When I opened Twitter the other morning, my timeline was flooded with news of footballer Ronnie Stanley’s adoption of a “not-so-adoptable” six-year-old dog, Winter, from the Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS). Reading these articles was the first time that thousands of people (myself included) ever heard of or saw Winter, even though she probably attended numerous adoption events, had a profile on Petango, and/or had been available and eager to meet potential adopters since her arrival at BARCS, which was presumably quite some time ago. Like so many older and/or “imperfect” rescue dogs, Winter was long overlooked simply because of things that have absolutely nothing to do with her ability to be a pawesome, loving pet (in her particular case, being middle-aged and saggy-bellied from overbreeding). The trajectory of her story, however, is unlike that of most of her hard-to-adopt canine contemporaries: of the “few” “not-so-adoptable” dogs in this story and the numerous undiscovered dogs faced with the same struggle in shelters across the country, Winter was the one who left with a family.
Mr. Stanley and Winter's story -- and more importantly, the cause it illuminates, hits close to home for me, not just because Carlos and I are the proud paw-rents of a "not-so-adoptable" pup... but because we almost weren't.
As potential paw-rents who recently endured so much with the dog they lost, it was natural for us -- and is natural for most people regardless of their past experiences! -- to want a "perfect" pup: a puppy who would know only our love and influence from the get-go; a puppy who we could watch grow from infancy; who had never been hurt and wouldn't have to unlearn their fear of and mistrust in people; and who came with a perfectly clean bill of health, flawless genes, and upstanding pedigree. Knowing how much love, time, and resources we devoted toward unsuccessfully curing our mixed-breed, rescue dog, Barça's health issues and the toll it took on us, we knew that no one (ourselves included) would fault us for adopting a dog with a clean-slate.
Carlos and I began considering adoption again in early May. We had so much love and time to give to, and so many things already in place for a dog, that it seemed a shame for it to all go to waste, especially knowing that somewhere out there was a dog deserving of it all. What better legacy for our ever-pawsitive Barça to leave than that of a better life for another pup?
Shortly after we announced our intention, a family member thoughtfully offered to get us a responsibly-reared, purebred puppy and we were admittedly enticed, particularly Carlos. He reasoned that we shouldn't set ourselves up for a future full of heartbreak and that we deserved the best chance possible at a long and enjoyable life with our next pup. I certainly understood where he was coming from and wanted the long life that we didn't get with Barça, but deep down, it just didn't feel right to me that we would take in a "perfect" breeder-born dog who would undoubtedly find a good home whether or not it was with us, especially when there were plenty of loveable, adoptable puppies with less certain fates, who just happened to born into the wrong circumstances. Carlos acquiesced to instead finding a rescue puppy and for his compromise, I agreed to let him lead our search for the newest addition to our pack.
After a couple weeks of scouring through the profiles of hundreds of "baby" dogs within a 100-mile radius on Petfinder to no avail, Carlos expanded his search to include "young" dogs (not a big step in general, but a big step for him!) and to both of our surprise, almost immediately found dogs he liked. One, in particular, stood out.
"What do you think of this one?" Carlos beckoned me over to look at his computer screen. He was beaming, and being the least emotive person I know, I knew that for him to show such an interest clearly meant that this puppy was special.
It was love at first sight for me too.
"I LOVE HER! Let's read her profile!" I squealed, so excited that I had to resist pushing him out of the way to commandeer the computer.
As the page loaded and our eyes scanned, our excitement came to a sudden halt. "Blind." Maybe. Definitely in one eye, possibly in the other, but nevertheless, blind. That one word overshadowed everything else on the page, only momentarily for me, but completely and totally for him.
I continued to read before looking at Carlos to gauge his reaction. Disappointment sunk into his face. I couldn't tell if he was disappointed in himself for not checking her profile first (and more or less setting his own trap with me), or if he was disappointed in the universe for putting this pup on both of our radars and fooling our fragile hearts into believing that there was such a thing as a "perfect" pup.
"Katelyn..." he sighed, giving me the "didn't we already have this talk and agree that we'd get a puppy with absolutely no problems?" look. Yes, we did, but...
"Maybe it's not a problem! It says that she's really well adjusted and you can barely tell that she's blind... she's fully house trained, off-leash..."
He gave me same look, but this time with a couple slow, definitive blinks.
