By Mary Ann Koenig

Mary Ann Koenig is a writer, animal lover, volunteer, and history student. She was once a NASA astronaut, backup catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a consort to the Russian Tsar Nikolas and the first American member of the British Parliament. Some of the above is true.


Dear Savannah:

Our beginning was less than perfect. Was it a week or a day into your adoption that I first wonder if we’d made a mistake? First considered how a two-year-old dog, bred for show, could be so untrained, so out of control? You never blinked when you squatted that first evening near the kitchen and unleashed a purposeful, liquid declaration. Shortly after the third “accident” in your crate, and after washing your bedding and you for the second time that day, tempers were up and spirits down. You seemed unphased, maybe unconnected. I understood that entering a ready-made family with an older male dog might be an adjustment for you. I just didn’t expect it to be traumatic. For all of us. We had agonized over the decision. A dog has never been more loved than our Dodger, our 14-year-old. And when I began to realize, a few years ago, that the void created by his inevitable and looming departure evoked a terror in me, we decided to adopt you. I pushed the idea. My partner, Rick, was less convinced. And the early days of clean-up and ill-manners did nothing to soften his trepidation.

We found you through a rescue society. I cringe when I think about the way you came to us. Having been “bred for show” of course means you’re gorgeous. Too bad for her, the vet said. Everyone’s fawned over her for all the wrong reasons. But, you were put up for adoption when you didn’t “work out for show.” Translation: You’re not perfect. Your bone structure slightly off breed standard, your lips a little too pink, your head a tad too small. And you must have been neglected for your lack of perfection. I wish you could tell us what you’ve been through. Why you’re so frightened of people and other dogs. Why you jump at the slightest noise, and why you are so needy. The first harrowing days we accepted you onto the furniture, onto the bed, as we had always done with Dodger. But you began to growl territorially when Dodger approached. And the night we sank to a notch nearing “last straw” (darker even than when you peed on the dry cleaning I’d left on the back seat of the car), was when you lunged at Dodger, and looked up with a hank of his white fur dangling from your jaws. Would boiling you in oil really have been so wrong? Yes, okay, I do realize that would have been wrong. Very wrong.

E-mails and phone calls followed; to and from the adoption “facilitator”, and doggie psychologists and trainers. “Attention seeking behavior” they called it. We called it “bad girl”. But somewhere in the anger and frustration was a realization of your distressing journey. Neglect. Possible abuse. Ripped from the only home you’d known in your two short years, placed in a crate and shipped on a plane (wow, you’d never flown before!), ending up at a large, chaotic airport confronted by two anxious adults staring into your cage. And over our shoulders, one indifferent elderly boy-dog desperate to ignore you. I reached into the crate to pull you out and you cowered in the corner. Yes, something had gone amiss during your nurturing years. And this new development, this change of venue, needed to signal the end of your bad luck, not a continuation of it. We had to get it right. I admit there was an insincere exchange about sending you back. But neither of us could bear the idea. Inflicting trauma upon trauma just wasn’t part of our dog-loving make-up.

Many afternoons, amid the mounting strains in our relationship, I ‘d look over at you from my computer; always gorgeous, but always feigning sleep, one eye ever watchful for whatever was out there that frightened and scarred you. Ultimately, glimmers of your sweet nature emerged from a murky hovel, and an “impossible to resist” quality gained the light of day. Kisses and cuddles, juxtaposed against a smelly gift deposited in the guest room, or a pool of piddle leaked at the front door (even after an hour-long walk!) were part of a test, for you and for us. Two months into our relationship, the experiment continues. You’re better, we’re learning.

Go to the next chapter: Brooks Comes to Stay

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