Home is where the pet is: Our dog adoption story

Captain and family's first Christmas card. — Photo courtesy of Teresa Brewster

This is part one of a two-part essay about Captain and his new family. Teresa Brewster and Steven Premdas live in Oak Bluffs, convienently near the dog park.

I always liked dogs. As long as they didn’t slobber on me with their stinky breath and slimy drool. Or mess up my stuff with their grubby paws, gnarly teeth, and ubiquitous feces and fur.

Many of my friends were unaware of my fondness for dogs, what with the rolling of my eyes when they’d baby talk to their pooch or my apparent recoil when approached by an exuberant tail wagger.

But this fall, I was transformed. Now, I frequently trod about with poo on my shoe after a romp in the dog park. The backseat of my car is draped with a sandy blanket, and muddy paw prints adorn the console and windowsills. My jacket is filthy from enthusiastic greetings that include a comprehensive face licking – and this is the best part of my day. My metamorphosis began on October 8, when my longtime boyfriend, Steven, and I drove to a Wal-Mart parking lot in Putnam, Conn. to bring home our furry bundle of joy. That day, our lives changed in more ways than our painstaking foresight could have predicted. For years, we had vehemently argued our case: we work too much, what will we do when we go on vacation, our house is too small, who has the time? Our decision was steadfast. Yet, one lazy Sunday morning (as Sunday mornings used to be) some friends invited us over for brunch. Their fluffy (not fat) Husky mix named Maggie is skittish at first, but very loving once she knows you. It was Maggie who prompted our conversation about rescue dogs.

Our host showed us a website called petfinder.com. Steven and I agreed we both liked boxers, so we studied the list of 300-plus dogs of that breed in our general area. Eight dogs into our search, we fell in love. He looked at the camera with glossy brown eyes begging to play, his ears perked up and flopped over, his skinny legs splayed under him like an easel. He was 30 pounds. “Meet Captain” the profile read. “A Boxer/cattle dog mix is our best guess. He’s a sweet, happy boy with a goofy youngster personality looking for an active home.” We continued our search for hours, but no one compared to Captain. Although our peek at the pups was meant to be just for fun, we couldn’t get his warm, furry image out of our heads and within a few days, we worked out a schedule that seemed demanding but doable. The organization that sponsored Captain was Mutts 4 Rescue in Portsmouth, R.I. By the time we made our decision to adopt, we were frantic to fill out the application lest someone snatch him up before we did. We later learned that Captain had been posted online for four months before we made our inquiry, and some are listed for much longer.

The whole process was fraught with surprises, beginning with the application itself. The lengthy document scrutinized our lifestyle, our intentions, our home, and our environment. What will you feed him? Where will he sleep? What training methods will you use? What provisions will you make for your dog if you become unable to care for him? Who do you think you are and why do you think you can do this? I wouldn’t have felt less qualified if I had been applying for Jeopardy. In spite of the rigorous application, Captain’s foster mom, Sharon, called us for an interview. We must have satisfied the agency’s tenacious curiosity because now we were asking all the questions. We learned that Mutts 4 Rescue does not have a shelter. They use a network of foster homes run by volunteers dedicated to finding loving, permanent homes for abandoned and surrendered dogs.

Captain had been picked up as stray and brought to a high kill shelter, where the dogs have three to five days to be claimed before they are euthanized. Because another dog had been adopted, Sharon had a space in her house to foster Captain. All the fostered dogs are spayed or neutered, up-to-date with vaccinations, treated for heartworm, and given microchips before they are listed for adoption. Sharon seemed eager to unite us with Captain. She started talking about transport. That was when we learned that Captain was not in Portsmouth, R.I.; he was in Houston, Texas. Mutts 4 Rescue partners with an organization called Rescue Road Trips. They are a transport service based in Ohio. Every Tuesday they drive their truck down south picking up about 60 dogs in Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama. The dogs are brought to locations in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, making scheduled stops for feeding, pottying, and exercising. Volunteers from local shelters are available to help at each stop. I hated imagining all those terrified dogs locked in kennels in a dark trailer for three days, but I was assured that every effort is made to keep the dogs calm and comfortable. Sharon had already made a reservation for the following week’s transport. We had 10 days to prepare. I downloaded every article I could find online about adopting and training a rescued dog. Then we read them, over and over again, reminding each other of their advice when questions arose. Mutts 4 Rescue was very helpful. They emailed a packet of information on what to expect and how to handle it. They emphasized the importance of health and diet with a dog food rating guide that offers a formula for evaluating the nutrition of different dog food brands. We had so many things to get: a crate, dog beds, leashes, food bowls, food, treats, toys, brushes. Our yard fence was 10 feet shy of enclosing the space, and we needed to decide where everything would go. We were bundles of nerves on the endless drive to Connecticut. Although we got most of our supplies from SBS and Healthy Additions, we still managed to pack our back seat at a Petco on the way. The cargo area was lined with heavy plastic, then covered with a soft fleece blanket. We were warned that the stress of transport and new, unfamiliar surroundings was likely to trigger accidents. The truck rolled in right on schedule. We were in the company of about a dozen other families, but no one said much to each other. Steven and I were scrambling to find our paperwork and get our leash and some food and water ready. Sharon told us that Captain was very scared getting onto the truck. She suggested we bring a slip collar in case he tried to pull out of his own. Mutts 4 Rescue implored us to bring a cloth leash no longer than six feet – not a retractable leash. When the trailer door was opened, the pandemonium of barking that spilled out of the gloomy box was horrifying. I recognized Greg from following Rescue Road Trips on Facebook. One by one the adopters approached to tell him who they came to claim. His partner went into the trailer and emerged with a dog, handing him to his new family. “We’re here for Captain.” “Oh! I hope you have a lot of energy,” was his response. Captain arrived at the door with all four legs flailing. The two men held him while Steven slipped the collar around his neck. He threw himself on us, wildly licking and pawing, then quickly rolled over to show us his belly. His ears were pinned back and he was panting heavily between unrestrained kisses. He knew his arduous journey was over.