When Magic Happens…

I was walking into Golden Gateway after our last Meet and Greet Day when Adoption Manager Julie Reber motioned me over. “Do you want to see magic in the works?” she asked with a sly smile. I knew she was doing an adoption match for one of our prior adopters, a woman I’d helped to adopt her first DVGRR Golden in 2007.

Julie and I walked down to the grooming room (which often doubles as an adoption room) and I peeked inside. Kathy, the adopter, was sitting in a folding chair, reading a dog record. Sitting at her feet, leaning into Kathy’s side and gazing adoringly up into her face was Dixie, a pretty, blonde four-year-old who was clearly, unequivocally, in love. A sweet but somewhat independent Golden, Dixie had not shown this kind of attentiveness at Gateway before. She and Kathy had only met twenty minutes earlier but there was no doubt this was indeed a “magical” match!

During my years with DVGRR, I’ve witnessed numerous other magical matches. While still a volunteer on the Adoption team, I attended a 2004 Meet and Greet Day when we thought one of the adopters coming would be perfect for a very timid, fearful Golden up for adoption that day.  I knew Amy very well, as she had previously adopted one of my foster dogs, in the pre-Gateway days. She was a gentle, quiet person, ideal for a dog with a timid personality. When Amy arrived, we introduced her privately (and hopefully) to the dog we’d “selected” for her and she politely spent some time getting to know her. Saying she wanted to walk around a bit, she then went outside where the other dogs were “meeting and greeting.”

I’ll always remember the sight that greeted me when I too went outside. There was Amy, kneeling in front of a 6-year-old redhead named Star, holding Star’s outstretched paw in her hand. Dog and woman were transfixed with each other, seeing nothing else around them but each other’s eyes. Amy reluctantly pulled her gaze away when I came over and smiled a bit ruefully at me. “The other dog is nice enough,” she said. “But Star is meant for me.” Indeed she was! Their life together lasted for five years until Star sadly passed away from cancer in 2009. Magic happened that day, even though it was with a different dog than we expected!

I don't have a picture of Amy and Star, but this was a very similar moment shared at a Meet and Greet in 2009. This is five-year-old Sadi meeting her future mom, Denise, for the first time. She and Star actually looked a lot alike, and they were each adored by their human family members.

I don’t have a picture of Amy and Star, but this was a very similar moment shared at a Meet and Greet in 2009. This is five-year-old Sadi meeting her future mom, Denise, for the first time. Sadi and Star actually looked a lot alike, and they were each totally adored by their adoptive families.

I have wonderful memories of other magical matches I participated in during my Adoption Manager years.  Heidi with Baron, Emmett with Susan, Lily with Brandon and Janemarie, Sammie with Kristin and Merrill, Ken with Ziggy, and many others. It’s trite to say, but it’s like something just “clicks,” like the dog looks up and says, “There you are!! I’ve been waiting for you!” Call it magic or whatever you choose…it’s pretty special when it happens.

Now, this is not to say that every successful match has to start with such a magical moment – certainly that is not the case. I’ve always said that adoption matching is part art, part science, and sometimes the “science” part plays much more of the prominent role. By that I mean that all the right factors and qualities are there for dog and family to mesh together, and while there may be a few points of uncertainty, the positives vastly outweigh any potential negatives.  Thus, a match is made, the dog goes home, and the spark is still very much there…it just builds and grows with time rather than going off like a firecracker!

Honestly, with my own five adopted DVGRR dogs, I’ve yet to experience a “magical moment” pre-adoption, though each Golden has brought incredible joy, happiness, and love to my life. Bailey (96-109) and Hobo (99-083) were both foster dogs that ended up staying permanently as adoptees. When I adopted Tyler (01-047), I was so ambivalent about it that I almost tried to bring her back (not one of my prouder moments!!). Morgan (01-063) had been returned from his first adoptive home and was the “office dog” for a while at Gateway so by the time he came home with me in 2007 we were like an old married couple.  And Alli (10-239)….well, I’ve always said that our relationship for the first six months together was best described (by HER) as “I am the princess and you are my lowly servant.” Now, after two-and-a-half years, we are joined at the hip and fiercely bonded, but it sure didn’t start out that way!

"Give me the treat and no one gets hurt," reads the caption on this photo of Alli in my office. Don't mess with my Alli-girl! She pretty much saw me as there to do her bidding at first. Now she's completely connected and bonded to me. (She still orders me around when she feels like it!)

