Shilo came to live with us in December of last year. He was living at a rescue in California that was losing its permits and needed to get rid of the 70 dogs they had. If not, those dogs would end up back in the high kill local shelter and that would mean certain death. Most of the dogs at this rescue were high risk, meaning they had been on euthanizia lists before they were taken by this particular rescue.
Our friend, Amanda, who runs the rescue Panda Paws, was helping out by taking some dogs from this place. Trevor and I decided we wanted to help too. Tamara, the Executive Director at the shelter where I worked said we could take 4 dogs. Trevor and I would foster two and the others would go to the shelter until we found them foster homes.
After many changes, we finally settled on Lucey and Shilo. They both had their issues and Amanda warned us that these could be long term fosters. We were prepared for that and anxious for their arrival.
Lucey and Shilo, along with the other two dogs we took in at the shelter, were part of a big rescue operation called Home for the Holidays. Every year, an organization called Wings of Rescue, helps transport hundreds of animals from high kill situations in places like California to the northwest. There were over 400 dogs coming up to Portland and other northwest cities.
HERE is my blog about that.
HERE is my blog about that.
On December 7th, we headed to the Hillsboro Airport and waited for their arrival. We had gotten an email from the people at the rescue where the dogs were coming from that said Shilo wasn’t very happy that morning and to be careful because he was angry when they put him in his kennel. We greeted our new arrivals, let them walk around a bit and enjoy the fanfare. Then we hit the road for home.
Lucey laid down in the back of the car and went to sleep. Shilo sat as far back as he could and never relaxed. When we got to the house, Lucey and Shilo both kept their distance. They laid together in the kitchen. Shilo took quite a while to ever lay down. I remember we made such a big deal out of it when he was actually not sitting up anymore.
Over the next few days we realized that Shilo didn’t understand being petted. He didn’t want to be touched. He would run away anytime we got close. But every time I turned around, there he was. Looking at me like he wanted to know what this touching was all about.
I sat at the table, doing work and he would come over towards me. I put my hand down and just sat there. Shilo wouldn’t look at me. He would put his head down and side step towards my hand. I would touch him for a moment and then stop. Shilo would then move closer to me, still not looking at me, still with his head down. This went on for a couple weeks, until he finally let us pet him. And then he realized that he liked it. He wanted to be touched. But he still didn’t understand it.
We told him to keep his head up, that he should be proud and never needed to come to us hanging his head. He needed confidence. We knew that his past must have been bad. He had been found in an abandonded house, tied up in the yard with no food or water. Who knows what had happened to him before that, but by his behavior, it must have been bad.
Lucey was adopted pretty quickly and I often wonder if Shilo was confused about that. She was with him at the rescue in California, where the dogs had free roam of many acres. We wonder if they were friends there. Then they made the trip from California together, they came to our house and went in their kennels side by side. Then, one day, we went to the shelter and some people came and took her away. Then it was just him.
Over time, Shilo became more affectionate. He would jump up on the couch and lay with us. He didn’t mind the other dogs, but he certainly wasn’t part of the pack. Again, he seemed confused by the way that they played.
HERE is another blog post about Shilo and his progress.
The biggest issue of all was his biting. Shilo did not like to be told what to do. And he expressed that with fear, a snarl and then a bite. It typically happened when he was on the couch and we wanted him to get down. He didn’t mind it as much when I did it, but he really minded when Trevor did it. I remember once he bit me, it was my fault, I knew it was coming and I didn’t stop what I was doing fast enough. He was sorry the second he did it. It made me so scared and sad for him. It made me worry about his future. How would he ever get adopted if he wouldn’t let people get near him. Who would ever take him?
Months went by. Other fosters came and went and Shilo remained. He only had one person even inquire about him. She came to the shelter and met him. She really liked him, but didn’t think she was prepared to deal with his issues and special needs. She asked what I thought and I told her that Shilo needed someone who would be an advocate for him, who would protect him and make sure he wasn’t put into any situation that could end up poorly for him. If she wasn’t confident she could do that, if she had any doubts about doing that, then he wasn’t the right fit for her. She agreed and said she was sorry.
Over time, Shilo got more comfortable with me. Trevor went away for work a lot during the month of February, after that, Shilo was really angry with him. He wouldn’t let Trevor put him in his kennel and he would snarl at Trevor way too often. During that time, he became more attached to me. He started to play with the other dogs a bit more. He would forget himself and chase after them through the yard. You would see him let go and then realize that he needed to hold back. Then he would run inside and jump up onto his spot on the couch where he felt safe.
A few weeks ago, we got a hospice foster named Ducky. Ducky is old – 15, blind in one eye, going blind in the other. He hobbles around and minds his own business. He doesn’t see things coming. Shilo was laying on a pillow in the office and Ducky walked too close to him. Shilo snapped and actually made Ducky bleed. This is the first time I have ever raised my voice at Shilo. I was angry and I made him go out of the office.
While I attended to Ducky, he was fine – mostly just startled, Shilo stood in the other room, looking at me. I told him that I was angry and that he couldn’t do that to Ducky. After about 15 minutes of being mad at him, I was in the laundry room. I looked out and there was Shilo, standing in the hallway. The look in his eyes broke my heart. It was a look that said “please don’t be mad at me….you are all I’ve got”. I stopped what I was doing, sat on the floor and called him. Shilo put his head down and slowly walked toward me. I cried. I cried for what he had been through and for his uncertain future. I cried because I didn’t know where his story would go from here. I cried because he was broken and he may never be able to be put back together. He needed patience and space and compassion. Often I feel like that is in short supply.
