The date April 30th will always have a special place in my heart because that is the day my boyfriend Adam and I welcomed Elvis into our home. Adam and I joined MSIR in early 2011 with the hopes of finding a brother for our then 2-year old shiba Luna. Neither Adam nor I knew anything about the shiba breed before Luna came along. She ended up in our home after a friend simply couldn’t take on the responsibility any longer. As stubborn as she can be at times (she is as true a shiba as they come) she got us absolutely hooked on the breed. So when it came time to add another shiba to our pack, we turned to MSIR.
After completing our home visit, none of the available dogs seemed like a good fit for our family. So when I heard that there was a need for fosters for a group of recently rescued puppy mill dogs, I thought, “why not?”. Adam and I had discussed fostering before but had never stepped up to the plate. Looking back now, I suppose we set the bar pretty high by beginning with a commercial breeder release!
While fostering to Adam meant what it probably means to most of you out there – rehabilitating and temporarily caring for a dog until it can find its perfect forever home – to me it was just another word for adoption. While I may never admit it to Adam, and while Adam surely didn’t know, I had decided that we would be keeping Elvis long before Elvis ever arrived in our home.
That conviction did waiver a bit about two weeks into welcoming Elvis into our home, though. Adam and I had done a pretty good job (or so I thought) of preparing ourselves, and Luna, for the new addition. What we hadn’t been prepared for was the totally different animal that is a puppy mill rescue. The sight was absolutely heartbreaking. Elvis had likely never been bathed or combed. I still remember the process of giving him his first bath– the dirt literally stained our tub. Garbage bag after garbage bag was filled with matted fur. Elvis was missing part of his nose, skin, and a dew claw. He had scars on his muzzle and he was missing teeth. He had no idea what grass was or how to approach those crazy contraptions called stairs. Oh, and potty training? No way.
While I could handle all of these little things, the adjustment to his new life outside of a cage and his fear of everything from people to the folding of clothes, it was his reaction to Luna that I struggled with most. Looking back, it was so obvious – Elvis had never been properly socialized. He had lived his life in a cage without love or positive interaction with anyone or anything. Looking back, it may have been obvious, but it certainly wasn’t at the time. Though Luna would try to play, she couldn’t go anywhere near Elvis without him attacking. It was out of fear and protection of my little girl Luna that I began thinking Elvis wasn’t the right fit for our family. And just as that thought crept into my head, I watched the seemingly unthinkable occur...
While watching T.V. one morning, I noticed Elvis get up from his usual spot (a blanket in the corner of our living room... a spot he rarely left those first few weeks) and begin to initiate play with Luna. She, understandably, was cautious. He proceeded to bow in front of her, tail wagging frantically. And just like that, it was as if he understood that she meant no harm. He had a long way to go – playtime would have to be monitored closely as Elvis learned just how far was too far and just how rough was too rough – but he made it clear that Luna was no longer a threat. Rather, she was a best friend. Yep, we were definitely keeping him. (Adam still had no idea).
Of course, there were other hurdles. We discovered that Elvis suffered from moderately graded luxating patellas in both rear legs. Upon initial vet visit it was also noted that Elvis had a moderate heart murmur. Elvis received surgery on both of his back legs to repair the luxated patella's and gets around like a champ. Oh yeah, and that heart murmur? Miraculously disappeared after a month or so of proper nutrition and lots of love. It was as if every sign was pointing to the little guy staying with us for good.
The most recent (and hopefully last) challenge came this past summer when, while Adam and I were out of town, Elvis slipped his harness while staying with our family and took off. During the hottest Minnesota summer days of the year, Elvis was gone for exactly one week. That week was hands down the worst week of my life. We received the phone call that Elvis had run off just hours after Adam and I had talked about adopting him. That drive from rural Wisconsin to the suburbs of St. Paul was the longest drive of my life. We spent the next week, along with family, friends, and dedicated MSIR volunteers, searching for Elvis. He turned up, just about two miles away from where he was staying, seven days later. I had seen him in the neighborhood a few days earlier but he ran from everyone and everything. It was as if he simply didn’t recognize me.... or was too afraid to even try to recognize me. Adam and I were out with Luna later that week when we saw him running down the street. Out of pure instinct, Adam let Luna off her leash. She spotted Elvis and ran, tail flailing, and it was as if the fear suddenly just drained out of him. The two just sat there, as if catching up with one another, waiting for Adam and I to catch up.
The first thing I said to Adam once Elvis was home safe and sound? ‘We can’t give him up.” Adam’s reply was a simple “I know”. Elvis has been home ever since.
The reality is that Elvis still has a long way to go: he is still afraid of many things and doesn’t fully trust people (even us, at times). That being said, the progress he has made in the year he has been a part of our family is outstanding. I cannot help but smile when I think of his first few weeks (curled in a ball in the corner of the room, eyes wide with distrust and fear) compared to now (laying in between Adam and I on our bed, whining in need of a 20-minute belly rub). He just recently has learned that chasing a tennis ball is REALLY fun. He may be a few years late on this one, but it is still just as adorable to watch.
So maybe the whole fostering thing didn’t exactly work out as planned, but it was totally worth it! This past year has been the most rewarding of our lives and we will not take a moment for granted. Our family is now complete. Thanks MSIR!!
Submitted by Ann N (MSIR Volunteer, MN)