If I tell you this week has been an emotional roller coaster for me, it would be a complete understatement. Today I’m going to tell you the story of how this cutie pie above suddenly became part of our family. When I look at this photo of her, I can’t help but think how lucky we were to find her, and how it was all worth it, with all the stress and uncertainty that was involved.
As you probably know if you’re a regular at this blog, my husband and I have an amazing little furry one named Nala, who has been in our little family of three for years now. Ever since her older “sister” Cindy died a few years ago at the age of 16, I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to adopt another doggie to keep our Nala company. As with everything in life, changes kept happening, plans got in the way, and we always just felt that when the time would come, we would just feel it, and such was the case.
For the past few weeks we’ve been thinking about what it would be like to adopt another dog this summer, and in a music festival last weekend, while we were between bands, sitting on a little wooden bench, something in us made us take out our phones and google dog adoptions and shelters. Sometimes, the perfect time is simply when you get up and do something. By the second day of the festival we had emailed shelters asking about some of the dogs we had seen and the ball was officially rolling.
We had our eyes set on this little puppy, Tim, who actually looked a lot like Nala. We were willing to take the 6 hour drive to pick him up in another state and we were completely imagining our life with him as we waited for the shelter to email or call us back. Just to cover our grounds in case Tim had already been adopted, on Monday morning we decided to head to our local pound.
Just to give you the brief lowdown, in Spain, and it’s what I’ve seen elsewhere as well, when it comes to adoption, you can go to charity funded animal protection shelters, or go to the pounds. These are quite different. The first are usually started by animal loving superstars who embark on the quest of protecting as many animals as possible, and finding foster homes for dogs and cats while they can find adoptive parents for them. In these cases, the animals are very well taken care of, but there are so many who cannot even get into their system because there just isn’t any housing. The stray dog problem has reached sky-high levels in the past few years, and many animals die from injuries or exposure, and many more are picked up by the second group of shelters, the municipal pounds, and are killed within 10 days (sometimes less) if the pound is over extended.
There we were, in our car on Monday morning, going to our local municipal pound and looking at their dogs. Lots of very large dogs, many old dogs, and surprisingly, lots of puppies. Something I loved to see, since most people’s excuse for buying dogs in puppy mills or at breeders (myself included in the past) is that they want a puppy. We started looking at the dogs in their living area, to see if we clicked with any of them. How do you make a decision like this? Do you go for age, size, looks, sex, breed, liveliness, calmness, connection? The woman who showed us the dogs mentioned that they had another shelter in another county, and that it was open until 2, roughly one hour from then, so we quickly got in our car and headed out. Let me tell you that at this time, I was thinking adopting a dog would take weeks! I was not prepared for the world wind that was about to start, as we stepped into the second municipal pound, and locked eyes with a dog named Winnie.
She was not what we were looking for, she was older, a mixed breed (we were originally trying to find another cocker spaniel or a cocker mix like Nala), had parts of her body without hair, hadn’t been tested for some of the pest related diseases, but she seemed to have the kindest soul. She just looked noble. The guy that worked there let her out, and she started going nuts over us, she was jumping, running and kept coming back for cuddles, sometimes she simply sat down and looked at us. We loved her. All details of her life and our previous expectations suddenly didn’t seem to matter. He told us how mixed breeds like her never get a chance at shelters, and that although they avoid it until the last minute, if there is over population at the pound, they would euthanize.
We still had an appointment two days from then at the large city pound, which receives over 1300 stray dogs and over 800 stray cats a year (and that’s only in the city of Madrid!), so we decided to go to that last one and make our decision. But the hours were torture, we kept thinking about Winnie, I kept picturing her with us in the park, in our terrace while we barbecued, my heart was pounding for two days straight. On Wednesday morning we headed out early to our appointment in the city pound, and saw the dogs. We saw an old cocker spaniel who had tested positive for a disease, several puppies, many large breeds, and this one beautiful pup, also a mixed breed but that looked like he could be in the cover of a dog magazine. The Brad Pitt of dogs. In 10 minutes we needed to make a decision, should we go with this beauty, a young pup that would be with our family for longer, that was likely not ill, that was simply adorable and so friendly, or should we go with Winnie, who we pictured sitting in that pound waiting for someone. With those eyes that made my husband say the night before that she was so noble, if we took her home, her name should be Vega.
