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… adopt a shelter dog?

Beautiful Honey Girl

I loved her more than Sally. I know you should love all your children equally, but Honey was special. She had eyes the color of caramel that looked right into your soul. She came from difficult circumstances; she had lived on the streets before we got her from the shelter. Who knows what she had endured before. She was terribly scared of motorcycles and ambulances, and used to run off when she heard them coming from afar. She shrank back and cowered when you raised your hand for any reason, expecting to be beaten (which never happened, of course). She was also an escape artist. She could climb a 6 foot chain-link fence in no time and roam the neighborhood, and when I received a call at work that my dog had gotten out again and slobbered on someone’s window, staring inside, and hurried back home to catch her, she would sit innocently on my side of the fence again, as if she were saying, “What’s up? Been here all the time.” And she was the most expensive animal I’ve ever had, because she destroyed lots of things in my house. She destroyed tv remote controls, an i-flip camera, anything electronic she could get to, she tore the Christmas angel off the Christmas tree and distributed the feathers of his wings on the living-room floor (I thought a bird had died in my house!), she got to NINE cat food cans, opened them, and ate them all in one session. I found the empty cans on one side of the living-room couch, and the lids on the other side. Somehow, she had sorted them. And they were totally licked clean. Yes, she was a can opener. Go figure that. She never cut her gums or broke a tooth; no idea how she was able to do that, but this is probably how she survived on the streets before she was caught and brought to the shelter.

It was July 2009, two months after the inland derecho had devastated Carbondale. There were still broken trees around, and the Humane Society of Southern Illinois in Murphysboro was hit hard, too. I had perused its Petfinder pages to look for a companion for Sally when I came across the ad for “Ryba.”

Meet Ryba
“Hey there, I’m Ryba. I am a female not spayed, Chesapeake-Lab mix. I am 1 year old and chocolate colored. I am friendly, playful, and get along with other dogs. I was brought to the shelter as a stray. If you want someone to spend your days with, please consider me. I am current on my vaccinations.”

Ryba means “fish” in Russian, and this was a fitting name because she was a great swimmer. She was described as a one-year-old Labrador Retriever and Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix (I later did a DNA study on her that showed she was actually part Collie). Ryba seemed the perfect mate for Sally, so I decided to go visit and adopt her if she got along with Sally.

Before you could adopt a dog at the Humane shelter, you had to do a home study and fill out lots of paperwork, so they knew the adopted dog would have a yard to run, a warm bed inside, other pets to play with, etc. Plus, one had to bring any other dog, so see whether they got along. There was supposed to be two weeks of visiting time, where the two dogs (and the human) could get together and know one another, and if it all worked out, THEN one could adopt the dog (and have her spayed). I almost felt bad Honey was going to be so cheap. Sally cost $1,200 from the breeder, and Honey was $100 plus $80 for spaying. Little did I know that this dog would cost me so much throughout her life…

My Chinese tenant, Jielei, who had wanted the white puppy so badly, was afraid of black dogs, but a brown one I was allowed to have. I took Jielei and the little neighbor boy along for the first visit. I had already “reserved” Honey and paid for her pending spaying, which is obligatory at the Murphy shelter before one can take the animal home (PAWS in Anna, where I got two cats from, spays/neuters the animals at no cost for the adopter). I also needed to make a spaying appointment for my second dog (although they were both females; but that’s in the adoption contract, too). Sally was just old enough to do that at five months. 

Visiting Honey at the shelter with Sally

When we arrived at the shelter, the assistant led a very shy, totally shaggy and emaciated dog to us on a thick leash. We called Honey by her new name right away, but of course she didn’t react. Her fur looked like she had a bad skin disease or something (that came from not having any high-quality food), and the ribs poked out at the sides. They explained she had been a stray, and she must have lived on the streets for almost a year (her age at that time). Later, I found out she must have had received some training as a hunting dog, because she was after ducks (and squirrels), but pointing them out without actually going after them often is rewarding enough for her. She also listened to the word “wait” (the word “come” never became one of her favorite vocabulary terms… and “heel,” what’s that?? she was always pulling ahead, because she was the lead dog, and humans didn’t count). Later, I also found out that life on the street had taught her to open trash bins and trash bags (also of other people down the road!), and to chew open tin cans and eat whatever was in there. This dog would never starve! She stole like a thief and was also very destructive if bored and left alone…

Well, the humane shelter had nice, fenced-in areas outside where one could take out the dogs, so we took Honey in one of these, locked the gate, took off the leash, and let her “play” with Sally. I had also brought a very sturdy steel doggy brush to comb out the hair she was losing in big fluffs. But at first, one had to get close to her with a long, outstretched arm, because she wasn’t exactly trusting towards people. It was like taming a wolf!! However, she never tried to bite; she just never came near. Luckily, we had lots of treats with us… but she wasn’t as excited about them as we had expected — she didn’t know what treats were. Probably never got any before.

