A couple months ago, I saw an advertisement for the Oregon Humane Society's Portland's Next Top Dog Model Contest. I had just gotten some amazing pictures of Asha from our friend Victoria and so I thought it would be fun to enter Asha into the contest. The application was very short, just a couple questions about what Asha thinks a dog's life should be about, her personal style and why she should be the next top dog.
When we adopted Asha we decided that we would give her as many experiences as possible. I always thought that the more she experienced, the more she would have to think about when she was alone. And since she can't see or hear, she has lots of time alone with her thoughts!! We also wanted to take every opportunity to show people that just because she is blind and deaf does not mean she cannot have a fabulous life.
Last week, out of hundreds of applications, Asha was chosen as one of the 12 finalist in the big dog category. This meant that we got to attend the Grand Finale last night at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Portland. I really didn't know what was involved in that. When I entered Asha, I guess I didn't pay much attention to how the finals would go.
Turns out, Asha was going to have to walk the runway (two times!) in front of the judges and a packed ball room full of people. The first walk of the runway was just a normal walk, the second was to show personality and the dogs were instructed to do tricks or dress up. Uh.....Asha knows sit and lay down. Those are her tricks. I started to get kind of nervous. Actually I was VERY nervous, all those people looking at us, judging us. Oh no.....
On Tuesday, our trainer Jamie, came to the house and we talked about different tricks we could do. We decided we would teach Asha to bow, its similiar to lay down, only she just puts her front paws on the floor. We worked on that Tuesday morning and Asha was having a hard time distinguishing between bow and lay down. We had two days to work on it, so we practiced it several times a day. Asha learned quickly and by Thursday was getting the bow 9 out of 10 times. I wasn't sure how she would do it in public, so we practiced it at Petsmart and she seemed to have it down.
Asha got a new pink harness and a nice grey collar and leash to match. Wednesday I gave her a bath, then she got dirty and so she got another bath on Thursday. We invited all our friends and family to come cheer her on. We also invited all of Asha's medical team and her foster dad. We had about 15-20 people planning to come watch Asha compete in the finals.
I really didn't know how Asha was going to do with all this. We would be in a hotel, with hundreds of people, lots of dogs, lights, cameras and very different energy than she has ever experienced. I was nervous because I wanted her to do well and I also wanted her to be comfortable and have fun.
We drove downtown last night and found a parking spot right in front of the hotel. Luckily, we only had to walk a block because Asha was in smell overload and it took forever to get to the hotel! Once there, we were given our finalist badges and told to head to the 2nd floor where the ballroom was. There were also two hotel rooms set aside for the big dogs.
Asha took her first elevator ride and was completely unfazed by it. We got off the elevator and that's when the mayhem began. There were so many people, so many dogs! We made our way down the hall to the room and said hello to a couple of the other big dog finalists. We met Alex, a pit bull/heeler mix, Grace, a 7 month old great dane and Diego, a shepherd mix. The funny thing is that NONE of us really knew what the heck we were supposed to be doing and I could tell everyone was a bit nervous about the walk down the runway.
I took Asha back towards the ballroom so we could get the lay of the land and say hi to everyone. There were many staff members and volunteers from the Humane Society and LexiDog (the Pet Boutique that put on the event) and many of them stopped us to say how much they loved our story. Asha was happy to meet everyone, just like always. She loves people!
We were standing in the ballroom and a woman in veterinary scrubs with an Oregon Humane Society patch on them walked over and said to me "Is this Pinky?". Pinky was Asha's name when we adopted her. I said "Yes". The woman immediately started to cry. She told me that she worked in the vet at the Humane Society and had treated Asha when she first arrived. She remembers Asha being about 10 pounds. She was 8 weeks old then and had lots of ear issues. The woman's name was Shannon, she didn't say much because she was crying the entire time we were there with her, but it was obvious that she had some connection with Asha and was overwhelmed to see her again. It made me cry too and it was one of the best moments of my life. I was so proud of the life Asha is living. I can imagine that when a blind and deaf puppy showed up at the Humane Society, after all her brother's and sister's were drowned for being blind and deaf, they were wondering how she would ever survive. But she has and I was so glad that those who are responsible for her being alive were able to see how her story has been written.
