If my column’s main course is to be pet care, I often try to serve a side dish of shelter stories. I know I tend to leap on my soapbox often but when you witness animal neglect and abuse as often as I do, the resulting frustration and anger often influence my writing. Yet, as I begin this column it is with an uncommon excitement to share a story that is compelled by utter joy!
This is the story of a dog named Elvy. From the start there was something special about Elvy but in this case, special meant different. You know, “riding the short bus” different?
First, there was the spontaneous jumping into midair. Like she was trying to catch invisible flies that would cause her to leap so erratically she’d flip over backwards or knock things over.
Next was a lack of eye contact that made you wonder if she could see clearly. Was this why she jumped at nothing? Her lack of responsiveness to being called and the way in which she slept through all the noise and chaos in the shelter then caused concern over her hearing. Elvy slept like the dead.
As if that wasn’t enough, walking Elvy was like walking an alligator. Lunging forward one second and rolling and flipping on the ground the next.
A vet exam confirmed all was fine with her sight and hearing but also confirmed our suspicions that her brain might not be firing on all cylinders. Yet, Elvy was gentle, tolerant and sweet otherwise. She responded well to other dogs and made fast friends with some shelter pals. Actually her social relationships with other dogs seemed normal and this gave us a little hope for her. Elvy improved on the leash with patience. Mine.. not her’s. And her strange jumping calmed and became a little more predictable too. She still maintained an aloofness, almost like doggie autism, if there is such a thing but generally we felt she was a happy and healthy girl.
When she was finally adopted by a woman who seemed to understand her special-ness, we were thrilled! But when she was returned a few weeks later, even I gave up hope for Elvy ever finding a home. Finding good homes for “perfect” dogs is hard enough. Finding a good home for a dog like Elvy is virtually impossible.
Thursday evenings we have a great group of volunteers who walk dogs. The Sheppards are part of that group. Mom Carla, and her two sons, Jordan and Zac, and Zac’s girlfriend Brittany have become steady members of this Thursday night brigade and it’s not at all strange for the boys to come alone. Rain or shine! I find this pretty neat since these are smart, good looking, athletic kids who choose dog walking when they could be doing a million “cool” things on Thursday nights.
At some point it became routine for Zac to spend much of the evening with Elvy. Often lying on the pavement with Elvy for long periods connecting with her in ways most people had not.
Weeks later when Zac’s mom, Carla asked if they might foster Elvy, I thought she must be having a moment of weakness or Zac had worn her down. But she made it very clear, they would just be fostering Elvy until that special home could be found. Weeks passed, we heard Elvy stories, watched videos of Elvy’s exploits leaping crazily around the backyard and even heard tell that dad, Greg had succumbed and taken to napping with Elvy. Elvy is great napper apparently. Out cold for hours. But Elvy was still just a foster.
So when I received the text message one Sunday morning from Carla, I wondered what Elvy had done this time. The message simply said “ Zac’s birthday gift” and the attached picture of Zac holding Elvy in one hand and her adoption papers in his other said it all.
I don’t know what amazes me more. That there are parents raising kids to have such a sense of compassion. That there are kids like Jordan, Zac and Brittany who give up every Thursday night to walk dogs in the simmering heat or the pouring rain. Or that there are 17 year olds that would put a dog like Elvy at the top of their birthday wish list. I guess it doesn’t matter. Whatever the case, it gives me hope for the world and particularly for a special dog named Elvy.