Thursday, April 17, 2014
As it turned out, Sam did end up in Connecticut.
But not in a cage. And not alone.
Samantha, the golden-shepherd mix dog that I fostered for a short time, rode with me over the Labor Day weekend to a park outside of Worcester, Mass., where a new -- and better -- family greeted her as though she had been with them all her life. They were so happy with her, they had difficulty controlling their instinct to touch her, pet her, fawn over her. But they kept their joy understated, in the compassionate way of people who know that even a dog -- especially a sensitive dog who's been shuffled around -- can be overwhelmed when meeting another set of people for the first time.
It was a very hard good-bye for both of us, but I left, crying a little -- again -- but confident that we had done the right thing. Sam is living with a family of four now, a pack with a stay-at-home mom, two children and a dad who works nearby. They originally had expressed interest in a golden retriever, and I was afraid at first that might be a snag -- what with her distinctive shepherd face and ears -- but there was no hesitation from her adoptive family.
"She's so pretty," the daughter said, barely touching Sam's head, trying to be ever so gentle so Sam would not be startled.
Sam was fine.
As long as she's not alone, Sam is always fine.
I have heard that she is doing well; I have seen pictures of her on a leash, standing placidly between the children. The family reports that she sleeps at the foot of the parents' bed, has survived a bad thunder and lightning storm, hikes through the woods with them and is always up for having her belly rubbed.
These are all good signs.
The woman who handled Sam's rescue, Katherine Glankler of Southern Jewel Rescue (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org) was tireless in her search, first to find me as a foster and then to guide the family in Connecticut in their decision. We both worked hard for several days, calling in favors, getting Sam's picture posted just about everywhere but the FBI's Most Wanted List and generally spreading the word that a very deserving dog needed a home.
The arrangements were sealed by Sunday, the same day that word of Sam's plight appeared in the newspaper. More people than I could possibly have imagined stepped up immediately and offered a home for Sam, and the rescue started a waiting list just in case things didn't work out in Connecticut. But the family made it official on Friday; they are keeping Sam -- renamed Sasha, now that she has moved to a wealthier part of New England and a resides in a home on the water.
No one expects that Sam will ever have to be moved again.
So many people from every corner of Maine emailed and called to offer help that it took almost all of Labor Day to respond to everyone and reassure folks that Glankler -- who does little else 18 hours a day, every day, besides find good homes for abandoned dogs -- had lined up a place quickly enough that Sam was spared having to be returned to a cage, even for a while.
"This dog will never be put in a cage -- uh-uh," Glankler said to me late one night by phone, in what must have been the 36th call we'd exchanged over three days. "Never. That's not what we do. Uh-uh. Ain't gonna happen."
She phoned me again a couple of days later, right after she had received the news that Sam was staying put in Branford, and asked me to pass along a message to the 85 people who contacted me to offer sanctuary for Sam, or a home, or leads on possible new owners.
"I am so grateful for the outpouring of love from all the people who wanted to help a wonderful girl with a beautiful spirit," Glankler said. "Even though she wasn't a purebred, even though she wasn't an American Kennel Club dog, we all recognized the depth of her heart.
"And I am so thankful," she said, "to the family who recognized her spirit and gave her a forever home."
Many people who contacted me about Sam said she had been "sent" to me for a reason, and I to her. I'm not entirely averse to projecting meaning where there may or may not be any, but I think Sam came to help me see how instinctive it is to love a dog, even when your heart is still aching for the one you've lost.
Sam came to my attention, I believe, so that she could survive the tough circumstances of her life till now and reach a different destination than death. She had been found down South in the middle of a road, perishing from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Rescued from that fate, she had spent some time with a foster caretaker before going to what was expected to be her permanent home. She lasted 17 days there and had to be moved again, when the owner experienced a medical crisis which made it impossible for her to provide an acceptable home.
During that time, Sam lost 20 of her 78 pounds.
At that point, Sam was sent north on a 20-hour transport to Maine, to me, as an emergency foster placement. She was not my first dog, but she was my first rescue. Not knowing exactly what to do for a down-on-her-luck dog, I did what I hoped might help: Made her a quilt bed with a thermal blanket for cool nights -- a gift that mostly seemed to confuse her, because she likely did not know anything about sleeping on a surface other than the ground or a concrete floor. I cooked for her every evening, which she heartily appreciated. I offered her Milk Bones and other treats, which again meant nothing to her. We got her weight and her mood up a bit.
But within a few days, it became clear that she would panic -- desperately -- if left alone at home. For Sam, it didn't matter that "indoors" was a big safe space. Without a human to keep her company, Sam experienced the house as a big locked box, a giant crate, another cage. But I could not be with her every minute of every day.
So Glankler resumed the search for another new home, better suited to Sam's particular history (as much as could be known) and her special need not to be left to her own devices, solo, indoors.
The rescue process, as has often been explained to me, takes whatever time it takes. It requires people who are willing to make the time and put in the scant effort needed to fill out an application. Rescue organizations, almost always overwhelmingly made up of volunteers, must check out applicants to try to be sure that orphaned or abandoned dogs (or cats, or other pets) are going to people who will be good to them and will introduce them to a life in which love and joy and safety replace the exhausting memory of mere survival and the predator-prey dynamic of taking care of yourself in the wild world.
So it took a bit of time before the Connecticut family emerged as the best of the limited but good choices, compiled in a hurry.
And they did step up, to their good fortune, since Sam is an essentially perfect dog.
And now, should things run amok, a line of Mainers has formed, compassionate, generous people willing to take over, if Sam runs into trouble again.
I know a fair amount about what it's like to live like Sam -- on my own, without help from family, for a long, lonely time. So, it is not surprising that while I awaited word of her fate, I was having a little trouble keeping clear when I was talking about her sad life and when I was thinking about my own past. I was not confused, however, about feeling overwhelmed by a tidal wave of loss: Bereft of my own golden retriever, gone eight weeks; mourning the load of pain and struggle, terror and pure trauma, that a young creature like Sam unbelievably can bear.
If I had a method to communicate with a dog who barely knows me, I would tell Sam that it doesn't always have to be that way, that you eventually, incredibly, discover kind people and help; that good companions find in you a precious gift; that you don't always end up hungry for food, longing for warmth or love, shelter or sustenance, or for that matter, just plain fun.
Sometimes you find you have arrived to open arms. Once in a while, you learn it's Maine, not Mississippi anymore. And that you -- just another dog -- are valued in a special way that restores any courage, confidence or trust you lost along the way. You wake up to find -- astonishingly -- that nothing's wrong, that you've have actually arrived in Connecticut, and come home, at last. And here, though you never expected it, you'll stay.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: