I’ve written three previous posts (links are here, here, and here) about my most recent foster dog, Coco – a young mixed-breed with spinal dysraphism. I started fostering Coco in September, after she and her littermates were relinquished by an owner who had evacuated from a devastating fire we had in this area.
I doubt this will be the last time I’ll mention Coco, who came this close to being a permanent member of my family – but I’m writing this to tell you about her new family.
When I write about my foster dogs and puppies, people will often comment that they would like to be considered as potential adopters of those dogs or puppies – more often, people will say things like, “I would take her if I could!” or “I want her!” Nearly all the time, people are not actually serious. If there are not yet any prospective local adopters, and the letter writers sound like they really mean it, and they are close enough geographically to regard their proposition as practical, I will write them back and say, tell me more about your interest in this dog!” Usually, I don’t hear back.
After the last post I wrote about Coco was published, I saw a comment from someone who was interested in the funny little brown dog:
“Your video of Coco once again opened my heart and brain to the thought of adopting a special-needs dog. After all, I was adopted and adopted my special-needs foster child too. I would be honored to be considered as her forever home mom. I feel this is meant to be.”
The person added a second comment, as an afterthought to the first comment:
“I forgot to add that my 30 year old daughter has spina bifida too, but she uses a wheelchair and doesn’t get to hop.”
I was intrigued by the idea that there is someone with a family member with a disability, who would be experienced with the adaptations needed for negotiating life with a mobility challenge, who was specifically drawn to help a dog with similar challenges. I wrote back to the person, thanking them for their interest in Coco and asking for more information: What is her life like, does she have space and energy for a young, active (though not fully able) dog?
As it happens, a few days later, I was hiking with my husband in an area where I had no mobile phone reception. When we reached the peak of the mountain we were hiking, all of a sudden my phone started blipping with incoming messages and emails. We sat down to eat some snacks we had brought along and I scanned my email. Then I saw a reply to the email I had sent to the prospective adopter. I opened it and started to read.
A minute later I had tears streaming down my face, startling my husband, who didn’t know what I was reading. The writer explained that she was familiar with where I live, because she went to college in this area and got a degree in nursing. She became a nurse, married, and moved to Idaho.
“We became foster parents to Elizabeth, an adorable 3-year-old with spina bifida in 1993 and got to adopt her in 2000. My husband died very unexpectedly almost two years ago. Elizabeth’s wish was to get a Golden Retriever and name her Molly, so we did! Molly is now almost 11 months old and we taking her to advanced dog classes. The best part of our week is going to class and being with the classmates we have been together with since beginner class. We are hoping she can become Elizabeth’s service dog.
“I think the yard is a quarter-acre and is fenced. My great niece is a CNA and masseuse and would love to help Coco. We have a wheelchair van with a ramp. Our lives have been about the three of us for awhile now, and Elizabeth and I have big hearts and open arms. Molly is such a lover, gives big hugs, and would love a best friend. Please consider us to be a forever home for Coco. We can easily drive down to Oroville and meet all of you.”
This wasn’t the usual “I wish I could have that dog!” type of letter. This person has medical training, has accommodations in place for supporting a family member, has an appropriate and secure home, and a plan for coming here to meet the dog. Wow!
I forwarded the letter to the adoption coordinator for my local shelter, Coco’s legal owner. She said, “If you think it’s a good placement and they want to come here to meet Coco, I don’t see why we shouldn’t adopt to them.”
Long story short: Melanie and I exchanged quite a few more emails over the next few weeks. I shared with her an in-depth report from the veterinary physical therapist I consulted about Coco (we had an hour-long assessment and the therapist recommended specific exercises for Coco). Among other good news: She shared that she has a heated swim/spa that would be perfect for swim therapy for Coco. Anyone that is willing to have a dog in their spa is okay with me!
Last week, Melanie and Elizabeth and Molly the dog drove all day to Oroville, and stayed in a hotel in town. We met the next morning, and Melanie joined my friend Leonora and me and our dogs Otto, Woody, Samson, and of course Coco on a short off-leash walk, so she could meet Coco in a low-pressure environment and also see Coco move. I wanted her to see how gracefully and joyously she can run across open fields – and how she sometimes uses us humans and other dogs as backstops when she is running so fast she can’t stop, and she crashes into your legs. I wanted her to see how Coco sometimes loses control and falls and rolls, but also how she can leap over ditches and climb hills.