Like two excited teenagers we thanked the amazing woman who worked there, jumped in our cars and went to get Winnie. We called the pound while we were on our way, and they were so happy, they said they would get her ready and that we could take her home that day. They told us to head over to city hall and get the paperwork ready. As I was walking to city hall, my phone rang, and all my hopes dropped. They had found a microchip in her that they hadn’t found when registering her, and she seemed to have a previous owner. They couldn’t give her up for adoption until they were sure she wasn’t wanted.
We could have gone back home, called it a day or return to the city pound for the puppy, but the guy said he would make it his mission to call the owner and call us as soon as he heard. What if his phone was disconnected? If he didn’t pick it up? If he couldn’t be found for weeks? My heart was in my throat by then, but something very uncommon in me (freak out is the norm), told my husband that we should wait for a bit and we sat in a cafe right next to city hall to have a cold drink. As we were diving into some “patatas bravas” (a typical vegan potato Spanish tapa) my phone rang. They had contacted the owner.
He said that Winnie, whose real name was Yuka, had lived in a field he had with some horses, that he thought someone had stolen her. He then said he didn’t mind it if they gave her away at the pound. Santiago, the man at the pound was then begging me to take her, as if he even had to, and I wanted to beg him to not close the pound before we could get all the paperwork ready. We had about 40 minutes to get everything done, and in that time period, everything that could have happened, did. The bank was having problems with the system and we had to pay the municipal fee for adoption (30 euros), then, the woman who handles adoptions didn’t know what to do in a case like this, and the one who did was on vacation. She said we had to wait until the following week to take the dog home because she just didn’t know how to handle the paperwork. And then… my night in shining armor (my husband of course), who is normally very calm and patient said: “we really need to take her home today”. Since they always fear possible adoptive dog parents will never come back, the woman picked up the phone and in two seconds called her coworker, who explained in one second that it was a simple normal adoption, her previous owner didn’t want her, we did.
We ran out of there with our papers, found a blocked road (yup!), and got to the pound at the very last second. Vega, the new member of our family, ran out of her cage and jumped on top of us. She was home. The photo below is the first one we took of her. There she was, waiting next to us while they got her paperwork ready.
Adopting a pet that’s older has been a bit of an adjustment. Would she get along with Nala? Would things work out? Would she be able to make a connection with us after having such a tough life? The truth is, she needed us, and we needed her. Everything else fell into place within the first few days, and now, we’re officially a family of four.
Vega, named after the star in the Lyra constellation, and which is also where the message came from in the movie Contact (one of our favorite films), is a total sweetheart. She loves to run and jump, and loves the sofa and our bed. I don’t think she had ever slept in a soft surface before coming here because on her first day here, once it was established that she could of course get on the furniture, she didn’t leave that sofa for hours, and has since taken turns from sofa to our bed, to her bed, almost never sleeping or sitting on the floor. She had no idea what a toy was, Nala has a whole basket full of them and Vega would see them and not blink an eye. She was terrified of coming inside the house and stayed in our terrace, slowly making her way in. She was terrified of doors, and wouldn’t go near one if a person was standing next to it (she was probably locked in many times before). She shrugged her shoulders and ducked her head every time someone lifted their arms for whatever reason, or whenever you reached your hand to pet her, two signs that she was beaten in the past. In just four days, a different dog is in front of us. The day she realized what the toys were, she started taking them out to the living room one by one, and then had a total crazy fit because she didn’t know which one to play with. After her first bath, she ran all over the house and kept rolling around on the grass with excitement. She smiles all the time. She doesn’t leave our side.
This is our little Vega everyone, I’m so happy she’s a part of our family, and that we’ve become her people. She’ll never be alone again.
There are thousands of stray animals being left behind each year. When you visit a pound you realize that even if you take one home, all those little eyes you saw will most likely stay there, or might even be killed, alone, with nothing but bad memories behind them. If you are considering getting a pet, please adopt, don’t shop. You will find your Vega, whether it’s a puppy, a specific breed, or the least likely. She is out there, waiting for someone to give her a chance.
Foster. Adopt… don’t shop.