We took our time at breakfast, not wanting to indulge our anxious expectations by arriving too early at the meeting. Like teenagers, we pulled out our cell phone and took pictures of us on the “before” part. We looked the same, maybe even a bit older than usual. That wasn’t good. We put the phone away. Better to dwell on the kick of adrenaline than “are we too old to adopt?”
“You’re sure we’re doing the right thing?” I asked, suddenly aware of the lifelong commitment we were about to make.
“We just drove a thousand miles in a day and half–of course we’re ready,” he said.
We had the Google map in hand, but we decided to take the longer, slower way to the meeting. My stomach and head were in a battle for supremacy. I kept hoping that my heart would win the battle.
We pulled up to the meeting place, and of course we were the first to arrive, even with all our precautions to the contrary. Like we knew that the other one couldn’t save us from our own thoughts and about to jump-through-my-skin expectations, we split up and wandered aimlessly, keeping the parking lot in view at all times.
And then they arrived, in a big pick-up with seating enough for six construction workers on steroids. I slowed my steps and watched. A young couple emerged and then suddenly there she was–Layla. It was hard to tell in photos over the Internet how my heart would react to the real thing. I couldn’t help it, I grinned. Layla. Short legs, very long black hair (which had not seemed so long in the photos) and a bounce to her step that somehow I hadn’t anticipated.
I looked for my husband. He was grinning, too. And I knew, all was right with the world and the step we were taking into adoption.
Like a lot of adoptees, Layla wanted to impress us with her ability to not cause problems. Quiet and tentative, we thought we had a somewhat timid dog. Imagine after being with us for about year, Layla found her voice, resulting in our eventually having to find a sonic-type noise deterrent that only a dog could hear. After using this twice in the car, with the command “QUIET” we once more could ride in peace.
Our totally willing to please dog learned to give sharp barks to get our attention–demanding attention barks. Something else we’ve had to adjust to and help her learn to be a little more patient.
And even though HeRD of Wyoming told us the story of how Layla had lost a prior foster home due to chasing the neighboring horses, we were totally unprepared for the total concentration of springing to chase every passing vehicle. When something is in need of being chased, to Layla’s way of thinking, she loses all ability to access common sense brain cells, or even hear or respond to a command. This need to chase is so ingrained in her that after 3 years, she has to remain on a leash at all times outside of a controlled environment–she is doing better, but without that leash we would certainly lose her to the chase.
Here’s our Lists for our adoption of Layla (and I suspect vice-versa):
The Good List:
1. Layla is an excellent companion, looking for love and always ready to play.
2. She has provided us with a sense of family that we missed after the kids left home.
3. I call her my treadmill, because she gets me out and walking almost every day.
4. She comes to us when she is anxious, hungry, and just plain wanting to curl up and be with us. We’re needed and more–she likes us. (We’ll not go into the whole dependent aspect of the dog-owner relationship.)
The Surprise Package:
1. She isn’t exactly the temperament I wanted for a dog to sit quietly and listen to children read to her. Thus, our ability to get her into a school and used as a listening dog is not panning out.
2. Instead of a total herding dog, we got a retriever with a nose. Always looking for the next bird to flush. How do you train your dog to ignore DNA instincts and enjoy a walk by staying in the path–not zooming to every bush looking for bird feathers?
3. Somewhere along the line she had a poor experience with being groomed. It took 2 years of playing with her feet, so that we can now have the vet cut her nails without having to use any sort of tranquilizing medication. Will we ever be able to brush that long hair so she doesn’t get huge mats of tightly woven hair?
4. We had to totally change our preceptions about having a quiet, hesitant dog. Outgoing and wanting to meet and greet everyone, she still presents a challenge in learning to not pull you into the “the next guest.”
The Really Difficult Challenge:
1. Layla, at least at this point, will never be that dog that can have fun on the beach, park, camping and be OFF LEASH. It is a total bummer that she has to be on leash, which sometimes makes it difficult in meeting and greeting new dogs—it is much easier for dogs to growl and get aggressive when one or both get tangled up in leashes. This is the part that we were unprepared for and continue to wish she had a little different personality. We work on this aspect constantly (thank goodness for a large fenced yard)–but at this point–we don’t think she can resist the urge to chase a moving object or animal.
When I was working as a therapist, I had the honor of working with adopted children and their families. When I look at our journey with Layla, I often think of the journeys of those families–each family member had their own lists. The adoption connection between each person in that family was dependent upon what were in those lists. There was always a Surprise Package awaiting each member, including the adoptee. Typically the Surprise was in having to change expectations–even those expectations that went unknown until suddenly it was very apparent that something was very different from what had been anticipated.
The Good List packed a lot of heart and patience and willingness to compromise. It was the Really Difficult Challenge list that was often the unconquerable aspect for the family to content with. As with all human endeavors, some families were able to continue the struggle and find something they could define as success; while other families simply were overwhelmed with the ability to provide a safe, loving environment for everyone in the family.
Is Layla the perfect dog for us? There is a part of me that says that she isn’t exactly what we wanted. There is another part of me that believes that we are given the dog that we are meant to have. Certainly Layla has taught us lessons about the learning process and about patience. And even though she has a major issue with chasing and thus not allowed off leash, that’s not such a challenge that has us wanting to give up on her. (I do not have the worry that she may harm someone or another animal.)
I’m also waiting to determine if she has the ability to slow down and listen a little better, who knows, maybe she can become that dog that can lay still and listen to children read. And, I see how often she snuggles up and says “you belong to me.”
Be gentle with your children–for they have lessons to teach you.
PS: If we were to adopt another dog, I would certainly return to HeRD of Wyoming–the surprises that came with Layla were of our own making–the folks at HeRD were extremely generous in answering our questions and helping us to find the right dog for us. Once again–it is in our expectations and willingness to “forgive the information” that we set ourselves up for additional challenges.