You’re so grateful that I’m here, grateful for the present moment where you live every second of every day. Teaching me, yet again, lessons in what it means to be a human through the canine lens.Read More
3 o’clock - How is that possible? How am I already back in the car? I feel like I was in this seat mere moments ago … a few brief hours, filled with new stories and new faces - new projects and conversation intertwined with connection and collaboration.
As I drive home in snow flurries under a flat, gray sky, my mind begins to wander - a reel playing it all back …
I see Jo being tugged along as she brings me dog after dog - Today was about collecting moments and stories of neglect while creating “beauty shots” of new arrivals.
The incredibly gentle, sweet soul; Louis. A large chocolate lab who has seen better days. A muzzle of silvery gray, big brown eyes clouded with age, topped off with floppy ears of velvet.
He “sees” with his nose as his eyes failed him long ago - all thanks to former owners who left his diabetes untreated. His massive head swaying side to side in constant search of contact, or a tasty morsel of kindness.
He’s a mellow old boy who doesn’t need much - a quiet companion or family that can handle his daily insulin shots and provide a warm, soft place to lay his old bones.
An intelligent little creature named KO (“kay oh').
He knows his name well, a small, but valuable clue to his past. He's a classic "mutt", with the head of a beagle and the body of border collie - a monochrome coat of white with black specks and patches. Wise eyes constantly seeking, searching, looking at the horizon for a home that has yet to be found. A little smirk created by his black lined mouth, like he knows the punchline to a joke only he can hear.
His need to run is evident, his need for stimulus is urgent, his intelligence both a blessing and curse.
KO is followed by Frazier - a strong, young shepherd mix with deep orange, amber eyes.
He instantly reminds me of Enzo and Checkers. A black nose on a black face blending to a subtle sable coat that flows down his mane and torso - classic shepherd shaped head and ears, droopy at the tips, softening his intensity just so. A stance of confidence and determination, easily shattered by affection, morphing into a massive, bounding puppy.
With time, patience and training he will become an incredible companion - a true picture of loyalty and unconditional trust.
Lucy - spry and springy, a bundle of “pittie” mix energy full of kisses and snuggles for any and all humans. I’m warned that she “hates, hates, HATES other dogs” - a quality that means her stay here could be a long one. Her saving grace will be her adorable, mini Fawn Great Dane stature and her naturally lovable nature.
Ideally, A dogless soul looking for warm companionship and a need to be needed, will find their way to Lucy’s side.
I don’t have much time left before I need to head home. Everyone has been walked at least twice so, I head to Checkers kennel, our sweet yet anxious Shepherd mix who would love nothing more than to leave this place and never return.
“sit. Good boy.”
He loves his new rug - a little bath mat that has become his preferred spot when watching the activity out his kennel window.
We curl up together on his bed, he can’t help but mouth my hand, his way of thanking me for the affection. A gesture that can be so easily misunderstood as “biting” even though he uses no pressure at all.
He squirms and wiggles in my lap, trying to get closer then turning his head to look at me, as if he is making sure I’m really there.
“it’s okay boy, I’m here”
I’m quickly covered in “dog glitter”, his yellow gold hairs weaving their way into the sleeves of my shirt. I think about how much the pack at home is going to enjoy smelling where I’ve been…
“alright buddy-o, I gotta go, I’ll see you soon. sit. Good boy”
3:30. How am I already home?
Mother nature has graced us with her mercy. The sky is a beautiful shade of robin's egg blue, painted with pillows of clouds in shades of alabaster, silver and gray. The sun’s warmth a welcome reprieve from the bitter, biting cold.
I arrive in time to witness Dan romping around the play yard, bounding through the freshly fallen snow, kicking up puffs that sparkle in the sun light.
I can't help but smile.
I walk in to find the lobby empty, quiet .. except for the lone whimpers and howls of someone new.
I peak into the office window and find Carla at her desk, Shannon dozing at her feet. She smiles and rises, making her way out to say hello.
We share in the joy of our big, lovable, Marlon finding the perfect family.
I notice that Dixie, the frightened, little, black “fox”, isn't in her kennel ...
I’m told more fantastic news. Dixie is at the vet being spade. She too is on her way to a loving home.
I can’t help but smile.
I make my way back to adoption.
The first, eager face to greet me belongs to Checkers …
Eyes of amber, rimmed with black, drawing one in with his intelligent gaze.
A coat of soft, golden tan with undertones of cream. A subtle white diamond on his chest. Ears that stand half up and half down, and bounce as he walks.
Upon arrival, Checkers was extremely nervous, fearful and shy. Timid, tucking his head and tail, pressing his head into your chest whenever you bent down to greet him. His body telling a small part of the mystery that is his past.
Thankfully, in time, he has improved. Growing calm and more confident each day.
He can still shows signs of fear when you move to pet him or hook up a leash. A raised hand immediately causes him to flinch or cower. I feel anger and rage bubbling up as I try to comprehend what someone could have done to him …
We spend a few moments greeting one another.
Sliding my back down the wall to brace myself against his weight as he leans his entire body into mine. Running my hands through his soft, warm, golden coat. Scratching the white spot on his chest. Burying my face in his neck.
“How ya doing boy? I missed you.”
I feel him relax. Trust.
Slowly, I click the leash to his collar.
“Come on bub. Let’s go.”
We’re no sooner out the door and Checkers pulls me to the snow banks along the plowed path. He starts shoving his face into the drifts, reveling in the cool, bare landscape that surrounds us. He’s one of the few shelter residents built for the cold.
As we make our way into the wooded trails, we’re greeted by nature’s winter symphony. Chickadees, Juncos and Blue Jays singing their favorite tunes. The wind playing the tall, thin, spruce trees like a creaky violin.
