And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Many people say that when you adopt a rescue animal, you just don’t know what you’re getting. But honestly, when do you know what you’re getting? Whether you adopt a brand new puppy or even take on a dog that a friend can no longer care for, you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Almost all of our pets have been rescues. The exception is Muse, our 17-year old gray cat. She was adopted from a student’s friend, who was traveling cross country in a camper. Their cat had kittens, and so when they brought the box of cute little furballs into my classroom, you know one just had to stay with me. But everyone else came to us from a humane society or rescue mission.

Our dog, Ursula Le Guin Giorgio, came home with us three years ago from a humane society. She’d been brought there via truck with 6 other dogs from Alabama. She was an adult, probably about 3 years old. She’d clearly had puppies. Not much else was known than that.

Ursula was the dog I said I didn’t want. We were reeling from the loss of our two beagles, Blossom and Donnie. Blossom came from a humane society and Donnie from a rescue mission. Blossom developed kidney disease which was supposed to move quickly, but took years. Donnie developed a bone cancer which was supposed to move slowly, but took weeks. They both arrived at the end of their lives at the same time. We tried everything to keep them safe and happy, but it got to a point where there was no way to move them away from misery. They died side by side at the vet’s, with two veterinarians inserting the syringes at the exact same time, and all three of us present, with a hand on each dog. It was the most peaceful release we could have given them, but oh so devastating for us.

I said I didn’t want another dog. We live in the city, we don’t have a yard. And I just didn’t want to go through the sadness again. But the silence in the house, no toenails clicking, no tags jangling, was resounding, and three weeks later, we found ourselves at a humane society, looking at this dog they called Mama from Alabama.

In the kennel, she seemed calm and easy-going. At home, we discovered we’d adopted 50 pounds of fears and anxieties. She was renamed Ursula Le Guin because Le Guin was a strong, outspoken woman, and I felt our Ursula needed to be that too, to get through whatever it was she’d already gone through. But she wasn’t so strong and outspoken. We should have named her Mouse.

Despite her challenges, she’s settled into our family. Whenever one of us sits, we tend to have a concrete head placed in our laps. We’ve grown used to a dog who does not like to be outside, who will not walk down a hallway in our home because she doesn’t like narrow spaces, who freaks out at the sound of wind. We also made it through the discovery of heartworm, and then the treatment of heartworm which put her into cardiac arrest.

A few weeks ago, Ursula turned up with an infected toe. I noticed her licking and licking, and at first, I thought it was allergies, even though she hasn’t had allergies in three years. But it was only on one foot. Then she started holding the paw up. Off to the vet we went, to the new COVID procedures of having to wait in the car while our nervous dog went into the vet without our support.

An infected toe. Maybe from all the licking, maybe from allergies, maybe she injured it. I thought of the couple weeks prior, when our condo complex went through a testing of its fire alarm system. All the alarms in every unit went off. I couldn’t stay with Ursula because I’m the condo president and had to accompany the inspectors. By the time I got back home, I couldn’t find Ursula. How do you lose a 50-pound dog? Finally, I looked where she never went – down that hallway to Olivia’s room. There was Ursula, hulking on a small fur-covered chair (not pet fur – deliberately furry, like a stuffed animal), a chair way too small for her. The only way she could have gotten up was to pull herself up. I placed my bets on one of her nails getting stuck in the fur and pulling.

So we followed a regimen of meds. Antibiotics. First Benadryl, then Prednisone. The Prednisone made her excessively thirsty and she began to pee everywhere and all the time. I made the executive decision to take her off of that and just stick with the antibiotic – this wasn’t an allergy.

The licking has slowed. There is no longer a limp. The sad face of a dog who knows she is doing naughty things has begun to fade away.

Last night, Ursula came into my office while I was working. Clunk went her head on my lap. I looked down and saw the eyes of a dog who was apologizing. “It’s okay,” I said. “You’re a good girl.” At the words “good girl”, the tail became a helicopter propeller.

This morning, Ursula sat up on the loveseat where she sleeps and she gave me a big Ursula grin. She feels better.

I can’t help but wonder if she worried about losing her home. About being hurt. It’s said that dogs don’t have long memories, but I don’t believe that for a minute. She knows what she went through, and she shows us through her behavior. Her behavior also shows us her recovery.

The smile this morning shows me she knows she’s not going anywhere. That she is a full and accepted part of the family, even when she does naughty things, deliberately or out of her control.

Adopting Ursula, we didn’t know who we were getting. We didn’t know she was a dog who is freakishly afraid of gospel choirs, bolting upstairs whenever they come on television. A dog who is afraid of wind and rain and flags flapping. The microwave. The icemaker.

But we got her. And we couldn’t be happier.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Donnie and Blossom. Donnie on the left, Blossom on the right.
Ursula in the humane society, on the day we met her. She was called Mama then.
Ursula’s concrete head on my leg as I sit at my desk. Apology eyes.
An Ursula smile!

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