Around this day 3 years ago, I took home a scared, kinda fat, and lonely dog. It was during the summer that I was volunteering at Sandy Hook in New Jersey to help protect the nesting sites of Piping Plovers. I had been gone a few days, but when I returned, there was this petrified “wiener dog” hiding in the corner of the office. Apparently, this dog had been dumped on the beach in the area, and was found running around loose. Even though he had some weight on him, he could move pretty fast and proved to be difficult to catch. Disclaimer: growing up, I’d had 2 dogs and I had just recently lost the last of the two a month or so prior. Also important to note, both of these dogs were larger sized, so I normally didn’t find myself admiring smaller dogs since they’re not what I was used to. This time something was different, this dog needed someone, (it needed me) and I couldn’t just turn a blind eye (and I was looking for any excuse to have a dog in the house again, even if only for a short while).
Originally, after consulting with my parents, I offered to hold the dog until animal control could come take him in a few days. That was it: take him home, let him stay at the house and run in the yard for 3 days, and then bring him back to Sandy Hook to be picked up. He was petrified of everything that moved, so there was no way that I could possibly form some kind of connection with him in those few days, right?
I was so, so wrong. I picked up the dog, placed him in the front seat of my car, and started making the 20 minute drive home. Within 5 minutes of realizing he was away from the place he had been so cruelly abandoned, that’s when the ears perked up, his eyes brightened, and his tongue hung out as he embraced the breeze coming through the windows. His character and personality had flipped completely, and he seemed like a normal happy dog. Once we pulled up into my driveway, I remember my mom just standing outside, half smirking and half shaking her head that I had convinced her to let me take this guy home. “He needs a yard to run in, and we have one, so why not?” was the reasoning I initially used. I carried him out of my car to bring him to the yard, and set him down so he could roam and take in his new environment. He was cautious, but very playful while he was outdoors. He pee’d on just about everything he could, and smelled the entirety of the yard. I figured he was probably hungry and we still had some dog food left over, so I brought him inside. That’s when the terror overtook him again. He immediately retreated behind our couch, and would not come out. He would’t touch the dog food, and just stayed quietly hidden behind our furniture. I was desperate to get him to eat something, so we settled for cut-up hot dogs and scrambled eggs on a paper plate that we slid to him behind the couch. He was more than happy to snack on that, but still wouldn’t come out. At this point I was both sad and frustrated, I was never going to get this dog to trust me. I called it a night and retreated to my bedroom and told myself we would try again tomorrow.
I was able to coax him out from behind the couch the next day, and spent most of my time with him outside since that’s where he appeared to be happiest. Little by little I could see we were tearing down the walls he had built, and that he wanted to trust me. I could see that this dog had the potential to be a great pet, but clearly had a rough past. He flinched at the slightest of noises, and even had a cracked rib that had never healed properly – from who knows what type of injury. He was also especially terrified of older men, another indicator that lead me to believe he had been abused in his past. Regardless of his quirks and defensiveness, I was able to form a connection with this dog, but now I had another obstacle: how to convince my parents to let me keep him. After losing our last dog, my mom was firm on not having anymore dogs, plus I was leaving to go away to college soon in North Carolina so I wouldn’t even be home to take care of him. However, I knew I could bring him to school with me eventually, and that’s what I wanted to do. The night before I was to take him back to Sandy Hook to animal control, I went to my parents room and made my case. After some deliberation, my father came downstairs, sighed, and said, “Well, what are we going to name him?”. From then on, he was my dog, my Sandy. When we took him to the vet, they estimated he was around 3 or 4 years old and did in fact have a rough life in the past, but that was all over now. He was safe now, he was home.
To this day, I still can’t fathom how someone could just dump their animal and leave without batting an eye. The amount of depressing Facebook videos I’ve seen of people finding abandoned dogs is both alarming and shameful. However, to whoever did abandon Sandy to fend for his own, thank you. For without your decision to do so, I wouldn’t know what it’s like to have a dog of my own and that I am responsible for. I wouldn’t know that he is capable of unconditional love. I wouldn’t have that overly-excited bundle of joy jumping up to greet me as soon as I come home every.single.day. I wouldn’t have my companion that literally sticks right by my side any chance he gets. Also, Sandy thanks you too, because he wouldn’t have gotten to experience the life he has now. He’s gone to college, hiked the summits of mountains, moved from New Jersey to North Carolina, kayaked on rivers, traveled to other beaches (even though he’s still timid about them since beaches=bad memories), made so many dog friends at various parks, learned that he can trust other human beings, and he’s changed my life for the better. I don’t know who I would be today without my Sandy, and I am so glad that I never have to find out. So, Sandy, here’s to your (unofficial) 6th birthday and to many more adventures together, you’re the greatest little doggo any girl could ever ask for!
[Sandy also makes a pretty great tattoo]
P.S. advice tip #6: get yourself a dog asap, seriously, like right now.
Until next time, my friends.