The world is a little lonelier around these parts tonight. A few hours ago, I said goodbye to Lexi the luckiest Chihuahua in all of north Texas as she left to begin her new journey in Austin.
It’s amazing how such an eensy weensy dog filled so much room inside my heart. Being the bridge doesn’t mean it’s always easy to let go once you’ve reached the other side. In the case of Lexi, though, kismet seemed to be hard at work, and you can’t fudge around with that sort of thing. It was time.
Lexi was supposed to have been three, four-day-old wild brown rabbits. At least, that’s what I thought I was going to be transporting when I met her at Dallas Animal Services.
A few days earlier, I was at the counter of the shelter picking up a dog for DFW Rescue Me when someone brought in tiny bunnies, who were likely candidates for being euthanized. After calling my friend whose family is experienced in bottle-feeding baby bunnies, I said I’d be back to retrieve them when they were processed.
Lexi’s stroke of incredible fortune played out at the same counter 72 hours later like so:
“I’m here to pick up the three bunnies tagged by Jim from DFW.”
“Jim got them about an hour ago.”
“I’m pretty sure he didn’t, you guys. He’s on his way here now.”
[Head scratching all around]
As it turned out, there are two Jims: Jim from DFW Wildlife and Jim from DFW Rescue Me. The bunnies were safely in the capable hands of the wildlife crew, but there I was with my cat’s empty crate in the lobby. I’d driven forty-five minutes in rush hour traffic, so I wasn’t leaving until that thing had some weight in it.
“So what do you have that will fit in this crate?”
Mark Cooper, DAS rescue coordinator extraordinaire (BEST WISHES WITH THE NEW GIG AT THE VERY COOL OPERATION KINDNESS!), escorted me to a room full of small dogs whose only shot was a slim glimmer of accidental fortune. Stopping at a small, fawn-colored Chihuahua, Mark sighed, “This is Lexi. She comes with a closet of clothes and everything. A lady brought her back because she’s really dog aggressive. She likes cats…and birds! She had a pet bird who rode around on her back, even.”
Lexi was wearing a pink polka-dotted hoodie. Terrified and cowering, she looked up at me from the frilly princess basket in which she’d been dumped by the woman.
Mark continued, “This is her second return. I don’t know what happened the first time, but I can’t hold her any longer.”
Within half an hour, Lexi and her fancy wardrobe were in the cat’s crate, sitting next to me in my truck. Kismet, like I said. I texted my husband a picture with the caption, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t leave her there. She’ll get adopted fast, I promise. Don’t kill me.”
Once home, we learned Lexi was perfect, except that she’d never been cared for properly. Her teeth were jacked up. She was scared to be alone. My dog Nova was frightening to her because little Lex wasn’t socialized very well. Her doe eyes were so kind, though, and I could tell it would take a while for whatever sadness she’d known to subside.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of folks who want a five-year-old dog. Adoption applications fell through. Home visits were canceled. She spent some time in foster/possible adoption arrangements that didn’t work out in the end. With her lucky streak quickly ending, my husband and I decided to take Lex under our wings, even if that meant we were her forever fosters.
It wasn’t long before Lexi’s spirit began shining a little brighter. She talked to us — the cutest squeaks imaginable. We spent our nights separated in bed by her burrowed body. I must have a bazillion photos of Lexi — the morning sun lighting up her enormous ears — as she was fast asleep, curled inside my husband’s arms. We took her on outings, bought her nine million dollar dog food, and flooded our Facebook feeds with Lexi pictures and videos. She’d established her place in our family, and, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I fell in love with the little dog who was supposed to have been three bunnies.
So back to the kismet: During the time we fostered Lexi, we’d also been caring for three abandoned kittens. Ready for new homes, I took the kitties with me to an adoption event in Dallas last Saturday. I hadn’t planned on taking Lexi because she was having dental work done that would require recovery the next week, but I figured our two adult cats might like a quiet afternoon without pipsqueaks running around. That said, I lugged my cavalcade of tiny animals to Fair Park, hoping to return kittenless.
Within a few hours, I noticed a friendly face making goo goo eyes at Lexi. Lexi was smiling back, also with goo goo eyes. I’ve seen that kind of love connection enough to know what was about to happen, and my heart sank and skipped a beat all at once.
The young woman staring at Lex explained she didn’t have a dog or anything, that she was there with her parents who were with the Greyhound rescue. She was saying all the right stuff that I’d hoped to hear from the person who would take Lexi one day. She was smart. Her boyfriend had a cool tattoo of a classical guitarist’s autograph on his arm. They were laid back, brainy people, who seemed as if they could make Lexi’s third time a charm. And her parents’ rescue background was a deal sealer if there ever was one.
“Would you like to hold her?”
The woman smiled, “Can I?”
I handed her to Lexi, and my foster cuddled into her chest right off the bat. Very sweet. Felt right.
