I was definitely going to die. The Angel of Death was bearing down on me, and
I was disappointed that there was no grand flash of insight about my life’s
legacy or whether we really did learn
everything we need to know in Kindergarten. No, it was just practical stuff, like, “Nobody
knows I’m here, so . . . how long until somebody finds me?” Then the thought, “Wow! I totally had no idea the dog’s chain was
that long!” As for profound last words? Forget it.
I think I managed “Gwaaah-oh-oh-oh.”
Try engraving that in stone.
Luckily though, it turned out the dark angel only wanted to lick my face.
Just moments earlier, the 75-pound, bow-legged, jowl-faced block of a dog had eyed me silently while I waited for someone to come to the door of the house. No answer. I got back in my car wanting to keep my camera dry while taking a photo of the serious, watchful dog. She stood in a mud puddle in an October downpour, chained to an old RV. I swung open the car door, aimed the camera, and reached into the console to toss her a peace offering — a little dry biscuit from my stash. Then she came at me, a torrent of lips and mud and chain, coming at me like a linebacker. She thrust her basketball noggin past me and into the console to vacuum the remaining cookie stash, then pasted my face in cookie crumbs.
The muddy gargoyle then wedged herself between me and the steering wheel. Instead of meeting my end, I would later see this as the moment I’d embarked on a beginning.
On that day in October 2009 (aka The Day I Almost Died) I’d gone to the home to offer the family a fence from Fences for Fido — an all-volunteer Portland-based nonprofit that builds fences for free, to release dogs from chains. Numerous people had emailed us about this lonely dog chained to the RV, and since we volunteers often have to visit several times before finding a family at home, I had begun jotting down my progress.
October 2009: Referral says dog is chained 24/7, probably breeding her. SWEET girl!! Loves cookies!
December 2009: Visited. Left note on door. Brought cookies.
January 2010: Left note on door. Brought cookies.
March 2010: Left flier and card. Brought cookies.
July 2010: Located landlord. He says family has 7/30 deadline to rehome dog. Her name is Roxy.
August 2010: Woman answered door. Roxy lives with relatives now. She’s in heat & they hope she’ll have puppies. I talked about importance of spay.
January 17, 2011: Family called. Roxy fights with other dogs so they can’t keep her. She had 7 puppies & family sold them. If we know someone who wants her, we should come get her.
January 23, 2011: Roxy is dog and cat aggressive in foster home. Going into heat. Foster parents need her out immediately.
January 27, 2011: Veterinarian can board Roxy for 2 weeks and spay her. Needs new foster.
February, 2011: Jumped on dining room table to chase foster moms’ cat. Needs to move immediately. Do we have another foster?
Not surprisingly, when we searched for a place for this unsocialized cat- and dog-aggressive dog with no house or leash manners, the physical strength of a raging bull, and two foster home rejections, we found only one option: my garage.
I covered the concrete floor with an area rug, brought in a heater, and enriched her environment with interactive toys and nose-work games. While a mile-wide grin and full-body wiggle is pretty much Roxy’s baseline mood in any case, she seemed to think I’d housed her at the Ritz. She clearly loved her new digs.
Those in my family were less thrilled. Overhearing an unfortunate comparison between Roxy and the Grimm Reaper definitely didn’t help. Worse still, my cat and two dogs could hear her out there, and smell her through the door. The whole household was on edge.
I wasn’t much happier. Roxy’s daily walks were a double-leash spectacle with a head harness, a chest harness, and a backup leash anchored around my waist. Meanwhile, Fences for Fido networked tirelessly until we found an angel of a dog trainer who would take Roxy under her wing and foster her.
Within days, the trainer had fallen in love with this big mess of a dog, and she’d determined that Roxy was not aggressive by nature. Like many dogs who spend their lives on a chain, she was simply socially inept. The trainer went to work, teaching this middle-aged canine the social skills she should have learned as a puppy. After four months a Portland-area rescue group had placed Roxy in an adoptive home.
Her new manners weren’t fail-proof, though, and Roxy soon flunked out of the home and the rescue group. This time, though, the garage wasn’t my only option; Roxy now had sufficient social skills to come into the house, though still be separated from my freaked-out clan. Fences for Fido went to work again, using a blog and Facebook and every conceivable contact, hoping to find a place for this dog who kept flunking out of her opportunities.
Months passed, and Roxy continued to make good progress. My own dogs even started warily interacting with her, and my cat would cuddle next to her crate at night, even venturing a few head-bumps. But for every good move there was another setback: Roxy learned to vault over my 6-foot fence; she sees any open door as an invitation to run like the wind and not look back; and she adopted a serious life mission to capture and maim every vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, delivery truck and city bus she encountered.
Just when I feared I’d have to foster her for eternity, another opportunity arose — this time with Family Dogs New Life Shelter, who invited Roxy to spend weekends practicing her doggie social skills and meeting potential adopters. Roxy’s string of flunk-outs had made me so protective that I discouraged every adopter with a too-short fence or a child that might forget to close doors. The good folks at the shelter continued to patiently welcome her weekend visits, never losing hope.
My hope did waver, though, mostly from fear that Roxy’s next flunk-out would be something bigger than her many angels could fix. Finally I asked trainer Lola Carey of Lucky Leash to assess Roxy and tell me what I could do to make her more adoptable. Within a few minutes, Lola had every critter in my household relaxing together in the living room, and she assured me they could learn to live like that all the time.
So in July 2012, Roxy’s whole village celebrated on Facebook: the shelter staff, Fences for Fido, the trainers, the people who’d made photos and videos and blog posts to promote her and had driven her to appointments. Ultimately 750 well-wishers “liked” the Facebook announcement that Roxy had been adopted by her long-time foster mom.
These days, when she and the cat are sprawled across my lap, or she’s wrestling with one of my other dogs, I sometimes think about the four-year journey that began when she vaulted into my lap and came to a happy ending when she joined my family. I kiss her giant blocky head and say, “I’m really glad you didn’t murder me, you cookie fiend.”
Michelle Blake lives and writes in Salem, OR, with her own dog pack, the occasional foster dog, and a dog-taming feline named Dudley. Her writing has appeared in national publications.