On our way home, we met the newest addition to our family, our fifth dog overall, the beautiful and brilliant Tala. Since we're about to move, we didn't take her home. That will have to wait until we're a little settled in our new place, and return from a very special anniversary celebration trip we're taking in January. It works out well, because Tala is currently living with a trainer who is giving us a headstart on her socialization.
Here's the backstory.
Allan and I had already fallen in love with several dogs on Petfinder.com. It's incredibly easy to do. There are always a zillion animals who need homes, and whatever your favourite species and look, someone is waiting for you. I've been unpleasantly surprised that most people in Mississauga (and, I think, Toronto) have dogs that were obviously purchased from breeders. In New York City, rescues are much more common. At the risk of offending many readers, I am strongly opposed to breeding dogs for sale, no matter how responsibly it's supposedly done. (Let's not argue about it, ok? It's too upsetting for me.)
Back on Petfinder, we picked out a female Shepherd-Husky mix in our area - that's what our first dog was, and we're very partial to the look and the personality mix. The policy of the local rescue group is not to hold dogs under any circumstances. Every time a dog is placed for adoption, that foster home is available for a dog currently stuck in a shelter - the faster the turnover, the better.
I understand this completely. The shelter is death row. Even in a no-kill shelter, the longer a dog languishes there, the less socialized it will be and the harder it will be to find her a permanent home. So I absolutely understood that they couldn't hold the dog for us, I think it's a great policy, but I wanted her! A week later she was gone from Petfinder: taken. Good. Great. I know. But I wanted her!
I told myself to stop looking at dogs until we could bring one home. Then I would email Allan five more links to five more possibilities. OK, last one, this time I mean it, but look at this one, ohmygoodness look at this one, stop stop stop, just one more, last one, starting now.
Then I started looking at cute dogs that we like, but not necessarily in our area. Just looking. Searching on both German Shepherd and Husky, I found Tala. I had no idea where she was located. She could have been anywhere.
I sent her link (take that page down! she's taken!) to Allan. Subject line: "where is churchville new york?". His reply: "I don't know, but that's where we're going!"
Allan discovered Churchville is just outside of Rochester, in western New York State. Just on the other side of Lake Ontario.
Next question, will they hold a dog for the right family?
Rescue Person's answer: no problem. However, come meet her first, with your other dog.
Our answer: we're driving right by you next week.
We weren't able to arrange it for the day we drove down, so our whole Thanksgiving visit was suffused with expectation of meeting Tala on the way home. We announced we are adopting a new dog, and most people (everyone?) in our family knows what that means in our lives. We put her Petfinder page on everyone's laptop and gazed lovingly as if she were already ours.
Then yesterday, on our way home, we made a short detour off the Thruway into beautiful farm country to meet her.
The rescue groups I'm familiar with are networks of volunteers who provide loving foster homes for rescues. A team of coordinators screen prospective families, test shelter dogs for temperament issues, pull dogs out of shelters, and so forth. Whether they are general dog rescue with no regard to breed, or breed-specific rescue, this is the only way I've seen it done.
But RP in Churchville is the foster home - for the entire area. RP is part of a Siberian Husky breed rescue network (and they're the good kind of breed rescue - they take mixes, too). She works with a counterpart in New York City, one in Ohio, one in Tennessee, and so forth.
The license plates on RP's and Mr RP's SUVs: HSKYSVRS and HSKYRESQRS. They have five acres of land, with more than one acre secured with stockade fencing. In the basement, in beautiful custom-made kennel crates, were 35 Huskies and Husky mixes - each one sweet, beautiful, and desirous of our attention, each one rescued from abuse and certain death, each one given medical care, food, love, family, training, and re-socialized for a future family.
It didn't seem appropriate to take pictures, so I can only try to picture it for you: the howls and barks, the white-flag tails waving, the ears flattened with joy as we gave each one attention, the snouts poking through the crate bars to kiss us. Thirty-five names, thirty-five stories (some already had homes, and were just boarding for the holiday), and another thirty-five waiting to take their place when there's room. And this not counting the six "personal" dogs who live upstairs.
Let me tell you, it was intense. And we recognized Tala immediately. She is a sweetheart!
We didn't bring Cody in the basement - she would have had a heart attack. But finally, after tours and stories and dramatic delay, RP finally let us bring Tala outside to play with Cody in the backyard.
At first RP wasn't too keen on matching us with Tala. She felt Cody is too old for the company of a young, energetic dog; she felt there would be dominance issues; she tried to steer us towards some slightly older males.
Allan and I both felt RP was making too much of it, and misreading Cody, or possibly it was just her shtick. Cody and Tala got along exactly as we predicted, following Cody's completely predictable pattern: she was intimidated and put off at first, then relaxed and warmed up. When she felt threatened, she asserted herself with a few hoarse barks, then trotted away. Tala also behaved as we expected a friendly young dog to do. She was playful, curious, and insistent, not at all aggressive, and when Cody told her to scram, she backed off. It was beautiful.
We walked them together on leashes, and it was uneventful. We hugged and kissed Tala, and Cody wandered off by herself - also completely predictable. She was never jealous.
RP emphasized the importance of setting up Cody as the dominant dog. She said (over and over) that Tala will challenge Cody's position and then Cody will have to assert herself and it could be ugly. But we are very experienced dog people - and most importantly, very experienced with Cody, including her life with two other dogs. We know what will happen. Tala will take over. She will become Cody's alpha. It doesn't matter who gets there first, it doesn't matter who's older. Cody is the Bottom Dog. Tala is bright and energetic and will be happy to be the alpha, and Cody will be happy to let her.
What matters in this scenario is that Tala will be submissive to us, that she will recognize us as the super-alphas. She shows all signs of being a quick study and eager to please, and we know how to help a new dog adapt to a new home. Long ago, our first dog nearly ruined my life by assuming the alpha position over me. After we learned how to correct that - and although she continued to test me her entire life - it would never be a problem again.
We made a donation towards Tala's care for the next two months, and we somehow said goodbye and dragged ourselves away. Having a young bundle of energy again will be a huge change for us! So will having boundless affection and love, again. I can't wait.
More Tala photos here. Expect to be subjected to many more.