By Renata Tweedy, StubbyDog.org
It was plain and simple: I was a cat person. I had two cats and I fostered 50 more, but I never adopted, as I had a strong conviction that each one adopted meant a space for one more.
As an adult, having a dog never crossed my mind. Dogs were nice, sure. I didn’t fear them, and I enjoyed being near them. But the thought of enduring smelly wet fur and their need for exercise even in bad weather didn’t interest me one bit. Plus, I didn’t want to even think about having to schedule my time around a dog’s bladder capacity.
But when I started working at our local animal shelter, I was bitten not by a dog, but by the love of dogs. My husband and I caught the bug, and we began to foster as many as we could.
I took dogs home from work with me every night, learning as much as I could about them so I’d be better equipped to help potential adopters meet their match. I didn’t think of actually adopting a dog, however, until I met a Pit Bull named “The Governor.” I still remember clearly how he looked that day as he lay in the kennel of the stray area after animal control had picked him up alongside the highway. Almost a year later, the image is still vivid.
Suffice to say, the dog didn’t stay in the shelter long. He wasn’t one of our usual guests; my husband and I would generally take home long-term, high-energy, young dogs that needed a break from the shelter before we could learn what they were really like. But this one was old and gray, unneutered, and not even ours yet, as he came home with us before the time to reclaim him had passed. Surely his owners would come forward — such a stately pooch deserved better temporary accommodations than a concrete kennel.
His owners never came forward, and except to visit, he never went back to the shelter.
Daddy the Gentle Heart
When people heard he was a Pit Bull and saw his bulky frame, many were terrified…until they saw him move. His graying muzzle wasn’t the only thing that identified him as an elderly and non-threatening soul — he also didn’t have many teeth.
He became “Daddy,” not after the famous Pit from Dog Whisperer, but due to his behavior the first time his new home was invaded by orphaned kittens. I’ll never forget watching Daddy calmly resting on our bed with the tiny felines crawling on his back, sprawling on his nose, and chewing on his ears, as another foster dog entered the room, eager to play with — or eat — the little creatures. Daddy never even lifted his face from the comforter, but his lips quivered, showing his teeth, and his low growl sent the other dog quickly out of the room.
Daddy’s fathering skills came in handy on several occasions. When my pregnant foster Pit Bull had eight beautiful pups, my husband and I brought the babies home to bottle feed. We placed them on the floor of the living room, and Daddy would clean, keep warm, carry, and keep them safe from our pesky puppy, Cavil.
Daddy of Adventure
Daddy could barely walk some days, but he sure could swim. Our property is on the ocean, and while he struggled getting there, once we hit the shore he almost completely forgot his creaky joints and sore hips. He plowed into the water like a pup — such a beautiful sight.
Daddy loved the car and often travelled with us. His age, slow pace, low energy, and way of putting other dogs at ease made him a welcome guest in canine-friendly homes. He also attended board meetings with me and went to work with my husband from time to time. At outdoor events, he was always in tow, and he especially loved a barbecue. He was also a great addition to presentations for the shelter and another animal rescue with which I worked, teaching adults about prejudice and children about dog safety.
Another image that will always be with me is from a summer day camp: Our presentation was about to end, and while I told the kids that crowding a dog is never a good idea and can be very unsafe, this one time Daddy was happy to say goodbye to them all at once. Some 20 little bodies gathered around, patting and scratching, while Daddy just stood in the middle of it all, wagging his tail and licking the closest faces.
My favorite times with Daddy, though, were when he would haul his old body up onto the couch or bed and collapse with a sigh, resting his huge head in my lap or on my shoulder. I won’t forget his eyes.
The end came unexpectedly. A new medication had him practically prancing, and he had several delightful days of swimming and fun at the end of that summer. Then one day he woke up like his old self again, slow and wobbly. On our way home from the water after his last swim, he lay down and never got back up. He could no longer stand or walk.
I’d watched Marley & Me many months before, alone with Daddy. When the lead character asked the old dog in the movie an important question, I asked Daddy for the same favor through my sobs — to let me know when it was time. That day I asked him again, and he told me it was.
It was a holiday weekend, and our vet was unavailable. I was so thankful that Daddy didn’t seem to be in any pain. He was still eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom, so we spent our last days spoiling him and carrying him onto the lawn to enjoy the beautiful weather. Another image that I am so blessed to have caught on camera: Our puppy, Cavil, who was not so much a puppy any more, had been a pest to Daddy every day since he was born. But when Daddy took his downturn, Cavil’s behavior changed: He became attentive and kind. He brought things to Daddy’s blanket and lay down with him. On Daddy’s last full day on Earth, Cavil joined him on the sunshine-draped lawn.
The final image I will always remember is of Daddy when I said goodbye. The vet and staff were so caring and respectful. They knew him, and they knew me. If it hadn’t been so horrendously heartbreaking, I would have called it beautiful. The way Daddy was just there, and then he was gone. Not even a sigh. The way the vet laid her forehead against Daddy’s soft fur for a long moment. The way he was still warm when I kissed him…before I left his shell behind.
Yeah, I guess I’m a dog person now.
This article first appeared on StubbyDog.org