Last week the internet celebrated National Rescue Dog Day, which seems like one of those made-up holidays we’ve been inundated with since the social media era, but at this point, anything that gives all y’all an excuse to post your dog pictures is okay by me.
Being a blue-blood Appalachian, my history with rescue dogs is a long one. I didn’t actually know people could get dogs from anywhere that wasn’t the animal shelter or a neighbor’s pregnant dog until I was in my teens, so there was never a separation in my mind about “purebreds” or the unflattering “mutt” term. They were all just dogs, and all of them, no matter their cost or pedigree, would at some point be called “trash hounds” by my mother for getting in the garbage bags.
But I do remember the first dog that was “mine.” We all have that dog: the one that really loves you best, that you feel responsible for and learn responsibility with. “My” dog was a white and honey colored beagle-basset hound mix who was all belly and very short legs, picked by my parents from the local animal shelter. I wanted to name her “Marsha,” which seven-year old me thought was the most beautiful name in the world for about five months, but we settled on the more dog-friendly, “Marshee.”
Marshee was the definition of what makes a rescue dog special: sweet-natured, happy, and grateful for nothing more than a bowl of food and pats on the head. She was my confidant for fourteen years, the way dogs are to kids, all ears and no judgement. She’d come with me as I explored the creeks in the woods, being first-look out for creepy things, and she’d listen when I told her my first my kid troubles, then my teenage ones. And she never held it against me for going off to college and not paying her enough attention when I got back; she’d treat my visits home with the same puppy-like excitement that she had when I first saw her at seven years old.
Chiba was that new kind of hybrid-rescue that’s prevalent these days: the purebred who isn’t wanted. My mom had been wanting a pure-bred Chow Chow, and so for Christmas, my dad sought one out. He was just about to go the breeder route when an ad in the penny-saver part of the paper caught his eye: “Chow Puppy for Sale” in southern Jackson County. And never one to pass up destiny, he called the number, and rescued Chiba from an outdoor pen. She was muddy, wet, cold, and he gave her a bath and a hot dog so she’d be presentable to my mom for Christmas Eve.
If you know anything about Chows, you know they are one-owner dogs, and for Chiba, Dad was her owner, who won her with a bath and a hotdog. She did love us all to varying degrees, hated the UPS man, tolerated our extended family, and was a true protector of our home, never letting anyone get closer than ten feet to the door unless one of us came out to assure her that this stranger had approval. And she was rewarded for her loyalty by having claim to the front seat of the car next to my dad, no matter what human he had with him. His business partner, my mother, me: didn’t matter. Chiba got front, and that was all there was to it.
We have a pack of dogs now, big Moose the Newfie, Radley and Scout, the Aussies, and Buddy. Buddy is an pure-bred English Spaniel who showed up at our house one fall day weighing twenty pounds, more bones than fur. He was starving, skittish, and in bad need of a bath. But Buddy wasn’t dumb: he saw a heated garage, an available blanket, and a steady food supply, and realized we were a soft touch when it came to stray dogs in need. He wouldn’t let us really pet him for almost three years, but he had no trouble helping himself to the food bowls.
If Buddy is anyone’s dog, he’s mom’s. Maybe he could tell she needed a friend after we lost Dad, or maybe he just likes that she drives so fast in the Ranger that his long ears seem to take flight, but she’s his person, the one he trusts the most. When Scout steals his blanket, he goes right to her to get Scout moved. He’s her walking buddy on the ridge, her partner when she has to take the trash down, and she tolerates him laying all over her good pillows on the patio furniture when she would evil-eye any actual human who did so. And in exchange, she gets the tentative licks and a stretched neck that just begs for a good scratch under the chin, signs that he knows she isn’t like whoever hurt him in the past. She’s his rescuer, and on some level, maybe he’s rescued her too.
Now I’m not going to tell you to adopt, not shop, because we’ve done both, and both kinds of dogs just end up getting yelled at for being trash hounds while we pick up the garbage from broken bags in annoyance. But I will tell you that if you get a chance to rescue a dog, from the pound, from a home where they don’t fit, or because they’ve decided your house is the home for them, take it. Because dogs will love just about anyone who gives them the time of day, but a dog that you rescue will love you in the way no other pet will: unconditionally, joyfully, and gratefully.
Just do yourself a favor and spring for the good garbage cans with the tight lids.