Later in the day, the couple returned with an adoption app. We walked outside with Lexi a bit, and the amount of showboating Lexi exhibited cracked me up. I’d never seen her laugh like she did that afternoon, going between us all, smiling, prancing around like the gentlelady she is. The young woman, Stav, and I exchanged information, and we kept in touch while I continued to commit to Lexi’s medical treatments this past week.
Last night, my husband told me, “I won’t be able to be there when she leaves.” And that broke my heart. I thought back to that first text when I asked him not to kill me. I guess it turned out alright. Heh.
This morning I pulled up to the event — kittens in tow, but this time it was about Lexi. Stav’s father was already waiting, and I knew these were my final moments with the blonde Chi next to me. It was the end of the bridge for us.
As we finalized the adoption, he carefully put a teensy gold tag on Lexi’s little pink collar with her new phone number on it. This was real.
I said goodbye, but I couldn’t watch her leave like I usually do. I found a pillar to stand behind for a minute and collected myself. The rest of the adoption event was before us, and I had three kittens who needed me more than I needed to cry in front of an Office Depot in Grapevine, TX.
A while ago, Stav wrote to say everything was fine. Lexi was fine. She was fine. Her dad’s trip was fine. I was…fine. Kismet happened, and that’s more than fine.
In the world of rescue, there are dogs we’ll never forget — dogs who “found” us as much as we needed to “find” them. I’m so very glad we found “something” that fit in that crate those months ago. Best of my best wishes to Lexi and her awesome new family. Austin is a luckier place tonight.
The world might be a perfect place if people like Alissa Umberger grew on trees.
Since adopting her kitty Delilah two years ago from the Humane Society of Central Texas, thirteen-year-old Alissa has actively volunteered at the shelter in a variety of necessary functions.
Upon visiting her first shelter, she didn’t entirely understand why the animals were there: “It was a very overcrowded place, too many animals, but I figured they were all adopted.” Alissa believed the dogs and cats were only crashing for a while until they found permanent homes, like a pet hotel of sorts. Since then, the youngster has witnessed a full reality of animal rescue and shelter life — something most people might never experience in a lifetime, let alone as a junior high student.
“It is extremely heartbreaking at some points, but it is worth it. When you go out there with an animal and bond, it can change you,” Alissa points out. The sage advice she claims helped her cope most: “It’s hard, and sometimes you won’t exactly reach your goals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.”
Most notably, Alissa recalls her experience with Sugar, one of the dogs she loved who failed to find a home.
“Sugar was my pet project, and I haven’t really dealt with it. She was euthanized for no fault of her own. She was [labeled] ‘unsocialized’ and that wasn’t true. I still sob…a lot. But her death has motivated me and many others to try HARDER. We all know it is nearly impossible to save them all, but we shall try anyway.”
She’s done more than try, though. That’s for sure. After meeting Sasha, a dog who was returned multiple times to the shelter for having anxiety issues, Alissa began taking pictures and posting her animal photography last year with the goal of attracting more attention for her new friend.
“Sasha would have to be the best success story out there,” Alissa explained. “After being returned 4 times for her anxiety issues, Sasha was on death row. It was the sad reality of an ‘owner surrender.’ I became attatched to Sasha. I cried a lot knowing at any moment she could be killed. BUT after sharing a photo on the internet, SASHA MADE IT HOME. I haven’t seen her since, but we are planning a visit soon. She now has a sister, and they both suffer from anxiety issues.”
Grab a Kleenex. This video our young rescuer created is amongst the sweetest of things I’ve watched in a long while:
With more than 2,000 Facebook fans (go “like” her, guys), our young heroine has definitely cultivated an audience of supporters as well as a legitimate forum for addressing topics like adoption (as an alternative to purchasing) and breed-specific legislation — something she’d passionately like to see end.
“I am against BSL. I hate it. I have only met 2 aggressive pit bulls, and they had been used for FIGHTING. I can’t stand any animal being euthanized because of breed. If so many more people would quit listening to [discussion about] their ‘bad reputation’ and look at the bright side of these breeds, [those people would learn] they are fantastic animals. They are just the same as a lab or weenie dog. I think the only thing we can do to stop BSL is to educate. There is a lot to teach and so little people.”
Preach it from your hilltop, Alissa.
The work doesn’t end when Alissa is finished editing her photos and volunteering her days bathing, socializing, and cuddling homeless animals. She and her family currently care for their foster, Carly, who was dumped at a house and doomed to live in a facility with an 83% kill rate. Nice of Alissa and her clan to step in and offer refuge.
“My pets are CRAZY. I have 3 dogs and 2 cats. And the foster [Carly]. She is actually sitting with me RIGHT now. Then there are Sniffles & Peachie. Sniffles thinks he can catch birds, but he is a little Chihuahua. He can’t. LOL. And there is CJ. He is a great dog, who originally came to us as a family dog, but turned into my ‘son’. We adopted him from a local rescue almost 4 years ago. Then there are our kitties. Delilah was adopted on July 31st, 2010, from the Humane Society of Central Texas, and Shrek was born as a feral kitten who was going to be surrendered to the Humane Society, but now he is my little baby. Shrek is still a kitten. Then there are our 2 fish…who don’t do much.”
