Years before I dated my husband, let alone had a child, I rented a room in an apartment from an old high school friend of mine. He was generous to a fault, and allowed any number of interesting characters, usually travelling musical acts, to stay in our attic. Then one day, he brought home a bunch of dreadlocked, train-hopping kids with a pregnant pitbull. A lot of things with this arrangement ended up going south, including the owner of the mom-dog deciding to take off travelling again when the 10 puppies were only five weeks old. We (the roommates) did our best to find good, loving, local homes for the pups, after seeing the tough life their mother lived. I knew I wasn't ready for a dog, but there was a pudgy little tan puppy who needed a home, and I told myself if it was too much for me, I could just hang onto him until I found a more responsible adult to keep him. I named him Cecil. Fast forward seven years, past the end of my single girl life, my wedding, buying our first home, having a child, selling our home and buying a new one. Cecil was with me through all that.
I knew when I started dating my husband that he was allergic to dogs and cats. It didn't seem to be a big problem with Cecil; his skin just got a little splotchy if he wrestled with him without a shirt. Last summer we moved into our new house, and that's when the problems really started. The new place is across from a car dealership, and they use the car alarms to find the cars in the lot. This, along with the constant people getting in and out of cars in close proximity to our house meant all barking all the time, which was pretty trying with a baby who needed regular naps and nighttime sleep. The bigger problem came when we had to close up the house for winter. Our old house had forced hot air, and we were able to put a whole house HEPA filter on the furnace. Without this, my husband's allergies got out of control, and we started to have regular nights where he couldn't breathe, and it felt like only a matter a time until we started making ER visits. My amazing mother in law got us two large, high quality air filters, and we set up gates to keep Cecil confined to the tiled kitchen, where he had a little bed nook. This stop gap measure bought us a little more time, but the barking continued, and Cecil became very obviously depressed. He would whine and cry all day. There is literally nothing this dog wants more in life than to snuggle, and he really couldn't have that anymore with us. One night this winter, the whining was so loud that no one could sleep, and my husband had to go sleep in our son's room so that I could let Cecil into our bedroom to get him to quiet down enough to sleep. The next morning, we talked, and agreed that while we wouldn't feel comfortable ever surrendering Cecil to a rescue or shelter, we needed to get serious about finding him a new home. I sobbed. We started a secret Facebook group called Friends Of Cecil and invited our friends and family. We shared about where we were at, and we asked that our friends please invite anyone to the group they thought might be a good home for Cecil.
After a few false starts and leads that didn't go anywhere, we got a message from one of our best friends who had lived with us all and knew Cecil very well. He had an old friend who had just lost a dog in a bad break up who was looking for a new furry buddy. The only catch was that he lived hours away in northern Massachusetts, and we had been hoping to keep Cecil close by. I agreed to talk to him anyway, just in case he turned out to be the perfect fit for my best bud. I chatted with Ron online for a few hours one Sunday morning, and after introductions, it became clear that Ron needed Cecil as much as Cecil needed Ron, and that he could give Cecil the life and companionship that he deserved. We set a tentative date for him to come up and meet everyone, with the understanding that if sparks flew, Ron would be going home with a new best friend.
Ron messaged me a few days in advance, asking about Cecil's favorite treats and food, and for his measurements for a safety harness for the car. The big day came, and we brought Cecil to the vet to get his nails trimmed and make sure he was in tip top physical shape. His sister came over to play in the snow. Then Ron arrived. I warned him that Cecil wasn't great with introductions, and not to be put off if he barked a lot when he first met him. Ron came out into the yard, and Cecil dashed over through the snow, jumped up once, and then sat at Ron's feet wagging his tail looking up at him. I had tears in my eyes, both happy for Cecil and Ron, but also with a heavy heart at the sudden realization that he was really going to leave us that day. Ron stayed for hours, we chatted, we made a special exception and let Cecil sit on the couch so he and Ron could have some time to get to know each other. I ugly cried saying goodbye, but Cecil was more than happy to head out with Ron back to his new home by the ocean. That night Ron posted a photo of the two of them curled up together in bed after their long drive home, and I knew with all my heart that we had made the right choice. Ron posts about Cecil on social media all the time. I follow him on Facebook and Instagram, and it makes my heart so happy to get to see everyday the amazing life Cecil is living, and how much joy he brings Ron too. I told Ron that I felt like I had spent seven years training a therapy dog for him, and Ron agreed wholeheartedly.
Having Cecil leave our family is not something I ever anticipated, but as hard as the decision was, I have no doubts that it was best for everyone. I am so glad we went about finding him a new home in our own slow and gentle way, and that we have an open arrangement so we can see him when Ron comes to visit Vermont, or if we ever drive through Massachusetts, as well as see him all the time on social media. Ron brought Cecil to the ocean for the first time in his life to celebrate Cecil's 7th birthday, and shared a video of Cecil running free on the beach, and responding beautifully to Ron, and I cried my eyes out with happy tears. Part of what kept us from making this decision sooner was fear of judgement from our friends. The idea of putting it out there that we would even consider rehoming our dog felt like a wave of shame ready to crash on top of us. While we did have some of that, mostly friends were supportive, and I am so glad we didn't let our pride and fear get in the way of helping Cecil have the happy, snuggly life he deserves.
(Note: This story was originally entitled "Our Dog's Open Adoption: A Happier Ending Than Any of Us Could Have Hoped For" but I have changed the title after learning that calling animal rescue adoption can be hurtful to adoptees and their families. By comparing their own process of becoming a family to that of a pet, it can be confusing and upsetting to young adopted children to hear that pets have been "adopted" and bring up worries that their own adoption may not be permanent in the case that a pet adoption does not work out. Not all families feel this way, but it's easy to make the language change for those who do. I didn't use the word rescue here because it wasn't quite applicable, but in general, making the switch from "adopting" a pet to "rescuing" a pet isn't difficult to get used to.)
Update! We got to have a wonderful park visit with Cecil this summer while Ron was visiting Vermont for a college reunion last June.