Today, I think my heart is ready. Ready to tell the story about re-homing our dog Lily. I’ve thought about what I would write for months over and over. I’ve cried countless times attempting to put into words what this has been like. I’ve cried myself to sleep many a night missing my 55-pound lanky love bug. But today, I feel peace. I think I’m ready…so here goes.
Rehoming Lily was not something we wanted to do, but felt we had to do in the best interest of all of our family members. I found her sleeping on a bench in downtown Raleigh June 18th, 2012. She was about three months old and had started following around some homeless people that morning. I immediately called the no-kill shelter where I volunteer to ask if they would be able to make space for her. Really, before they could answer, I just told them I would foster her so I wouldn’t have to send her to the county shelter. (read her first blog post here) She and our first dog Baxter had to be separated in our home after about a year together. Many of you may remember us looking for a new home for her at that time as the fights between Baxter and Lily escalated. I am still appreciative of all of the support received during that emotional time. I remember feeling extremely defensive and expecting a rash of social media insults and criticisms. Thankfully I only had one negative response, but still cried and cried and cried. Thankfully we were able to keep Baxter and Lily separated and safe with the help also of some medication for about a year and a half.
Baxter also had to be kept away from our daughter who was born in July of 2014. He was abused by kids in his first home and never quite recovered. We managed to keep Baxter separated from Lily and from Claire (2-legged child) for about a year and a half. The only concern with Lily around our daughter was Lily wanting to lick her for hours. Lily is quite the kisser. Late last fall, we had two incidents with Lily involving our daughter that forced us to realize we couldn’t keep all three separated and provide a loving, safe and fulfilling life for all. But how do you choose which child to keep and which to rehome? This has been the hardest situation I’ve ever dealt with, only second to depression which Lily pulled me through in so many ways. I knew from Baxter’s age, anxiety and past history that he would not be a good candidate for rehoming. Lily has a vibrancy and resilience about her that captures people’s hearts and souls. While it would be devastating for me, I knew she would handle rehoming the best.
There were many other considerations and vet consultations and conversations with trainers etc. We were even told that it might be best to euthanize Lily rather than chancing her possibly being abused by a new family that may not be as patient in terms of dealing with her mischievousness, propensity for eating anything she’s not supposed to eat and skin allergies.
Finding a Rescue
I contacted local foster groups all around the Triangle with no luck. One of my emails was returned with quite a nasty response. I reached out to some friends in Charleston, SC where I used to live and first started my volunteer work. My friend Brian contacted the rescue where we both volunteered Pet Helpers to inquire about Lily. They agreed to take our girl and find her a new home. I was relieved and devastated at the same time. We thankfully had a place to give our girl a second chance. Not just any place, but the rescue that I first fell in love with, first fostered with and the one that inspired my pet photography career.
We were heading to the coast in February and drove half way to Charleston to meet Brian who would keep Lily for a week before she could officially go to Pet Helpers. My friend and photography mentor Laura also came and took some farewell photos for us. I cried the entire drive to the beach the night before, but didn’t cry when we actually said goodbye to Lily. It seemed surreal. Like she was just going to stay with friends while we were out of town. But I spent the rest of the night sobbing. When we returned home to Raleigh, I walked into our master bedroom and collapsed on the floor. I didn’t think I would ever stop the tears or the pain.
I tried not to bug the shelter with updates, but it was hard. One of my friends went to visit Lily while she was there and facetimed me so I could see her! It meant so much to have friends that went to check on her and let her and me know that she would be okay.
Lily finds her second home
It was the end of April when my husband and I were set to go to Europe. I was taking part in a special pet photography workshop and then we would do some traveling on our own. I checked in online whenever I had wifi to see if Lily was still on the website as being up for adoption. Then it hit. We landed back in the US and the post popped up on my facebook feed. A photo of Lily with her new owner. And of course this was just as we were about to take off on the second flight back to Raleigh. I sent frantic messages to a few friends and thought I might have a panic attack waiting two hours to land and find out more. Who was this person? Was he going to really love Lily? Was he ready to take on some of her challenges? My biggest fears in all of this was 1) Lily being adopted/returned/adopted/returned and not finding a good home and 2) us never hearing about her again.
I had planned to write a letter to the new owner(s) and send it with Lily when she first went to Pet Helpers, but could never gather the emotions to do so. Now I had to. I struggled with explaining our situation, not feeling like a villain and also not sounding like a crazy-dog lady that was going to drive to Charleston to stalk them. It took a few weeks, but the letter eventually got to the new owner Chris (not his real name).
Part of my letter to Lily’s new owner:
It’s been two months since I last saw my sweet baby girl and I cry myself to sleep at least once a week. I feel shame and guilt. I’ve told myself it was best to give her a second chance than no chance at all, but it doesn’t erase the heartache. So many people adopt a pet and dump them on the side of the road, return them to the shelter without a second thought or abuse them. As a shelter volunteer, I hear so many sad stories and it can turn a heart hard toward people. But I just want you to know that Lily is a very well-loved dog. In no way was she ever un-wanted. She will never be un-wanted. She got me out of bed on days I didn’t want to. She made me smile and laugh and brought so much joy to our family. Our lives will always have a place for her.
To Lily…I remember the overcast day when I saw you for the first time. I can see you sleeping on my lap in the car as I drove to the SPCA to officially get you checked out and fill out foster paperwork. I remember before I even pulled onto the main road, I had chosen your name. Lily…my favorite flower. I love you and miss you more than you could possibly imagine. May you provide love and joy for your new family as you have for us.
To her new family…You have won yourself the world’s sweetest dog. She has a magic about her that can hardly be described in words, but you know this already. Thank you for seeing all that is special about her and loving her.
New owner responds
I was over the moon when Chris emailed us with an update on Lily just a day after receiving ours. Lily did indeed hit the jackpot. Although I’ve never spoken with him or met him in person, I could tell through his words that he has such a kind heart and a sincere love for Lily. He told us she had a bed downstairs and one upstairs and while he had planned to keep her off the couch (yea, we did too) she had already negotiated her way onto the cushions. Living near the beach, they go on walks each weekend.
Our daughter Claire asks about Lily all the time as we have her photos up around the house. I’ve explained that “Lily has a new daddy now.” On Christmas Day, Claire was looking at a photo of Baxter and Lily and told the grandparents “Lily has a new family now.” My parents immediately got teary-eyed and I ran upstairs to try to distract myself and keep from breaking down.
The tears come heavy and often, but for the first time since last seeing my girl, I finally feel a bit of peace. I know she is in great hands, but it doesn’t stop me from missing her. I will never stop loving her. I will never stop hoping to see her again. I will always be grateful for Pet Helpers for uniting Lily with her new dad.
There are a million different emotions I’ve gone through during this process: extreme sadness, guilt, shame, confusion, doubt, worry, emptiness, hope, denial. I’m happy to say that I can now add “peace” to that list.