In ten years, Alissa hopes to be finishing college at Baylor University. We’ll see more of her, though, because she’d like to become a professional photographer “fostering/rescuing dogs across the country.” Until then, she believes rescue groups can reach a wider public response through networking, TV ads, YouTube videos, billboards, and more adoption events.
“It’s a big idea, but it CAN get done,” she says.
If I had fifty bazillion gold stars, I’d give them all to Alissa Umberger’s efforts. It’s been a true honor communicating with this talented, intelligent, insert-all-the-positive-adjectives-here, young lady, and I hope you will all spend a moment thanking her for the excellent work she does for our Texan communities.
Alissa, you’re a heroine if I’ve ever seen one. Very best wishes to you, and I look forward immensely to seeing your calling continue to unfold.
For more about Alissa and her photography, visit here. Alissa’s Facebook rescue page is here. To view the animals Alissa assists in rescuing, who are available for adoption, visit the Humane Society of Central Texas and Fuzzy Friends Rescue.
All photos and media used with the permission of Alissa Umberger.
Many thanks to Monica Valdez for pointing me toward this extraordinary, animal advocate’s mission.
Socializing rescue dogs at the boarding facility is a bittersweet deal. While some of them are only there a night, those without fosters wait patiently. In the meantime, volunteers keep the dogs’ spirits high, bring them bones and beloved wooly toys, and function as the daily bridge between our guests’ past lives and new beginnings.
I’m always happy/sad to say goodbye when the time comes, but that’s how it works.
Except for Halen.
Sometime over the winter, this regal dude was dumped at a shelter. According to people within earshot, the woman cited her reasoning for surrender was that she was splitting up with her husband. Sadly, Halen’s dad wasn’t privy to any knowledge of his companion being signed over for potential euth’ing. Why? Because he was kinda busy serving our country on a military deployment — putting it mildly.
Low down and dirty.
Rescue workers moved quickly to make sure Halen was safe. The last thing anybody wanted was for the serviceman to return home grieving the needless loss of his dear pal.
When I met Halen after his arrival at the boarding facility, I instantly wanted to take him home so I wouldn’t ever have to spend another second without him. In my perfect world, we were gonna wile away our days shopping for giant horse-sized Kongs and drying jerky treats together. In fact, all the volunteers tried to figure out a way to get him out of boarding, but everybody shared various roadblocks — making the effort difficult. Instead, we decided to make it a point to give this guy the best “home” we could by visiting him daily and continuing to hold out hope for something better.
After a while, people started calling us “Halen’s moms.” If ever a dog needed “moms,” it was this one.
Every time I took Halen out to play, it couldn’t have been more obvious that his dad invested a lot of time working with him. He always wanted to show off his incredible manners, especially if there was a group watching. He ignored other dogs who yelled at him as he walked past. Once off the leash, his favorite thing to do was roll around like a pig with his enormous tongue hanging out. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be capable of ditching him at a shelter. Ever.
A month or so went by, and the people who originally rescued our boy heard some amazing news: Halen’s dad discovered we had his guy. When I received the email from the group, I was working at my job outdoors. I’ll never forget standing there in the rotten weather, tears and rain dropping on the screen of my phone as I replied.
Later that day, I told Halen his dad was coming, but that he was gonna have to hang out with his moms a little while longer. Honestly, I’ve never been excited to give a dog good news before in my life. He mighta heard a bunch of Charlie Brown wah-wahs, but it made me feel pretty awesome anyway.
When one of our longtime volunteers learned she was moving out of state, she told me she was really upset about having to leave our giant lug. She said, “I need to say goodbye to Halen. I would love to see him when his dad gets back. That reunion will be adorable.” Indeed, it will.
Sadly, Halen’s dad is forbidden from disclosing any information regarding his location or when he will return, but we, along with the generosity of the boarders, have vowed to thank him for his service by protecting his best friend at all cost. Until his dad comes home, Halen is part of our pack.
Like I said, I’m always happy/sad to say goodbye. This time, though, will be the happiest and saddest of them all.
More to follow about the Halen experience. Thanks to DFW Rescue Me, the Storms, the shelter staff, Halen’s other moms: Audrey and Rachael (as well as Danny, Lacy, CJ, Leila, Jen, Aaron, Helen, Jon, Kim, Jill, Merrin, Russell, Bella, and Rhonda for taking time to make sure he’s well-loved), and, of course, Toothacres.
If you would like to foster Halen, we are looking for someone with experience and a home with no other animals or small children. He is a kind, docile creature, yet caring for this guy is no small task for a novice. Contact DFW Rescue Me to complete a foster application.
If you would like to donate toward the rather expensive cost of maintaining Halen’s welfare, including the provision of heart worm and flea preventative, large bones, treats, extra large dog toys, and additional veterinary care, please follow this link. Thanks!