This is Princess Piper Lou of the Chowlamutes. Piper came to us on Christmas day as a rescue. She is by all accounts a gift for my heart. As I had spent days and then weeks laying helplessly with my dying Tango, I promised him that when he was gone I would save a life because I couldn’t save his. I may or may not have shared this information with my husband (definitely did not). It unintentionally became a secret between just me and Tango.
So there I was, 13 weeks after letting Tango go. My heart still broken. My soul still raw. Spiraling down deeper into a depression I wasn’t sure I’d come out of any time soon. And then I remembered that promise. I quietly visited rescue and shelter sites in the darkness of our bedroom, never saying a word. No, I don’t know why I kept it to myself. No, he would not have stopped me. Let’s just agree I sometimes have a way of keeping the mystery alive in our marriage. So I began texting with a rescue group about an urgent dog, a senior, that had already been abandoned twice.
Who’s texting you?
Oh just…this person…I know…that is texting me….becausssssssse…..I know them. (Good cover story!)
I filled out paperwork, gave several references, signed pages long contracts. We were officially approved to adopt her just days before Christmas. She was ours. Except my husband still did not know this. Whew boy! What to do. What to do. Rip it off like a bandaid!
We’re getting a new dog.
We’re getting a new dog.
Sweetheart, I don’t think you’re ready yet. Let’s wait a little bit. I know you’re hurting.
Okay, let me rephrase that. We have a new dog.
A rescue. She’s a senior. She was in a shelter and then rescued, and then returned. And now she’s ours.
When did you do this?
Okay. Okay……okayyyyy. When are we getting her?
Yeah. She’ll be here tomorrow.
*head nod* Okay.
Do not try this at home. First, you must know this man knew exactly what he was in for before he agreed to marry me and all the antics that would ensue. He knew there would be rescues and fosters and possibly a llama somewhere down the line, maybe a cow or 3…and he agreed to it all. And I knew he would never say no. I could show up tomorrow with a peacock and he’d say, “Alright. Put it in the backyard. What do peacocks eat?” because he’s awesome that way.
THINGS WE KNOW AND THINGS WE WILL NEVER KNOW
Piper was surrendered to a shelter for an unknown reason. We are unsure of her length of stay. We do not know her actual age, only that she is anywhere between 9-12 based on her teeth and arthritic hips. The shelter had determined she was a Labrador/shepherd mix, but that would prove fully incorrect. We don’t know if she had only one previous owner before the shelter. We don’t know what her life was like as a puppy. Was she cared for? Was she a stray? How long did the person who surrendered her have her as their own? We do know she is a mix of many mixes; many breeds have gone into Piper’s DNA. We do know that shelter life took its toll on her and she continues to fear abandonment. A rescue pulled her from that shelter and a man needing a companion adopted her soon afterwards. She stayed with this person for nearly 11 months before he decided he did not need her anymore – those were his exact words as written to the rescue in an email. He did not need her anymore. What does that even mean? According to his lengthy email explaining various ridiculous reasons why he could not keep her, he patted himself on the back for building “a dog area in the back just for her using cattle paneling“ and he “had several compliments about how nice it is“. He also mentioned he would “just put her on the back deck and let her do her thing“. There was a short tragic love story – with more information than any stranger needed to know – that ended in divorce which is why Piper was needed. But now he was all better and she was becoming costly. He had to make two (TWO!) visits to the vet because she was covered in fleas from being left outside and he admitted “My not giving her a flea collar probably is what got those fleas on her.“ You think?! Shocking, I tell you! But what was worse, now he had to bug-bomb his closet where she slept at night and this was a huge imposition, and yet another cost. I read his email over and over. I found literal meaning in the phrase “beside myself” because I actually felt like I was standing beside myself yelling at myself ARE YOU READING THIS SHIT! I poured through his words searching for a glimpse into who Piper was and what the previous year of her life was like. And when I was done obsessing over his ignorant and heartless excuses I realized the most important thing of all: He did not deserve this beautiful creature.
Piper was expectedly skittish and unsure at first. Our resident knuckleheads tried their best to make fast friends with her, but she was going to take her time.
After the overwhelmingly excited welcome wagon of Cash and Whiskey settled down, Piper retreated to our master closet. She was quiet and timid and did not reciprocate our crews’ natural curiosity. She seemed almost void of emotion. Her face told no tales. She seemed neither excited nor sad. Just simply present. I let her be, let her stay in the safe space she had found. Morning came and Piper had only ventured out a couple of times since the previous day. As my husband prepared the dog bowls I took Piper’s breakfast to her, sat down with her in the closet, and watched over her as she slowly trusted it was actual food I had presented her. I hadn’t spent much time with her yet. We had let the dogs run around in the yard with her the day before. We sat outside with them while she stood still, stiff-bodied and uncertain of us. And then I let her hide away from all the scariness of new things. So it wasn’t until I sat watching her eat that I first noticed her entire tongue was purple. The anxiety-filled-always-in-panic-mode voice that lives in my head screamed OMG SHE’S CYANOTIC!!! And then just as quickly the not-everything-is-an-emergency-rational voice punched the panic away: She’s a Chow, doofus! This was no shepherd or lab mix. And now I looked her over even more keenly putting a bigger piece of her life’s puzzle together. Definitely Chow Chow.
