After four months with my most perfect foster dog Molly, I sadly/happily let her go to her new wonderful family. I was missing her and so were my two, four legged boys, Hudson and Finn. And while I tried not to listen to the people who asked, “Oh how can you just give her away?” I knew I was getting ready to open up my house and heart to another little one in need of help. And so Thalia appeared in our lives.
Thalia is a mostly Chihuahua maybe Jack Russell mix, with a little bit of Rat Terrier thrown in. She weighs in at about 15 pounds and just had 3 adorable puppies a few months ago (side note: all three puppies were adopted to the same family!). Thalia was abandoned in a high kill Alabama shelter when she was very pregnant and heart worm positive. Thank goodness for A Second Chance Rescue who pulled her out and saved her life as well as the lives of her unborn puppies.
Thalia’s next stop was at Miss Patie’s home. Patie is my foster sponsor as well as my idol. She has the biggest, most loving heart and knows everything there is to know about dogs and cats. When she asked me to take Thalia while she summered in Peru, I was all in. Full disclosure: I’ve never had a dog under 40 lbs.
When Thalia arrived at our home, she was completely shut down. She sat in Patie’s lap, shaking and refusing to look at me. The more my dogs circled and sniffed her, the more she dug into Patie’s’s lap. After Patie left, Thalia spent all afternoon and night buried in her crate. I lifted her out to let her walk in the back yard, where she sat shaking in the grass for what seemed like hours, unable to move at all. She would go for long periods of time without going to the bathroom. She did eat, however and by the 3rd day, she actually made her way out of the crate and to the bedroom door.
What has to happen to a dog to make them so afraid of us? I don’t really want to know the answer. I just kept trying to show her that we loved her and only wanted her to feel good. By the end of that first week, she was much better- still nervous and shaky, but a little more trusting and friendly. She felt good around the boys and even started to “play” with them. Her idea of play was standing at the edge of their wrestling matches and every once in a while, leap into the fray, only to run away. You got the sense that she wanted to be a part of us, but she was afraid.
Thalia discover that she could fit easily under our bed. She also discovered my enormous pasta bowl wrapped in felt and abandoned under there for who knows how long. She spent hours inside the bowl, like a giant tortellini. She was making progress, slowly but surely, but loved her hiding place. After a few weeks Thalia even found her voice, joining the boys to bark at the yard guys.
A few weeks after getting Thalia, we took all three dogs on a road trip to Michigan. Thali rode in the middle seat, inside her travel crate, big ears taking in every sound. Her ears work independently of each other, twirling and twitching, catching every strange and frightening noise. I tried walking her at rest stops, but she’d have none of it. She would shake and stare up at me with those giant chihuahua eyes, pleading for me to pick her up.
We arrived in Georgia late Tuesday afternoon. While unloading the car, I had the two boys on one side of me, leashes in hand and Thalia on the other side. I shouldered my bag and began to approach the stairs to the apartment. At the foot of the stairs, I felt Thali’s leash go slack. I looked down, only to find her standing a few feet away from me, off leash. My heart sank. I instinctively knew what not to do- don’t chase, get down to her level, speak calmly but I knew disaster awaited us. It was as if I was waiting for the inevitable clap of thunder after the lighting.
I calmly handed the boys off to my husband and slowly approached her. She was petrified and backed away. This dance went on for about a block. I jogged a little towards her and she took off. I called for a kid standing at the bottom of the hill to help me grab her. We chased her past the dog park and into the woods. I lost sight of her. Like Laura Croft from Tomb Raider, I scaled logs and rocks, ran through rotting trees, spider webs and who knows what else, trying to follow her Bambi tail. When I got to the other side of the woods, I found myself in someone’s backyard. I ran through the neighborhood, calling for Thalia, crying and asking anyone I saw for help. The neighborhood was on full alert, yet Thalia was nowhere in sight.
When it got too dark to carry on I returned to the apartment, heartbroken and scared. All night I got up and checked to see if she’d returned to the blankets and water I left out for her. Patie saw Thalia’s updated status on the Rescue’s FB page and called me from Peru to encourage me to not give up hope. I heard her words but I could hardly breath and I felt totally defeated. I was a foster failure and not the good kind. I was miserable, heartbroken, scared and I vowed that I would never foster again- as if anyone would even let me.
I called Ruth, the head of the rescue group. I can’t imagine Ruth understood a word I said, as she told me what to do. She shared with me a story designed to make me feel better, that only made me feel worse.
“Liz, I had a foster that ran away one time. It happens.”
“Did you get her back?” I asked through tears.
“No, but it happens.” she said.
I hung up, thinking how I gave new meaning to the phrase “foster failure.”
