The next day, I returned in the evening to Carson Shelter with cupcakes in hand. This time, I was done with the paperwork within ten minutes.
A volunteer — part of the same group who had gotten us to come there in the first place — filmed Bigby’s “Freedom Walk” out to my Civic. I opened the door, and helped our newest charge into the car.
The volunteer smiled as she shut off the video camera.
“He’s the most wonderful dog I’ve seen in a long time. I’m so glad he’s getting out of here. He deserves it.”
I shut the door and smiled at her. “Yeah, he really does.”
The entire two-hour ride home, Bigby whined, begging to come into the front seat with me. I kept steadfast — I didn’t know this dog, nor his tendencies. For all I knew, he could run me off the road with one swift thrash of his head.
I have a small, mesh divider in my car. As the mother of four terriers no more than twenty pounds each, it’s usually more than enough to keep my fuzzy circus safely in the back while we drive.
Bigby was having none of this, though, and next thing I knew, he had wormed his way underneath the divide and was nestled shotgun as we sped past the city. He stayed like that the entire way back to the Ranch, his head resting on my leg, whining gently and thumping his tail against the passenger door.
I brought Bigby back to the Ranch, where he made an impression on everyone he met. Our staff, volunteers, and trainer all instantly loved him, and, aside from a brief period of time we put a “cone of shame” on him so he wouldn’t lick his surgery site, he was surprisingly healthy and had no outstanding issues.
I found myself coming in to work on my days off, despite living thirty minutes away, just to take him out or bring him a snack of Blue Buffalo Trout-flavored canned food, to try and put some weight on him.
Every time he saw me, he would whine and wiggle, wagging his tail in anticipation. At the park, he would lean his head into my lap and snore peacefully as we dozed off in the sun. Of course, as soon as we listed him on our website, he started receiving applications. I knew it was inevitable due to his good looks and gentle demeanor, yet I found myself with a distinct hesitancy, like no application would ever be good enough.
A huge part of rescue is realizing that while you can certainly be discerning, you can’t exactly “play God” with every dog that comes your way. As long as the care and love is there, you can’t deny an applicant just because they don’t think the same way you do when you envision “ideal pet care”. The goal, after all, is to get as many dogs as we can into loving homes, so we can go get more and, in doing so, fulfill our pact in the No-Kill LA initiative.
While there are certainly many awesome adopters out there — as in, where have you been this whole time calibur adopters — many of whom we, in particular, had found ourselves fortunate enough to meet and adopt out to this year, the reality is that if the application is good and the people are willing to sign the contract, there are very few reasons to keep a dog for a long period of time. As such, I knew Bigby would be gone sooner than I’d like. A selfish notion, but a real one.
A few days later, while coordinating a Mobile Pet Adoption, I received a text from the same co-worker I had performed the pull with.
“So… Bigby got, like, the perfect app.”
My heart skipped a beat. I texted back in under thirty seconds.
I felt my hands trembled as I watched the “…” flicker on my phone while she typed a response.
“It’s in Oregon.”
The words nearly knocked the breath from my lungs. Out of area adoptions weren’t uncommon. In fact, our organization had adopted out as far out as Chicago — a fact we were quite proud of. The only condition was that, since we do not ship dogs like some organizations, the applicant had to be alright with traveling out to California to meet the dog, then driving back with them if all went well. As such, while out of area adoptions were certainly not unheard of, they were few and far between.
I knew my co-worker and I were on the same page when it came to adoptions; it was part of the reason we had formed such a close friendship outside of work. I knew she wouldn’t even bother telling me unless she felt in her heart of hearts that the application had potential to be The One.
Upon my return to the Ranch, I found the application on my desk, waiting. I looked it over at least three times, and each time came to the same conclusion: it wasthe perfect app.
Our organization functioned on the idea of adopting out animals to the best home versus a first-come-first-serve basis like the shelters did. True, it had garnered us a few angry Yelp! reviews from people who obviously wanted to hear themselves scream more than have a civilized conversation, but we stood by our policy, and weighed the determination of “best home” by a few factors.
I found myself thinking to several articles I had read recently on The Dodo, about how Wolf Hybrids and their brethren had been targeted in a recent, local string of abuse or poisoning cases — usually angry neighbors taking the law into their own hands over perceived breed discriminating views, much like those faced by pitbulls.
