Fostering a Dog; Fostering an Attitude (By Patricia Herlevi)
The day I dreaded arrived. Three weeks had passed since my brother and I signed the legal papers with the Seattle Purebred Rescue organization so that the senior German shorthair pointer could go to a new home. Although I had only known Sobaka for a year-and-a-half, I had fallen deeply and madly in love with him in the way that dog-people bond with their canine friends. But like other types of love affairs, I also knew that each day had a number on it. My elderly parents were unable to take care of an active dog and I was in no position to take Sobaka. I had no permanent home.
I had looked forward to Sobaka’s birthday which falls on May 4. I had plans to take him to a special place and I had even bought two giant dog cookies and salmon sticks to mark the occasion. Then, the prospective pawrents (parents for dogs) asked the organization to set up a meet and greet with Sobaka on the last week of April. At first, I thought they just wanted to meet the dog and then return later to pick him up. However, the retired couple didn’t want to make two trips to Whidbey Island so they had plans to take Sobaka with them, thus interrupting my birthday plans and my goodbye gifts for the dog.
I wept for most of the week prior to Sobaka meeting his adoptive parents. I had wished that he would’ve been adopted by a family closer to me and not across Washington State. I wondered about handing the leash to the retired couple who responded to the Pet Finder ad when I clung to it as if the leash were my lifeline.
I knew I was doing the right thing for the sake of Sobaka’s wellbeing, but I experienced a hole growing inside me—a hole where my heart should have been. Wasn’t it me who placed the ad portraying Sobaka as a Bach Connoisseur and portraying a dog that enjoyed the finer things in life? He looked regal in the photos I took of him in his favorite armchair lying on his ratty blanket he had since his puppyhood. What the people viewing the photo would never know is that Sobaka also had a favorite couch and another chair he enjoyed stealing from my father and then anchoring his large body into the cushions while digging his claws into the armrests. This drove my father nuts every time the dog snuck into the chair and refused to budge. Sobaka was going places even if he refused to budge.
The people who viewed the ad also didn’t know about Sobaka hoarding crackers, potato chips, and candy between the cushions of the couch now covered in tiny white hairs and drool stains.
As the dreaded day approached, I feared that my bones would shatter. I felt pissed off at my brother for abandoning his dog and leaving me with a heart wrenching decision. In contrast, I also thanked my brother silently for blessing me with the best friendship I had experienced in 54 years—not with a human, but with a canine.
The weather forecast for that April day predicted rain and wind. I thought that would have deterred the couple from driving from Olympia to Whidbey Island and that I would have been able to hang on to Sobaka for another week. But then the sun appeared.
I spent the morning cleaning Sobaka’s bedding, sewing his toys and his pillow which he had ripped apart. I gathered all his belongings and placed them in bags and boxes while trying not to cause Sobaka anxiety. He knew something was up because I wept more than usual. He also noticed the tension in the household when my father protested the adoption. After all, even though he complained about the vet bills and fed Sobaka junk food (leading to an obesity problem) he said that Sobaka was his friend. But before sympathizing with my dad, you must understand that he thinks everything is about him and he didn’t acknowledge the anguish I experienced. Blame it on his Depression Era childhood or his stint in the Navy. I might have well been a captain of a ship witnessing mutiny.
So, I packed the car and I had several conversations with Sobaka using words and telepathy. And when I spoke to him, he trembled and his eyes pleaded with me to let him stay with us. The problem remained that he did not get enough exercise and his weight problem placed him in danger. I had gone over all the options and I pleaded with my parents to hire a dog walker, to pay for the flea prevention, etc. Although my mother was sympathetic and she was the one who paid one-thousand dollars to have Sobaka’s rotten teeth removed, she also thought Sobaka needed to go to a wealthier home with healthier people.
And prior to his final day with us, I spent quality time with Sobaka that week in April. I created Easter treat hunts in the backyard to put his nose to good use. I took him for longer walks to his favorite places in the neighborhood. I sat with him and played classical music for him (which he loved). And my mom and I took him to a beach when the tide was out where he ran free. In fact, when he ran on the beach whimpering and barking with delight, I realized that Sobaka needed to experience that freedom every day just like he needed to play with other dogs.
So, I packed him in the car while wiping tears off my face. I chose Bowman’s Bay in Deception Pass State Park to meet with Sobaka’s prospective parents and the dog rescue volunteer. I also like the fact that Sobaka got to ride in the backseat of the car listening to classical music. He remained calm for most of that journey until we turned on the road to Bowman’s Bay and he picked up the scent of the giant cedar and pine trees. He sat up in the backseat which he had never done before when the car was moving. Then when we turned into the park and we heard the wind and the waves beating against the shore, Sobaka barreled out of the car and he pulled me onto the beach. I had hoped that the couple would have showed up late, but as Sobaka and I walked away from the car and onto the beach, they approached us. I worried that I would have lost the strength to hand over Sobaka’s leash. Was it too late to change my mind?
When I took Sobaka to meet his new parents he sniffed at them and allowed them to admire him. He had no idea he would be leaving with them. And the message I received from Sobaka was, “Thank you for introducing me to your friends. Let’s go play on the beach and let me run on the trails.”
I kept the leash for a bit longer as the couple walked with me through the wooded area. Sobaka pulled me up a trail causing my arm to ache. He yanked on my arms and I couldn’t get him to stay still. He was anxious and in one of exploring moods after all, he loved the wild waves crashing on the shore and the pine and cedar trees perfuming the air. Since his sensitivities are acute he picked up on my emotions. “Why are you doing this to us, human?”
So we headed to the minivan where the representative asked me to give a final signature on the adoption papers. I legally released any ownership of Sobaka (not that I ever owned him). And while I did this, Sobaka saw the open door of my mother’s car inviting him to return to his old life. He yanked on the leash wanting desperately to run to my mother’s car and hop again in the backseat, another place he loved to relax and shed his fur. Plus he wanted to say goodbye to my mother who advocated for him when my brother stopped buying food for the dog or taking him to the vet when he suffered from ear infections and other health issues.
I realized that Sobaka didn’t die that day, but part of me did. Sobaka left in a minivan to a new adventure and a new life. Meanwhile, I wondered if I would ever heal from a broken heart much worse than any breakup with a boyfriend, the loss of a job, or even the loss of a home. I hugged Sobaka for as long as I could before he was hoisted into the minivan. I petted his velvet ears one last time and I experienced pangs of jealousy for the retired couple who had the right home and the right resources to take Sobaka as their own. I sacrificed my happiness and some people thanked me for my selfless act. But those hollow words hardly soothed my heart.
Nothing or no one will ever replace Sobaka.
All Rights Reserved Copying Not Permitted C 2019 Patricia Herlevi