Wednesday, February 10, 2010


There is a world of difference between what can be expected of a dog who is raised from puppyhood in a loving home that provides it with structure and training and what can be expected of a dog who through misadventure, greed, neglect, or even cruelty, becomes homeless and is adopted.

We acquired our first three dogs as puppies. We knew all of their medical and social history. We house trained them, taught them "sit" and "down". They never had to fend for themselves. Never missed a meal. Were never struck or kicked. They received routine medical care and inoculations. They knew what they could expect from us; we knew what we could expect from them.

We have recently adopted Magic, our fifth Rescue Dog. Clearly, we find rescuing rewarding. However. Bringing a rescue into your home is an entirely different experience from raising a carefully bred dog from puppyhood.

When we adopted our first rescue, our Wheaten/Whippet, Daphne, I had NO IDEA of what we were tackling. I shudder at my naivete. But I could never, for one moment, regret adopting Daphne. In a sense, she taught me everything I would ever need to know about loving and caring for a dog who carries the scars--emotionally, if not physically--of the neglect and abuse of humans.

I first saw Daphne's picture on the internet. Soft brown eyes. Big black nose. A halo of blonde hair that was really too fine for a well-bred Wheaten. Call me crazy, but I felt her begging me to come get her and bring her home.

I called the kind people at Pet Orphans in Van Nuys, where Daphne was living.

Was Daphne a pure-bred Wheaten?

No, she was a mixed breed.

We had never had a mixed breed. What would that be like?

Did Daphne have a full tail?

Yes, indeed. Daphne had a long tail.

We had never had a dog with an undocked tail. What would that be like?

All that seems so silly and irrelevant to me now. But in April of 2001, they were important considerations. (Do I hear anyone say, "You've come a long way, baby"?)

But, all the while, I carried the picture of Daphne's face in my mind. She haunted my waking moments and I dreamed about her.

Within a few days, on a very hot April Sunday, John and I drove up from San Diego County to Van Nuys to bring Daphne home.

The people at Pet Orphans were very honest with us. Daphne had been with them for two years. Much, much longer than most of their canine adoptees. Daphne was a "bounce-back"--not once, but twice.

As a year old puppy--or perhaps even younger--Daphne had been picked up on the streets of Los Angeles. Her first, and most important Big Break came when she was rescued from Los Angeles Animal Control by Pet Orphans of Southern California, an exceptionally well run private rescue organization.

As is evident from her picture, Daphne breaks the top of the Doggie Adorableness Scale, so it is not surprising that shortly after her arrival at Pet Orphans, she was adopted. Her adoptive parents had a really cute male dog, whom they thought of as their Prince. They wanted Daphne to be their Princess.

But the streets of L.A., where Daphne had survived for heaven knows how long, do not provide training for Princess behavior. Rumor has it that Daphne snarled and snapped at the Prince. Probably stole all his yummies, too, I'm guessing.

So back to Pet Orphans she went.

A few months later, she was adopted to be the companion of a 4 year old boy. Mother and Father had Busy Careers. The nanny didn't speak English. The little boy wanted a dog. What better way to teach the child a good lesson in being kind to the less fortunate than by adopting a dog from an Orphanage? And as luck would have it, here was a dog who looked like she had just stepped out of a Disney Movie.

Well. It turned out that the Nanny wasn't too thrilled about dogs. The gardener Really Didn't like dogs. Daphne learned that she didn't like Nannies and Gardeners.

She was returned to Pet Orphans. A two time loser.

When a girl gets that sort of reputation, even adorableness is not enough. Months, then years went by, without anyone wanting to take a chance on Daphne.

It's probably just as well that I was so naive. I just wanted to take her home.

Daphne slept all the way from the San Fernando Valley to San Marcos. Smart girl. That was the ONLY time we ever had peace and quiet when Miss Daphne was in the car.

She was clearly nervous, clearly eager to figure out what was expected of her, but unable to calm her anxiety. Before bringing her into the house, I took her for a looong walk. After such a long trip, she had to have needed to relieve herself. Nothing. No sniffing. No squatting. No peeing. No pooping.

Of course she had an "accident" as soon as I brought her into the house. But my sympathetic dismay was sufficient. That was her last "accident." She was a very smart girl.

She attached to John immediately. When he left for work on Monday morning, she was bereft. She lay facing the front door all day--except for walks--which became more and more frequent. Poor Daphne had diarrhea, which turned into bloody diarrhea. I called Pet Orphans. They were very sympathetic. They explained that severe, even bloody diarrhea is common with newly adopted dogs. The stress. The confusion.

We didn't have long to celebrate when the diarrhea cleared up. Daphne had "issues". She didn't like men in work boots. REALLY didn't like men in work boots. She was terrified of motor cycles. If one went by while we were walking, she would go into paroxysms of barking and snarling. She was "choosy" about dogs. We learned that we absolutely could not have her around another dog if any food-dog or people food--was present. Car trips with her were endurance contests. She sat on alert in the back seat, ready to notify us loudly if any truck, motor cycle, or other vehicle not to her likely was approaching.

But Daphne more than made up for her "issues" by the pure joy that she brought to every day she lived with us. She woke us every morning with smiles and tail wags. EVERY day was a beautiful day by Daphne's reckoning. She loved her toys, licking them like puppies and carrying them to her "special" places.

Daphne had lived with us for only five months when that dreadful Tuesday, September 11, 2001 dawned. I sat watching television, crying in horror and disbelief. I felt a nudge. There was Daphne, offering me her favorite toy, a well licked pink dolphin that she had selected for herself on a trip to a pet supply store.

"Here, Judith, take Dolphin. He'll make you feel better."

Daphne lived with us for a little over four years. One year more than she had lived before we met her. Her last day began like every other. On her early morning walk, she took notice of every butterfly, every bird, and was on the lookout for a stray tennis ball to take home. Just before her afternoon nap, she barked at the two Maltese from next door who had strayed onto "her" front yard.

Forty minutes later, John called her and picked up her leash. Daphne didn't stir from the love seat. That had never happened before. Slowly, with growing trepidation, John and I walked to where Daphne was "napping." Rigor had already set in.

We'll never know what took Daphne. A heart attack? A stroke? An aneurysm?

We do know that Daphne opened us up to Rescue Dogs. She introduced us to the funny and elegant ways of sight hounds. She blazed the path for Zephyr and Portia and Bingley and Magic. She changed, and enriched our live forever.

Sleep well, Sweet Daphne

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