Then Melanie, Elizabeth, and I went back to the hotel and introduced Coco and Molly. In less than a minute, the two dogs, who are approximately the same age, were rolling around playing as hard as Coco and Woody ever did. We talked about training, and I was happy to see that both women were equipped with treat bags loaded with training treats. Elizabeth told me about some training challenges she’d been having with Molly and we discussed some tactics for dealing with those.
We drove in separate vehicles to the shelter, where Melanie filled out the adoption paperwork for Coco and paid her adoption fee while Elizabeth and I continued to work with Molly. Then we all drove over to a dog park – in this town, hardly anyone uses it, and sure enough, there was a single person with a single dog when we arrived, and they were just leaving. Perfect! We spent another hour with the dogs there, letting them explore and play while we talked more about training and I kept apologizing for trying to shove several months’ worth of training and behavior lectures and demonstrations down their throats. They both were very patient with me, even when, every few hours, I started crying at the thought of Coco leaving.
Late that afternoon, we went back to the hotel, and I lead Coco to their room, but left her there with them so I could go home and take a nap; I had just finished production of the February issue of WDJ and was terribly sleep-deprived – which I also used as an excuse for why I kept starting to cry.
I went back to the hotel in the evening, to see how they were all doing. Elizabeth answered the door, and I was relieved to see Coco relaxed and happily laying in Melanie’s lap on the bed, getting a massage. She was glad to see me, but expressed her excitement by initiating yet another raucous play session with Molly. The women seemed amused and quite tolerant of the dogs’ shenanigans. I have a good feeling about all this.
I asked if Leonora and I could have one last bit of time with Coco before she left with them the next morning, and happily, they agreed. I took Coco to spend one last night with Leonora, who had cared for Coco for at least a third of the time I was officially fostering her. And then, very early the next morning, Leonora and I took Coco and our dogs for one last off-leash romp together on our favorite trails. The dogs had a blast, and we tried not to be sad, because we are genuinely happy for Coco. We think she’s going to have a great life with her new family and friend Molly. It’s just that we had gotten so attached to the relentlessly happy little dog who never, ever seemed discouraged or defeated by her wonky body. We also marveled at her transformation from a haunted-looking, unsocialized, terrified pup with almost zero muscle tone, to a fit, toned, confident dog. Granted, she is still wary of new people, but when she’s introduced properly, after a few treats, she recovers her moxie and will sit and lay down on cue for food from anyone.
After our walk, we met Melanie and Elizabeth at the hotel at 9 am. Their van was packed and Molly had been walked and they were ready to head back to Idaho. Of course, Leonora and I both started to cry as we put Coco and all her things – special toys, favorite bed, harnesses, collars, life jacket, slow-feeder bowl, and some extra treats – into the van. Last kisses for Coco, and masked and careful hugs for Melanie and Elizabeth (how could we not?!), and we all parted.
Elizabeth sent updates and photos from the road: Coco curled up in her bed in the van, Coco laying across Molly in the van – and then a report that they had gotten home, where it was snowing, and the dogs were in the backyard racing around joyously. An hour later: Dogs still outdoors racing around wildly, and having to be coerced to come inside and race around there, instead. An hour later, at nearly the start of the next day, Elizabeth reported that her mom had called Coco into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. After the tedium of a very long drive that day, the two young dogs had to be separated to go to sleep that night. And both women thanked me for facilitating the adoption; they already love the little brown dog, and Molly is beyond grateful to have a canine playmate. We also discussed setting up some Zoom dog-training sessions.
Leonora and I told Melanie and Elizabeth that if for any reason, Coco proved to be too much work, or if somehow she and Molly weren’t getting along, we would be happy to drive to Idaho and bring Coco back – but I don’t think it’s going to be necessary. Melanie has mentioned that they may even take a road trip back here to visit later this year, hopefully, after we’ve all been vaccinated for COVID-19, and we can dispense with the masks and keeping our distance from each other.
I’m so looking forward to that visit.