On January 29, Dixie and I will have our six-month pet-and-person adoption anniversary. Evidence abounds that we are good for each other.

dixie hug

In late July 2018, each of us brought to the other a broken yet open heart, a need for comfort, a dream of a more peaceful night’s sleep, a longing for a warm body to lean into, an eagerness for shared adventures, and an appetite for healthy home-cooked meals. I finally felt ready to care for a dog again after the death of my beloved Pasu in February 2017.

I know little of Dixie’s story. She came to Oregon from Madera County Animal Services in Madera, California, where someone reportedly found her on the street and walked her in for care on July 6, 2018. I don’t know how long she had been living hard. She has what our veterinarian calls “small puncture scars” on her face; whether from a fence, barbed wire, or thorny shrub, we don’t know.

Unable to reunite her with her people in Madera or find her a new home through adoption, Madera County Animal Services transferred her to the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) here in Portland, Oregon, as part of the OHS Second Chance Program. The caring, capable professionals and volunteers at OHS accepted her on July 17, provided basic care for her, micro-chipped her, spayed her, started a regimen of rabies and other core vaccinations, and listed her as available for adoption on July 22.

The dogs and cats who come into OHS through the Second Chance Program are from partner shelters in Oregon, Washington, California, and Hawaii, shelters with a high volume of animals taken in as strays and owner-relinquished pets. Because these shelters have limited space to house the animals, fewer resources to care for them, and fewer visitors to provide new homes, they need help from larger shelters to place the animals in forever homes. The OHS Second Chance Program saves lives; it puts no time limits on an animal’s stay. OHS is an incredible place with incredibly selfless and generous people, and it is supported by an animal-loving community here in Portland.

I met Dixie on Sunday, July 29. My plans that day were to take myself to Mount Hood National Forest for a hike and not go to the animal shelter. I hadn’t studied the current dog adoption list, and besides, after having been repeatedly turned down for dogs I was interested in or missing out on dogs adopted by other people, I was feeling pouty and put out, not wanting more rejection. But something kept invading my thoughts, telling me to go to OHS, to keep trying. Almost begrudgingly, I gave in. I remember saying aloud, “All right, I’ll go!”

Along with dozens of other lonely hearts seeking pet companions, I stood in the long line outside OHS and scrolled through the dog adoption list on my iPhone. I stopped when I saw Dixie’s face and ears. “Sweet little one,” I thought to myself. I was conscious of a connection. Listed at just eight pounds, she was smaller than I was looking for, but I wrote her name down for a visit.

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Dixie’s OHS pet adoption photo

Checking in at the reception desk, I asked if Gail was available – a weekend volunteer who had helped me in early July. During that prior visit to OHS, Gail had reviewed my visitation record and asked to talk with me about the kind of dog I wanted. Because of the information I had provided about my history of caring for animals, all of whom had lived good, long lives with me, she wanted to help me. The reality was that my new living situation (an upper unit condominium) and my full-time work schedule kept disqualifying me for dogs similar in size and breed to my beloved Pasu, my Sheltie who died in February 2017. When he was full-grown and healthy, Pasu weighed up to 30 pounds, and he had access to a fenced backyard at my house, where he ran and played.

That day in early July (weeks before I met Dixie), Gail ushered me in to new possibilities for dog adoption. She gave me literature about different breeds, recommended ten smaller breeds she thought would make good hiking buddies, and narrowed the list to those she thought would adapt well to my condo and schedule. She also advised me against particular breeds, and that was helpful, too. You might say Gail intentionally and generously granted me a second chance. When I left OHS that day, if I had had a tail to wag, I surely would have wagged it vigorously.

So, on my return visit in late July, when I asked if Gail was available, I felt encouraged that she was available and happy to see me. When I told her I wanted to see Dixie, her countenance changed to hesitation and concern, and she asked me, “Why?” I said, “I like her face. She looks a little scared, and there’s a longing and curiosity in her eyes that draws me to her. I want to meet her.”

Gail obligingly told me about the little stray dog from Madera who had had a rough time of it and was still having somewhat of a rough time. She showed me Dixie’s paperwork with notes about how she cowered around people, was mildly aggressive toward other dogs, had an upset digestive system and loose stool, was underweight and shy, and would probably require multiple return visits from an interested adopting family before she could leave OHS and go home with them. One additional note, entered by a different name, got my attention. The note was just one word, “sweet,” and it had been entered by Gail. Yes, the same Gail who was helping me.

Willing to give this a try, Gail said she’d bring out the little dog but reinforced the note that if I were interested in Dixie, I’d probably need to come back for another visit or two. I believe, in being sensitive to my prior rejections and disappointments, Gail just didn’t want me to get my hopes up.

She escorted me to a large outdoor kennel and told me to wait there while she got Dixie. After several minutes, I spotted Gail walking back toward the kennel, noticed the leash in her hand, and looked down to see a little brown dog staying close to her right leg. Dixie had a forlorn, anxious face. And then she looked at me.

Everything changed in that moment. Whether by instinct or habit, Dixie immediately looked away but then just as quickly whipped her head up and around, eyes big and alert, staring into mine. I smiled at her, raised my eyebrows, and said, “Hiiieee!” Her whole body became one big tail wag. She walked willingly to me, tail wagging, head up, nose sniffing. Gail gave me a few treats for her, and she happily took them from my open palm and ate them, one at a time.

