When we leave the house, we know where we are going and how soon we plan to return. We understand what’s causing a car to honk or a doorbell to ring or a piece of trash to blow down the street, and most of all, we have the ability to understand our own fears and to make adjustments or seek help. But what about our dogs? As I wrote this week’s story, I kept trying to imagine the world through the eyes of a small brown dog whose early life was marked by instability. A social creature by nature, she was taught to fear abandonment and to deal with her fears in self-destructive ways, but thankfully, it was her social nature that would eventually save her. This is the story of Shells, also known as Animal Care Center of NYC Animal No. #A1024295.
“We can’t take care of them any more,” she said as she handed two leashes to the ACC intake worker. At the end of the leashes, two thin brown female dogs strained towards their owner as she walked back out the door through which they had entered. The two girls continued glancing over their shoulders as the kind volunteer led them down a hallway and placed them in kennels, and when the door closed behind the darker of the two, her eyes danced with confusion. The room was disorienting, a medley of anxious barks and whines accompanying a sea of new smells, and after pacing back and forth between the door and the raised bed in the back of her space, she finally settled down and curled up tight, tucking her nose under her back leg. The paperwork on the outside of her door said:
Breed: Am Pit Bull Terrier / Mix
Intake Type: Owner Surrender
Sam had a problem. Not a real problem, a dog problem: she couldn’t stop looking through photos of homeless dogs. She had already fostered five dogs with the help of her boyfriend Eric, but she was taking a break, as her lease had run out and she was living out of a suitcase at his apartment until they found a place together. Her dark hair was pulled up on top of her head and legs were crossed underneath her one morning in bed as she scrolled through Facebook and saw the photo: the small red pittie with every rib and bone showing, curled up tight on the shelter bed. She hesitated, but not for long. “Eric is going to kill me,” she thought to herself as she called him to come see their next foster dog. She told me, “We saw a picture of her curled up on that bed, without even seeing her face, and we emailed immediately saying we could take her. Four days later, the Mayor’s Alliance vehicle brought her to the street right out front of his apartment while Eric was at work. The driver handed me the slip lead she was on and a clear paper slip with her paperwork in it, and drove off. We stared at each other, and then she dragged me down the street. We went back to the apartment and she laid down on what would be the first of hundreds of dog beds she would destroy, and we stared at each other again. I wondered… what have I gotten myself into?”
When Eric got home and saw the skinny mess of a dog, he jokingly said “send her back!” but by the end of the night, he and Sam were both in love. Sam told me, “I had never had a Pit Bull before, but knew that I didn’t agree with the way they had been stereotyped. Still, the voices of people who misunderstood Pit Bulls echoed in my head. By the time we were done with bath time, I knew I had the absolute sweetest dog in the world in front of me.” However, what Sam and Eric would soon learn is that though Shells had a sweet temperament, she also had a deep-rooted fear of abandonment that wouldn’t be a quick fix.
She opened the door and sensed that something was wrong. Sam knelt down as the little foster dog ran into her arms, furiously kissing her face. “What happened here, sweet girl?” she asked, looking at the blood on her face and tail. As she looked closer, she saw that now-named Penny had been scratching the doors and walls, chewing her own tail, and bloodying her nose trying to open the door. Another day while in class, she received a call from the doorman that her foster had let herself out of a locked apartment and been found wandering the halls. Sam and Eric knew they needed to crate Penny to keep her safe, but she was scared of that, too! Sam told me, “I spent hours every day doing crate games with her, rewarding 10 seconds of quiet, walking around the corner and back again, into the hallway, letting the door shut, etc. She would bark and howl and cry, and it would break our hearts.” Sam and Eric didn’t yet know that Penny had been surrendered to the ACC with another dog (more to come on this), but they soon brought home another foster and found that the company of dogs calmed her. With the support of many different foster and rescue groups (listed below), the crate next to their little red foster dog became a revolving door of one foster after another. According to Sam, “these dogs saved Penny, and she saved them.”
First, there was a one-eyed mastiff mix puppy named Curtis, and then a nearly feral sato Shepherd named Olivia, and later Pitties named Charlotte, Zeus, Cassidy, Alex, Sharky and Willow as well as a lineup of puppies, small dogs, and seniors. Each dog helped Penny take a baby step forward, and she helped them adjust to life in NYC and in a home by teaching them important dog-things like how to walk on a leash, play with toys, do zoomies around the apartment, and properly destroy perfectly fine dog beds. With time, Penny grew into herself and began to gain confidence, and Sam and Eric learned that Penny was a social creature who thrived best in a pack. Now, she just needed to find her forever-pack.
Many thanks to foster and rescue groups: @fosterdogsnyc, @mrbonesandco, @inourhandsrescue, and @muddypawsrescuenyc, @socialtees, @truenorthrescuemission, @animal_lighthouse, @friendswithfourpaws, @thesatoproject, and @heartsandbonesrescue for being part of this rescuing journey.