That night, as I sat on the couch, staring at the parking lot, jumping with every movement I saw from the woods, I reflected on all the dogs I’d found and returned or placed in homes. I became angry. What about me and Thalia getting a break here? When do I get some of that karma back? WTF? I kept thinking and then it hit me, I needed to give back more. You know how when you’re hungry, sleep deprived, sad and scared you start to think of crazy shit? Well, I did and I came up with the only thing I could think of to get me through this ordeal and get her back. I said, “OK Universe, if you can return that little pain in the ass escape artist to me, I will not drop an F bomb for a whole year and hopefully more.”
OK, I get it. It’s stupid and irrational but I needed something.
The next morning, the crate that I left at a kind neighbor’s driveway was empty, the dog food I left out no doubt consumed by the feral neighborhood cats. At least they had a good night. I went to Office Depot. I made 50 posters and put then in plastic sleeves. The kid who helped me said, “Good luck, I hope you find your dog,” and that leveled me. I broke down right there in front of him and the early customers. I bought two roles of silver duct tape and made my way down to the dog park, the place where I had last seen Thalia, the little dog that I had failed.
I kept calling Thalia’s name, talking to her while I put up the first poster. I just wanted to see that crooked, question mark shaped tail wagging at me again.
“Thali girl! Where are you querida!” (she’s bilingual). Come Thali!”
A woman and her rescue lab mix where hanging out in the park and they struck up a conversation with me.
“Whatcha doing?” she asked.
“Trying to find this little girl. I lost her last night.” I said.
The woman looked over my shoulder and then at the poster. “Ummmm…..I’m pretty sure that dog is right there.” she said, pointing past me. My heart froze as I slowly turned around. And there she was, Miss Thalia, halfway up the hill, front paws on a crusty log, bent tail wagging furiously. She had not in fact, run through the woods to the neighborhood beyond, but spent the night right there, disoriented and probably afraid to go any further.
“Thalia!” I screamed. I ran to her, and of course, she ran deeper into the woods. For the next four hours, I crawled to her little den in the forest, desperately trying to coax her to me. She would belly crawl to me, snatch food from my hand, only to dart away when I made a move to grab her. She was quicker and more agile than me. I was getting tired and more and more frustrated.
I called everyone I knew, Ruth, Patie, Sam the vet tech, my dog trainer, my boss (why?), everyone in my family, trappers, shelters, search and rescue groups….. and while super encouraging and supportive, no one could really help me. I was on my own.
So I sent my husband to buy a raccoon trap at Lowe’s. He patiently sat in the dog park, putting it together. I grabbed Finn, some turkey bologna and we sat at the foot of the hill, waiting for Thalia’s next move.
I had my back to her. I dared not turn around, because she was so skittish, that would surely spook her. Several times she left her perch and sat right next to Finn, avoiding me entirely. Food wasn’t working anymore because for the last four hours I’d been feeding her non- stop.
I knew I had to be patient. I knew I had to let her feel safe again. I knew all that and yet my heart was pounding in my chest. I was breathing as if I’d run a marathon. I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t go to Michigan until I caught her, but I was beginning to question whether I would ever catch her. It never entered my mind that I wouldn’t get her back. I was so close and so certain that the outcome would be a positive one.
My husband looked up and said, “She’s making her way down the hill.” I looked to my right and there she was, inches away sitting next to Finn. She seemed happy. Finn yawned and she licked his mouth, totally happy and submissive. I looked straight ahead and said, “Hi Thali girl.” She wagged her tail. You little witch, I thought!
My husband picked his head up from the stupid raccoon trap, “Grab her now Lizzie.”
I’d tried grabbing her all morning, only to lose her and be left with a handful of white fur.
“She’s quicker than me! I can’t!” I whined. Nothing worked. How the hell do Tia Torres and her daughters of Pit Bulls and Parolees so effortlessly loop dogs? I needed a miracle.
And just then, that naughty little frightened girl inched closer to me and sat down.
“Do it now Lizzie. Be a ninja.”
And so, without thinking, I just leaned over and grabbed her. She jumped up, but I had her left hind leg in my hand.
“I GOT HER!” I screamed and I’m pretty sure everyone within a 5 mile radius of Treetops Apartments in Gainesville, GA heard me. I wanted to yell out, “FUCK YEAH!” but a promise is a promise. The Universe came through for Thalia and me.
“Thank God,” my husband said, “Now I don’t have to put this ridiculous trap together.”
I stuffed Thalia into my jacket and ran back to the apartment, crying and telling her she was never going to get away from me again.
Thalia acted as if nothing had ever happened. Dogs are so brave and resilient and forgiving. She drank some water, let me wash her down and curled up on the bed next to Hudson and immediately fell asleep. I called the rescue and my foster sponsor and let them know that she was safe. That night, when we all fell asleep on the bed I was never so happy and so relieved.