I walked to each corner of the kennel, turned, squatted, and called for her. She trotted to me, somewhat shy but mostly excited and happily surprised. After the third corner, Dixie followed me when I walked away. I asked Gail if I could hold her. “Yes, of course,” she said, with a big grin on her face.

I picked Dixie up, and she buried her little head in my chest. Her whole body relaxed in my arms; she let out a big sigh of contentment, lifted her head, and gave me a kiss on the nose, and then another and another.

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Driving Dixie home

Gail said to me, “Well, she’s adopted you. Clearly. Now you have to decide if you want to adopt her.” I said, “Yes, I do. Can I take her home today?” Without hesitation, Gail replied, “Absolutely.”

Dixie pranced out of that kennel, through the noisy hallways, and to the gift shop, where we waited for paperwork to be completed. Recalling Dixie’s expression, I think of Meryl Streep singing “I’m Checkin’ Out (Of This Heartbreak Hotel)” from the movie Postcards from the Edge. Dixie owned the moment. I asked many questions, picked out a few starter items to take home for us, and then texted my sister and sister-in-law, Carole and Nancy, my news. It was all so exciting.

It was not an easy beginning at home, however. Dixie hadn’t been leash-trained, potty-trained, or crate-trained, and didn’t even know how to play fetch. In addition, she still had an upset digestive system and loose stool. After a short-term probiotic treatment and different dog kibble didn’t work, I tried my own digestive system remedy: banana, rice, apple sauce, sweet potato, egg, brewer’s yeast. It worked almost immediately, and within a few days I expanded her diet. So began my cooking for Dixie. In addition to the digestive remedy, Dixie also likes catfish, cod, halibut, salmon, chicken, yams, broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, Egg Beaters, apples, blueberries, pears, popcorn, and pumpkin. She tolerates the dog kibble that supplements her home-cooked meals about as much as I tolerate the vitamins I need to take. We eat well, and cooking for us is a pleasure.

dixie kiss
Dixie kisses

Dixie is shy around other people and does not care for other dogs much yet. Who knows what happened to her before she was rescued by Second Chance. Typical of her mixed breed (Miniature Pinscher / Chihuahua, sometimes called a “Chipin”), she is mostly a one-person dog. I call her my “MiniPinch.” Patient and understanding neighbors, both two-leggeds and four-leggeds here in Glenwood Place Condominiums and Summerplace community, are befriending her. She’s gaining confidence, coming out of her shell, and trusting the security of her new world. At home with me, she loves to play and keep close and is vastly entertaining company. Charming, sweet, feisty, fun, intelligent, affectionate, loyal and protective, suspicious of strangers, stubborn at times, active, and athletic, Dixie is a delight.

Dixie at East Fork of Hood River

I wanted a hiker dog, yes, but I brought Dixie home regardless of her own interest or ability. I wasn’t sure how little, fragile Dixie, now a strong and healthy 10 pounds, would manage on a forest trail. No worries at all. She’s an adventurer. She loves going for a ride in her car seat, where she can sit up, look around, enjoy the view, and curl up to sleep after an adventure. And she is an all-weather hiker; we have been on trails in sunshine, rain, wind, sleet, and snow. Trail trekker, forest frolicker, log vaulter, rock climber, river wader, sidewalk stroller – Dixie sniffs out magic and leads me to wonders on and off the trail. With Dixie along, I move about more cheerfully, excitedly, energetically, mindfully, and safely, and I laugh more musically. As I wrote in another blog post, called “A Hummingbird’s Thank You,” Dixie might be a hummingbird shapeshifter.

While Dixie is not the same as Pasu and her coming into my life is not the same scenario as when Pasu came into my life, I believe she is a second chance for me. Dixie is a little miracle. She’s a gift who helped me change my life around, heal my heart, and restore my interest in caring about and for an animal again.

Love on the trail

It is an irony of life, when we think one time is the only time, one time is the most important time, something or someone is the only or best one, or one dog is the last dog. In thinking so, we close ourselves off, give up on things and people, and don’t give ourselves a second chance. I cannot rewind certain moments and do things differently with Pasu. Even though I do have a few regrets, I know I did the best I could, loved him, cared for him, gave him a wonderful life, and let him go when it was time for him to go. I don’t compare Pasu and Dixie. My beloved Pasu was my friend. And Dixie is my friend. Life changes, we change, and if we confine ourselves to first chances only, we will miss out on something wonderful.

Pasu and Dixie dogs

My life is full of second chance stories, which have come in many forms over the years: loved ones who forgave me; people who believed in me; sorrows that humbled me; beauty and music that saved me in my danger times; excellent doctors and surgeons and nurses who cared for me; a professor who instructed me, “Try again;” a therapist who told me, “You have a choice;” my bold decision to move to Oregon and change my name and break out of my shell; a voice in my head that repeated, “Go toward the blue,” when I was on my way out of this life; a horse whose bond gave me strength to overcome hard things; whispers of old trees in ancient groves who encouraged me to keep on going; and other memorable one-time opportunities to be courageous and fully alive.

My second chance with Dixie is teaching me patience, acceptance, discipline, wisdom, forgiveness, compassion, courage, faith, magic, mindfulness, playfulness, and happiness. I have said that my taking care of Pasu was the most gracious service of my life. When we have so much grace, there is no better decision to make than to give ourselves and others a second chance. They rarely happen by chance.

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Second chance

Composed on January 5, 2019 – almost two weeks before Dixie’s second birthday (January 17) and three weeks before our six-month pet-and-person adoption anniversary (January 29). The second anniversary of the death of my dog Pasu will be February 21, 2019.