Swinging Doors and Second Chances

Abby

Usually I write about content and marketing here. But today I’m temporarily returning to this site’s roots with a personal story.

1.

Nine years ago I drove from Boston to Connecticut to pick up an almost one-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Abby. She was to be a foster dog for a short while, until the rescue group found her a permanent home.

The details were murky: A family somewhere in NY had surrendered her – something about how they bought her from a pet store, and she spent much of her time at home in a cage. I guess her original owners knew she deserved more. And so they gave her to Rescue, to give her a second chance.

The first time I met Abby she was tiptoeing like a cat along the back of the Rescue coordinator’s couch, acting like she owned the place. (She didn’t.)

She was lithe and athletic and smart, and she had a spunky, relaxed attitude. Rescue dogs can be fearful or confused or clingy or withdrawn. But Abby wasn’t any of those things. Her one issue was that she had a tendency to bolt; the hours spent cooped up in a cage seemed to condition her to run when she had the chance.

You’d think she’d be detached and cool, given what we knew of her history. But she wasn’t. Something about her that day seemed almost human: The way she was friendly but slightly reserved, not unlike how even the most open, friendly people you meet still know enough to keep something back.

It’s weird to call a dog polite, but she kind of was.

She’d been through a lot of transition in the last few days – going from her original home to a series of hand offs that ultimately landed her here, sitting on the back of the couch, wagging her tail and pawing the air in my direction in a wave hello. She seemed to be an optimist.

At home I wasn’t too sure about her. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her — I did. A lot.

But I also had three other dogs and two active kids and a crazy career. And I thought she’d be better off in a house where she was more the sole focus, instead of part of the chaos. The last thing I wanted was for her to be ignored again.

But you know what? Abby herself had other ideas.

She made friends with our big alpha Labrador mix and became second-in-command on daily yard patrol. It was funny to watch them – a 45-pound Lab accompanied by a 16-pound sidekick, patrolling the perimeter of the yard for chipmunk perpetrators. She got our goofy big boy Simon to play. She avoided the high-strung, complex Chile unless it was on his terms.

Abby was there when you needed her and fine to be chill when you didn’t. People liked her who don’t usually like dogs. “She’s a rescue?!” they’d say, incredulous.

“Yes,” I’d say. “She’s one in a million.”

“So she’s available for adoption?” they’d ask.

And I started to hesitate a little on the response. I wasn’t sure anymore. She was one in a million.

2.

So within a few weeks, she had found her place in the pack. And pretty soon none of us — not even Abby, I bet — could remember another life.

She stayed with us — a rare “failed foster.” We became permanently part of her second chance. Side eye
She wasn’t perfect: That obsession with doors, and her knee-jerk impulse to bolt through any open door when she saw it.

We live on a busy street. I was terrified of her getting out on the street side, and my then 8-year-old made signs for all the exterior doors: KEEP DOORS CLOSED. With her markers, she drew happy faces and four dogs with wagging tails.

One day not long after Abby came to live with us, the kids had set up a lemonade stand in the front yard. I forgot for a second – isn’t that all it ever takes? – and as I cracked open the front door to warn the kids away from the road, Abby scooted between my legs and raced toward the road, straight into the path of an oncoming car.

You know that feeling when you witness something horrific, that you are powerless to affect? Time seems to both speed up and slow down at once: Me screaming NOOOOOoooooo at Abby as she bolted from the house; the kids screaming at her to stop; the car not seeing her or slowing; and Abby slipping under the wheels and disappearing, like a spring bloom under the lawnmower.

The last thing I could make out was her spinning under the carriage of the car, which had now stopped, and the driver was getting out.

And then – astonishingly! – Abby was moving, too, crawling out from underneath the car, and running – she was actually running! — back.

I wish I could say that she ran straight to me, and that she sailed full into my open arms. That would be a good finish.

But I can’t, because she didn’t. Instead, she ran straight past me, back to the door she had just come through. She sat there on the stoop, shaking and slightly bloodied and confusingly but miraculously fine.

She was doing what she always did, this time in reverse: She was waiting for the door to open.

And suddenly that second chance had become a third.

3.

Yesterday our little Abby turned 10. The kids are bigger and less underfoot. All of her 4-legged pack mates are sadly now gone — from old age or illness, leaving her the sole focus I had thought she’d always want to be.

She’s still lithe and smart and spunky. To get my attention, she still paws at the air as a kind of cue, like she did 9 years ago in Connecticut. She’s still as polite as the kid who sits in the first row at Sunday School.

But she’s no longer obsessed with swinging doors. And –- thankfully — she no longer bolts, maybe because she’s finally figured out that there’s no longer anything to escape.

