By Kelly Erickson
It’s no secret, one of the best things about working at Animal Humane Society is the animals. If you’re feeling stressed or just need a break, there’s plenty of furry, four-legged friends to visit.
For an animal lover with no pets, it’s also a bit dangerous.
In March (just three months into my AHS career), I kept visiting Ginger, a 3-year-old Lab/Cattle Dog mix. Her soulful eyes and speckled feet drew me in. When I first entered her run, she rolled onto her back, begging for a belly rub. I quickly made the decision that if she was still there the following week, I would take her home.
At AHS, this is generally a safe bet. Animals here often have a short stay in the adoption center before finding their new homes. Dogs spend an average of 12 days in shelter — from the time they arrive to the time they leave with their new families (and this number doesn’t include puppies 6 months or younger, which would bring this average down even further).
Ginger was an exception. Day after day, she lay in her kennel, waiting. The thing is, she’s a bit shy of people. She warms up to some people instantly, but with most, she needs more time. Because of this, she sat at the back of her run rather than greeting potential adopters as they passed by.
So whenever I got the chance, I would visit Ginger. I started looking forward to seeing her, even wishing she’d still be there. I was falling for her, caught off guard, but she was the one. After a month in shelter, I finally took my shy girl home.
I had pictured all the adventures we would share — the hikes, walks, runs, road trips, and dog parks. I cozied up to images of us both curled up on a couch with a good book or TV show. I was sure Ginger would slip into my life and any changes would be minor or easily managed.
I was in love and nothing would stop me from experiencing the joy of my new life with my new dog.
Unexpected side effects
As a new dog mom, there were unavoidable aspects that didn’t even phase me. I can pick up a pile of poop in one swift go without catching the smell. I’m an expert at spying ticks and pulling them off her. Farts, puke, drool, and dog hair everywhere — it’s all just part of the package. It’s parenthood.
But there was one thing I wasn’t ready for — a new struggle no one warned me about.
When I adopted Ginger, I lived in a two-bedroom apartment in St. Paul, MN. I loved my apartment, but dogs weren’t allowed. Luckily, my parents stepped in and offered to house her until I moved to a pet-friendly place.
Every time I went to visit (almost daily), Ginger greeted me with her typical tail wag and a big smile splitting her face. My heart did cartwheels and it was impossible to not smile back. Her smile can lift my heaviest burdens and make all worries fall away.
It was the nights I couldn’t make it out or those days where she spent too many hours in her kennel … when I was the one who was supposed to spring her free. I felt guilty. Guilty that I couldn’t see her. Guilty that I kept her penned up for so long. Guilty for leaving.
I still feel guilty. It eats at me on those long days at work and she can’t come with, or when it rains and we can’t go to the dog park.
When I signed Gingers adoption papers, it never occurred to me that guilt would come home with us.
The human/pet relationship, like any other, has some bad to go with the good. It’s easy to love the living crap out of my dog (I seriously get excited when she poops on the regular), but there have been stressful and frustrating moments, too.
As Ginger started to get better with recall, I started taking her outside for a short time off-leash. One time I let her roam a little too far and she was off, gallivanting through the long grass and around the pond behind my parent’s house. I chased her around for an hour. Finally, I got close enough to grab her by the haunches, and as soon as we got home, I pulled up Amazon to order a cable tie-out.
A week later, I rolled out of bed to take her outside. I hooked the tie-out up to her collar rather than put on her harness, knowing she’d be outside for all of five minutes, if that.
Just as I turned my back, she took off in a high-speed bunny chase, hitting full speed before the tie-out pulled taught. Her collar didn’t stand a chance. She was off into the neighbor’s yard, out of sight, running after her new best friend wearing neither a collar nor any ID tags. Thankfully, she was microchipped, but I still imagined a full day of calling animal control, hanging flyers, or checking lost and found pet boards.
It made me mad. Mad at myself for not thinking more clearly. And mad that my commands bounced off her one-track mind, now hypnotized by that little gray fluff.
Lucky for me, the bunny reversed course and came back into my parent’s yard, dashing under their shed for safety. Only then was Ginger’s trance broken. By chance, I was saved from that awful day of trying to find my lost pet.
The next big adventure
That day made me realize that for all the information I was gathering online, I needed some actual help. I needed trainers who would help me know my pet better and help her better understand what I need as her dog mom. Training with AHS is our next big adventure. Like any proud parent who believes their kindergartner will one day be President, I already envision her earning her Canine Good Citizen certification.
I can’t positively say what our future holds or if she’ll officially become a good citizen. But I know I can count on more frustrating moments, feelings of guilt, and a whole lot of love.
I want to thank Ginger’s previous owner. It’s clear you loved this sweet girl, training her to be well-behaved in the house. I know it was a tough decision to give her up. You considered taking her back and whether that was right for you. Know that she is loved, spoiled to no end, and I’m incredibly grateful that I get to call her mine.