My Goldendoodle, Tucker, had just turned 10 when I started thinking about training my next service dog. I had promised myself that I was going to get a rescue this time because I was retired and would have more time to deal with “issues” that could come up with a rescue dog. I was also nearing 60 and a puppy’s worth of energy was out of the question! About this time my friend, Holly, a life-long dog lover, was trying to fill a hole in her dog pack left by Rosie, a beautiful Treeing Walker Coonhound. I got a call from Anna Nirva, looking for a reference for Holly to adopt. After letting Anna know that any dog going into Holly’s pack would have a better life than I do, we got to talking about my search for my next dog. Anna spent some time telling me about all the great traits coonhounds have and I told her that when she found the right dog for me she should let me know. I should have given Anna a lot more credit for not letting a “hot one” go!
Meanwhile, I was having a hard time at home convincing, The Ladies, my three caretakers (I’m pretty seriously physically disabled, hence the service dog), that it was “time”. They remembered vividly raising the last puppy, who was a holy terror 'til he was almost three, and were having trouble embracing the idea of a new dog. I heard several choruses of “I won’t love a new dog” and “he’s not ready to abdicate”. They put a lot of effort into being loyal to Tucker.
I don’t know as much about Ellery as I’d like to, but I do know she spent a lot of time in kennels and shelters after being found on the side of a highway in North Carolina. She spent about a week in the county shelter before she was pulled out and put into a kennel for two weeks. Then she started her trip to Wisconsin, which included overnight stays at shelters and vets along the way. She had her first vaccinations, flea baths, and was spayed en route. There were strangers poking, prodding and crating her along with very long hours of driving. Finally, she made it to Anna’s house near Tomah, Wisconsin, approximately six weeks later.
Once I heard her story, I wanted to meet her ASAP to determine if she was done with the stop gap”ness” of her life or if I was going to help find her a permanent home.
I had spoken to Anna about setting up a meeting the following weekend but she was going camping for the weekend and Ellery was going to Chasing Daylight Animal Shelter for the weekend. Being in a wheelchair has its challenges; transportation is one of them. Tomah, WI, is a two and a half hour drive from my house in Milwaukee. Coordinating me, my wheelchair, someone to drive, Tucker, and Anna with Ellery was darn near impossible. Luckily, I have a few very close friends who are willing to “go the distance” (pun intended) for me, so a drive into the country during fall colors sounded like fun to them.
I called Chasing Daylight to find out their Sunday hours, and was told to call them when I got there and the Director would come and open the place up if it was closed. Now that’s dedicated! They also made introducing two completely unknown dogs to each other sound like a piece of cake! And they would do it! That whole Sunday was just about perfect. The weather was gloriously sunny and warm, the drive was easy, and my friend’s husband was also available to come along.
We arrived shortly before closing time, so my friend and I went in to meet Ellery while her husband waited in the van with Tucker. Dogs don’t always like me because of the wheelchair and some are really put off by the smell of prosthetics, so I was a little nervous. Ellery was released in the room and immediately started sniffing the huge pile of dog food bags. A short time later she noticed us and came over. She sniffed my friend first, then started in on my wheelchair, then me. She walked her front legs right up my legs and proceeded to kiss me everywhere she could reach. She was completely intent on sniffing every inch of me. She seemed to be relaxed and frankly, a lot happier than I expected.
Next hurdle, the face to face dog meet. One of the workers went out to the van to get Tucker for a walk around the grounds. About halfway along the path, another person came out with Ellery to join them and off they went.
Next thing I knew I was signing a check for far less than I thought it would be and I now owned two dogs! On our way home my friend asked why I was grinning. Had I forgotten I still had to convince the caretakers to accept Ellery? I told her that the sheer fact that I again shared my life with two dogs was enough to make me smile.
Actually she seemed perfectly fine with everything after Tucker told her in no uncertain terms, shortly after walking in the door the first time, that every tennis ball in the house was HIS. From that point on she seemed comfortable.
We gave her a few weeks to relax and get to know us, our schedule, the people who take care of me, my family, their dogs, the cats, the neighborhood, the neighborhood dogs and the weather, before we started her formal training.
I should have filmed her reaction to the first snow! It was priceless! I think I can safely say she still hates snow and anything else that gets her feet wet (read: rain). She has developed an 18 hour bladder when it’s rainy; her idea, not mine!
This last year has been slightly different for us because, somehow, I managed to literally break my neck. I’ve been sleeping in a recliner since and Ella sleeps either under the footrest or behind the backrest. She was never trained for this.
When we’re out and about together she automatically puts herself between me and other people we don’t know. She was never trained to do this.
She meets people at our door with hackles raised, a solid WOOF!, sniffing out their intent. She was never trained to do this.
Somehow, Ella has made herself into my guard dog.
She sits and waits patiently while I fumble with putting the collar over her head because I don’t have the finger dexterity to operate a clip, then she waits again while I take it off!
Almost exactly four years later Ella is a great dog. Absolutely the most laid back, quiet, loyal, protective, happy girl. I think she really likes her life. She was a very boney 33 lbs when she moved in. Now she is a muscular 69 lbs. She gets about an hour to hour and a half long walk most days, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate, she’s happy sharing the couch with two cats.
She’s welcomed with treats at the pharmacy and gets a “pet stop” at up to 6 departments in our local big box store. The local Burger King and McDonalds welcome her by name. My caretakers and my family fight over who gets her when I go on vacations.
This morning, after accidentally pinching Ella’s toes, I heard my caretaker say, “Oh, Ella, I’m so sorry. You know how much I love you. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Last night I heard another caretaker say, “Ella, to think, you were the dog I wasn’t gonna love! What was I thinking?”. When you have a dog, love just multiplies.