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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

The rescue project

When we gave away most of our possessions before moving here, the hardest to sort through were the art pieces acquired over time. We managed to gift even the most valuable before packing up, but there were two we could not surrender because they were created by our daughters.

One of them was a colored chalk drawing of a golden retriever. Tim had never owned a dog, and he had always dreamed of a golden retriever, so when Melissa took her only art class, she chose to draw a golden for him. I will never forget the day she brought home the picture as a surprise for Tim’s birthday. He did what we all do in this family of people “built close to the water”…. He wept.

The other is of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, two of Tim’s favorite characters, drawn by our other daughter Alisson, and also given to him as a birthday present. The drawing is accompanied by Pooh’s and Piglet’s conversation. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” Tim wept when he read it and saw his two favorite characters walking away in the picture, so close they are almost touching. It summed up how Tim felt about his journey with both our daughters and it became a model for our journey as a family. We just want to be sure of each other.

Our first year here, as we were approaching Tim’s birthday,I glanced at the drawing Melissa had done, and had this idea that The Boy who had always dreamed of owning a golden retriever deserved to have that wish fulfilled on his 70th birthday. And, through extensive research, I found a “breeder release”… a dog who at two was discovered to have mild hip dysplasia, a condition that prevented breeding for this AKC registered female. So after two years in a kennel awaiting a life of making puppies, this timid, scared of her own shadow, unsocialized Zuni became ours.

This was not a dog like the ones in the movies, running up to every human and licking them to death or snuggling up every night in bed. That doesn’t happen if you miss out on any social interaction for two years. She cowered with her tail between her legs. She had to be taught to play with a ball. And every little sound or movement or shadow in the outside world caused her to become anxious and cower. Her transformation has been slow and steady and has required the patience of saints, as with us all.

But she is a different dog now.

This is a tail wagging, gift giving, hand licking goofball around whom our life centers. We plan our days around her needs, and we have learned the art of the sniff walk and the joy of seeing her respond with reckless abandon to life’s simple dog pleasures. Others who knew her in the beginning have remarked about the transformation they have seen in her.

But I have wondered if it is she who has been transformed or The Boy and I.

The Boy has always been emotionally reserved, but he has learned through loving this dog that a “flat affect” is not welcoming to a dog. And so I revel in observing him come through the door to be greeted by the gift of a slobbery stuffie. His newly acquired “dog voice” is expressive with excitement and joy which belies his quiet nature that served his cat years so well. Zuni has transformed his natural reticence into what could pass for boisterous love and affection.

And I have had my own transformation as well. My need to wander in nature has always been a deep part of me. But it has been hard to justify when the “to do” is always so long and time is always so pressing. But having her as part of the family allows me to “put her needs first” and constantly change my plans to accommodate a drive to the canyon to watch for deer and turkeys or simply to sit by a stream as water flows like liquid glass over stones and branches creating melodies that soak me in peace.

We think we are giving her these “gifts” of time and energy to meet her needs. But maybe she has an agenda as well.

Perhaps in her dog brain she brings gifts to Tim because she knows he needs a tangible expression of love. Perhaps she is training him how to “wag his tail” with joy and excitement when encountering someone you love. Perhaps she stares at the door in longing expectation because she knows that living as I do in a world of competing creative desires, I need to set it all down and have an adventure in the woods once in awhile to keep my perspective.

Perhaps she knows that Tim and I, like Piglet and Pooh, just need a loyal, unconditional love we can be sure of, whatever the circumstance.

She has given us that in spades. Over and over. Every day. Like her owners, she is still very much the introvert, content to lie on her back in the sun in her dog version of a sun salutation or sitting a certain distance from you on the couch, content to stare lovingly and occasionally sigh. But now she strides confidently out into the world every morning greeting the day with tumbling routines on the wet grass and exploring the world on her own terms. She leads her pack only glancing back periodically to make sure of our adoring


And when she is leashed up and on the trail, we are often asked if she is a rescue, as so many dogs here are. I used to say yes, but now I think I would answer differently. After a year of being loved so unconditionally by her, I think I would simply say,

We did not rescue her.

She rescued us.

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1 Comment

Apr 02

This post makes me so very happy!! You, all three, are exactly where you are supposed to be.

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