There were posters all over the wall with the pictures of each dog and their entry form. Word seemed to spread about Asha and everyone wanted to meet her. Asha didn't notice the increased attention, she was busy walking to the end of every hallway. The 2nd floor was a big square and she just kept walking. I finally realized that she was mapping the place. She would walk to the end of the hall and touch the wall with her nose, then turn around and head back to the other end of the hallway, often being stopped to meet someone new and to allow me to tell her story.
Then the people we know started showing up. Trevor's parents were there, so were his brother Ty and his family, our friends Trish and Bill, Carla, Victoria and Carla's Sister. Asha's foster dad was there, so was Dr Hope Valentine and her partner (our Chinese Medicine people) and Dr Pachel, Asha's behaviorist. Asha went NUTS when she realized each of these people were there. At one point, she was saying hi to Trevor's dad and Carla and Victoria came over. I thought Asha's head was going to explode. She rolled onto her back and started to cry, then got up and jumped up to hug each one of them. She loves her people.
We met some new friends at a meet up last week for a group called Deaf Dogs of Oregon. We invited those friends and one couple brought their deaf dog Emily.
I felt really loved and supported, realizing that we are not alone and that Asha is adored by so many people. I also really felt nervous about what was yet to come. Not only did we have to walk the runway, but now there were people we knew watching us!!! I didn't want to let them down.
All the finalists were told to go line up in the hallway behind the ballroom. 24 dogs, 12 small and 12 big, all got into a line with their owners. It was the craziest thing. There was no barking, no pooping (yet), not fighting. There was just peace and quite. It was about 1000 degrees back there and all of the pet moms and dad were nervous.
We couldn't see or hear what was going on in the ballroom, so each time someone came back from their turn in front of the judges we all wanted to know how it went, what happened? what do we do? We were all joking that next year we'll just make a donation and stay home. I was exhausted and overwhelmed from all the energy, but Asha was as calm as ever. She took every opportunity to lean against a new friend, another dog mom or dad, then she would come lay by me. Sometimes she'd get up and just wander around.
Finally, it was our turn. We stood at the door waiting to be called, I could see all our friends and family out there. Trevor did a great job of being a host to those who had come to support us. I saw him standing in the back with Davis, Asha's foster dad (I love that guy). The MC, Andy Carson from Fox News, wasn't sure how to pronounce Asha's name. He said "is it A shu?" and the crowed yelled out "AAAAAAAAshaaaaa". It was so cool!!!
The crowd cheered and we walked into the room. Asha went up the two steps to the runway without a problem. While we were walking, they read our entry that talked about Asha being blind, deaf and epileptic. The crowd ooohed and aahhed. Asha walked across the stage, out towards the audience and sat on command. Such a good girl. After Andy was done reading our entry, one of the judges started to comment that Asha's mom needed a round of applause for taking on such a special needs animal. I liked that she did that, I wanted to cry when she said that I had done an amazing job with her, because I was watching my crazy girl walk the runway like a pro.
She went down the two steps off the stage and Dr Hope Valentine was waiting there to greet us. Asha smelled her and went crazy - Dr Valentine is one of Asha's favorite people and she was so happy to have here there.
Now we had a break. For about half an hour. I wanted a nap, Asha wanted to walk. Now that the crowd knew some of Asha's story, we were overwhelmed with people who wanted to talk to us and pet her. And Asha was happy to oblige. I love when we get the chance to tell Asha's story.
There was one guy who we ran into a couple times that kept commenting that Asha was totally going to get the sympathy vote. He meant it as a compliment and every time he said it, I told him that she didn't want the sympathy vote. Don't be sad for her, or feel bad for her. That is one thing that I do not want, sympathy.
As we walked the halls, just about everyone we ran into commented that Asha was going to win, that Asha should win. I am was SO overwhelmed. Asha again got to see her favorite people. I was worried she was getting tired, but as soon as she would sense one of them around, her energy was overflowing!
During the intermission, the audience was encouraged to cast their vote for the Fan Favorite. Asha and I continued our wanderings and then it was time to line up for the personality walk. They changed the order of our appearance and we were now last. Asha and I stopped and got some water, then made our way to the end of the life. I sat on the floor, Asha layed down and we waited.
