Before I begin this post, are there any other Seattleites out there besides me who were awake and outside after midnight last night?
The sky was the most incredible shade of peacock blue, and seemed to be glowing from the horizon up, almost like a sunset of blues. The moon was full (or mostly full), which cast a bright light on everything, illuminating the sky and horizon below. It was really astonishing. On my walk with Fergie I stood and stared and said “wow” out loud several times, just drinking it in. I could have stayed there all night. Fergie herself could have cared less- there was far too much pee mail to check to be standing around wasting time.
Before I tell her backstory, I need to tell mine. It’s a pretty long story but such an important part of my life, and my business, and who I am, that it means a lot for me to be able to share here.
I grew up with dogs, and cats and squirrels (no they didn’t live in the house), and birds, etc, etc. I was always the little tyke that toddled down the street pointing at dogs saying “doggie doggie!” I don’t just love dogs, I adore them. All of them. Although there are breeds I love, I have no breed bias- each animal is an individual and special in it’s own unique way.
SO, when I moved out as a teenager I didn’t take any pets with me.
I continued on through my 20′s dogless.
I traveled, worked in Alaska, lived in France, did A LOT of snowboarding, and just generally didn’t have time in my life to care for one. But I deeply wanted a dog nonetheless.
By the time I hit 30, this desire was nearly overwhelming. I was working as a dogwalker at the time and studying animal behavior (specifically canis lupus familiarus) at the University of Washington and my life revolved around dogs. Within 3 years I was a pro pet photographer and dogs became an even more central part of my life.
The two things that held me back from adopting a dog were:
1. lack of time. My new business took every second I had and trying to care for another living thing was out of the question.
2. lack of pet-friendly housing. I live in Seattle, in the core of the city on the edge of downtown, and I rent. I would love to buy, but the houses I like in the neighborhoods I want to live in are easily $750,000, and although I am able to support myself fulltime with this job I am far from rich. So I rent. Finding a pet-friendly rental in Seattle is tough, especially if you like big dogs like I do.
2 years into my new biz (this one) I couldn’t wait any longer. I gave notice at my old place and began the search for pet-friendly housing. Now mind you I am picky. My mom was an interior designer and I was raised with some of the finer things in a pretty typical middle-class life. I was unwilling to settle for a dump and didn’t wish to pay $1400 a month for a cookie-cutter downtown condo, where most of the pet-friendly places are. My options were few to put it mildly.
Well, long story short, my search got a little, um, anxiety-inducing when, 5 days before I was scheduled to move out of my old place I still hadn’t found a new place to live. But I refused to give up.
My persistence paid off when, mere days before my move date, I found my current home- a large fabulous 1920′s spanish style apartment with stucco walls and tons of old world charm, at a reasonable price in one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city (Queen Anne), with parking, AND pet friendly. I fell in love with the landlord right away (who also has dogs), and moved in in September 2005.
It wasn’t until the madness of the holiday dog sessions and Decopaw art ended that I had the time to start my search. In February of 2006, while doing my thrice-daily intensive search on Petfinder, I found her.
I nearly missed her the first browse through the Petfinder page she was on. I had memorized all of the dogs pictures (really I swear!), and when I went to the next page it clicked suddenly that there was a dog on the previous page that I didn’t recognize, so I went back.
I looked, and then stared, and read, and re-read, and re-read, her description. I mulled for what seemed like forever.
She was a puppy. I didn’t want a puppy; it was on my list of deal-breakers. I wanted a dog who was truly needy- one that wouldn’t be fought over. Puppies get adopted really quickly.
I remembered what my friends and clients Ricardo and Heather said to me over dinner one night, when I asked them how I would know if I was picking the right dog for me. “You’ll just know Jamie- you’ll know”.
At that moment, when looking at this little dog’s pictures, I knew. She was the one for me.
I quickly grabbed my keys, scrambled for my purse, shoes, and coat and went to head out the door to PAWS, the animal shelter where this little dog currently lived.
“Wait” I caught myself “what time do they close?”. It was a Saturday evening.
Woops- they closed a half hour ago.
So I got up early on Sunday (no small task for me) and heart pounding, drove the 30 minutes to Lynnwood to the PAWS shelter. I was nearly panicked that she wouldn’t still be there- I didn’t know how often they updated their online listings. I was also pretty terrified about the task at hand. You see, I am one of these people that cries at the drop of a hat when they see or even think of, an animal in a less than desirable setting. A shelter for any dog is certainly that. I feared that it would be so sad and depressing I would never recover.
I got lucky.
