Apparently this day was designated to remind us of dogs who need homes. I used to promote its popular hash tag, #adoptdontshop. After Laddie, I prefer #everydogawanteddog.
Dog rescues have become a thing – most of them wonderful, some worse than puppy mills. But in a perfect world no dog would ever need to be rescued, because every puppy born would be wanted, loved unconditionally, and raised responsibly. That was not Laddie’s case. Like many dogs that are traumatized before being adopted, Laddie bore terrible psychic and physical wounds.
We “rescued” Laddie quite literally, plucking him out of traffic on a busy highway where we later realized his owner probably dumped him. He was about six months old. When we stopped our car he ran at us and leaped at us, into our arms – with such panicked force that it took two of us to catch him.
We were not looking for another dog, having recently lost our elderly collie Sallie and aged cat Poppie. We’d recently celebrated our younger son’s graduation. We were looking forward to some time without being needed, much.
And, even if we’d been looking, we wouldn’t just scoop up someone’s dog and take him home. After saving him from the road, we dropped Laddie off at a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We had no intention of returning.
But the way Laddie looked at me haunted me the minute I handed him over. At least in my imagination – and I’m convinced this was real – in his eyes I read regret, reproach and, worst of all, betrayal of his trust.
We lived an eight-hour journey from that shelter, but I phoned every day to see if he’d been claimed. I assumed, hoped, that he’d been on that highway, terrorized and starving, only because someone who cared had lost him.
Nobody came looking for him. Much later, after his abuse became evident, I realized it was a very good thing.
I followed his case long distance, as the shelter vet neutered him and treated some of his health issues. Then, when he came up for adoption, weeks later, we traveled there to claim him as ours.
I think Laddie had already claimed us as his, the first moment he saw us on the highway. It just took us a long time to realize that we belonged together.
For the next 12 years Laddie taught us about unconditional love – and also provided some hard lessons about how some humans treat four-legged family members. He was, to put it mildly, a handful. He’d had a harder life than any six-month puppy should have to endure, evident in his scars and his terrors from his first experiences.
For his first 18 months with us, Laddie was frantic, 24/7. He was terrified of everything and everyone, except us. Many of his emotional and physical wounds never entirely healed. And right to the end, when cancer took him at age 12, I wished he could tell us what happened.
But, fortunately, that is only a small part of Laddie’s story. By age two, he settled into his role as a beloved family member, a “character,” a buddy to everyone and every animal he met (except our poor postman, the one person Laddie loathed), and our neighbourhood’s unofficial mascot.
Every dog and people partnership should be as lucky. In an ideal world, it would be – right from the start. In an ideal world, there would be no need to “rescue” anybody.