“Whoever said ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ never owned a dog”
This entry on the Bucket List was originally meant to be about registering as a foster mother for children. Real, human children :-). It still remains a firm goal, but in the meantime I also became a foster, and then adoptive, mom to a beautiful being of the K9 variety. She has brought me so much joy so I think she rightfully deserves a spot on this list of my big achievements.
Now, I was never meant to have Phoebe in my home. How she eventually got here and became part of the family is best described as a tragicomedic “series of unfortunate events”.
Our story began when my best friend and companion of many years, Anouk (husky x chow) unexpectedly passed away. I was shattered. I vowed that I wouldn’t get another dog because I could never replace her, and I just didn’t want to put myself in a place where I could love another dog so much again. And besides, I have 3 cats ranging from age 8-16 years, so why get another pet? But after a few months passed I realised that I was lonely and missing the companionship that only a dog can give.
I knew I didn’t have the schedule (or the unending patience) for a puppy, so I started looking around at shelters. I knew I would “just know” the right dog when I saw it. My only criteria were 1) Older than 2 years 2) preferably a larger dog 3) Must be good with cats.
And then one day I saw the perfect dog. Or so I thought. Her name was Lavender. She was reportedly good with cats, 3 years old, and had a slight problem with her back legs as a result of an injury when she was a puppy. She was from Botswana but after a some kind of complication that shelter had to close down and the 40 dogs residing there were taken to a shelter in Cape Town.
I duly contacted the shelter, filled out the adoption forms and waited to hear when she would come. I waited a week, a month, two months. This shelter is great at caring for any abandoned and sick dogs, but they have a HUGE problem with admin, which has been so frustrating in dealing with them from that day till today even (but that’s a rant for another time!). Normally I would’ve abandoned the quest for this dog, but there was just something about it all that seemed so right.
Flash forward to three months later. I was told that Lavender would be on a plane and arriving at my home in the second week of November. This flight was pushed back another week, and as I eagerly waited for her at the airport, it turned out that she had missed her flight because the organisation hadn’t arranged the proper size crate, but I was assured she would be on the next flight.
And then, she arrived!!! Very nervous, and full of fleas, but I could easily handle that with a bath and good old fashioned TLC. Celebrations and jubilations!!
But something was wrong. She was nothing like the dog I had expected. First thing Monday morning I called them to ask about her missing vet information, and was greeted with tentative, worried questions about how “the dog” was doing. I smelled a rat. They then confessed that they thought that perhaps I had been sent the wrong dog – possibly “Phoebe”, Lavender’s far more active, excitable, and non cat-friendly sister! Oh dear! I was in a state!
To make matters worse, even though they were so apologetic, they couldn’t arrange a flight for her to go back to Cape Town for at least a month, and no other dog foster parents were available in my area. Could I please just foster her for a month? A dog that I know nothing about, and that might eat my beloved cats? Sure, why not?! (she said in a moment of anger and confusion)
So now I had Phoebe. What was I going to do with her? She had severe separation anxiety and was terrified of every new sight, sound, and person. All I wanted was to make her feel safe and happy but she was always so scared and worried. I was in a perpetual state of worry. But she loved the cats, they became inseparable best friends, and to be honest, I think this glimpse at how content and loveable she could be is what made me keep trying.
I was now officially a reluctant foster mom, who was considering becoming an adoptive mom. But Phoebe still wasn’t right. Her anxiety was manifesting in self destruction which worried me and made me feel powerless. One night I sat on the floor with her just crying because I didn’t know how to make her feel better and had to honestly consider sending her back to the organisation that was so terribly administered and caused all of this, but she at least had her siblings there and could play with them if she went back. Was it wrong of me to even consider keeping her here?
But I just wasn’t ready to give up on Phoebe just yet. So I wiped the tears away, and searched the internet in earnest. I found an amazing dog behaviourist who was willing to help. She asked a thousand questions, researched Phoebe’s life and gave me so many small, but invaluable tips by explaining in detail Phoebe’s breed traits, behaviours and responses. Within a day of that first consultation I felt more confident, and I could already see the positive changes in Phoebe.
Phoebe became happy. Really, really HAPPY.
There were still a lot of problems, but it felt like I could actually face them with her. I also enrolled her in a basic dog obedience class with the dog behaviourist, and she just flourished! I cannot sing enough praises for the behaviourist who came to my aid. Phoebe is an older dog, with a past I don’t know everything about, so she’ll always struggle with certain things – men’s voices, other dogs who come too close, me being away from home for longer than 8 hours, but that’s ok, we’ve both learnt ways of accepting that and figuring out ways around it.
Phoebe still attends dog Fun Classes every week, which she loves (even if she is still overly reactive). We’ll see how well we both manage to cope with her dog-reactivity, but I am certain with hard work we’ll overcome that challenge too.
For now, Phoebe and I are just happy we found each other – even if it took a rather harrowing and convoluted journey for us both to realise it!