I hope you all will forgive me a HUGE diversion from my usual posts to share a super personal story. It’s long, and you’re welcome to skip it, but it’s a story that has a big social media component to it, believe it or not, and a little something for the animal lovers out there.
If all goes to plan, this beautiful girl will be flying home with me from Los Angeles this week.
It all started earlier this week when my friend Jamie, knowing my involvement in pittie rescue and animal rescue, posted this girl’s picture to my Facebook timeline in hopes that I would share it with the people I knew in CA.
She was in a high kill shelter in Los Angeles, scared, and wouldn’t last long.
I see dozens if not hundreds of adoptable pets in my Facebook stream every day, but this one hit me hard. I saw her face, and after I shared her post, I immediately *knew* I had to go find her. I happened to be on a business trip in San Francisco, so I rearranged my travel plans and headed to LA instead of home.
When I first saw her, she looked just like her intake photo. Sweet. Scared. Lonely. Totally afraid of everything around her, but gentle. I tentatively put my hand to her cage, she sniffed, and I caught just the hint of a tail wag. I immediately asked if I could spend some time with her outside her cage.
But the answer was no.
She hadn’t had her temperament test yet, which was a requirement of adoptable dogs to be sure they were safe around people. The shelter wasn’t going to be able to do it that day, and the original woman I talked to told me it could take several days because they had so many dogs. I was discouraged.
But when I went back to see the dog, I found a volunteer named Barbara and told her my story. That I was there from out of town, and in love with this terrified pittie, but that I wasn’t allowed to see her because she hadn’t done the test, and I didn’t know if I could stay several days for that part alone.
Barbara made some inquiries and managed to get the pup on the temperament test list for the following day. (Thank you, Barbara!)
So I showed up the next day, and waited. And waited and waited. Mostly on the floor outside her cage, talking to her and reassuring her. Over those few hours, she eventually gave into lots of back scratches, rewarded me with some tail wags and enthusiastic greetings, and even a woof or two at passerby.
She was gentle. Afraid, but gentle. There’s a heart under there that people just haven’t been very nice to, and she wasn’t letting go just yet.
When they finally came to get her for her test, I was a nervous wreck.
And waited some more.
They brought her back after about 15 minutes, but the man who returned her had not done her test, so couldn’t tell me how she fared. If she passed, I would be allowed to visit with her outside her cage. If she didn’t, not only would I not be able to interact with her, but I wouldn’t be allowed to adopt her, either. She would only be eligible for a rescue pull, which wasn’t likely at this late stage.
I waited some more.
Finally, her grades were in. She got a C. By dog temperament test standards, it’s not great, but it’s not awful. Primarily – and unsurprisingly – her issues were due to her timidity. Loud noises scared her, she was unsure around other dogs and startled by sudden touch. None of that shocked me, but the best news was that I got to SEE her. Outside a cage.
A very patient volunteer let me spend a good half hour outside with her. At first, she found a little corner behind a tree and wanted to hide. She was looking for the exits, trying to find a way back to safety. We patiently talked to her, coaxed her, even offered treats.
It took a while, but eventually she came over, slowly and quietly. First she stood, content to be petted. Then she sat. First in her own spot, then gradually a little closer to where I was. Then, after about twenty minutes of petting and gentle talking, she stopped shaking and lay down next to us, closing her eyes while she got her ears scratched and her head rubbed.
There is a gentle soul somewhere beneath the mistreated exterior of this dog.
She was listed as a stray. More likely, she was dumped at the shelter by a backyard breeder who had no use for her anymore. She’s about two, has likely had several litters, and was probably just past her prime. Whatever her story, it’s clear that while she would like to be loved, she’s just not sure we can be trusted. And I don’t blame her.
This happens at shelters all over the country, every day. Most of these dogs never make it out of the shelter alive. On average, they have but a few days before they’re euthanized.
But something hit me about this dog in the beginning, and I wasn’t going to leave her there now. Dogs like her are passed over because they’re not bouncy, they’re not instantly wagging their tails, and they need lots of love and patience to learn that humans and other animals can indeed be trusted. They’re far from an easy undertaking, especially pit bulls who have been handed such an undeserved and horribly sensationalized reputation.
So she’s coming with me back to Chicago. (That is if they approve my application on Monday, but hopefully my experience with pitties and my willingness to fly her across the country will work in my favor.)
Of course, logistics on something like that aren’t easy. So I posted to Facebook to ask for suggestions. Within hours, the network kicked into gear and I have lots of recommendations for rescue flight services, trains, ground pet transport services, and even people willing to drive a leg from LA back to Chicago to help us get home.
The most astounding offer came through a friend of a friend, who happens to be a private pilot. He has use of a small plane, and offered to fly us back to Chicago together for the cost of the plane use alone (his services he has offered gratis). It’ll still be expensive – several thousand dollars – but the least traumatic option for her and the fastest way to get me home (I still have a kid and other pets waiting for me there!).
So, that’s what we’re going to do, if all works out. And if not, I have a number of other incredible ideas and options thanks to my friends and community across the social networks, many of whom I have never even met. They just all believed in this scared pup from LA who needed a second chance.
[Update 7/27: Looks like we have found an incredible ground transport company and are probably going to go that route after all. They're experienced with dogs like Hope and are wonderful. I removed the little donation button because we're going to be just fine with funds. If you're inclined to contribute something to Hope's adventure, please make a donation to your local no-kill shelter or bully breed rescue instead!]
Am I crazy? Yes. Probably.
But I believe the misfits need a chance, too. There is love in her eyes, and I believe this pup deserves an opportunity to have a life that no one else was going to give her. I’m willing to work with her as much and as long as it takes to show her that it’s going to be okay. I’m guessing my mess of critters at home will show her that our place is full of love, trust, and sleeping on a very comfy bed.
I have an amazing network around me of people who are experienced rescuers, animal lovers, pet caretakers, and dog lovers. I know I’m not alone in this endeavor, and that whether it takes a few weeks or a few months, she’ll find her place among our pack, even if it’s one very tentative step at a time.
That’s why I’m calling her Hope.
It seemed to fit. After all, we each need a little of that once in a while. This adventure started with hope, and we’ll need lots of that over the next little while to truly make this work.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who has contributed words of support, introductions, suggestions, and help in the last few crazy days. I showed up for Hope, but you all helped save her life.
If that’s not a show of the power of community, I don’t know what is.
If you’re considering a pet for your family, you don’t have to find a troubled pup like Hope, but please adopt. There are so many shelter pets that are wonderful, loving animals and they deserve the chance to show you just how incredible they are.
As for us, Hope’s journey will be made in memory of Riley, the pittie I lost just a couple of weeks ago. She was the one who introduced me to the love of a pibble, and will forever be the shelter misfit that first stole my heart. I miss her very much, but it’s because of her that I’ll always have a soft spot for dogs like Hope that really just need a second chance.
Thank you all so much. We’ll see you back home in Chicago very soon.