“I’m pulling my car over to snuggle puppies, I think I’m ready for another dog,” I said to a friend last April. After my rottweiler, Monty, died 18 months before, I took naps on his dog bed for two weeks. I heard his nails on the laminate floor. I heard him sigh.
“You can borrow my dog,” said kind people. I didn’t want to borrow a dog. I didn’t even want to pat a dog. I struggled to teach my Dogsafe canine first aid courses without my assistant by my side. By April 2013 -- three months after he died -- I was able to giggle at the signs Monty was leaving to show me he was still close. And that August, I cried again for two weeks.
“Just go to a shelter and get another dog,” some people said. But grief is hard. And I know no other way to process it, than through it. For me, adopting another dog when I’m still working through my loss prevents a 100% commitment to my next dog.
By October 2013, I had sold my apartment and moved Dogsafe Head Office to Victoria, BC. I started to look at dogs on adoption websites. In February 2014, I visited the local shelter for a quick walk-through. A few months later, I visited again. And patted and talked to the dogs.
When Monty got sick, we had been planning a cross-country road trip. I had never been to the Atlantic Ocean. Nova Scotia called to me, especially Halifax. Maybe I’d find my dog along the way?
I left Victoria on June 15, 2014. I drove across British Columbia then south and east through Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. I was going to take my time -- maybe four or five weeks -- to visit dog businesses and shelters along the way.
In Menomonie, Wisconsin, I asked the Dunn County Humane Society Shelter volunteer if they had any senior dogs. There was a 9-year old cocker spaniel and 9-year old rat terrier -- neither was the one for me. I walked out of the shelter in tears. Am I not ready? I’m ready. I think.
I ferried cross Lake Michigan, up through Ontario -- declining offers to visit friends -- then south again and straight east across New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine. Then north to New Brunswick to cross into Nova Scotia.
On July 2, I arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
I set up my Dogsafe mobile office at the Shubie Campground. I loved Halifax’s harbours, the ferries, the running paths along lakes and the friendly people. “How long will you be staying here?” people asked. “I’m open, but I might take the ferry to Newfoundland and Labrador next week,” I said. I checked the website and learned that the voyage was seven hours and dogs were placed in a separated kennel area with no visiting. “I’ll have to go before I get a dog.”
After working in Halifax for a week, I visited the Bide Awhile Animal Shelter, a privately run organization. “I wanted to introduce Dogsafe to you, and I’m also looking for a dog but I see you have just one dog on the website,” I said to the woman. My voice was shaky. My eyes got moist.
“Sorry, this is emotional for me, I lost my dog over a year ago.”
“I understand, I have dogs too,” she said. “We do have another dog that’s been here for only a week, a four-year-old black lab.”
“A black lab?” I said as I wiped my eyes.
“Yes, would you like to see her?”
“I had initially thought of a senior dog, but, uh, okay.”
I followed her to an outside exercise area. My chest tightened as I spotted the black, stubby-legged Labrador retriever with a square head and pink collar.
She’s the one.
I sat with my back to the fence and peeked over my right shoulder. She panted and paced with her tail hung straight down. She walked close to the fence, then away.
“Would you like to go in?”
“Um, yeah, okay.”
I walked through the chain link door and sat again. Lucy walked up to the volunteer and wagged her tail. I yawned and lip licked -- canine calming signals -- and after a few minutes, she stood an arm's length away but allowed me to scratch her chest.
“What’s her story?” I asked.
“She was surrendered by her owners, a young family with a four-year-old boy. Seems they were just too busy for her.”
The volunteer left me alone with Lucy. I moved into the shade and she stretched out on the pavement beside me but not close enough to touch. Cat-like paws. Squishy forehead. Soft brown eyes.
“Do you have any more information on her? Do you do behaviour assessments?” I asked.
“We don’t have trainers come in but you can speak with our executive director, Darrold.
I left the shelter. There were no tears.
What if she is dog-reactive? What if she has severe separation anxiety? What if she hates camping? Gets car sick?
But I’m a trainer, I can work with her on any negative behaviours. And true, travelling has been easier without a dog, but I can't ignore my heart.
And my heart knew I couldn't leave Halifax without her.
In the morning, I met Darrold, a large man with a grey beard, who cared deeply for his organization and animals. I met with Lucy again -- she was all tail-waggy with Darrold -- in a private room and we were left alone. She showed signs of stress -- panting, pacing, trembling, yawning -- but did follow me around while I held a loose leash and dropped pieces of dog treats.
I explained that I was a trainer, owner of Dogsafe Canine First Aid and was a long-distance runner and hiker who was self-employed and worked from home.
“We do things a little different around here. We don’t need an extensive application since our assessment starts as soon as you walk in the door. We know there's a right match for each of our dogs and we’ll keep them until that happens. And I think the right match for Lucy is you.”
After an hour of visiting with Lucy and speaking with Darrold, I completed the brief application.
“We give you a 24-hour cooling off period so no money is taken right now,” he said.
“I’ll be back tomorrow morning,” I said.
On the way to the campground, I stopped to buy dishes, long-line, poop bags and an engraved ID tag. I bought a week’s worth of groceries for me and filled up the propane tank. The campground staff moved a motorhome to another site so that I could have their quiet, shaded site with electricity. I could now work from the campsite instead of the local library.
What lessons will Lucy teach me? Why did she choose me? Am I ready?
The next morning, I completed the adoption process and Lucy jumped in my truck and found the dog treats on her new mat. We drove to the lake -- she loves the truck -- and went for a two-hour, long-line adventure. Running. Hiking. Wading. She twitched and snored for eight-and-a-half hours that night.
In the morning, Lucy woke me up with face licks and tail thumps in the cramped space of the truck.
She won't be an easy dog, though. She’s terrified of dogs and being alone and wary of everyday things and experiences -- tents, RVs, bathroom tiles, pet stores, garbage bags and people. So this week, I’ll reduce all stimuli by shrinking her world and we'll re-introduce her at a speed she can handle.
I don’t need a two-week visit to Newfoundland and Labrador, I have one at my feet for her lifetime.
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Photos by Me.