After Rose, the hole in my heart was huge- I was sad and cried easily. I found solace in keeping busy; my gardens flourished that summer. Finn mourned her as well. But time does heal and the therapy that comes from hiking daily gently worked its magic and we both began to mend. As the grief became bearable and the darkness lifted, I started thinking about adopting another dog.
This time, I did my research in order to find a reputable, well-established rescue organization. The Animal Farm Foundation specializes in pit bulls, working hard to educate the public about this maligned ‘breed’ by offering training and seminars to shelters and rescues who take in these dogs, as well as their own extensive rehabilitation and training program. Their website showcased several pit bulls needing a home, among them a simply delightful looking, blocky-headed, 9-month old female. A stunning blue-grey in color, her name was Marilyn. My mom’s name is Marilyn. I took it as a sign.
After several emails back and forth, I was nearly certain Marilyn would be a perfect fit, my only concern was her unknown history with cats. Their staff behaviorist Bernice agreed to a ‘cat test’ and Marilyn passed with flying colors- showing a reasonable interest in the cats presented, but no indicators that she would hurt them if given a chance.
I was thrilled. Plans were made to accommodate Finn for the 5-hour journey to Duchess County, New York. Bernice’s plan was to start the dogs out with a parallel walk; then if all went well, Finn and Marilyn would be allowed to ‘meet and greet’ in a large, enclosed yard. I felt secure and in good hands working with a certified canine behaviorist as well as interns who were well versed in canine body language. I was so excited, it never occurred to me that things might not go as planned.
Entering the grounds of Animal Farm Foundation, I was taken aback – it was unlike any shelter I’d ever seen: beautiful rolling hills reminiscent of a Kentucky horse farm, small lovely out dwellings placed here and there on knolls, and then an occasional fenced-in yard with the metal gating I was used to seeing at shelters. We drove up to the Visitor Center and were warmly welcomed by our assigned intern, Jaime. After making sure Finn was comfortable, we were taken to a large, sunny room to meet Marilyn. She came bumbling in, delighted to have visitors and made a beeline to us. I knelt down to say hello and instantly fell in love. She was as dear as she was comical. She mouthed my hand, pawed my leg, then toddled over to my husband, the tail wag a constant. She then proceeded to show us the toys by dragging them out, one at a time, and depositing them in our general area before bouncing off to get another. There was no question of us proceeding to the next step, so we went to collect Finn. We were instructed to begin walking down the driveway. Jaime and Marilyn would come from behind, then remain walking beside us. Jaime would dictate the distance between the dogs dependent upon what she observed.
Finn was eager to be off. New place! New smells! Let’s go! He took absolutely no notice of Marilyn as she and Jaime came abreast of us. Marilyn however, was quite interested in getting to know more about this dark, handsome guy. But Finn continued to ignore her, moving to my other side, further away from Marilyn. I glanced at Jaime. She was watching Finn closely. Marilyn hopped and attempted a moving play bow, only to tumble, eliciting laughter from us. Unfazed, she shook herself, then galloped ahead. Finn kept his nose to the ground, intent on smelling.
Our destination was a large, shady enclosed yard. We went in first, with instructions from Jaime to unclip Finn’s lead, allowing him to wander and explore- which he did. She then came in with Marilyn, waiting several moments before unclipping her. I admit I was nervous. Finn was certainly not acting like his normal, good self. I wondered, were the heat and humidity to blame? Marilyn circled around to greet Finn. He turned sideways and moved off. It was glaringly obvious he was avoiding her. Marilyn bounced and went down once more into a beautiful play bow. Finn hid behind my husband. Literally. Jaime asked us to move around. We did. Marilyn again invited Finn to play, dashing sideways, circling back, stopping, dashing off again. He trotted to my side and attempted to put his head and shoulders between my legs. Jaime called Marilyn to her and snapped on the leash. Swallowing a lump in my throat, I clipped Finn’s lead and said to him, “It’s ok buddy. We hear you.”
I looked up at Jaime’s kind, sympathetic face. She smiled gently as she shrugged, “For whatever reason, Finn is just not comfortable with her.” I nodded, eyes brimming. On our way back, Jaime turned to me and said, “We have Patti Mayonnaise- she’s older than you wanted, but she’s got the sweetest temperament. Would you like to meet her?” I looked over at my husband, who nodded, “Sure, why not? We’ve come all this way.”
We waited in the same room. The door opened and I… just… stared. I couldn’t take my eyes off her long, drooping teats, the back few nearly touching the floor. Her toes were troll-like with thick, yellowish nails. If Marilyn had been Beauty, Patti was the Beast. She glanced around with a wide semi-toothless grin and waddled right on over to me. I knelt down and she laid her scarred muzzle on my knee, tail wagging gently to and fro. I looked up at Jaime and smiled. My husband just shook his head.
If we had any reservations, they instantly disappeared as we watched Finn go down into a play bow when Patti came out. Jaime grinned from ear-to-ear and suggested we foster her. It took only 3 days for me to realize two things: Patti was actually Bess. And Bess was home.