If at first you don’t succeed, try again

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Last week I visited my friend Olga, a brilliant and beautiful mathematician for IBM, and her newly adopted Labradoodle, Chloe (also brilliant and beautiful). Olga has a picture-perfect doggie relationship with 10-month-old Chloe, who was rescued a few months ago as a scrawny stray running loose in a grocery store parking lot in a border town. Kids were throwing rocks at Chloe, according to her rescuer in San Diego. After lots of phone calls and reference checks, the foster-group determined that Olga, who lives in Tucson, was a good match and within moments of hearing the news, Olga was packing for the six-hour drive to meet her new best friend.

Chloe in training

Chloe learns a new trick.

Chloe is exactly what a 10-month old Labradoodle [a Labrador Retriever/Poodle mix] should be — funny, loving, extroverted, and healthy, and smart. While I was there, we called Rebecca from Four Paws Coonhound Rescue and told her all about how Chloe is settling in.

But perfect relationships can’t be assumed. A few months before Chloe, there was Maya, an adoption that didn’t go as anyone had hoped and planned. Maya also had an unknown past and bonded very quickly with Olga but, soon after, started exhibiting serious anxiety and threatening behavior to visitors. It seems that the busy, dog- and walker-abundant neighborhood was just too much stimulation for poor Maya.

After months and several visits from behaviorists, veterinary consults, and loads of help from Maya’s foster mom, they all decided Maya needed to go live permanently with her foster mother, in a quieter neighborhood. Of course, anytime an adoption doesn’t work out, everyone is heartbroken.

Olga had devoured hundreds of pet descriptions on Petfinder to find just the right pet. She’d spoken to many foster parents and experts to get the right pet for her lifestyle. She did everything just the way we hope potential adopters will. And she was assured in both cases that this was the perfect dog for her. Shouldn’t Maya’s foster mother have known about Maya’s problems?

Labradoodle

Sophie, a Labradoodle, is ready for adoption through the Doodle Rescue Collective in Connecticut.

Well, if you imagine this is about Olga and Maya, perhaps. But I think this was about Olga’s lifestyle and home not being a good match for Maya. And there were no immediate clues about that.

When Olga shared the full Maya adoption experience with me one evening, as she sat petting Chloe’s silky head, it was heartbreaking all over again. I had lived through the saga, a thousand miles away via text messages but as I listened I became awestruck. There had been what accounted for months of looking at hundreds of adoptable pet profiles and telephone conversations with foster moms to find just the right dog to adopt and experiences ranging from heartbreak (Maya) to over-the-moon (Chloe), yet Olga never once wavered in her commitment to adoption or the foster community at large. In fact, what she told me that what she learned from this experience was that she hadn’t realized the extent to which the foster community was a POPULATION.

I said, “Hunh?” (I swear I get dumber around Olga).

But then I got it. Olga’s epiphany is how much each foster group is SO very different from the next. It is easy to lose sight of this because we usually juxtapose them against animal control and humane societies — they are all lumped together as “the ones with no facilities.”

But, foster groups have different motivations, different levels of sophistication, different priorities, different numbers of volunteers and different life stages. So their pet lists, their conversations and their adoption policies will reflect these biases. From Daphne, a society lady who fosters full-time with a goal to move her city to no-kill, to Mike, a college professor who has agreed to foster any border collies who end up in his city’s shelter, it isn’t so much BUYER BEWARE, because they are all good people, but ADOPTER BE AWARE. Get to know the foster groups in your region. You may need them some day and they all come with special skills.

Olga came to this on her own, but hearing her tale reminded me that we need to talk more about these differences online. Thank you, Olga, for sharing and for not losing faith.

Perhaps we can chalk Olga’s never losing faith in us up to her being a mathematician and knowing that far more adoptions work out than fail.

Or maybe it is her pragmatism — she knows that, unexpected and painful as it may have been, it was this process that got Maya and Chloe to the right homes.

Or, maybe it is Olga’s beauty. Not unlike Chloe, she sees the best in everyone and has a profound love for pet rescuers (and maybe even a tiny blind spot for sometimes less-than-excellent customer service).

I didn’t have a lot to add to her epiphany. I needed a way to thank Olga for her hospitality and friendship. So in preparation for Olga’s upcoming debate parties, I set about teaching Chloe to shake her head “no” when she hears the name of a certain political party.

October is Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month. I’m dedicating my celebrations to Chloe and Maya, representatives of the toughest and easiest sorts of adoptions. Both are now where they belong. You can celebrate with us by visiting out our Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog playlist.

Now, I’m going to take the liberty of an additional dog-adoption right-pet/right-home plug. We naturally see adoptions that don’t work out from time to time and I’m a big advocate that the “right pet in the right home” should be our gospel and that we all (pet owners, pets and rescuers) deserve the right to recognize “not the right home” for what it is, even if we can’t quite put our finger on what, exactly, it is that isn’t right. So if you experience this, please be giving and forgiving, to yourself and each other.

After all, I wouldn’t be happy living with MOST people I know. And it isn’t because they are bad people, or because I’m a bad dog . . .

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