The little dog that I saw on Petfinder (Senbia was her name) was the 2nd one in on the left when I walked into the kennels. The first dog was a pretty pitbull who was being fawned over by a family. I literally didn’t see (or look at) any other dogs there besides the popular pitbull and the new target of my affections.
When I walked up to her kennel, Senbia was laying on her tummy chewing on a kong. She stopped when she saw me and stood up and gently wagged her tail. I said “hello……. sit”. And she sat right down, no hesitation. “Hmmm, what else does she do” I thought, wanting to engage with this little creature. “Shake” I said. She did her version of shake, waving her paw at me. Not in a rambunctious puppy way, but in a more inquisitive way, head tilted to the side, looking at me.
That was it for me- I was sold- hook, line and sinker.
“Excuse me? Somebody? I’ll take this one!” I laughed.
Ok, it wasn’t quite that simple. It took a good 30-40 minutes of me hanging out with her in their enclosed outside area, a couple of chats with the volunteer that did Senbia’s intake evaluation, and quite a bit of self-doubt before I decided to proceed with adoption. For me adopting a dog is a forever decision- I will never ever give up on this dog, or give this dog up, even if it means we become homeless and need to sleep in the car- so this
was a major commitment.
And one that ended up taking more out of me than I had originally anticipated.
When my new puppy came home, she was nameless for awhile. I couldn’t pronounce her name and when people asked me I responded with a lame “uh, I don’t really know what her name is yet- still working on it”. I had a very hard time coming up with a name that was both cool and unique and fitting to her. (BTW: this is where the impetus for my Dog Names book came in- an idea that I came up with back in 2000, but one that I didn’t really have personal inspiration for until Senbia/Fergie came home. I REALLY wished I had my book then.)
She also had chronic urinary tract infections and wasn’t potty trained. This resulted in a severe bladder infection (she was dribbling blood) about 2 months after she came home. Vet bills for the first 2 months: $500.
She had major food allergies as well, and chronic diarrhea- some of the worst I have ever experienced. And inside, repeatedly. (Yep- inside.)
She also wasn’t properly socialized, and pretty dominant for a young dog.
She pulled (hard) on the leash. She is, and was, extremely strong.
She chewed several valuable items.
She had SEVERE separation anxiety. I couldn’t leave her alone for a month. At my shoots she waited in the car.
This is where, in an attempt to understand this little dog better, I studied her release form given to me by PAWS.
Fergie’s backstory, the little that I know:
She was released by a couple of teenage boys who lived in Bothell (a suburb of Seattle about 30 minutes away).
The got her when she was 8 weeks old from a friend whose dog had an accidental litter of puppies. No idea of the breeds for either parent.
She lived in an apartment with a cat and a rat terrier.
They both worked fulltime, and took her outside only to potty.
She got her exercise by ‘leash walks’ and was walked ‘rarely’.
She knew several commands, and was disciplined by yelling ‘no’ and put in her kennel.
And that’s about all I know!
My guess is that she was super adorable as a puppy, and therefore easy to take home, and when she started growing up and having potty training issues and food issues and behavior issues (sheesh what other issues are there, lol?) she just got to be too much for the guys to handle.
I can’t at all say I blamed them. She was hard for me, a 33 year old (at the time) to deal with.
Was it worth it in the end?
If there was a word that was more ‘absolute’ than that I would use it.
I am actually crying sitting her typing this because of how grateful I am that we stuck it out. Fergie is so incredible to me, she is such a special dog, and such a huge part of my heart I just can’t conceive of how things would be today if I had given up on her. It was so completely, utterly, deeply worth it in the end.
I now have a dog who is sweet, sensitive, playful, funny, (super) smart, plays nicely with others, loves to go to the dog park, loves people, loves to swim, adores her family, makes friends with everybody, is very healthy, eats great food and has beautiful poop (yes I called it beautiful). She sleeps under the covers with me at night, her warm body spooning into mine.
She is perfect at home alone, and when I come home, she wags her entire body, folding her ears down and smiling at me, giving me gentle little licks before she runs to find a toy for me. She is the best car rider I have ever known, she loves to go on trips anywhere- even to the store. She has made friends with lots of people and businesses in the neighborhood, is great riding on busses, will tackle any new task with both curiosity and courage, and won’t and can’t say no to any opportunity to have fun. She leaves food alone, even when it sits in front of her on the coffee table with me in the next room, she listens to my commands, and she genuinely, deeply wants to please me. It’s the perfect mutual admiration society and she has changed my life, as I hope I have hers.
So there you have it, that’s the story in it’s entirety. I’m glad you made it this far and allowed me to share it with you. Hopefully it helps you know me a little bit better and understand why my job is so meaningful to me.
More on Fergie tomorrow- for now I’ve gotta catch up on work!!