In the first few months that Penny lived with Sam and Eric, her separation anxiety improved, but as one foster after another came through her home and then found forever-homes, she received very little interest from potential adopters. One application came in but fell through, and later a second one was submitted. Sam told me, “When the second application came in, I cried hysterically, so worried about what would happen to her in a new home. We knew from the moment we met her that we loved her, but didn’t feel that we were the right home for her because we weren’t home all day, we didn’t have outdoor space, etc. Finally, we realized that while we were not the ideal home for her, and she was not the ideal dog for our living situation, it wasn’t about ideal, we were a family.” On May 10th 2015, four months after coming into their home, @pigpenthepittie became part of Sam and Eric’s family for good.
After adopting @pigpenthepittie, Sam and Eric were committed to her growth and happiness, and this meant always having a second dog in the home. During the first few years, Penny helped 60 homeless dogs adjust to family-life in her apartment, and all of them found permanent homes. In August of 2017, two and a half years after adopting Penny, Sam met foster #66 and everything changed. Sam described it this way: “I went to the @nycacc to help pull dogs with @muddypawsrescue and fell in love with the first dog I made eye contact with, a little 8 month old gray pit mix with the saddest eyes named Jessie. She was laying on her bed pretty scared, but came up to me when I called her and offered her treats. When she walked over I could see she had a terrible skin infection, her coat looked spotted but it was huge round bald spots.” Jessie was just a puppy, but over the course of the month that she spent in foster care with @pigpenthepittie, Sam and Eric realized that she was the perfect fit for Penny: she played hard but without being dominant, she enjoyed toys without guarding them, and she was extremely calm in her crate. By the time her skin infection healed, it was clear that Penny and this puppy were soulmates, and her new parents named her LooseSeal Blueth as she joined their family for good.
Photos by Chloe’s mom
When @pigpenthepittie came to Sam and Eric’s home as a foster, they had no idea that she had been surrendered with another dog. We don’t know exactly why, but most likely, it would have been very difficult to adopt two large dogs together so efforts were made to ensure their successful placement separately. While doing research for this story, I came across an 2015 listing for Shells (Penny) and discovered that she had been surrendered with another small female Pibble named Cassidy. Cassidy had been listed on a Facebook Urgent Death Row list, and Sam and I lost our minds for a few minutes via text, unsure of what happened to Cassidy… but then saw these 3-year old comments on her listing: “She is safe and sleeping now. She is a very good girl, so was her friend who was adopted a week ago.” Cassidy (now named Chloe)’s mom who posted the comment had also posted many photos of Chloe on her public Facebook page. This sweet Pibble is healthy, happy, and lives with two other ACC rescue dogs as well as a human sibling. Sam followed up with the owner and there is talk of reuniting the two girls who years ago were siblings and friends.
It was on a crisp day this past December that 11-year-old True Blue walked into the @nycacc on the end of a leash held by her owners of six years and was surrendered due to lack of time. Her head was held low as she walked to her kennel, and as staff took a closer look, they saw visible signs of overbreeding as well as multiple tumors and a slow limp. A volunteer who had worked with @mrbonesandco got in touch with them about this special grandma who seemed to thrive in the company of people and dogs, and very soon, True Blue walked back out the same door and into the care of @mrbonesandco and @amcny. True was spayed, had her tumors removed, and went into foster care with @pigpenthepittie and Loosey. Though test results from her surgery showed that True did have lymphoma, she was sweet, happy, and seemed healthy, so the search began for her forever-family.
For weeks after her surgery, True settled into her new foster home and began to heal. Sam told me, “We spent 2 weeks icing her, taking her in the elevator up to the bedroom and down to the yard multiple times a day, and we grew to love her so much.” She bonded well with her foster-siblings Penny and Loosey but grew especially close to LooseSeal, spending hours grooming, wrestling, and playing together. It was obvious that True needed an adopter who had other dogs, as she thrived in this environment, so when an application came in from a family with two dogs, it seemed like it just might be the perfect fit.
Story of the week, part 9: The doctor looked at Sam from across the exam table and delivered the news: True’s lymphoma is progressing more quickly than expected. An exact timeline wasn’t given, but this was still a shock, as True seemed so healthy and was doing so well in her foster home; she even had potential adopters who were excited for her to possibly join their family. As they processed this news, Sam and Eric knew that they had a hard decision to make. After discussing at great length with @mrbonesandco, True’s doctors, and the potential adopters, Sam and Eric made the decision that they believed would be kindest to True: to permanently hospice-adopt her into their family so she could stay in the place she now knows as home with her girl gang Penny and Loosey and the humans she knew best. This is the first announcement of this exciting news, so please join me in sending your love to @pigpenthepittie, Loosey, and their new forever-sister True! In Sam’s words: “We don’t know how much time we have together- it could be 6 months, she could shock us all and live another 2 years. But we know that we will treasure each day with our sassy old granny gator who loves to eat, play, run, bark at every hallway noise, and get kisses from us and her doggie sisters. She knows her name so we will still call her True, but now it will no longer be short for True Blue (a name denoting a true “blue nose pit bull” which is not a breed!) but it will be short for Gertrude, aka Gert, aka Granny Gator. She is ours and we are unquestionably hers, for however long we have left.”