Sally, on the other hand, who was (still!) very hyperactive, playful, and treats-addicted, overwhelmed her right away, rolled in the dirt with her, and chased her all around the place. Jielei and the little boy sat on a bench and barely dared to move (scared of big dogs…). It was evident that Honey and Sally DID like one another!!

After two weeks of this (and once on a very rainy, muddy, slippery day, where a friend and I were completely covered in dripping, running mud with sprinkled faces when we took Honey back inside, so they rolled up their carpet and gave us evil stares as we made human foot prints and doggy prints on the way to Honey’s “cell”), Honey was spayed, and I could pick her up at the vet. You can actually see my 20-year-old Chevy pick-up truck… I sold it to John the Mason in fall 2009 for 300 bucks, and he repaired the rust and painted it anew, and then sold it for 500 bucks to a high school girl. This car was perfect for putting dogs in the back.

When I noticed that she could climb and jump chain link fences of any height, I couldn’t leave her out in the backyard during the day like Sally anymore…. Honey just escaped, sometimes with the steel leash and the pole still attached to her, walked around the neighborhood, and looked through my neighbors’ windows (they weren’t very thrilled about that). Honey tried to make up for that with my next-door neighbor by digging up her front yard and bringing her a mole… My neighbor put up a very spiky fence on her side, and one day when Honey climbed it she must have slipped and driven one of the spikes into her shoulder… she bled quite a bit and required a row of staples at the vet’s.

Honey was also a digger and left deep holes in the backyard, which I occasionally fell in when trying to mow the lawn… Especially in the heat of summer, she used to dig deep holes and sleep in them to cool off. She was incredible… she was also able to free Sally when she was on the pole: she just dug a hole all around the pole, pulled it out, and then bit off Sally’s fabric collar. Throughout her life, I spent lots of money on collars and fences!

Honey was the smartest dog I’ve ever known, with a great sense of freedom and exploring. Like her Mama… The dogs slept in the garage, which I painted pink, and it had white lace curtains 🙂 For Christmas, I once got a DNA kit to test what Honey really was a mix of (one can order those kits from the Internet; they contain a cotton swab, with which one has to go in the dog’s mouth and stir around in it, and then send it to a company who does the genetic testing). Honey’s kit came back as “level 1: Labrador Retriever,” and “level 5: Collie,” which meant that less than 10% of her was Collie. She didn’t look like it, though… she was a beauty, with shining fur and golden eyes. She loved to ride in the car, and I always took her with me when I had to go shopping or to the bank. At the drive-throughs at the Credit Union and Old National Bank, the cashiers always put a doggy cookie in with the bank statement they send back to me though the pneumatic tube. Honey was always waiting for her cookie 🙂

Honey learned what it meant to be loved. Honey learned what it meant to have access to delicious food and a warm doggy bed. Honey learned what it meant to play. Sally taught her. Sally also taught her how to tear apart their expensive, new toys, and make the grass in the back yard look like it was covered in snow. I don’t want to know how many dog toys I bought over their life time!

While Sally was plump and playful, Honey was sportive like a hound. I thought losing weight would do Sally good, and running and climbing around would be a thrill for Honey, so my friend and I booked an agility training session in a neighboring village for the girls.

Diary entry from August 22nd, 2009:

“Today, my friend Mary and I went to a dog agility parcours with trainer Pat in Cobden, IL. First, I had to drive a long way over wobbly streets through little villages, and then along a stony path to Pat’s estate, where the doggies would be running around. She let her own dog participate as a role model. Today, there were no other people with dogs, so we enjoyed a private lesson for 40 bucks. At first, I had to hear the defeating fact that my little polar bear Sally was “too fat” to make jumps on the parcours – she would just hurt herself. Oh no…. and then, Pat remarked that Sally’s “manners were too bad” to obey on the parcours; another disappointed, “oh!” However, after a few warming exercises, running next to mommy and aunty, Sally understood that she’d always get a treat for crawling through a pipe or balancing on a slippery white wooden thingy, so she enthusiastically ran up and down and up and down, while her little fat belly rolled around. Yay!!! Honey looked rather elegant storming the obstacles like a horse. The “agility training” would not serve for losing weight, so much was clear, because of all the treats the girls received. However, they had so much fun that we pondered to take lessons next summer, and I wanted private lessons, because if other dogs were present, Sally would spend the first half hour greeting everybody!”

