*warning–tissue alert*
It is impossible to celebrate the holidays without reflecting. We reflect on what we have, and we can not help but think back on holidays past, and what we have lost. While this should be a joyous time of year, it is often peppered with feelings of loss for many of us. Loss of family, loss of friends and of course the loss our beloved pets to.

A dog training client, who is quickly becoming a cherished friend, made me the sweetest gift as a thank you for helping her through a rough patch with her young dog. She needle felted a replica of my dearly departed Charlee dog. Charlee has been gone less than a year and sometimes her loss is still overwhelming to us. Loss can hit you hard when you least expect it. Other times, like the holidays, we see it coming from a mile away, like a train that can not be stopped.

I wish you all the happiest of holidays filled with fur friends and family and warm fuzzy memories of your pets of the past.

For my post this week, I would like to share a memory I submitted for a contest for The Land of Pure Gold Web site. The assignment was to tell a story that involved rescue — a rags to wags story. As the bumper sticker says — Who rescued who?

The Story of Dina

Dina was a stray and my first rescue dog. She is the dog who changed the direction of my life. Her story is so interwoven with mine, it is hard to tell where her story ends and mine begins. Her story is my story too. Dina took me down the path of dog training, rescue, pet therapy, and stupid pet tricks. So many trainers I know became trainers because their dogs were difficult, but I became a trainer because my dog was wonderful. Dina took me places I had never been before. She was a once in life time dog, my heart.

In the spring of 1989 I was scurrying home from work to my apartment in East Boston to take Rollo, my wild child German Shepherd mix out to play at the little city park that the neighborhood dogs called their own. As I came up to the top of the hill, I spotted a small black and white Border Collie acting skittish and running back and forth clearly lost and in distress. From a distance I could tell she was in need of a meal, had no ID tags around her neck, and that she smelled faintly of skunk. She would not come to me and I hurried home for Rollo, hoping that if I had another dog with me she would let me catch her.

Minutes later when I returned with Rollo they were best friends at first site. The two took off in a flash to play herding dog games. The dog who would soon be my Dina darted, bolted, turned on a dime and she and Rollo romped until their tongues hung out of their heads with joy. When Rollo and I left for home, the little dog followed us, just out of reach. When I opened the front door, she flew up the three flights of stairs up to my apartment like she owned the place. After filling herself with food and water, she promptly fell asleep with her head on my lap on the living room floor and she never once ducked from my touch again.

When my boyfriend got home he took one look at her and said “no way”, so I took her for a walk around our neighborhood to see if anyone recognized her. Our next door neighbor, an older Italian woman came out of her house and exclaimed, “I know that doggie. She come-a evare day sam-a time. You gotta let her loose so she can go-a home. That soma bodies doggie. That nota your dogie.” On that day I bowed to the pressures of my boyfriend and neighbor, but if I had a do over I would never do what I did, which is set her free and shoosh her away.

I unhooked her leash. “Go home” I insisted with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

The dog and I sized each other up. That moment is frozen in my mind. With no thanks to me, Dina was in for a happy ending, but at the moment, she didn’t leave. She and I just stood there loving each other.

Just then my boyfriend came out of the house, and in a flash she was gone. I will never forgot or forgive myself for not doing what I knew in my heart was right. The little black and white dog gave me one more haunting confused look before she scurried away.

As I was getting ready for bed that night, I looked out the bedroom window and there she was on the other side of the street looking back up at me under a street lamp. I begged my boyfriend to let me bring her in, but was somehow swayed that I needed to let her go home and that someone was missing her.

The next day when I came from work, my next door neighbor was waiting for me.

“You have to do something, that dog is going to get killed right in front of your house. Every person who walks by, every door that open that little dog goes to look for you. She almost got hit by a car right in front of me. You have to do something. You have to get her and you have to get her now.” I ran up the stairs, grabbed an extra leash and Rollo, told the boyfriend I was getting the dog and that was the way it was.

I ran down all three flights of stairs, but the dog was gone. Rollo and I walked for hours and asked everyone we saw. No one had seen the shy little black and white Border Collie that smelled faintly of skunk.

Tears poured down my cheeks. At that moment I resented my boyfriend, and hated myself for allowing him to sway me. Vivid visions of the dog dead in the road played in my brain like a slide show. I vowed to never let down a dog in need again as long as I lived and I went home and put Rollo back in the house. I could not look at or speak to my boyfriend and went back downstairs with a bowl of food and water to sit on my front steps and hope and wait. When I went back down stairs, she was waiting for me. She allowed me to scoop her up and she fell asleep right there with her head in my lap too tired to even eat.

I am grateful that my stupidity did not bring the end to what turned out to be a life changing wonderful spirit of a dog. I ran an ad in both the Boston papers and put signs in every pet store and Vet office, but no one claimed my sweet girl.

After 10 days, she was mine. My promises to send her to a shelter fell away. My Vet figured her to be only about 9 months old and in no time she was a favorite at my grandmother’s nursing home, giving love and doing tricks for Lorna Doone cookies. We joined the Helping Hounds shortly there after and for the next nine years, Dina was a spectacular Therapy dog and a crowd favorite at nursing homes, Spaulding Rehab and Boston Children’s Hospital.

It was because of her that I thirsted for more dog training knowledge, and at 6 years old Dina began a new career as demo dog in my dog training classes.

She was my first rescue and from the time Dina was less than a year old I began endlessly educating people about the Border Collie breed. My dog was not a typical Border Collie and I didn’t want anyone rushing out and getting a Border Collie based only on my wonderful dog. In my purse, I carried a “So you think you want a Border Collie flyer” that I wrote and printed myself to give out, and thus my my career in rescue and helping homeless animals was born.

When she was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 9, I went to Border Collie Rescue and adopted a problem dog as a form of give back and give thanks for Dina. The things I learned from Charlee have in turn given me the knowledge and skills to help countless other dogs. I stayed on as a member of Border Collie Rescue for 10 years and for the last 2 years have been involved in a local Maine Rescue.

It all started with a little black and white dog that had no tags and smelled of skunk. Dina died in 1999. It has been 22 plus years since I met her and 12 since I lost her in November of 1999. I miss her still.

Her rescue story is my story too.

Season’s Greeting from Finnegan, and Beck and I. May your days be merry and bright.

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