It strikes me now that Abby is happy mostly because she’s now the kind of dog who loves things as they are. She no longer wonders how they could be better. Because what’s the point of that? That’s the one way she’s not at all human.

Sometimes I forget she’s no longer a puppy, because she climbs up on the back of the big puffy chair like she owns it.

Because now she does.

Saturday morning Abby

A special thank you to Cavalier Rescue USA for letting us adopt Abby, and to all the Rescue volunteers who make these second chances possible.

Thanks to her original family, too, for the hard choice they made to give Abby the gift of a better life. (It might’ve been the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.)

If you are considering pet adoption, please consider rescue. There are many wonderful dogs like Abby — and others who are nothing like her at all, except in the need for a restart.

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37 Responses to Swinging Doors and Second Chances

  1. Lovely story Ann – and a lovely doggie too. My cousin in Quebec rescued a Cavalier a couple of years ago and she is delightful. Here in England I’ve had numerous rescued pets and currently have four rescued dogs – a shaggy terrier-type mutt, a Gordon Setter, and two Cockapoos, plus 4 x rescued cats. I always encourage people to rescue dogs and cats rather than buy them from breeders and “puppy farms” – am so glad to see that you encourage the same thing. Sz xx

  2. Jay Baer says:

    Letter perfect. Thank you Ann.

  3. Tracy Tumminelli says:

    Fantastic story!!

  4. beth says:

    beautifully written. brought tears to my eyes.

  5. B.L. Ochman says:

    Every word in this story is just perfect. Thanks Ann!

  6. I am so glad that Abby’s story had multiple happy endings! Thank you for sharing your little darling. I always love to see her face on Instagram. Her personality shines right through the screen.

  7. Donna Papacosta says:

    Just beautiful, Ann. Your stories are perfect. Thanks for sharing Abby with us.

  8. As my vet said of my adopted Border Collie, she (your dog) is one of the lucky ones. I now have two dogs I adopted. My BC was born in Virginia, raised in Ottawa and at two years old left a divorcing couple to live with me in the country near Georgetown, Ontario. My blonde mixed breed dog has 9,999 lives: he was rescued from a First Nation village on James Bay, raised by my aging father who inadvertently trained him to run after cars, and when my father sickened and died, came to live in my house. He trots around the countryside visiting other families who must feed him salami and tortiere to keep him going there. But he does eventually come home to my house. Dogs make for great stories. Thanks for yours.

  9. Goosebumpatude. You should consider a career as a writer Ann.

    I too strayed from content marketing this week on my blog to tell the story of how my wife and I came together (timed with our 20th anniversary). I hope you’ll read it.

    Next up, dog tales.

  10. Katybeth says:

    Of-course this topic is near and dear to my heart. It’s not easy to “rescue” a dog. The breed organizations that run rescue are often not “people-people” but it is worth the effort almost every time. I just kept a Cavalier that a family rescued and gave a forever home too. I think I posted her picture on Twitter because as you know that is one of the benefits to being owned by a Cavalier….they NEVER take a bad picture. :-D. Glad Abby had multiple do-overs. She’s a cutie. And as a huge supporter of rescue – THANK YOU.

  11. Tonya says:

    I’m so glad you still have Abby and that she’s enjoying her time as an only!

  12. Brian Blake says:

    Great story!

    Rescue dogs are the best, Ann. Our Golden Retriever, Buddy, is the most loving dog we’ve ever had. We’ve had him five years now and he is still thankful for being a part of our family.

    Dang. Now I need to go give that stinky boy a hug! :)

  13. Marge Piatak says:

    Thank you for writing and posting this lovely story of how Abby came to be part of your family and lessons learned. Each pet always has their unique needs and contribution to make. My heart stopped when she ran out into the street and I was oh so glad to picture her running to the safety of the door and home.

    Over the past 30 years I’ve done a lot of animal rescue work, resulting in 9 of them being part of my personal life and home. My current love, Princess, is a joy and inspiration. Adopted her last year, 11 years old and missing one leg (accident). Her transition to Manhattan from a farm in PA was amazing.

    Your sharing of this wonderful story helps bring the joy and possibilities of pet adoption to so may people. People who read your posts for their incredible professional content may not have personal experience with pets, rescue and adoption, but they now have a glimpse into that experience. Many thanks!

    • Ann Handley says:

      Thanks, Marge. I appreciate the comment. And yes, my heart stops, too, every time I think of that horrible moment… which thankfully wasn’t so much worse.