Some of the other dogs had costumes, some were practicing tricks. Me and Asha, we were just waiting. I was really hoping she would do her trick. It wasn't much, but it was all we had. Trevor came back after a bit to tell me that there were dog treats all over the stage and the other dogs were getting distracted so be aware.
It was almost our time to go out on stage - there were two dogs before us. We were standing in the hall when I turned around and saw Grace, the Great Dane, pooping. Now, there were 24 dogs there for over two hours at this point and only one had pooped....that's a major success I think. However, now it was just me and Asha in the hallway and it smelled SO bad. Asha and I got into the doorway to the ballroom, I crouched down next to her and said "this is your chance to shine Asha. Its almost our time, I'll ask you to bow and you just do it the way we practiced".
They called her name and out we went, up onto the stage. Andy read some more things from our application. I was sweating so badly that I couldn't really pay attention. I got Asha in front of the judges and said "she is going to bow". The crowd was silent, I touched her on the chest, then her nose - the sign for bow - and after two tries, she did it. The crowd literally went wild! It was so awesome!!! The judges asked me how long Asha had lived with us and then who was there to cheer for us, I was able to recognize our friends, her foster dad and her doctors.
Then we made our way off stage, Dr Valentine was again waiting to greet us, Asha went nuts and it was time for another intermission. I am not cut out to be a stage mom or a pageant queen. This was hard work and I was tired.
The judges deliberated pretty quickly while Asha and I hung out in the ballroom. Asha layed on the floor and would get up to greet her fans. Soon it was time to go line up for the announcement of the winners. On the way back there, Asha decided it was a good time to pee. So now the carpet on the 2nd floor had been pooped AND peed on. The night was complete.
All the finalists lined the hallway again. I was down at the very end with a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog named Seamus and our pal Diego. We all sat on the floor and talked about lots of dog stuff. We could hear some commotion in the ballroom, but we were just chatting away. I heard Asha's name called and so we got up to see what that was all about. Asha had won the Fan Favorite! That means the audience voted her as the winner! As I approached the stage, I could hear one of the judges saying that when Asha bowed, that was it for her.
It was bitter sweet for me. I wanted her to win the whole thing, but I was so honored that this room full of people, mostly strangers, chose our Asha as their favorite. This little dog who survived, when all her brothers and sisters did not, who was taken in by a shelter staff who had no idea what to do with her, who was kept safe by an amazing foster dad, who was adopted and then returned only to be adopted again by us, who has struggled for the last year to get on steady ground emotionally and behaviorally. This little dog who kept us awake so many nights, who took every ounce of peace from our lives, who challenged my ability to have hope for the future and who made me question every thing I ever thought I understood about myself. This little dog, sat up on that stage while 200 people cheered for her. I have to believe that even though she couldn't see it or hear it, she could feel the love in that room for her. I know I did and it touched me like nothing else ever has.
7 months ago, I sat on the floor in our front room while Asha ran and barked out of control. I was at my wits end, pathetic and scared. I sobbed, I was broken, hopeless and alone. I said out loud to Asha what I had been feeling for weeks "I regret ever adopting you". There was no doubt that I loved her. We would never give her up and I had no idea how we would survive with her. It was shortly after that, we started to get help from our vast array of medical professionals - traditional and not. I look back at that desperate situation and find it hard to believe we have come so far. The idea that we could be where we are now, was impossible to imagine back then. She is a different dog, much more calm, relaxed and settled. She's found her footing. I look at Asha now and I know that she is my soul, living outside my body and we are so very lucky that she is ours.
We found Trevor and watched as the other amazing dogs were awarded their Top Dog honors. Moby, a crazy poodle won the big dogs and Dexter, who was adopted at this event last year, won the small dogs. The crowd cleared out and Asha made her way over to Dr Pachel, Dr Valentine and Josephine. We laughed about how far we have come and my difficulty with gauging how much medicine Asha has left (I am constantly emailing the Dr's with subject lines that say "URGENT need medicine refill" - because I don't plan very well). We thanked them for coming, hugged them and Dr Pachel said "I had to come support our team". That really says it all. Asha has a team. That team is with us every step of the way and we are so fortunate to live in a place where we have access to such a team. And they sure do love our girl.
We thanked the judges, grabbed our prize packs and hit the road.
It was a great day for our team and I am so very proud of us all.
Click HERE for link to the office results on the Oregon Humane Society's page.