This week, a few fosters we know that had gone to forever homes found out that it was not forever just yet and came back to their foster families. It got me thinking about my first moments with Melvin.
When I adopted Melvin, I vowed to champion his health issues. I pumped myself up and knew that we would overcome. I, for lack of a better way of putting it, would fix him. The first hour he was in my home and we were alone, I thought ‘crap, what have I done’. There was zero doubt that Max was going to leave me soon and extreme guilt set in that I had brought his (as it seemed) replacement home as if to say ‘we’re good, you can go now’. I looked in the mirror and saw a terrible person. I was certain Max would die that very first night, of sadness.
Also, all his health issues aside, Melvin was the canine version of Sid Vicious. I’m not joking, he was beyond energetic, for all I knew he could have been on crack. I thought he was deaf since he refused to listen to me, he didn’t know a single command. He chewed everything in sight, he rammed the glass doors trying to charge squirrels. He refused to sleep and if put in the crate would bark and howl and if let to be out of the crate at night, would leap on and off the bed, non stop. He apparently did none of these things in foster care. Walking him gave me panic attacks, when it was time to take him out, I would hide in the bathroom and cry. I said the words ‘I can’t do this’, 1,000 times. While I may never have gotten to the point of saying ‘he has to go’, I came very close. I was overwhelmed, I was in over my head, I was only human. Knowing that I had to lose Max, I didn’t feel very empowered to tame a wild beast.
There were many failures, many, so many, countless. Max died and weeks went by where I can’t say Melvin and I made very much progress. But in the same sense we were not making huge advancements, I had to admit, we’d at least persevered. He may not have sat when told or been easy to leash or walk but he’d learned to count on me. He knew I’d come home, he knew I’d feed him. I was there when he (finally) fell asleep and I was there when he woke up. That was more than he’d likely ever had. And I had gotten to know him too. Part of the reason he didn’t sit still was because he was so itchy. Walking on leash, well 1. he’d never been on a leash before and it was likely scary for him and 2. I was at the other end of that leash, giving off a nervous energy. It’s no wonder he lashed out every time. Also, I was in grief stage-one, the ugly, snotty, inconsolable phase. Melvin didn’t get the best of me at first. Max was gone, but Melvin was there. And slowly, as it was supposed to be, that became ok.
I was not the same person back then. In fact, Melvin is the dog that made me understand what commitment looks like. Max was easy. Melvin, he and I have ‘grown-up’ together.
I could have called the rescue and said take him back. I didn’t do it, but I could have. Some dogs and owners, from the very first moment, it’s magic (or it’s at least pretty ok) and that’s great! Thank God for those matches. Some first moments are heavy and scary –for dog and human and it takes a while to realize it’s good, right, meant to be. Some people need to hand off and take a deep breath and take a step back. Some of them find composure and come back. Some don’t. The ones that don’t, well I have to believe that is for the better. If they can’t be there in the beginning, they are likely not going to be there at the end.
We can’t control it all but we can applaud foster families and rescue groups and shelters whose doors are always open. Thank you to all of you who provide that interim forever. Thank you from the dog mom of a one-time-wildebeest-rescue-turned-soulful-bundle-of-love-and-joy.
And to those just embarking on the wonderful ride of dog ownership — we send you off with the words ‘forever home’ and it is forever and that is how you should approach it. But you should also realize that we have all been there and every forever begins with the first minute and then the second minute. Next thing you know you’ve gotten through a day. Then tonight will be better than the last few nights. Next thing you know, a few weeks have gone by, then a few holidays. Forever was not built in a day. But forever is awesome, so we are all hoping you get you there.