I first saw Hal at a very rural South Carolina shelter, and just could not get him out of my mind. I took photos of him and thought, "If I had a foster for him, we could save that dog!" Hal had been found in a wildlife area and brought to the shelter. He was heartworm positive and unneutered, and very gun-shy. Hal had also started to 'spin' in his kennel at the shelter that was his home for three months. Luckily, the shelter staff made sure this very active dog, a German Shorthaired Pointer mix, got regular exercise and group play with other dogs. But Hal was not safe there, as the shelter was small and had no local rescue partners, other than the shelter staff. I named him 'Hal' because his face was half black and half white, so his full name is "Mr. Half and Half."
When a friend-of-a-rescue-friend offered to foster Hal, I jumped at the opportunity. We drove to South Carolina together to pick him up, and back home with a very excited and eager Hal (mostly) in the back seat. At his foster home, Hal would not come indoors. He was afraid to cross the threshold, and terrified of the slippery floors. We laid non-stick rugs to make him a walkway, and he managed with those for a while, and he made friends with his foster brothers, two large black lab mixes and an elderly poodle. His foster family included a young couple and their seven year-old daughter. There was limited outdoor space for him, and he was "crappy on a leash," but he was SAFE.
My role as Hal's 'social worker' was to coordinate his foster home, boarding on weekends when his Mom was out of town working and to manage his medical care. We went to the dog park regularly, and Hal obviously enjoyed that freedom. But, because he was unneutered still (waiting for his heartworm treatment) he displayed some, well, undesirable behaviors. Suffice it to say that his nickname was "Hal the Hyperactive Humper!" The walk of shame from the dog park gate to the car became very familiar to us. On a vet visit to plan his treatment I begged, "Could we PLEASE have him neutered before he has his heartworm treatment....please?" His vet agreed, but only if Dr. Audrey Mizrahi would do the surgery. She is known to be the quickest and best neuter artiste in our area! Little by little, our goals for Hal were achieved.....first his shots, then his neuter, and finally his heartworm treatment. Even though he was pre-medicated with Doxycycline, Hal had problems with the side effects of the treatment. He had difficulty being still enough to prevent the mini-thromboses that go along with that treatment. When I picked him up from his second heartworm treatment, Hal was so 'bouncy,' that the clinic staff laughed when they said, "Keep him as quiet as you can!" He had to take Benadryl to calm down and baby aspirin to thin his blood enough to make him comfortable. During the months of his treatment, Hal and his foster Mom spent many hours on the couch watching movies, wrapped in afghans.
Finally he was well, and still very 'bouncy.' Even after a whole weekend at his favorite Dog Club of Wilmington, where play is the plan, he was unstoppable. Running from the play area to the reception area of the Club, Hal ran right through the very sturdy gate, demolishing it. They should've put that on his 'tab!'
So, we began Basic Obedience....and with much practice Hal learned his skills: There were lots, including Sit, Stay, 'Leave it!' and of course his least favorite, "Come!" We knew he had achieved that skill when he would come when called every time at the dog park, even when he thought it was time to go home! He learned some home skills at his foster home (THANK YOU, Jo!). I was surprised when we traveled together to a meet-and-greet of a new family and stayed overnight in a motel. Hal transferred a command from his foster home, "Dogs OUT of the kitchen!" to the motel kitchenette where I was making his dinner. He sat behind an imaginary line across the open doorway and waited patiently. Clearly Hal was a smart and very trainable dog, but I didn't feel comfortable with him off-leash, ever, because of his impulsive nature. He was still a 'teenager!'
I knew Hal would need a truly exceptional home, so I begged a rescue friend to give Hal a courtesy post on their Petfinder page. Commonwealth Humane in Virginia obliged (THANKS, Chris!) Because of the wonderful photos of Hal, courtesy of Snyderneff Dog Art (THANKS Cheryl!), Hal immediately began getting fan mail and applications. He got a LOT of marginal to very bad applications: from families with very small children, folks who planned to have their dog in a kennel all day, and even one from a person whose dog had run through an invisible fence and been run over. I began to despair! Then, I got an email from Susan, whose family owns a Christmas tree farm in New Jersey, and I had to sit down to absorb what I read. This was a family that might be just right for Hal! And, when we talked on the phone, it really began to come clear. This WAS Hal's family: They'd had a GSP dog in the past, and loved the breed. He would be treated as a member of the family. They'd waited until their youngest child was five before looking for another GSP, the family's business was dog-friendly, and (best of all) Susan liked to go out for early morning runs, and Hal could go along with her. My friends said, "You can't believe what they tell you.....you HAVE to do a home visit." But, when I read an article in the local paper about how the entire community, including the large extended family, had pulled together to help save the tree farm during a family illness, I just knew.
The time from the decision to send Hal to New Jersey and his travel day, December 17th, passed in a blur of preparation: getting Hal his last vet checkup, writing the 'instruction manual' with his likes, dislikes and obedience commands and finally packing his 'things' to travel. He would be riding north in a big 'doggie Winnebago' with a bunch of dogs---with our friends at My Buddy's Coming Home transport service. After a last 'play day' at Dog Club of Wilmington, I picked Hal up and we drove to Benson, NC to meet the transport as it motored up I-95. We were there early, so Hal and I had time to have 'walkies' and snacks, and chat about how his life would be different. Instead of the one little girl in his foster home, with the too-small yard and warm coastal weather, there would be THREE children, LOTS of outdoor space and SNOW! When the motor home arrived, a young man came to take Hal by the leash. I said, "I'm not sure he'll go with you...." but he did, bouncing up into the Winnebago and then running back down the steps for one more goodbye before he was content to be tucked into his kennel for the all-night ride.
The next day I heard Hal had traveled well and arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed. (Just an expression, he has a little nub of a tail!) I got several happy and positive messages about him, and began to believe that this was indeed Hal's forever home. After a few weeks I quit worrying that he would be too rambunctious for his new family. I got on with the business of rescue and worried about other animals!
Then, the next summer, and every summer since, I received a wonderful gift---an online photo album of Hal's Vacation in Maine. Now, Hal's everyday life in New Jersey is already pretty amazingly wonderful, but every summer he and his family spend time at a lakefront cabin in Maine. There he goes canoeing, swimming and attempts (unsuccessfully) to catch ducks. Hal goes on long hikes OFF LEASH, sometimes wearing a doggie backpack, followed by naps on the lawn. To me, those photos are the best gift ever. They are the proof that there is a good life possible for shelter animals, and that we can hope for a just-right family for every one of them. Hugs to Hal and his family! No Kill is LOVE!