WHY BREED MATTERS
From my personal experience with the rescuers I’ve come in contact with over the years (and I want to clarify this is just personal experience and I’m not making a blanket statement), they’ve all said at one time or another that breed doesn’t matter. And I completely get where they’re coming from. In the grand scheme of things all dogs are deserving of a loving home regardless of size or breed. I know rescuers watch daily as certain breeds continuously get overlooked. People come into their facility looking for a specific breed they want, walking past all the loving souls that desperately need a home. On top of that, there is an unfair stigma on some breeds and rescue groups just want you to know that it doesn’t matter. They want you to pick the dog that has the personality that will fit you and your home, the one that will love you unconditionally like you’ve never been loved. I get it. I get why they say breed doesn’t matter. But breed does matter, just for different reasons than rescuers think I mean. If you know what breed your dog is you have a piece of their history. You will have an understanding of hundreds of years of fine tuning for behaviors, nutritional needs, temperament, as well as predisposed health issues. Your dog’s behavior and needs are in part driven by its genetics. Working breeds need a job or they will become destructive. Sporting breeds need exercise or they will become destructive. And if they don’t become destructive, they become lethargic. If you have a sporting breed that lays around all day sleeping, it’s most likely bored not content. And I’m making generalizations. I’m not dismissing that every dog is an individual that has its own personality. But an energetic Labrador needs to run and chase, or at minimum a light jog for exercise, while a Basset is obviously not a high-powered athlete and only needs a daily easy paced walk to stay in shape. These things matter if you cannot provide the lifestyle needed for your individual dog. But if you can keep your border collie busy with purpose, or know that your German shepherd will not be content as a couch potato, or that your husky will require loads of attention and mental stimulation, then no, their breed won’t matter.
All that said, and in my usual overkill-need-to-know-everything fashion, we bought a Wisdom Panel DNA kit to find out more about Piper’s history. I’m not one to put 100% stock into any product but this was as close as we would get to finding out what makes her tick. According to her results she is mostly Chow Chow (nailed it!), with smaller percentages of Alaskan Malamute, Boxer, and American Staffordshire. Her main breed groups are Asian, Herding, and Sporting. A quick Chow Chow temperament list: quiet, reserved, well-behaved, resistant to training, stubborn. This is my Piper Lou in a nutshell. Knowing this made her make sense to me. I understand her better now. The structure and training my labs very much need, their desire to please us, and my expectations of their abilities are not the same for Piper. She does not need or want much of the same things. And as a bonus she helps us with our barking mad labs as she herds them around and corrects their (mis)behaviors even before I can. This was just a another small glimpse into her life, what made her who she is, and who we were discovering. It would take over five months for her to feel fully at home with us.
SOME SPEED BUMPS
I’ve had foster dogs that made themselves at home as soon as they walked in. And I’ve had fosters that were broken inside for months after rescue. And of course everything in between. I knew we might have a rocky path to walk while Piper settled in. After the buzzing excitement died down from our crew, they were decidedly not impressed with our new family member. She did not play with them. Their quick movements and rambunctious behavior unnerved her. There were a few growls on all sides. Her nervousness about her new surroundings also made her physically ill and required a couple of hospitalizations to keep her hydrated. But I knew things would settle. I knew our boys would keep trying to invite her into their world. I knew she would eventually trust us, and them. In the meantime, and two months in, we left for a quick trip and dropped our trio off at the trusted luxury pet resort where we always take our babies. She must have thought she was being abandoned again because a few days in she stopped eating. They had been trying every trick in the book. Worst case scenario they would transfer her to our vet’s office. My heart broke. She thought we had left her. Fortunately we were home soon. When we knelt down to greet her she came rushing into our arms and I could feel her relief. As time has passed she now understands we are coming back for her. She knows the pet resort is a place for playtime fun and friends. She is sure of us and herself. She knows she is ours.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Before Piper was Piper, she was Penny. This is no offense to anyone that has named their dog, cat, child, chinchilla, or what not, “Penny”. It’s a perfectly lovely name. But I hated the man that gave her that name and then abandoned her. I spat at that name as if it were ugly and vile. You know when you hate someone so much that you hate every thing about them? There is nothing they can say or do that you don’t hate because you hate them that much. Example: Look at that asshole Carl in his stupid jeans. Do you really think jeans are stupid? No. But you hate Carl and that’s all that matters so those jeans are stupid! And so Penny could not be an adequate name for our princess. This is her new life. We are her forever family. She gets a do-over, name and all. It’s never a bad idea to rename an adopted/rescued pet. They may have a negative association with their old name. As it turns out Piper learned her new name within a couple of days. We’ll never know what feelings or thoughts she associated with Penny. We do know that when she hears Piper she knows she’s getting some yummy treats, a hearty meal, or hugs and head scratches.
PART OF THE PACK
It’s been nearly seven months since Piper became ours. Her blank stares have turned into bright smiles. Her wide range of expressions talk to me every day, telling me her story. We awake every morning to her spinning around in circles with unrestrained excitement to start the day. She loves sunbathing in the grass and going for car rides. She stays close by all of us, actively participating with our bunch, and only retreats to the closet for her afternoon naps. She greets everyone, even strangers, with gentle requests for head rubs, eager for their love. She is a daddy’s girl through and through, a princess, a little boss lady.