When I got married in 2014, Sally immediately took to David, but Honey became jealous. She wanted me all to herself! When David returned home while I was still at work, the dogs would run up to the wooden fence, and Sally would jump joyfully while Honey would bark angrily. And he said, “hello Sally!” and walked inside. One day, I noticed that and asked him why he greeted only Sally. “Honey doesn’t like me,” he replied. It took a while for them to warm up to one another, but soon, I walked Sally (the wild girl) and he walked Honey (the mellow one). Since he was very slow when speaking and walking due to his anti-depressives, Honey totally adapted to his motion and also walked slowly behind Sally and me. And when I turned around to ask where they were, he said, “Honey is tired!” Little did he know that Honey did HIM a favor.

Walking with hubby

Honey almost prevented our wedding! Well, at least, she prevented us from having wedding rings at our ceremony with the judge at the Murphysboro courthouse on December 15th, 2014.

Diary entry, December 20th, 2014:

We have our wedding rings now!!!! Oh, and the reason why they were so late: Macy’s had sent them to MY house, and a “fierce-looking, big brown dog” stood in the driveway, and the UPS guy was scared and took the package back with him to Marion!! He left me a voice mail on MY home phone (but I live at David’s house now, so it took a few days to find it). I had him send the package out again, but he took it with him a second time, since of course I wasn’t home, and the sender had required a signature. So I had UPS send it to David’s house, and the parcel came yesterday…. And then, David’s ring turned out to be too small… I immediately went to the mall to a jeweler’s store to have the ring resized, and now we’re good to go for the dinner party tomorrow 😉

Honey and Leander, 2018

Time passed. I lost my husband, moved to Tennessee, and had our son. Both doggies really loved Leander from the start, but Honey even more so. This time, there was no jealousy. Honey was always gentle and nudged him with her nose, whereas Sally was the usual tank and ran him over as soon as he could stand. Honey Girl had become all gray in her face, and you could really tell age was beginning to trouble her. Her eyes weren’t as clear as they used to be, her teeth had broken off, and she developed fatty tumors under her belly and on her back. She also had skin trouble on one of her legs and licked that place constantly, so there wasn’t much hair on it left. All her life, she had had to fight ear infections and had been on cleansing liquid, ear drops, and prednisone when it got worse, especially after swimming during the summer. We had a really good vet, Animal Clinic of North Clarksville, who took excellent care of our elderly dogs’ ailments. For the last two and a half years of her life, Honey really enjoyed following Leander around, getting a pat here and there, inspecting his toys, splashing with him in the water, and giving him a slobbery kiss.

Best friends, 2019

When Leander was two and started to be interested in playing soccer, we used to go outside into the back yard after dinner and chase the old, deflated soccer ball with Honey and Sally, sometimes even until after 10 p.m. We switched on the motion control over the garage door to be able to see. Those evenings remain a cherished memory; we saw glow worms and caught frogs in the doggy trough. Here is a video of Lyons Cub in the back yard with Honey and Sally:

We all had a great time; Sally was still chasing the ball, and Honey was just walking slowly around and enjoyed the company. She had never been an enthusiastic player; she only ever chased balls and sticks to take them away from Sally. Now, you could really tell that old age had crept up and she preferred to relax and cuddle and not to overexert herself anymore.

Old and Young, 2020

In July 2020 came the time we had to leave the country and return to our European family due to the pandemic. Alas, we were not allowed to take our animals with us because of Covid-19. The dogs were so old (going on 14 and 13) that they would not have survived a long time alone in quarantine at an airport, anyway. We found a wonderful family to adopt them and give them a loving and caring home for the short rest of their lives. Below is our last day with Honey and Sally; we were in the back yard, waiting for the new family to arrive and take our beloved dogs with them. Sally had no clue what was going on and grinned and jumped around like always, but Honey seemed to feel that this was a good-bye forever. She wanted one last belly rub. Sally was the forever-child, but Honey seemed to possess wisdom.

We had planned to return to the U.S. the next summer to visit our friends and our doggies when the pandemic was over, but we never got to see our doggies again. From time to time, I would email the new owners and receive a picture back via our wonderful former dog walker, Kim from PAWS and ALL. She was the one who had to transmit the sad news that Honey suffered from cancer and was in pain. She had a tumor on her leg that had been bandaged a few times, but she always managed to scratch it open. The family knew her time had come. We received a final photo.

Last time together, holding hands

Honey died on January 18th, 2021. She was 14 years old. Leander and I missed her dearly, but most of all, Sally. She would follow her soon.

P.S.: It is 2022 now, and Russia has invaded Ukraine. If you want to support an artist in Ukraine, go to JoyLandCrochet, Svitlana’s Etsy store; she made me a beautiful, custom Honey dog to remember my real girl by, and she can crochet you a memory piece of your beloved pet, too:

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