Saturday, October 14, 2017

Adopting shelter pets

"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself."– Josh Billings 

My best friend, Coco / Cindy La Ferle

Three years ago today, I made a wise, life-changing decision:  I adopted a rescue dog. I realize that anyone who has ever opened their home to a shelter pet believes that his or her particular story is heartwarming and unique, so I hope you'll bear with me while I share mine.

I'd been carrying a heart-load of grief when I first spotted Coco, a shy shepherd mix, at a local animal shelter. My mother had died exactly one month earlier, after a long, sad battle with heart disease and vascular dementia. Aside from the fact that I'm a longtime supporter of animals, I was possessed by the notion that adopting a dog in need would help ease my loss while filling the extra time that had suddenly opened up on my care-giving calendar.

Coco and Doug at work / Cindy La Ferle

First, I had to convince Doug that we absolutely had to welcome a large dog into our two-cat household. Then I had to convince the folks at the animal shelter that we were capable of managing a needful canine that hadn’t yet reached maturity. I discovered, after filling out a four-page application, that rescue-pet adoption is just as competitive as any Ivy League university admissions process. 

But I refused to take “no” for an answer -- from my husband or the animal shelter. 

I was moved from the start by Coco’s harrowing back story. Scheduled for euthanasia at a shelter in rural Ohio, she and several other stray dogs had been rescued by a volunteer pilot and flown to our community in suburban Detroit. Still shaken by her turbulent flight when I first met her, she was underweight and smelled as if she’d recently crossed paths with an angry skunk. 

Coco on squirrel patrol in St. Joseph

But it wasn’t until we got her home that I realized she needed us as much as we needed her. After several trips to the veterinarian’s office, we learned that Coco’s immune system was seriously compromised, and that she would require a special diet for the rest of her life. Coco needed a caregiver.

Several months and several more medical bills later, Coco's health began to stabilize. Today, exactly three years later, her black and auburn coat sports an elegant sheen, and her ears perk up at the first mention of the phrase, “Let’s go for a walk.” It’s not uncommon for strangers to stop and admire her beauty, or even to inquire about her breed. (I learned, after having her DNA tested at our vet's office, that Coco is half German shepherd, part husky, and part "sporting dog of unknown origin.") I refer to her as a "sheptriever."

Coco / Cindy La Ferle

Unlike our cats, both of whom have perfected the art of lounging, Coco inspires us to get out of our desk chairs and get moving. Best of all, this sweet dog has coaxed me, one step at a time, out of the dense fog of grief that had nearly numbed my heart by the time my mother died. I’m convinced that dogs -- especially shelter dogs -- are receptive to human emotion. Though we tell ourselves that we're rescuing these animals, we're really healing the tender, wounded places in our own hearts.  

Not long after we adopted Coco, a friend reminded me that dog ownership "ties you down" and limits opportunities to travel. Having worked as a national travel magazine editor in the past, I understood exactly what she meant. These days, Doug and I don't even think about leaving town without researching our pet-care options.

Even so, nothing matches the thrill of walking Coco under a full moon on a clear autumn night, or watching her lean out the car window on a warm summer afternoon, ears flying, en route to a local park. And I can’t think of a five-star hotel amenity that tops the pleasure of working in my garden at home while Coco keeps watch on the lawn.

I'm eternally grateful for this lovely dog, who made her "forever home" in my heart the moment we met. She has taught me to savor the present moment, always reminding me that where I am right now is the absolute best place to be. ~CL


  1. What I love about this article is how much all of you needed each other and all three of you are benefiting from this beautiful relationship. Love the photos too!

    1. Thank you, Susan -- and you're right, we all really needed each other. I still tease Doug about how much he seems to love the dog he didn't know he wanted ... :-)