March 7th, 2009: The Day Our Lives Changed for the Better

But prior to that…



Just over a year ago, Tim and I were deeply grieving the loss of two beloved family members.

Bill, our adopted foster, had been with us for 5 years. On a Sunday morning like so many others, we had a game of tug-of-war in the living room and ate a glorious breakfast. That’s when an undetected abdominal mass ruptured and Bill went immediately into shock. We rushed him to the vet within 15 minutes but, during emergency surgery, a blood clot traveled to his main artery and he was gone.

On February 14th, we also said good-bye to Tim’s dog, Jack. Jack had successfully battled cancer, extending his life 13 good months until there was no more fight left in him. Jack had been with Tim (and Tim’s ex, Stacy, who managed his cancer care) for 14 years. It was an awful beginning to 2009.


The sadness was unbearable for us both. For me, working from home alone in a house once filled with bounding energy was horrendous. For two full weeks, I was trapped in the stagnation of heartbreak. I had to push past the sadness, allowing myself to hope, dream and laugh again. I wanted to begin the quest for a joyful relationship once more. I wanted another dog.

Tim and I struggled with this decision for several weeks. He couldn’t bring himself to think of another dog. When we searched toying with the idea, I latched on to hope… but then we argued about timing, coping, feelings, expectations.

I learned that toying with the idea was all Tim could do, and hearing him say this brought me to tears. He thought the depth of my grief was unhealthy, that I had to move on. I felt he wasn’t able to move forward in the only way I knew how. For me, opening my heart again meant progress, not sitting in the silence and sadness. For him, a new dog would mask his grief rather than allow him to deal with it. We were at an impass.


Eventually, we considered a sweet, sight-challenged Great Pyrenese named Mojo. Tim has always had a soft spot for animals unlikely to be adopted and I learned from him the importance of that consideration. Reading that Mojo relied on his foster brothers to guide him (none of which were up for adoption) , we considered a less independent companion than a Pyr but large enough to contend with Mojo’s size. The Newfoundland, although I had never heard of one until researching, seemed the perfect breed.

We filled out Mojo’s adoption application and found there were two Newf mix pups available nearby. Unfortunately, the pups were adopted just prior to our inquiry. My heart was crushed. Tim reminded me that the dog meant for us would find us – as they always have. In my mind, we had to do our part too; we had to keep looking so that dog knew we were here.

Trying once more, we found Newf pups in Boston. They were 8 months old and living in a barn-type situation. When I inquired, I was told these pups were “the dumbest dogs in existence” for eliminating in their own crates (often a human induced problem, not the puppies’) and that we had better commit soon because another interested party wanted the only pup left.

Dealing with this caretaker (although I use that term loosely) was nothing short of unpleasant and replete with comments about prospective adopters being [expletive removed]. Still, our out-of-town Newf application was accepted. We planned to meet the pup on Saturday when Tim returned from Stowe. Mojo’s application, oddly, was never received but, after a phone call, we were as good as approved. We resubmitted the paperwork and set up a home visit. Things were finally lining up!


In my excitement, I posted to Facebook a picture of Mojo, the Great Pyr, and another projecting what our Newf would grow into. That’s when the miracle happened.

Shamus the NewfA woman I had never met contacted me. She had a male Landseer nearly 2 years old who needed to be rehomed. Her youngest of three daughters required extensive medical care and the others were your average handful – times two. Stretched thin with responsibilities and plagued by the decision to give up her Newf, she ultimately felt her dog deserved more attention.

“I saw my friend comment on your Newf picture. Are you interested in ours?” she asked.

My first questions were, “Who are you and how did you find me?” Then the real kicker. “Where are you?”

I emailed this Newf’s photo to Tim’s Blackberry. “He’s FIFTEEN MINUTES AWAY!” I couldn’t believe it. This woman could have lived anywhere.

Tim typed back, “Make it happen!”


Tim, the woman and her husband arrived at 4:00. It was a difficult meeting at best. The couple obviously loved their dog so much that they wanted better for him. Tim and I, feeling a strong connection with Shamus, stifled our excitement out of respect. We showed the couple our home, complete with wood floors for easy clean-up, carpeted stairs for traction, two dog doors, a fenced-in yard, toys and dog beds everywhere. Shamus investigated thoroughly and seemed to approve. We each agreed. Shamus would go home, say good-bye to the children and we would pick him up that Sunday. We cancelled our Boston trip.

To us, Sunday rested on the horizon of eternity. We couldn’t pass time fast enough. As torturous as it was for us, it was equally torturous for the family waiting to let him go. On Saturday morning, the phone rang. The tearful voice said, “Can you pick up Shamus today instead?”


When we arrived, the deep gray of a late winter day hung upon the faces of everyone present – except for Shamus. He came bounding over the bushes through the mud and mulch, leaping toward us and barking a huge hello. The oldest daughter hid her crying eyes in the crook of her mother’s arm as her mother hugged her and told her it was okay to wait in the house. My own tears spilled beyond the boundary of my lashes and mingled with the driveway puddles. We promised the young girl that we would take care of Shamus. She nodded silently, turned and slowly walked away.

The girl’s grandfather gave us a stern look as he signed over the dog license. “So, you’re the ones taking my dog away.” We tried to assure him, too, that we would take great care, but their pain was insurmountable. Thankfully, Shamus didn’t need consolation. He hopped right into the back of the car and we drove away.


As we backed out of the driveway, Shamus stared out the back window, seeming to wonder why his family hadn’t come too. I tried to hold back my own tears as I watched him watching. He sat that way until we drew closer to our house. Then, he snuggled between us both, turning to watch the scenery. Our excitement returned and Shamus seemed to feel it.

Mojo’s home visit was that night and the interviewers who knew him best thought we made terrific adoption candidates. Unfortunately, Mojo’s eyesight had grown far worse since his original posting and would soon be gone entirely.

In a home with three floors and stairs into the dog yard, we feared that our setting wasn’t as ideal as we’d hoped. We decided to give Shamus a chance to settle in alone for awhile. (Mojo has since been adopted by another family.)


Shamus, immediately accepting us as his own, helped to mend our hearts with his constant gift of joy. While I know Shamus still thinks of his family sometimes (he often licks the faces of the small children he encounters), he also feels like he belongs here and he has for some time. This weekend we celebrated our one year anniversary since Shamus adopted us, and it has been an amazing year at that. We are happy, healed and whole once more.

Watch for tomorrow’s post chronicling Shamus’ homecoming on video as well as a mini-journal of our first adventures via a select collection of tweets.