Our steady pace is halted by a scent on the trail. Checkers can’t help but bury his nose and face in the snow again, snuffling, searching for what lies beneath. Whatever it is, he can’t take in enough, he flops down, writhing his whole body, blanketing himself in winter’s perfume.
I can’t help but laugh.
When he’s satisfied with his snow bath, we continue along to Margie’s Mile, blanketed with fresh powder, unbroken and smooth. Only the birds leaving their delicate tracks behind.
Checkers is patient with me as I pause to create images of the lines and shadows. The light today feels like magic. I notice him as he notices the birds flitting around in the trees. They feel the magic too.
We make our way around the bend and down the hill, back to the warmth of the shelter.
The snow is billowing up to my knees, light sifted powdered sugar, leaving a wake of mist and glimmer.
Once again, I can’t help but smile.
It's one of those days where I feel pulled in two directions.
One side wants to embrace my inner hermit and stay home where it's warm and cozy. The other wants to see all those happy faces and wagging tails.
Yes, it is so, so cold outside. But that is a reason, not an excuse. It's days like today when they need my time the most.
I pack my lunch for the road, layer up, lace up my new winter boots, say goodbye to the guilt trip faces of my own pack, grab my camera, my keys and walk out the door.
It's days like today I'm grateful for my safe, reliable vehicle with studded snow tires. She starts right up (its been sub zero for days), I crank the heat and slowly, back out of the garage.
As I merge onto the interstate I see rows of "snow birds". Retired folks making the trek south with their apartments on wheels, escaping the cold and gray days of the North Country winter.
Gray. The mountains are layers of black, gray and snow white. The sun, a hazy glowing ball floating in an abyss of white.
The hum of my studded snow tires on the asphalt is comforting. I've grown to really enjoy this 30 minute drive into the mountains. It gives me time to be in silence with my self and to focus on the beauty of where we live.
I ease off at the exit and drive the short distance to the shelter. The snow groans under the tires as I crawl down the winding drive.
I gather my gear and head inside to check in with Pam and Carla. They're both in the lobby when I walk in.
"Hi ladies! Happy New Year!"
We always begin with who has been adopted, who is out of "iso" (isolation), the progress made by some of the residents. It's all about focusing on the positive and celebrating the little victories.
"So, where do you need me today Carla?"
"Dixie and Penelope have been out, so you can just head back to adoption..."
The plan today is to keep the walks short and sweet. It's single digits and most of the resident doggos are not built for the cold. A motley crew of short coated mutts.
As I open the door I'm greeted by a canine chorus. Sparta and Brando are jumping 6 feet in the air. Rue Too is jumping even higher. All the others are barking, dancing ... hoping I pick them first.
In the midst of all this chaos, there sits Marlon. Patiently waiting. Quiet.
Oh Marlon. I have such a soft spot for this guy.
He's a big hunk of pibble love. Beautiful brindle markings. Giant blockhead. Short, stocky legs and a back you could set your coffee on. And strong. So very strong. Which is a big reason why he's still here. That, and he does NOT like other dogs. At all.
But, he adores people.
I find my favorite leash on the rack, stick a couple poo bags in one pocket, a few treats in the other and go to my boy, still patiently sitting. Tail wagging.
Once my hand touches the door to his kennel, the dance begins. He's so happy to see me, as he is any human willing to give him attention. He can't help but jump up and wiggle and dance. He picks up his favorite toy. A "bone" the size of my arm. His whole body wags with excitement.
"Whatcha got buddy? Is that your bone?!"
I crouch down and love him up a bit before beginning the game called: How long will it take to get Marlon to put the bone down so I can get him into his harness? This is always an exercise in patience and strength.
"Marlon, drop it"
It takes a couple tries... eventually, he drops the bone, accepts the harness and allows me to click the clasp in place.
"Ready boy? Let's go."
The rest of the crew is still going bonkers as Marlon pulls me to the back door. Woosh, out we go into the cold. I'm grateful there is no wind and, other than my face and fingers, I'm pretty warm.
The snow is protesting with each step. Crunch, squeak, crunch, squeak.
We are barely walking a minute before Marlon begins to sniff and mark every bit of yellow snow. Stop, start. Stop, start. Stop, start ...
"Come on man, its cold. We gotta keep moving."
The snow is falling like tiny crystals. I can feel them landing on my cheeks and dissolving instantly. The surrounding wood looks like something out of a Brother's Grimm story.
Marlon and I find a good pace, the only sound is my feet crunching the snow. He's not picking up his feet or showing any other signs of discomfort so we go to the play yard for a bit.
I close the double gates behind us, unhook the leash and Marlon makes a bee line for the toy bins.
Two big Rubbermaid style containers with lids. He grabs one by the lid and starts to pull and shake the bin around.
"Dude! What are you doing? Leave it!"
He is not allowed to have any of the play yard toys because he destroys them, with incredible speed and determination.
I try to distract him with the giant rope toy hanging over the fence but, he is not having it. If dogs could laugh ...
My only choice is to sit on the bin, gently but firmly push his mouth off and hook his leash all at the same time. Remember that part about Marlon being strong? ... This had to be funny as hell to watch.
"So much for free time you goofball." He clearly does not care.
We walk back to the warmth of the kennels. Marlon saunters right over to his "spot", thankfully ignoring the others. I let him in, unhook his harness and love him up just a little more. He can be a meathead, but, he's a good boy and will do great with he right family.
I back my way out the door and pass him a treat through the port in his kennel door.
"See you next week pal."
Sparta is next ... I made the right choice. This is way better than staying home.
I was around 8 years old ... it was early in the morning. I was sitting at the kitchen counter eating a bowl of cereal. The school bus would be pulling up soon.Read More