Maybe it wasbest for Bigby to get out of here. Plus, he’d probably be more comfortable in Oregon anyway, with that coat…
I called up the applicant and spent about an hour on the phone with him. He complimented me on Bigby’s story — which I had written — and said he was happy to even be considered. He was willing to comply to all our terms, and by the end of the next day, the entire staff had decided this applicant was worth a small wait. We made the arrangements for a date and time for a meet and potential adoption, and waited. It worked out nicely, anyway – it gave Bigby time to heal from his neuter, as well as spend some time around cats, since there would be one in his new home.
After a week, the big day finally arrived. My co-worker and I took Bigby out into the play yard for one last romp. Soon, a Jeep pulled up, and out stepped a young man with a warm smile and impressive moustache. He instantly approached the fence, and Bigby trotted up to him, wagging his tail harder than I had ever seen.
Luckily, this was Ethan: Bigby’s new Dad.
He joined us in the play yard, where we spent twenty minutes talking and reliving Bigby’s story, while everyone got to know each other. As we walked into the main house to sign the final paperwork, my co-worker and I exchanged silent smiles, our hearts soaring at the notion of a job well done. This was going to be one of those one-in-a-million adopters, we had confirmation of that now.
As I am also the Outreach liaison for my organization, I had pulled some strings and gotten Bigby some name brand go-home gifts from Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance and more. Ethan was so appreciative; I told him that Bigby had touched so many hearts, even in his relatively short time with us, and we wanted to see him off properly.
After the contract was signed and the adoption donation made, we walked them out to the car, where Ethan had a more-than-spacious kennel prepared for the sixteen hour drive back to Oregon.
We said our goodbyes, and I turned to walk back into the house, back to the next rescue who needed our help. I heard a small scuffle from behind, and turned around to see Bigby bounding towards us — he had wiggled out of his collar and leash!
I chuckled and stopped him, grabbing his collar and crouching down as I had done at the shelter, pulling him into my arms. I kissed his head.
“I’ll never forget you.”
He whined and wagged his tail, once.
I walked him back to Ethan’s car and helped him climb into the kennel, where he settled. My co-worker and I hugged Ethan and told him to send us pictures as soon as he could, then walked back to the house in comfortable silence.
A few days later, we received an online link to a photo album full of pictures of Bigby’s new life with his new family. I look at it often, especially on the hard days. A few weeks later, after our rescue mission at Lancaster, I put the album on a slideshow on my laptop as I let go and cried for the dog we had been too late to save — a sweet female pitbull who had been put to sleep after only three days in the shelter, just minutes before we had arrived.
We get updates with details about Bigby’s new life. He gets to visit all the pet-friendly eateries and hot-spots in Portland. He is on one of the best ready-to-eat, refrigerated raw foods available. And between both his new parents — one who is a city planner and the other an EMT — he hardly ever spends time alone. He is getting along with his new cat brother, and the eventual hope is for him to become a Canine Good Citizen, maybe even a certified Therapy Dog. It would truly be the sweetest ending to a rags-to-riches story like his.
There is no doubt that our job is one of the hardest in the world. Anyone who tries to dispute that fact doesn’t know what they are talking about. And it will continue to be, until euthanasia, violence, and neglect to animals are a thing of the past. While every dog we save is a firm reminder of that resilience, there are just some dogs, like Bigby, who stay with you for a lifetime.
I think it’s because you never forget your first.And for me, though he certainly won’t be the last… Bigby Wolf will forever be the first dog who looked into my eyes, as a rescuer, and asked for my help. And I, at long last, could finally, truly give it.
“Jorden Samois is the current Outreach / Mobile Pet Adoption Coordinator for New Leash On Life Rescue, a 501c3 non-profit dog rescue and NKLA Coalition Partner located just outside Santa Clarita, California. She is the proud mom of three small former-shelter dogs, as well as two rabbits, also rescued from a shelter. She has a passion for and certifications in Canine Nutrition, which she uses to help New Leash On Life fulfill it’s non-rescue related mission of empowering animal owners through education and communication. Together with an amazing team of talented co-workers and volunteers, she strives to do her part to save lives and make kill-shelters a thing of the past. “