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Rescue Mission

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KIM SCAFURO
  • kim scafuro

"When you're 8 and 10." This was the mantra my husband, Jon, and I recited when our boys, Kai and Julian — then 6 and 8 — started asking for a new dog. We'd just lost Dempsey, our 11-year-old golden retriever, to cancer. We weren't ready. Not then. Not six months later. Not even a year later.

Emotions aside, logistics were problematic. When we'd adopted Demps, I was a freelancer working from home. We had one cat and lots of outdoor parties. Now we were managing two office jobs, two cats and two kids. We lived out of laundry baskets, never quite able to put away our clean clothes. We lost library books. Jon and I were aligned: no new dog.

Then, about a year ago, our neighbors fostered a dog. Their friend ran a dog-rescue group that relied on volunteers to take in and care for homeless animals until they found their "forever families." The dog's name was Roxy. She was 3 years old, brown and beautiful, with short legs and floppy ears that seemed to defy gravity. She was good with kids and liked me a lot. After an evening of heavy petting, I could imagine loving another dog.

"Let's adopt her," I blurted out.

Jon was anti-Roxy: "No way. She barks at me."

"Let's foster."

"No. The boys will get attached."

I moved on.

Then Jon started wishing for a dog. Without one, hikes were less fun; runs seemed incomplete. Julian upped the ante by sharing his school project that stated: "If I had 100 dollars, I'd buy a dog" (and 100 dogs, with 10K). I told the boys if they wanted a dog, they should start making their beds. We repeated our "8 and 10" mantra less often.

Jon and I started discussing adoption. Having heard about the dog-overpopulation problem, primarily in the South — animals dumped in the trash, found wandering as strays, killed because there wasn't enough room in shelters — we were both committed to getting a dog from a Humane Society or rescue group. I advocated for a young-ish dog (they "needed us" more, housebreaking would be easier); Jon pushed for a baby (safer with kids and cats, our boys should get to raise a puppy). A big, fluffy golden retriever was out; we didn't think we could handle a pup that looked too much like Dempsey. We'd known and loved retrievers, shepherds and Rottweilers, but really our requirements were simple: good with kids, good with dogs, good with cats. Oh, and "people eyes."

I started searching online, casually — until a litter of puppies, named for Thanksgiving dishes (it was November), appeared on the Humane Society of Chittenden County's website. They looked half Rottie, half human. From what I'd heard, adopting a dog in Vermont was like landing an apartment in New York City. You needed to show up, fast, with references and a check. I emailed Jon: Can you go see these guys today? He could not. Gah. When we called the next day, only one dog was left. By the time Jon made it to the Humane Society, "Casserole," too, was gone. But the experience left us wanting a dog. Really wanting a dog. We were getting a dog.

I downloaded the Petfinder app to my phone and refreshed hourly. I expanded filters, contemplating road trips to New Hampshire and Maine. I launched searches in Pennsylvania and Ohio, reasoning we could pick up a pup while visiting my parents for Thanksgiving. I completed rescue-group applications. Made dog-inquiry calls during the 11-hour drive to my parents' house, never mind that they had a 3-month-old golden retriever and would be hosting my brother's 4-year-old beagle. I'd totally lost my mind.

The universe took note and, during this stretch of unhinged behavior, did not grant us a dog. A week later, I received an email from Brigitte Thompson, founder of VT Dog Rescue in Hinesburg, responding to my application. She wanted to help but our vet reference revealed our cats weren't current with their vaccinations. The note prompted two realizations. First, that I needed to slow things down and evaluate our ability to care for another being. Second, that I wanted to work with Brigitte — she was thorough and thoughtful. After getting our cats up to date and exchanging emails with Brigitte, we were approved. We agreed a puppy would be best and that we should wait until spring. It was mid-December; soon, we'd be snowboarding every Saturday. We'd start looking again in March.

This decision was enough to stop my online animal stalking. Still, I always opened VT Dog Rescue's email alerts. Which is how, in February, I fell in love with Yoda after seeing his headshot. He had "people eyes" and fluffy ears that reminded me of Roxy's.

