Dave and I have always loved dogs. When we met, he had a Beagle-Dachshund mix named B.J. (for Beagle-Juice)---yep, Dave's sense of humor is one of the things that attracted me so strongly to him---and I had a Sheltie named Jordan. Jordan and B.J. got along fine, but it wasn't long before we realized Jordan was likely a bit jealous of Dave. Lesson learned----two men in my life would not work for either one of them. But soon after Dave and I got married, we decided it was time to get a puppy that would truly be both of ours. We mistakenly invested in two male Bluetick beagles, who, if they weren't fighting for Alpha position in the family, were "hunting" other dogs in the neighborhood. We gave them to a family in Florida who knew exactly what to do with dogs of this sort---teach them to hunt.
So, we talked to people and read as much as we could about dog breeds and decided that a Labrador Retriever would be the perfect match for us. We went through a breeder (what we know now and what we knew then about the value in rescuing dogs instead of buying dogs contstitutes an enormous gap) and wound up with a yellow Lab pup we named K.C., who we still say is the Lab that broke the mold. She was the muse for my first book I ever wrote called "Letting Go of K.C." and we say she taught us about life, love, and loss.
We bought three other yellow Labs from breeders after K.C. (two, we still have---L.N. (Ellen) and Rudy). But something happened when we moved from Florida to Tucson that I can only call a Godwink. Through a friend of a friend, we stumbled upon an organization called Desert Labrador Retriever Rescue . For the past 3 1/2 years, we have been fostering Labs (or, in some cases, Lab mixes) that have been rescued by people who go down to Nogales (Mexico) or simply saved by people who have turned in their Labs (or dumped them) at kennels or in the desert. We applaud those folks who do the rescuing. We have chosen a different role, one of fostering.
We get a call saying a Lab has been rescued and is being spayed or neutered and we get asked to foster the dog until we can get it adopted. The only people who can view the dogs up for adoption on the Dog-a-log (I promise I wouldn't make that up) are folks who live in Arizona and have been vetted (no pun intended) by home visit volunteers. I have joked with friends that you could adopt a child from Kenya more easily than you can adopt one of our Labs. Why? Because we are not looking for the right dog for you. We are looking for the perfect home for that particular Lab after living with the Lab for a week or two (sometimes months if they are medically fragile or have behavior issues, etc.).
Over the course of a year, Dave and I fostered and adopted out eight Labs to beautiful homes (most of whom I keep in touch with via Facebook and/or text),
So, two years ago, along comes a litter of four puppies (who were deemed by the owners as "throw-away dogs" because they didn't think they would be able to sell them). Dave and I talked about the ramifications of taking on a puppy as a foster and decided it would be fine, as long as we fostered a boy pup (beginning with K.C., we have only had girl dogs, so we knew we wouldn't be "tempted" by a boy pup). These little babies were 6 1/2 week old bundles of fur with the sweetest puppy breath ever known to canines. So we took in Kirby (so named for Kirby Puckett of the Minnesota Twins). Does anyone see where this story is going?
Maybe we didn't truly think the whole thing through, but you can't adopt out a pup until they have been spayed or neutered, which you can't do until they are at least 4 months old. You do the math. By the time Kirby was ready to be neutered, L.N. (our oldest) had become Kirby's sister who would play with him, put him in his place when he played too hard, and cuddle with him like she had raised him (well, she kind of did).
Long story short, Kirby is part of our pack, which means we are now called "Foster Failures", since we adopted our own foster. Kirby was a goofy, funny, curious little dude that kept Dave and me from going out some nights because he was so entertaining. After one of my breast cancer surgeries, he also became known as my snuggle bunny, as he would curl up on the couch (or even the chair in which I had to be propped up) to keep me company.
What we didn't know at the time was that he would become the foster-pup whisperer. Whenever we now get a new foster dog in our home, L.N. and Rudy turn the reins over to him. The girls are 12 and 10, so they are past that "crazy Lab who's been trapped in a kennel" phase. But Kirby? Something tells me he knows how good he has it here at the Arneson household, and he has stepped up to the plate. He shows the new recruit around the house, teaches them how to lie down on the top step of the pool to cool their undercarriage after a long walk, and he helps teach them our routine of praying before mealtime (only a video or viewing this in person would do this ritual justice---just trust me, it's adorable). But the best part is when we get a young pup in, Kirby runs and plays with them within minutes of meeting them. There is no discrimination about where they lived before they came to us, whether their fur is less than pristine, what color they are, or what baggage they carry.
He unconditionally plays with every single one of them, as if they are his new brother or sister, even if it only ends up being for a week or two. As a two-year old, now, who loves his mom and dad (and his bed and his food and his daily walks), he gives up his place on the bed when the foster temporarily takes over. It's as if he knows they are coming from a place where there hasn't been much love and he knows they need it more than he does (for a short while).
The last black Lab we had was a tri-pod. She had to have her front right leg amputated due to some food aggression issues in a kennel, where she was torn up pretty badly. Several weeks after her surgery, she and Kirby are running and playing in our backyard. His tactic? Nip at her one good front leg, at which point she face-plants onto the grass, then pops back up, runs over to Kirby and uses her stump to pin him down on the ground. No pity, no judgment, just two dogs who are loving playing together. This picture below is of Kirby and Sarah, our latest foster. It is a bit of a trick of photography, because 99% of the time, they were running after each other and playing tug o' war with a chew toy. But we captured this moment when they were both exhausted. These dogs knew each other for about a week before they began sleeping on each other.
People ask us all the time, "How can you do that? How can you keep a dog and then give it up to another family?" Our answer is "We are blessed to be able to find perfect families for these perfect dogs who have lived imperfect lives."
Truly, though, we are blessed to have Kirby, who loves and lives unconditionally.
May we all be that blessed.