to write about it. This is the story of how we were challenged to make our decisions align with our morals. Fair warning, this is going to be long and rambly, but at least it has a happy ending!

We love dogs. Heck, I love all animals to the point where 6 years ago, I became morally

Daisy on the first day she found us.
Daisy on the first day she found us.

conflicted about eating them and switched to a plant-based diet! But I digress. Dogs, above all other 4-legged furry creatures have a special place in our hearts. I can’t handle watching a PETA commercial, let alone visiting a kill shelter, so when Daisy followed my husband home 2 months ago (up the road 3 miles and by scent alone, mind you) and showed up on our back deck half-starved, shivering and terrified, we were faced with a pretty big moral dilemma – either we help her or hope that someone else steps up to the plate.

Looking back, the week surrounding the new year was absolute chaos. We had just closed on the new house, we weren’t done packing yet and pretty much every spare second of our time was spent trying to prepare for the move and remembering to occasionally feed the children. Suffice it to say that it was the absolute worst time to consider adopting a new dog. We had previously talked about it in passing and the Irishman and I had agreed that we absolutely, positively would be a one dog family at some point in the future. In other words, we wanted fewer animals, not more.

Daisy, wrapped in Lexi's old blanket.
Daisy, wrapped in Lexi’s old blanket.

But there she was, with those soulful brown eyes and the sweetest disposition you have ever seen. My mother-in-law and I talked about it later and I swear to you, her eyes said, “Help me.” That first day on the back deck, I wrapped her in an old baby blanket, I fed her a cup of dog food and I called the shelter. And then I waited. For one hour and then for two. She stayed sleeping at my feet the whole time and I think it’s because for just one moment, someone else was taking care of her survival. She was free of the burden of fighting to live for a brief moment and so she slept.

soulful eyesShe had been someone’s dog. Of that, I’m sure. She loves people, children, other dogs (cats, not so much) and she was clearly taken care of at some point in time. She was also very obviously a hunting dog, but I’ll save that story for another day. When the shelter folks came to pick her up, they told us 3 things: (1) her owners had 72 hours to claim her; (2) she was probably 4-6 years old; (3) if they didn’t determine her to be adoptable, she would be euthanized.

My heart sank. She was clearly not making it on her own in the wild, but by me calling the shelter, there was a good chance she would be killed. For those 3 days, I prayed. That her owners would call in. That they wouldn’t call in. That someone would adopt her before we could. That she would be mine.

Honestly, the Irishman and I were very divided about this. He absolutely, positively did not want another dog. I couldn’t let her die. After many hours of discussion, we agreed that we would foster her, just until she was healthy. Given his hesitation in the matter, I mentally switched my schedule around so that I would be solely responsible for her well-being. You know, with all of my free time.

When the 72 hours had passed, I called the shelter. They had named her Violet (which is a horrible name if you ask me) and said that we could come and get her. Gulp. My in-laws had been in town when she followed the Irishman home and being the dog lovers that they are, they “sponsored” her by paying for her adoption fee, buying her a dog bed, leash and collar. They couldn’t stay for her homecoming, but they went by the shelter to bathe her the day before they left. She was stinky from her months in the wild.

Parker and I went to get her together and we drove her straight to the vet for her check-

Daisy on one of her many long walks.
Daisy on one of her many long walks.

up. She got her shots, was tested for heartworm (negative, yay!), and for all of the other worms (she was loaded, boo!). We got her meds and then we met the Irishman at the house so that he could leash our dogs for their initial meet-up. The ride home was tense. She wasn’t used to being in a car so she was whining the entire time and I wasn’t sure how she would handle our pups or the baby.

When she first went into the house, she went, um, nuts. Jumping on all of the counters, on the sofa, on the chairs. I mean, she was literally climbing the walls. She clearly had never been inside of a house before. She was also a scent hound and there were 1000 new scents for her to check out. She was also starving. Literally. So the need to forage for food was very strong and we had an open floor plan in the old house. Not good.

We had originally set up her crate in our bedroom, but after 5 minutes, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to sleep in there with her (she would whine whenever she saw us). Thankfully, the kids’ playroom downstairs was empty , so we set up her crate with a space heater and her dog bed (she was still terribly thin and had trouble staying warm). I didn’t sleep a wink the entire night, terrified that she was going to be howling the whole time. Naturally, she didn’t make a peep and I lost sleep for nothing. 

The next morning, I started the routine that I would have for the next 4 weeks. I was up before 6am so that I could take her for a long walk before my shower, then she ate breakfast in her crate and then I took her for another walk before I left for campus. Then back in the crate she went until I got home with Lexi at noon. She was allowed to play in the living room with the other dogs, but in this early period, no one could eat in front of her. She would try to climb onto the dining room table to get to the food. We also found out that she eats fabric. Thankfully, we’re used to Payton eating clothes, so we were already house-proofed for that particular trait (how weird is that?). Then it was back in her crate for dinner, I walked her again after than and then again before bed.

That first month was stressful. I hated that she was in her crate so long, but I just kept

Daisy and Lexi enjoying the sun on our new deck.
Daisy and Lexi enjoying the sun on our new deck.

telling myself that she was fed and warm, it was better than the shelter and that everything would improve at the new house (where we were fencing in our ample yard). I started taking her everywhere with me so that she would get used to the car and because there was no fabric to eat in the back of the Subaru. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and she accompanied the kids and I to many a playground visit. As she grew more comfortable with me, I grew more attached to her. There was no way I was going to be able to let her go. The Irishman caught on to this fact when every time he asked me whether I was looking for a new home for her, I responded with “she’s still too thin” or “her spay is next month” or “let’s get her more housebroken so she has a better chance of success.” Um, yeah.

The good news is that things are much easier in the new house (notice I didn’t say “easy”). The fence helps a ton and she’s been regularly fed long enough that she doesn’t climb onto the dining room table while we eat. We still put her outside when the kids are eating mainly because Nona is food aggressive and she and Daisy have already gotten into it over a perceived scrap of food (which was really a freakin’ leaf). However, let’s face it – having 3 dogs who live downstairs and 2 cats who live upstairs adds a lot of work to an already very busy life with 2 kids.

Oh, did I mention that Daisy thinks the cats are prey so they have to be separated?  We could try to work on integrating them, but I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with it and thankfully, everyone is happy with the current arrangement. In case you’re worried about the safety of the cats, Daisy is a purebred Plott hound and they are the kind of hunting dogs who “tree” prey, but don’t kill them. In other words, she would chase the cats and bay on the top of her lungs, but it isn’t her job to hurt them. That’s one reason that hunting dogs don’t do well in the wild. They can follow their potential dinner, but they’ve been bred to wait for the hunter to finish the kill. By the way, am I the only one who finds it ironic that I, as a vegetarian, am now the proud owner of a trained hunting dog? Perhaps I can train her to hunt kale? Hmmmm.

At peace, finally.
At peace, finally.

Anyway, I guess the moral of the story here is that while adopting her was hard (very hard), it was simply the right thing to do. So often, people say, “Gosh, that’s so sad,” but do nothing to help the situation that they feel sad about. I teach college classes about correcting social injustices and I try to teach my students to speak up and do something when they see a situation that needs attention. I couldn’t in good faith be one of those people who turned a blind eye to suffering and I don’t want to raise my kids to be one of those people either.

Someone said to me last week, “You know, you can’t save them all.” They’re right. I can’t. But I could save one and for that one whose life was spared, I think it made a dang big difference. She may not have the perfect hunting dog life and we may have just made things a bit crazier for ourselves, but hopefully the kids have learned that if you see a soul that’s hurt or in need, you can open your heart a little bit wider to help where you can.