"Picking a pet just because it's cute is one of the biggest mistakes," says Thompson. But we kept asking questions. Yoda seemed good with dogs and cats, and he was a lover who followed his foster mom around. He'd be in Vermont on March 4 — our last day of snowboarding. The universe wanted us to adopt this dog. And so it happened.

We picked him up at the Hinesburg Police Station, where we could stay warm waiting for the dozen and a half pups en route from Alabama. An hour after expected, a large truck toting an even larger trailer rolled in. A young woman and friendly man in overalls (turns out, she was the vet who cared for the dogs; he was her father) hopped out and started passing out pups: babies swaddled in bath towels, older dogs on leashes.

I took hold of Yoda, wrapped in pink, and hugged him to my chest. He was smelly and shivering. As instructed, we hustled him to our car. He whimpered the whole way home. Within his first five minutes inside, he peed in three places, dropped a deuce under our dining room table and crashed into a cart, breaking a glass. Puppy-proofing fail. We bathed him, then sat on the floor with the boys and got to know this sweet being. All felt right.

Brigitte had suggested that we first sign on as a foster family, giving us a week to ensure a good fit. By the next morning, based on Yoda's mellow behavior with the kids and cats, we were committed. We sent in the adoption forms and decided to rename him: Yo Biden, after our favorite vice president.

I've mostly repressed the sleepless nights and pee puddles of those first weeks. A few months in, I marvel that we landed this perfect pup. He's chill, totally kid-tolerant and smart. Originally described as "a fluffy shepherd mix," he looks more boxer/retriever/houndish. He has webbed toes like a golden; recently, his ears and tail have fluffed up. I'm convinced he's part-Dempsey — just the right amount.

We've been able to manage schedules. Julian and I carved out time for a five-week puppy class and are continuing to work on training. Twice a week, a woman in our neighborhood picks up Biden and takes him for off-leash adventures with four other puppies. On Wednesdays, Biden and I run with my friend, Michelle, and her dog. Twice a week, I walk him during my lunch break. Occasionally, Jon takes him to work.

I'd argue the changes we've made to accommodate our dog are good for Jon and me. No doubt, Biden's presence has been good for the kids. When I asked the boys what Biden has given them, I expected to hear about hiking and tennis balls.

"Love," Jules responded immediately. "And trust," Kai chimed in. And there you have it.

Ready to Rescue?

KIM SCAFURO
  • kim scafuro

When you're looking to adopt a pet, it's easy to get swept up in the heart of it all. Do yourself, and your potential pet, a favor and head through this checklist first.

  • Consider your lifestyle. A dog requires regular exercise, training and socialization. Do you have time? If not, consider a cat or other small animal. The Humane Society of Chittenden County (HSCC) also rehomes rabbits, ferrets, chinchillas, guinea pigs, mice — even hedgehogs, says Triana Verdery, HSCC customer care assistant. Homeward Bound, Addison County's Humane Society, also helps birds find new homes. Whatever you choose, think about what you're getting into.
  • Create a list of non-negotiables (e.g., good with kids). Don't settle for less. If you know exactly what you want (a specific breed or "a two-year-old brown girl dog"), Verdery suggests using Petfinder.com, an online adoption resource.
  • Connect and ask questions. Every rescue group works differently. Ask about policies and process. Adopting from the HSCC, which has a first-come, first-served policy, can be quick: meet the animals, apply, talk with a staff member to ensure a good fit, get approved, head home with your pet (sometimes on the same day). Working with a volunteer-staffed rescue group may take a few weeks. To keep your adoption approval moving smoothly, answer all application questions honestly and give your references a heads-up. Wait a week to follow up. Once you're approved and are pet-picking, ask lots of questions about temperament and needs. Avoid making judgments based just on appearance.
  • Consider fostering first. Fostering-to-adopt can allow for introductions to other pets and an opportunity to experience what life will be like with a new family member. Not all rescues offer it, so ask.
  • Involve the whole family. Meeting animals together helps ensure everyone is in love with the new addition, says Verdery. Enlisting the whole family in training and socialization helps create consistent routines and a smooth transition.

Local Resources to Get You Started

Dogs, cats and other small animals:
Just pups:

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