Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Anyone who has met me or has read more than three of my posts knows I'm wild about animals, particularly the domesticated ones.  To misquote Will Rogers:  "I never met a dog I didn't like."  And dogs almost always like me.  I have no doubt animals pick up on a person's vibe and can sense if a kindred spirit is before them.  Given how many times I've been French-kissed by strange dogs, they obviously tag me as their kind of gal.

There is one dog in this world, though, who inhabits a unique place in my life and my heart.  His name is Tristan.  I met him only once, almost exactly a year ago, and I doubt I'll ever see him in person again.  He has, however, affected me in a way that few others have in my lifetime.

My mother's pal, Jumpin' Jack
On occasion I help out the rescue group Recycled Doggies, transporting dogs from "death row" at the high-kill shelters.  It was on my first such mission that I met Tristan.  He was one of about a dozen dogs being rescued that day from the rural Clinton County shelter in Ohio.  I had dragged my mother along and it was while she was in the van wrestling with a furry, overly enthusiastic (but incredibly lovable) pooch named Jumpin' Jack that Tristan was literally dragged out of the shelter.  I was standing outside in the cold, a light snow coming down, and the poor, breathless rescue worker asked if I'd hold his leash while they retrieved more dogs.  Tristan was flattened to the ground, his ears back, shaking and obviously terrified.  As I said, dogs tend to love me, so I crouched down and talked to him and stroked his head and...got no reaction at all.  It wasn't that he was afraid of me or just nervous about where he was headed.  This dog was frozen in fear and there was a blankness in his eyes that was like nothing I've ever seen.  I've often described it as post-traumatic stress disorder.  He looked like he was in shock and not quite mentally there.  He had been so afraid of being removed from his concrete cell in the shelter that he had fallen into the trough where animal waste accumulated in an effort to get away from the people approaching.

My interaction with Tristan literally lasted about five minutes or so and yet that dog haunted me.  I knew he was on his way to safety, he had a foster home to live in until he was adopted, but I couldn't get that face out of my mind.  What in the world had someone done to him to make him that scared?  And what would become of him?

Thoughts of that shell-shocked dog might have continued to overwhelm my thoughts if not for a tragedy that ocurred just a week later.  I received an e-mail on the morning of March 1 from my mother.  I knew there was trouble when it started "I feel like I can hardly breathe."  There had been a fire the night before at the home of Shannon DeBra, the founder of Recycled Doggies.  In all about a dozen dogs and one cat were killed, including Jumpin' Jack.  (Two dogs who survived later had to be put down due to the severity of their injuries.)  My sister wrote a lovely tribute, with all the details, on her blog here.

St. Jimmi, settling into her new home
Between Tristan and the fire, I was in no clear mental state when I went to a big adoption event of Recycled Doggies' at Red Dog Pet Resort in Cincinnati on March 5.  It was my birthday weekend and we had gone out to lunch before heading over to the event.  The hardest part may have been trying to steer my kids from the signs and the slide show showing the deceased dogs.  I had told them about the fire, but said that all had survived, they were merely injured.  Foghorn never seemed to notice, but The Professor caught sight of the slide show and briefly said to me, "I thought you said they all survived."  I assured him they did and tried to distract his attention.  He never said a word about it, but I have no doubt he knew.  It was in that charged emotional atmosphere that we adopted St. Jimmi and brought her home.  I didn't save Tristan, couldn't save Jumpin' Jack or the others, but at least we could free up a spot in a foster home by adopting this dog.

In the months to come I would see periodic updates about Tristan on the Recycled Doggies Facebook page, enough that I was reassured he was being loved and cared for.  His foster mom, the divine Lori, officially adopted him last fall.  Only someone with her kind of patience could have helped him make the progress he has.  She has dealt with his night terrors, his fear of leashes and strangers and going outside.  Lori has a website chronicling her weight loss efforts, through which she is raising money for Recycled Doggies.  Please check out the page she has dedicated to Tristan here.  There is a special place in hell for any person who would abuse a dog so badly.

Tristan with his Christmas present
from "Aunt Shannon".
When I found out about Lori's Dog-Lbs. project I immediately made my per-pound pledge and left a comment about having met Tristan briefly.  That began an online correspondence which has evolved into a treasured friendship.  I sent Tristan a Christmas box of goodies, including a knitted dog bone (pattern found here).  "He" sent me a gorgeous flower arrangement.  (Foghorn said, "It's really from his mom, isn't it.  He didn't really order flowers, right?")

Christmas flowers from Tristan.

He and his schnauzer brother love to play tug-o-war, so for Valentine's Day I knit a critter with nice long arms and legs, perfect for doggies to get their mouths around.  (Free pattern found here.)  Lori posted numerous pictures, including the dogs eagerly anticipating the box-opening.  She later e-mailed me that Tristan took it to bed with him that night.

This dog was labeled "unadoptable" and was literally hours away from death when Lori stepped in to save him.  He's been abused and traumatized.  And a year after his rescue he is one of the most-loved dogs on the planet, by those who connect with him in person and by those of us who adore him from afar.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Tristan and siblings playing with
his Valentine gift.


How Do I Love Thee?

* Sunday in the Park With Dogs


Debbi said...

What a sweet, sweet story, thanks so much for sharing it, and for knitting fun things for Tristan!

Lori said...

Shannon, you have loved Tristan from the beginning showing him kindness even when he was shut down and terrified, keeping him in your heart and being the very first person to honor him by supporting my dog-lbs efforts and then their are your care packages that are so special! People will think I am crazy but whenever a box comes from you his reaction is unmistakable that he "knows" just who it is from, he wiggles and hops around, and the ONLY other time i have seen him like this is when he sees his "brother" Journey who was removed from the same house. Tristan knows how special you are, as do I and I am determined that you WILL see Tristan again and reap the rewards of his slobbery sweet kisses. ;-) Your friendship has been a blessing through this experience and I can't thank you enough for everything you do for myself, Tristan, and all the others in your life. Everybody in my house loves you very much and on this Valentines Day we hope you know how special you are! Thank you for writing this beautiful post!! xo Lori, Tristan, Maggie and Tully.

quilt32 said...

A wonderful post.

The Dolls Are Alright said...

Hard to write with the tears in my eyes ... thank you and your mom and Lori for your sweet hearts and for caring so deeply for these incredible animals.

Corinne said...

You had to know that I'd have to comment on this posting!

Thank you for everything you're doing for all these needy and worthy babies.

A big hug from me and sloppy wet kisses from all MY adoptees.