My idea of a good time is to be around dogs. Whether it’s walking dogs at the shelter or spending time with my own dogs, being with dogs makes me a happy camper. I especially like spending time with old dogs that were once homeless and are now happy and healthy because they’ve been either adopted or are being permanently fostered by Old Dog Haven’s amazing network of foster parents. So, with those thoughts in mind let me tell you about my most recent really good time.
On September 17 Old Dog Haven hosted a volunteer appreciation picnic for fosters and other valued volunteers (transporters, thank-you note writers, booth-staffers at events, and many people who are “I’ll do whatever you need me to do” volunteers). About 140 people were there with their dogs—a long trip for those who live in Portland, Vancouver, Olympia, Bellingham and Spokane—but neither distance nor weather kept our people from being there.
Our people. That sense of identity was so apparent as I walked around meeting dogs and visiting with people. As one foster mom put it, “It’s so nice to be among ‘my people.’ Great food, conversation, goodies for the pups. A truly blissful day.”
That sense of belonging was evident as I interacted with the dogs too; they knew they were with their extended family. Even dogs that were blind, deaf or both were comfortable in the large group of people and other dogs. This was especially true in the case of my friend Rufus—a dog I first met when he was at the WAIF shelter in Coupeville where I walk dogs. Rufus, described by his foster mom as “the love of my doggy life,” was perfectly comfortable milling around the crowd even though he’s deaf and blind. I loved seeing him so happy and secure. I also saw Thor, the dog that was the subject of my first blog back in February. You’ll be happy to know that now Thor is finally pain free for the first time in years and he’s one happy dog in spite of being deaf. He’s become quite the ODH ambassador and is often seen at events attended by ODH.
In addition to the love being shared by both people and dogs there was a swap tent where everyone found all kinds of goodies for their dogs. People brought what they couldn’t use and shared with others. I also saw many items that could only have been donated by pet stores; thank you to them for their generosity. I think the dogs enjoyed rooting through the toys best of all and I saw several dogs walk away with toys they thought would be perfect for them. It was kind of like a visit to a pet store only everything was free.
That’s another thing I felt at the picnic. The dogs felt free to be who they are. No more shelter stress. No more pain from whatever was troubling them. No more wondering if someone would ever love them and provide a home for them. There were other dogs there that I’d first met at the shelter and I could see—months later—that they now know who they are and are loving that sense of identity and belonging.
And the stories I heard: To listen to the pride in the voice of a foster parent as he talked about how proud he was of his dog. To hear someone say, “You should have seen her when she first came to me. She hardly had any hair, her teeth were awful and she just hid under the bed.” (This comment about a dog that was giving new meaning to the term “social butterfly” at the picnic.) To talk with a transport volunteer who’d just seen the dog she’d transported from the shelter to her foster home several months ago. She could hardly believe it was the same dog. It’s all about transformation.
You know what else was really wonderful? As I watched dogs checking each other out I could sense that they all felt like kindred spirits. They knew that they’d all come from similar situations and their recognition of a shared past and a hopeful future created a bond that was tangible. At one point I saw two dogs sitting and staring at each other. Their respective people just stood and watched because somehow they knew that this was a “moment.” The dogs didn’t know each other (at least not in this life) but they studied each other and then, as if on cue, both moved forward and touched noses.
Visually the event was touching in so many ways. To watch people interact with their dogs—love plastered all over their faces (both dogs and people), to see a dog sharing lunch with his person, to see dogs meeting and greeting each other, tails wagging, and then when the entire group posed for a group photo I stood in front of the group before I joined them and felt such a sense of pride and love for these people who are willing to give so many dogs a second chance at happiness. Paws up to all of you!