“Give me the treat and no one gets hurt,” reads the caption on this photo of Alli in my office. Don’t mess with my Alli-girl! She pretty much saw me as there to do her bidding when she first came home. Now she’s completely connected and bonded to me, but no “magic” took place until six months down the line!

One More Story…

I want to end this post by writing about Jack (09-091), whose adoption day story always makes me smile. And since Jack is the featured Golden for July on the 2013 DVGRR calendar, it’s fitting that I include his magic moment too.

Jack (named Holden at the time) had been highlighted in our Golden Opportunities newsletter because he’d been with us so long – he was an exceptionally anxious young Golden who’d endured many changes in his life and not always handled them well. A couple saw his picture and story in the newsletter and the wife (Ellen) called to get more information.  She had the most soothing, calm, gentle voice and I immediately thought she’d be a good influence on the very nervous Holden. Ellen worked with Alzheimer’s patients and was very used to bringing people down from agitated states, so that gives you an idea of her personality!

From the front page of the Fall 2009 newsletter. Those are my hands cradling Holden/Jack's head (in a rare moment of calm for him at that time).

From the front page of the Fall 2009 newsletter. Those are my hands cradling Holden/Jack’s head (in a rare moment of calm for him at that time).

The couple wanted to meet him at the next Meet and Greet but Ellen wasn’t available that day so her husband Hank came without her. We had agreed that if introductions went well with Hank, Ellen would come on her own the following week to meet Holden and if that too went well, she would take him home.

Well, Holden did fine with Hank although his anxiety was clearly present to a high degree. But, Hank saw that and wasn’t turned off by it, which was certainly a positive sign. So Ellen came out a few days later to meet Holden separately, as planned. That match also went well and he seemed to take to her, although of course he was still showing a lot of anxiety and very “needy” behavior. Nonetheless, Ellen spent a lot of time with Holden and she too was undeterred, feeling that she and Hank could work with him and give him a chance at a good life.

We did the adoption paperwork and got ready to send Holden off. Now, you have to understand he was one of my favorites and I felt very protective towards him because of all he’d been through and how much understanding and patience he needed. I waited with him at Ellen’s car while she made a last minute trip to the restroom inside Gateway before getting on the road. He was standing outside the car on leash and showing super high stress and anxiety. I began seriously second-guessing my decision to approve the adoption and was sure I was making a mistake….I felt I was letting him down and didn’t know what to do.

Then Ellen came walking back across the parking lot. Holden saw her and the transformation in his whole body and demeanor was, yep, “magical.” He visibly relaxed and was clearly so relieved and happy to see her. It was if he were saying, “Oh, thank goodness, you ARE still here!” He looked at me as if to say, “You found this wonderful lady to take care of me and then I thought she went away as quickly as she came….I was so worried!”

If you have a DVGRR calendar, you've been looking at Jack's handsome face all this month. It took a long time for him to find his forever family, but when he did, it was magic!

If you have a DVGRR calendar, you’ve been looking at Jack’s handsome face all this month. It took a long time for him to find his forever family, but when he did, it was magic!

Needless to say, all my doubts and second-guessing went out the window and instead I was never so sure of a match being right as I was at that moment! Jack was very challenging for Ellen and Hank at first but they persevered and they were exactly what he needed. He has settled in wonderfully to their home and now, as Ellen described for the calendar write-up, “He’s a cuddle-bug, a comedian, and our constant, loyal companion.”

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Down Memory Lane

I have been blessed to share my adult life with seven wonderful dogs – one mixed breed and six Golden Retrievers.  Fourth in line was a most memorable boy named Hobo, who arrived at my doorstep in November 1999, the last of 20+ dogs I fostered for DVGRR pre-Gateway.

I already had two dogs in permanent residence and three was more than I normally handled. No other foster homes were available, however,  so I agreed to take in this senior gent found wandering somewhere in a nearby county.

Health-wise, twelve-year-old Hobo was a disaster.  His vision was nearly gone, he had at least two malignant mast cell tumors that had been deemed inoperable, and he suffered from severe heart disease.  I always suspected he’d had some head trauma long ago too, as – well, let’s just say he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier (or however that saying goes….)!  Still, he was sweet and gentle, though with a surprisingly strong stubborn streak that manifested itself generally when his jaws of steel clamped down on some inappropriate object.

Hobo loved riding in the car.

Hobo loved riding in the car.

Hobo’s vision deficits made him very anxious in new surroundings, and he’d often resort to what I called “perimeter pacing” – plodding continuously around the inside walls of an unfamilar room, perhaps to gain a sense of its size and layout.  At home he could be restless too, though he never needed guidance maneuvering around my furniture and even mastered the stairs – both up and down.