  14. Ann –

    Great story, it reminded me how much I appreciate the peace my dogs’ perspective brings me. The love they have for the routines, the simple things, a nice day, a tennis ball, a bit of snuggling on the couch – it helps put all my human concerns in perspective. They remind me to enjoy the moments and that the grass isn’t always greener in the neighbor’s yard. They remind me to make sure my grass stays green, well kept, and cared for – so none of us ever have to look for the open door. So much of life is spent wondering what is outside the open door, but what’s inside is what really matters.

    • Ann Handley says:

      So well said, Tracey. And I agree 100% on your perspective on what dogs offer. I need that kind of perspective in my life — I suppose we all do.

  15. Really heart warming, Ann. It reminded me of the strong bond I had with my dog Charlie. She died in January and I sure do miss her.

  16. Dee says:

    Lovely story. We had a rescue runner, too, a husky (who are known runners). I know that heart-in-your-mouth feeling when the door is open just a second too long. I had nightmares for years about her getting out.

    Thanks for sharing your story about Abby. I loved it!

  17. angie martin says:

    Very touching the human side of pets, and the pet side of humanity. Thanks for sharing, Ann.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing! We have two beautiful German Shepherds from a rescue and I commend you for sharing your story. Abby is a very lucky dog! I love the bottom photo, too!

  19. unbdot says:

    I knew I should have stolen her when I had the chance.

  20. daphne cohn says:

    this is absolutely beautiful and incredibly timely. thank you! I could see Abby running through the door. I could see you watching as she disappeared under the car. I could see all of it. You are a great writer.

  21. As others have said; great story. Our current Schnauzer, Radar, was a 5-year old rescue and has been with us for more than three years. He’s formed a tight bond with us and we can’t imagine him anywhere else either. He has abandonment fears and requires much love and attention but gives back.

    Your story is proof that rescues can be great family members.

    • Ann Handley says:

      I agree Patrick – I can’t imagine not adopting pets through rescue. I’ve had 3 other Rescue dogs (in addition to Abby). She’s a very special one to me, but they’ve all had wonderful personalities and been awesome pets! Some had baggage like your Radar. But don’t we all…? :)

  22. I loved this story Ann! We have two Cavaliers, one of which is a rescue. Their names are Peyton and Allegra. Peyton is the rescue.. She had terrible separation anxiety when we first got her, but 2 years later, she is a vibrant and happy girl. She has her quirks but I would trade her for the world. Thank you again for sharing your story! Kind regards, Michel

  23. Arun Nath says:

    Beautiful story, it reminds me of Hachi.

  24. CJ Schepers says:

    I love this Ann! So happy to find you…

  25. Asham says:

    Beautiful. touching story. she looks exactly like my cocker spaniel – Roofus :-)

  26. Lee J Tyler says:

    I read this early this morning, Ann, and your words, and Abby have stayed with me all day. I have been a rescuer of animals for years; turtles on a long highway (yes, I checked the mirror and stopped prior to swooping him into my car), guinea pigs, a horse that would eat from no one but me. Ten years ago, I rescued a cat, Boz, who thinks he’s a dog. Then I rescued a dog, Charlie, who thought he was a cat. They were the perfect pair and often slept in-twined. Charlie had been left by a woman (Cruela de Vil, as I picture her) alone with her husband & Charlie (an smooth haired fox terrier) took the brunt of his anger at her via his boot, an image that still haunts me. Though I was company manager with far more duties than five could handle, I brought him into my work for days after and he sat in my lap as I typed, talked on the phone. If I had to leave for a meeting, he would shake in the corner, that being his usual state for so long he didn’t know he was in more caring hands now. I took him to “obedience school” for socialization. The expert trainers there, after Charlie’s graduation, said they had never seen such a stark transformation in a dog. From cowering & hiding to happily playing with much larger dogs in his group. His best friend was my boyfriend’s 120lb. black lab who would great Charlie by placing his whole mouth over my 14lb. Charlie until he was let out for air, thoroughly having been slimed like something in Ghostbusters & Charlie would play with him for hours. Charlie & I had a bond that was a wordless understanding. When I got sick, he knew it would be a rough day even before I awoke & would sit on my legs as if knowing that I should stay in bed. He was always right. It was only when I lost too much weight from the lupus & back fusion that I became unable to walk. My friends helped as much as they could but the vicissitudes of schedules were not enough for Charlie. After years & years together forming such a strong bond, I had to finally admit that my bond with him was not enough anymore when he would refuse to play, even with Boz, because I was in bed. He would walk at my right looking up at me with such concern. It was not a burden that he should carry but the other way around. He went to stay on & off at first, with a friend from childhood–the only man that Charlie felt safe with. He is being treated like the king he is & I’m so happy for him, though I wish I could see him. That heartache never leaves you.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story & putting up with the longest comment I believe ever left. Too good humans and good dogs. And especially to Charlies and Abby.
    Lee

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