A month later back in Florida, Thalia started heartwood treatments. If you aren’t familiar with what a dog has to go through to get rid of heart worms, it’s awful. It’s almost like chemotherapy. It’s typically a three month procedure and isn’t always guaranteed. She was sick, lethargic and unresponsive after her shots. She did come through it completely cured of a disease that could have been prevented had someone given her a pill once a month. Such a simple cure for an avoidable disease.
Throughout the arduous process of curing her of heart worm, we noticed Thalia began to trust us. Where she would hardly look at my husband or my son, she now sat on their laps, staring into their faces, demanding pats. Where she once wouldn’t even entertain walking on leash beyond the backyard, she was now venturing down the block with Finn and Hudson. She joined the boys in a chorus of barks whenever the lawn guys came around. We noticed that she’d stock pile toys, balls, salt shakers, napkins and place mats in her crate/bed. She could vertically leap onto counter tops and steal a sandwich In other words, Miss Thalia, the fractured little puppy was learning how to be a dog, maybe for the first time in her life.
Once Thalia was ready for adoption, I began taking her to Petsmart to adoption events. Those events are usually busy, noisy and chaotic happenings. The adoptable dogs, mostly adorable puppies, are bouncing around their playpens while the general public passes through. People pick them up, stick their hands in the play areas, pat them, talk to them in loud voices and cry.
Thalia and I would sit off to the side and watch the world go by. No one was interested in a chunky little girl who cowered in my lap, ears flat against her head, afraid of the world. I knew these events didn’t show the best Thali had to offer, but it was an opportunity to get her acclimated to someplace besides my house. Sometimes someone would stop by, see her “Adopt Me” vest and comment about how cute she was, but there were never any takers. Once in awhile, I’d sit with Thali in my lap inside a pen with the last puppy from a litter, or the lone older dog. We all knew that we were the left overs, but hope springs eternal and eventually, they would get adopted. If only someone would look past her fear and see the beautiful dog she is, I thought. She has a jack Russell chubby torso, adorable brown spots and freckles, as well as a crooked little tail…..who wouldn’t love a dog like that!
People ask me all the time how I can just “give her up,” “get rid of her,” “let her go.” “Oh I could NEVER do that!” they say. I laugh. Thalia has had two applicants and one foster try out with another family. None of them has worked out, but I know that somewhere out there, someone will fall in love with this marshmallow with legs. Someone will get her quirkiness, her fears and someone will fall in love with her as much as I have.
How then, you wonder, do I pray for her adoption? Because I know how much she has to offer someone and how much someone will love her. I know that once she realizes that she’s in her forever home, she will live the life she deserves. She won’t know this, but because she was so brave and resilient, she will have made space for another dog just like her to get A Second Chance. Because Tahlia made the choice to trust and decided to give life another shot, she made room for another. Oh no doubt I’ll cry my eyes out, miss the hell out of her and wish that I could keep them all, but I will demand pictures and updates of her new life from her new family and know that we all did the right thing.
One day, I’ll get the call from Patie or Ruth or ACC asking me if we have the time and space for another one that needs us. I’ll say yes, of course and send a thank you to Molly, Dublin, Marley, Thalia and all the others that made space for another. And that’s how I’m able to “let them go.”
Note: As I got ready to send this to print, the miracle I’d been hoping for happened- Miss Thalia got adopted by the most loving and giving woman. She sends me weekly updates and she and I have become text messaging friends. Thalia is taking her time to warm up, but she has made such huge steps in her new home, bringing joy and love to her new mamma. Read her letter to me below.
“Dear Aunty/Mom/Liz and Family,
My new mom has learned to share her bed with me and my toys! She also covers me up on cold nights so I can be toasty warm.
We went for a ride to my new Doctor (a man) who put me at ease even when he stuck a thermometer up my butt which is quite humiliating. The waiting room was not to my liking, too many smells that were strange! Mom told me not to worry as she promised me that no one would ever hurt me again. The only thing I really did not like about the visit was that the vet insisted on a strict diet to make me lose about 4 lbs. That man had no clue how much I enjoy good food and ice cream for a treat. Shame on him! Maybe I can convince Mom to give me a taste every once in a “blue moon!”
Just for the record, you did well picking my mom for me! She is learning that my way is the way things should be!
She told me that you sent a box of goodies for me, but also said I had to wait for Christmas (whatever that is) to get the presents. There are many things that humans do that I don’t understand, but since food, toys a warm bed and lots of belly rubs are given, I forgive some of her other short comings.
Again, thank you very much for all the love you gave me during my stay at your home!
Merry Christmas from a very content Thalia and her Mom.”
More than any other dog I’ve fostered, adopted or puppy sat, Thalia taught me so much about patience, bravery and forgiveness. And, as a bonus, I no longer curse like a sailor…..until at least June! Woof!