His favorite place in the world was lying next to my chair as I worked on the computer at night. We’d go into the guest room/office and his whole demeanor would instantly change to one of relaxation and calmness. “Let’s go up to the ‘tranquil room,’” I’d tell him, and he’d gratefully follow me to the computer and chair, plopping down with a thud and contented sigh.

You needed a sense of humor to live with Hobo, who had a real knack for embarrassing me.  Among his many exploits:

  • Striding along at the end of his Flexi-leash on a walk and suddenly colliding with a parked car, setting off the car’s strident, insistent alarm. (We hightailed it out of there, feigning innocence at the commotion.)
  • Accompanying me to my sister’s house at Thanksgiving that year and letting loose right in the center of her kitchen with a seemingly endless stream of urine, splashing all over the floor.
  • Eating everything in sight (despite, or maybe because of, his near blindness), including assorted pieces of my underwear. (Of course, I could have kept that little tidbit to myself, but it made for a good story…..)
Hobo in the tranquil room

Often uncomfortable in new surroundings, Hobo was most at home and most relaxed lying by my chair in the “tranquil room.”

So why the sudden nostalgia for my Hoboguy, you might ask? Well, when I learned that TV personality Carol Erickson had been confirmed to attend this year’s Golden Gala (DVGRR’s premier fundraising event on June 10), I immediately flashed back to a Sunday morning in May 2000 when Carol and the infamous Hobo got to know each other.

By that time, Hobo had been with me in foster care for over six months. Ginny Duffy, who was the Adoption Coordinator at that time, had received an invitation to be interviewed by Carol during the Sunday am weather show and to bring one of the adoptable Goldens along with her. She asked to bring Hobo and I agreed, though with a fair amount of trepidation…

First, since the show would be broadcast live from Philadelphia and they needed to arrive very early, Hobo would have to spend the night before at Ginny’s home, which was much closer to the city than mine. I could visualize all the “perimeter pacing” he was going to do there, not to mention possibly christening the kitchen as he had done at my sister’s house!

Second, and most worrisome, I had no idea how my goofy boy would conduct himself on live TV. Given his track record of mortifying me at the most inopportune times, I could only envision what havoc he might unintentionally wreak as he “represented” DVGRR.

Back to 2012…as I recalled this long ago weekend, and my sitting in front of the TV that Sunday morning with heart in mouth, I wondered if I still had the video I’d taped of the show. An exploration of my basement turned up the “VHS morgue” that you probably have as well, with old unused videotapes piled askew on a shelf. Lo and behold, there it was…an unmarked tape with a pink sticky note still attached, reading simply “Hobo”.

Found it!

Found it!

I  popped it into the VCR (yes, I still have one, also in the basement), and smiled as I remembered how proud I’d been of my silly, sweet Hobo. Watch and see for yourself by clicking here:    Hobo with Carol Erickson on KYW

[Note: I apologize for the poor video quality…this is a camcorder recording of the VHS tape playing on my TV. Low tech, but not too bad!]

Of course, I believe Ginny was surreptitiously feeding tons of treats to Hobo to keep him from getting too restless, but no matter…my boy rose to the occasion and I couldn’t have been happier.

A few days later, I signed the adoption papers for Hobo and he officially became Hobo Baker. As you may have guessed, the “adopter” mentioned in the video was me. When Ginny asked to use Hobo for the interview, I got a pang in my heart imagining that someone would see him and want him. I realized what I had known all along but hadn’t acknowledged yet to myself — Hobo wasn’t going anywhere…he was already home and I could never part with him. I let him go on the air only on the condition that Ginny make it known he was spoken for!

Hobo lived for another fifteen months, until July 2001. He taught me about courage and patience and not to take life too seriously. Oh, and make sure you always have a “tranquil room” in your home to escape to.

Hobo’s brick in DVGRR’s Rainbow Bridge Memorial Garden, a gift from his TV comrade and my good friend, Ginny Duffy.

It’s clear from Hobo’s one and only TV debut that Carol Erickson sure is one big-hearted, thoroughly engaging dog lover. She was in 2000 and she still is in 2012! I’m so looking forward to seeing her at the Gala and asking her if she remembers my Hobo disrupting her weather report all those years ago. Please come too and meet her in person!

The Gala will be on June 10 at the lovely Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, PA. It’s great fun for all and helps bring needed funds to DVGRR for all those Goldens who followed in Hobo’s paw prints. Hope to see you there!

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P.S. Many thanks to all who gave me such a warm welcome on starting this blog after my first post — your comments and support are very much appreciated!