5 Mistakes To Avoid When You Bring Home A Rescue Dog

When I think back on the first few months of having Romeo I often cringe at the things I did and did not do.  I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.  All I knew is there was a terrified looking pit bull who was about to be euthanized and I. Had. To. Save. Him.  

So I did, and then I made a handful (or two) of mistakes that I wish I wouldn’t have.  

But!  You live and learn…

And then you share your experience with the world (or your blog), in hopes that some don’t follow in your footsteps. :)  Although I didn’t commit all of the following mistakes, I find them equally important to understand when bringing home a rescue dog.  It’s really key to remember a rescue dog has a story all its own — one we will never know all the details to, but slowly we are given clues and it’s important to foster a trusting relationship early on for that to happen.  

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Here are 5 mistakes you can easily avoid when bringing home a rescue dog that will help you build a deeper relationship with them. 

1. Not Giving Enough Time To Decompress

No matter how long a dog has been in a shelter, a few months or just a week, they each need time to decompress.  The shelter environment is incredibly stressful for them and they will need time to decompress from the emotional and physical stress they’ve incurred while being there.  So, what does that mean exactly?  It means giving them space to unwind and naturally relax.  Don’t ask too much of your dog.  And don’t give too much — attention, love, training, freedom, etc. — to them, either.  

This is a period where they need to slowly get to know their new surroundings and new humans.  It should be kept very simple; a lot of rest, short walks/potty breaks, routine meal times, and crate time.  This will help establish a relationship between you two while your new dog de-stresses.  I’ve read the decompression phase is anywhere from 2-3 days to two weeks.  I would opt closer to two weeks, however, depending on the dog and their history it may be a little longer. 

2. Going To The Local Dog Park Right Away

This was a huge mistake that I made.  While I did give Romeo adequate time to decompress, we became regulars at our local dog park shortly after.  And all it took was one time for me to realize how unprepared and irresponsible I was:

Romeo, my two kids, and I decided to head up to the park to let Romeo burn off some energy.  It was a beautiful, sunny, warm summer day!  Great day to be outside… just not at a dog park, as we soon would learn.  When we arrived, there were two other dogs in the park that appeared to be leaving which I thought was good – we had the whole park to ourselves!  I let the kids go in first and as I was locking the gate behind me, the two dogs that were already there started playfully jumping on my kids.  Nothing a firm “no” couldn’t have stopped, but Romeo saw this as a threat and charged both of them.  As I lost control of my leash I think my heart jumped out of my chest — I had no idea what to expect.  I thanked my lucky starts for days that nothing serious came of it, but it shook me up so much we decided to take a break from the park all together.

Because we don’t yet know our new dog, we become vulnerable to terrible situations happening if we expose them to too much.  Give it time.  Learn how your dog is with other dogs and other people before subjecting them to a potentially dangerous situation.  Dog parks can be a positive experience for dogs, just not initially when you’re still getting to know your dog and vice versa.

3. Letting Them Off-Leash In Public

This is kind of a rule of thumb for all dogs, but especially for shelter dogs you’ve just fostered or adopted.  Again, we don’t know their history which means we don’t know how they are with other dogs, people, children, smaller animals, unexpected noises, and so forth.  You are responsible for keeping your dog and the people/animals around your dog safe.  Keep them leashed!

4. Expecting Him To Act Like Your Other Dog

This was a long, hard lesson learned for me.  

It took months for me to understand that Romeo will never be like Lily.  There wasn’t, and still isn’t, any amount of training or bonding that will get Romeo to listen, respond, or act like Lily.  And for many reasons – their breed, their upbringing, their gender, their triggers, what motivates them, what they are afraid of, what interests them, etc.

You will beat yourself up over and over again if you compare one dog to another, in hopes that they will all be the same.  They won’t be.  You can aim to have all your dogs be obedient.  You can train them all to walk on a leash properly, sit and stay when asked, and redirect them when needed.  But all that still won’t change the fact that one dog doesn’t like unaltered male dogs and another isn’t interested in chasing squirrels.  

Just like people, they are all individuals and we must respect and treat them as such! 

5. Introducing To Family and Friends Right Away

When I got Romeo I only introduced him to the people who would be making regular appearances in his life: my kids, my neighbors, my mom, and my kids’ dad.  Everyone else took a back seat until I felt comfortable enough introducing him to new people (besides the random strangers at the dog park — again, the worst mistake I made when I got him!).  

If you refer back to point number one, less is more.  In the beginning, keep it as simple and easy-going as possible.  Soon enough you will be able to invite all your friends over and show off your new puppy, promise!