I told him to lift his head. I told him that I loved him and I always would and even though I was mad about what he did, that wasn’t changing. I sat on the floor with him for a long time, petting him, hugging him, kissing him. That night, he snuggled closer on the couch and I made sure to give him extra love over the next couple days. I needed him to know that it was going to be okay.
The following weekend, I got a text from Clint at the shelter. Someone had called about Shilo. I called the man back, not having much hope. I asked him some questions and told him all about Shilo. The thing about a dog like Shilo….you have to tell people the worst case scenario. There is no sugar coating it. If you make him sound great and then he bites them or their kids or their friends, he can end up dead. It literally is a life and death situation. So, I told them. I said that if they were still interested we could set up a time to meet, but that they wouldn’t be able to touch him. I laid it all on the line. The man said he would discuss it with his wife and call me back.
I hung up and looked at Trevor. I said “I know I made him sound awful, but I have to” and he said “I know”. 10 minutes later, the man called back and they still wanted to meet Shilo. What? I was shocked. I was headed out of town, Trevor was willing to facilitate the meeting on his own. We set it up for Saturday at the park. Shilo had been to the park twice to meet Joanna and have his picture taken. He was comfortable and happy there. He has met people there and nothing bad has happened. I figured that would be safe.
Saturday came and I was out of town. I was busy working, but thought all day about how that meeting would go. Trevor sent me a text and told me that the people wanted to adopt him. I was in complete disbelief. He said that the wife walked Shilo and that he ever wanted her to pet him. She sat down and Shilo came over to her, nosed at her hand and let her pet him. Then, he ran back over to Trevor as if to say “Look Dad, I was a good boy”. When I read that, I lost it….our little guy did good. Maybe his time really was here.
They wanted to take him with them on Saturday, but there was paperwork to be done and I would have to do it when I got back. They were excited about Shilo and talked about a dog they had previously who took two years to warm up to the husband. They talked about how Shilo would be an only dog and never have to be kenneled. It all sounded perfect.
Trevor told the people that Shilo could always come back to us. He made them agree that if there was ever any issue, if they ever needed to get rid of him, he had to come back to us – no matter when it was or where we lived. He would always be ours if he couldn’t be theirs.
Shilo wanted to know if it was really true that he could have a forever family of his own, like Lucey. And we told him yes. It could be.
I got home on a Monday and arranged to meet Shilo’s new mom on Tuesday afternoon at the park. 2:30 was the time. I didn’t have much time left with my guy. I always have a heart to heart talk with our fosters before taking them to their forever home. The conversation is usually the same and I know they understand me. Shilo and I sat on the floor in the laundry room and I told him that I didn’t know what his future would hold, but I would love him forever. Any time, any day, if he thought of me, I would still be loving him. And when he takes his last breath, no matter when or why that is, I will still love him. Then I told him this “don’t ever let anyone break your soul. Hold your head high and be proud”. He licked my face and wagged his tail.
You see, when you have a foster animal, you love them as if they were yours. They are a part of the family, even though we know its not forever. When they arrive, you don’t know how long they are staying. It could be a few days, it could be years and that is what we commit to, the uncertainty. Trevor and I take on the difficult cases. The animals that come to us as fosters all have some issue that needs to be worked through. We give them the time and space to do that. When they leave us and go to their forever home, it is deeply rewarding and emotional. We are sending on of our own into the unknown, hoping for the best, hoping we have done what’s right. Shilo is the extreme example of this. He has been our foster for 6 months. He has had the most issues of any animal we’ve fostered and we were prepared for him to be with us forever. So the idea that he has found this seemingly perfect home, well…that’s overwhelming.
Shilo’s forever mom was waiting for us at the park. She was early. She had a new leash and collar for her new little guy. I put the collar on him, while he stood on my lap and licked my face. He was giving me his final kisses goodbye. He walked right over to the car and jumped in to head to his new home. We drove away behind them and I could see him in the backseat, tongue wagging, looking around as if to say “where are we going? I can’t wait to get there”.
The next day, I checked with them to see how things were. Shilo’s mom said that he had been her shadow all day, he had been on two walks and played in the yard. Sweet Shilo. He will be an only dog. He has two cat siblings that he doesn’t mind at all. His new family likes to camp and they asked us if we thought Shilo would like to go camping. I think Shilo will like to go anywhere his people go. And I think these are his people.
Today has been a week since Shilo went to his new home. He went there as a foster and the agreement was that we would finalize the adoption when they were ready. Today I got a text message with a picture and they said “We love Shilo and want to finalize the adoption” . Those are words I wasn’t sure I would ever hear.
He looks so happy. That makes me so happy.
It took a team of people to get this guy to his forever home: whomever got him out of the high kill shelter in California, the rescue groups that organized his flight to us, Tamara, the Executive Director at WCGHS who let Trevor and I chose Shilo, and then worked with Shilo to socialize him, Leah, a volunteer adoption coordinator at WCGHS, who never gave up hope for finding Shilo a home, Joanna, who took the most amazing photos of Shilo and Caroline for getting Shilo into the newspaper as pet of the week. Shilo’s family saw the picture in the paper and fell in love. Then there is Rachael, who wrote Shilo’s amazing adoption bio – that made the people fall more in love with him. To Michelle and Kathy and Clint who were excited to hear the news about Shilo’s possible forever home. The list goes on and on. I am sure I forgot someone. But it doesn’t matter…we are ALL a part of this success. We can’t save them all, but we have saved this one. We are all a part of his life and he is alive because of us. There is no greater feeling than that. I am honored to have played a part, to have served as Shilo’s in between….from who he was to who he will be. I’ll never forget him.
You want this feeling….call your local shelter or rescue and ask about being a foster home for a pet in need. You will never be sorry that you did it. I promise.