We continued to look at other puppies and although we found a few other notable ones, my mind kept returning to the semi-blind Aussie mix, Tessa. I lobbied hard with Carlos for her, each time met with reluctant refusal. It wasn't that he didn't have the heart to love her, but that his heart had already endured so much grief only to potentially go through it all over again.
After a couple of days of hearing my pleas and rationalizations ("Maybe she isn't perfect, but she could be perfect for us!" and, "We could get a seemingly healthy dog now and it could go blind down the line, which might be worse since it wouldn't be used to it!"), Carlos surprised me by seeking out and showing me a video of Tessa on the rescue's Facebook page.
"She looks pretty cool," he admitted.
"AAAAND it looks like she can see," I noted, referencing the video in which the pup was running around (off-leash, might I add!) and entirely missed running into trees. He gave me a sardonic smile.
After staring at the screen for several more seconds, his smile softened, and he looked up at me once more, this time, hinting, "That was posted over a week ago and she's still looking for a home..."
I considered whether or not I should question the sudden disappearance of his earlier reluctance since I wanted him to want the same dog as me, not just want a dog for me. However, before I could say anything, Carlos threw his hands up in the air and exclaimed, "Well, now we HAVE to put in an application!"
I looked at him quizzically before he continued, "It says she's had no applications."
He had scrolled backward through the timeline, looking for more information on Tessa, and came to a post made in late March -- almost a month to the date after she'd arrived at the rescue, and almost a month and a half before she came to our attention.
My heart split a thousand times over. Several appearances at adoption events, 170+ likes on Facebook, almost 300 views of her video, 35 shares of her pictures and video, over 4,000 people following the rescue's Facebook page, and almost three months with one of the rescue's fosters parents, and not a single application. She was fully house-trained; knew basic commands, including coming when called; could hike off-leash; got along great with other dogs, cats, and children; and was "sweet and sociable". On paper, she was every prospective paw-rents' DREAM and undoubtedly would've had people banging down the rescue's door if it weren't for her visual impairment... which as the video demonstrated, wasn't even holding her back.
We immediately filled out an application. During the couple days that it took for them to review our epic application and get back to us, I began to wonder if it was all too good to be true. Had the rescue embellished upon her achievements or downplayed the extent of her blindness? During my phone interview with her foster mom, she reiterated everything the rescue said, and while it quelled my concerns a little, I couldn't help but second-guess myself in the days that followed. I had just come out of six months of caring for our cancer-stricken pup and was still grieving her loss. As selfish as it seems, I was ready for another dog, but I wasn't ready to give up all of my newfound freedom in order to nurse another dog for the next decade or two. I almost canceled our fast-approaching meeting with Tessa and her foster mom, but despite my reservations, something inside told me to see it through -- at least that way, I could know that I wasn't overconcerned about her disability and could say with confidence that we just weren't a fit.
But we were a fit -- A perfect fit. When Tessa (now Inca) arrived at our house and we stepped outside the door to meet her, we laid eyes on one another and she galloped over to Carlos and me as if we were old pals, showering us with kisses. She darted about our yard and around our house with ease and has since proven to be everything that the rescue said she was and more. We're pretty sure that Inca can actually see quite well, and with the exception of installing baby bumpers on a sharp-edged coffee table (which we'd do for a puppy anyway), her sight hasn't changed a thing for us or held any of us back (Inca included). She's a pawesome hiking companion, huge goofball, is full of love and affection, and is in every single way, a complete and total dream of a dog.
When we take Inca out into the world, people tell us how well-behaved, lovable, and beautiful she is. Only a few have flinched at the close-up sight of her blind, underdeveloped eye, but even they eventually smile, laugh, and find something to love about her as she licks their hands and excitedly wiggles the entire back half of her body. Many people have offered to "take her off [our] hands" and even a few have asked if we'd consider selling her (the answer if of course, a big, emphatic, genuine, "NEVER!"). It just comes to show that once other people have a chance to get to know and see our "impaired" pup in action, they realized what a gem she is.
So if you're considering adopting a pup, remember Inca and Winter, and that somewhere out there, patiently waiting, is another unfairly overlooked, "not-so-adoptable" dog just like them that could make a pawesome pet. Don't be afraid to search adoption sites without entering age specifications, check the "Special Needs" button on Petfinder, or to walk into a rescue Ronnie Stanley-style and request one-on-ones with their longest tenants. Who knows: A so-called "imperfect" pup might just be the perfect pup for you!