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My Mother-in-Law Is Dying And There’s Nothing We Can Do About It

It kind of all just hit me tonight:  We’re losing my mother-in-law.

Actually, Charlie and I were never married and we aren’t even together now, but does it really matter?  Family is family.  She’s my family.  She’s my children’s family.  And she’s dying, which happens to be one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a long time.  Or maybe even ever.

Beth was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in November 2015.  She did two rounds of chemo — both unsuccessful — and one round of immunotherapy before deciding to entering hospice.  That was in early January of this year, it’s almost April now and she’s holding on with all she’s got left (which isn’t much at this point, 84 pounds to be exact).  I didn’t really believe any of it.  Maybe because I am slightly removed since Charlie and I don’t live together.  I can come home to my house, with my dogs and my cats and my bed and my peace of mind.  Or maybe because she’s always been a pretty energetic, super talkative, spunky 50-something-year-old, who wore a ton of eye shadow and drank a beer each night.

How could it be true?

I guess it doesn’t really matter how because sadly, it is true.  We’re losing her, and I broke down at the hospital tonight.  And again when I was getting my kids from my mom’s.  And again before I started writing this.

Because there’s no turning back.  

No getting better.  No plans of moving out of Charlie’s when she regains her strength.  No more birthdays.  Holidays.  Grocery shopping trips with my kids.  Or long phone calls you wish would end because she won’t stop talking.  No more laughing at just how hell-bent she can be over something she believes in.  And no more possibility of getting off hospice and creating a long-term care plan.  

All there is now is spending as much time with her as possible.  Doing all we can do to keep her comfortable and happy so she can enjoy the time she has left.  Visiting with her every day so we can keep her company.  And to remember little things about her.  And so my kids can see what it’s like to really love someone.  Because I think this is what you do when you really love someone — you stay until the end.

I know she’s not my mom, but I’ve known her for over a decade and I can say she’s always treated me like family.  Even when Charlie and I weren’t on the best of terms, I always got a Christmas card.  Or birthday message.  Or an email with a link to a potential job at our local elementary school.  I don’t know how much time we have left, a week… maybe two or three.  All I know is she’s dying and there’s nothing we can do about it, and tonight that feels like the worst thing in the world.

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Romeo snuggling on Beth, early March 2016

Til my next update, xo

Why Rescue?

I wish I could say it’s easy, but it’s not.  Rescuing a dog is anything but easy.  

Most of the time, at least initially, it’s hard, exhausting, and frustrating.  It tries your patience.  It dirties your house.  It makes walking down the street seem nearly impossible when you have with you a 70 lb pit who’s never learned how to walk on a leash before.  It can make you question if you’ve made the right decision to bring a dog into your home that you know nothing about.

Or very little about.  Sure, we hear a version of their story and see a few pictures.  Maybe even a video, if you’re lucky.

But the real story unfolds a few months after they’ve settled into your home (and heart).  That’s when you start to realize “owner surrendered due to moving” can mean something completely different.  Little quirks here and there shed more light on past situations than anything else.  And when you finally build some trust that allows them to share a little bit about why they are the way they are, what you see won’t always be pretty.  

In most cases, it’s quite sad. 

So, why rescue?

Well… it’s for their first ice cream cone.  And their first swim.  It’s for a car ride to the park, with their head hanging out the window.  For walking trails you’ve yet to explore and parks that let you meet other dog lovers.  We rescue because sometimes we’re the only chance they have of making it out alive.  We rescue for a freedom ride home and for the first time they rest their head on your lap.  Also, for wiggly butts that have never been happier to see you after a long day or just twenty minutes.  We rescue to help create new memories for them, yet we find in the process we’ve created new memories for ourselves.  Memories that, without a doubt, will last us a lifetime.  

We rescue to help.  To save.  To protect.  To restore faith in humanity.  

Because something deep within speaks to us, and we simply can’t not rescue.  A calling, if you will.  A purpose.  A reason to extend our love and home and food and joy to someone who is in desperate need of it.  It’s because we care.  Because somewhere along the lines we experienced what it felt like to be hurt, abused, abandoned, and taken advantage of.  And we want to let them know everything will be okay.  We rescue to remind them that love exists.  And it’s okay to trust again.  Because we know at some point — no matter how long it takes — they will curl up next to us and, without saying a word, express a deep sense of gratitude that will bring you to tears.

It isn’t easy and it’s not always fun.   

But it sure as hell is worth every minute because when you look back, not only will you not be able to recognize the dog you once brought home… you won’t be able to recognize the person you once were either.    

We rescue to help.  To heal.  To forgive.  To love.

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