Today I offer you another chapter in our farm story. This is the story of the best farm dog ever. (It is just a first draft and needs more work..... but I’ll share it anyways)
Staring back from the screen was an adult dog of unknown history with the gentlest brown eyes that sparkled… eyes that oozed enthusiasm where there should have been fear. He had a blocky head like a Labrador retriever and loose-hanging lips on a greying muzzle. They estimated his age at two, but, to me, he looked older. Directly behind the sitting dog was a black blur where there should have been a tail. It was obvious that this dog was wagging his tale. He was having his incarceration mug shot taken, and he was overjoyed! I looked at the other photos of him…. tail wagging in each of them.
My husband and I had recently discussed adopting a rescue to add to our aging canine family. I had been researching potential rescue dogs, that morning, when I came upon a list of dogs whose days were numbered. I read a little more of Oakley’s “bio”, only to find that this dog of unknown origin had landed in a “kill” shelter in Kentucky. Apparently, upon admission, he was given 30 days in which to be adopted. At the end of those thirty days, if no one wanted him, he would be euthanized.
I yelled for my husband. “We have to save this dog, Jack. Come look at this picture! Can you believe it? Look…he’s wagging his tail…he’s a sweetheart. Oh my God…they’re going to kill him in 2 days. We have to give him a home! We have to save him…” I went on and on, my voice hitting a crescendo of panic.
Having only experience with female dogs, we had not considered adopting a male dog. But, there was something about that picture. This boy needed love, and we had a lot to spare!
“Ok, let’s do it!” was all I needed to hear. I picked up the phone and called the rescue network whose website I had been perusing.
Calming myself enough to be understandable, I picked up the phone to call the rescue… hoping to get the wheels rolling on this adoption before it was too late. As the phone rang, I held my breath… afraid that no one would answer on a Saturday… that I might be too late already. “Monday’s right around the corner,” I thought, as the phone rang, one, two, three…
“Good Morning , Fuzzy Muts Dog Rescue (not their real name),” the voice said as I exhaled and refilled my lungs.
I quickly explained that I had seen their website and was interested in adopting Oakely. She gathered my information and replied, “Ok, then. We will have him picked up by our van on Monday morning. We are bringing a load of dogs up from down South next week, so it will be no problem to add him to the rest.”
“Fill out the application and get it back to us ASAP. In the meantime, we will have the dog fostered by someone in our network who is close to where you live. She will set up a home inspection. If your home meets our criteria, she will be in contact with you after she receives the dog, and you can meet him then. If your application is accepted you can adopt the dog,” she continued.
My heart was flooded with relief. We had reached them in time. We were a step closer to saving this mystery dog. And although we knew absolutely nothing about him, we believed that his picture was worth a thousand words.
As I hung up the phone, my excitement turned to fear. “What if?” I thought. “What if?” All of the possible reasons for his confinement in that shelter went through my head.
“What if he doesn’t get along with other dogs?” We already had two aging girls: Sadie, a beautiful, but quirky, Bernese Mountain Dog and Maddie, a loveable, 170-pound, black Newfoundland. What if we brought a new dog into our home that would make life miserable for our two old girls? Our first responsibility, after all, was to these two fur-balls who had been our constant companions for the past several years.
“What if he hates cats?” We had several spoiled barn kitties that had grown accustomed to a peaceful existence in our barn. The wrong dog could make their lives a living hell.
“What if he isn’t good with children?” There were always children visiting the farm. Friends and family often brought their little ones to see the animals. And we had pre-school groups who brought kids to the farm for field trips. We couldn’t have a dog that wasn’t completely tolerant of children!
We had a farm full of chickens, ducks, turkeys, guineas, goats and horses. The “what if?” list grew.
In the back of my mind, though, I kept seeing the photos of him wagging his tail. How could a dog, facing a future as uncertain as his, be so genuinely happy? He had to be a good boy.
I shoved all fears aside. We were going to give this happy boy a great home. We had to try. A tail-wagger like this needed a second chance at life! The decision was made. All that was left was to fill out the application and pass inspection.
The application was voluminous. Every question pertaining to every aspect of dog life was asked.
Did we have a fenced-in yard? Yes, well, sort of… we had lots of fences to keep our animals in…. but none specifically to keep a dog in the yard. Besides, our yard was acres and acres and acres.
Were we prepared to keep our dog on a leash if we did not have a fenced-in yard? No… of course not. We lived on a farm. A leash was out of the question. We could not get anything done while holding a dog on a leash.
Would we commit to making sure the dog had enough exercise? That wouldn’t be a problem. We lived on a 140-acre farm and spent our days outside. Making sure the dog had enough rest would have been the question for us!
Would we use Frontline and heart worm preventative? Absolutely! We lived in flea and tick country… surrounded by woods full of deer.
What would we feed the dog? We would feed him the same feed that we bought at our feed store for our other dogs… an off-brand grain-free formulation for large dogs that included glucosamine for musculo-skeletal protection.
Would we be willing to take the dog to obedience classes? Yes, I answered. (I fibbed.) I had had dogs all of my life. For me, training a dog was a necessary part of adopting a dog. I was the alpha dog and planned to remain in charge! I would see how things worked out before making this decision.
The questions went on and on. The application could not have been more thorough if we were being vetted for the FBI. There were spaces for three references as well as a Veterinarian reference. I labored through the application for an hour. Finished, I emailed it back to the rescue.
The mandatory home visitation was scheduled for Tuesday.
Liz, the gal in charge of fostering Oakley, toured the farm, met our two dogs, Maddie and Sadie and talked with us for a bit about the adoption process. At the end of our visit she commented, “In my next life, I’d like to come back as one of your dogs. I see no problem with you adopting Oakley. He arrives later today… I’ll be in touch after he gets settled in.”
Four days later Liz called to tell us that Oakley had settled in quite nicely. She was happy to report that Oakley was getting along fine with her pack of rescues. At the present time she was fostering four German Shepherds. She had observed no aggressive behavior on the part of Oakley. He was proving to be a gentleman. I was elated.
“How about cats?” I asked. “Do you have any cats?”
“Yes, I have a cat. Oakley showed no interest in Mr. Whiskers. And I have horses. He could care less about them. I call him “Okey Dokey” because so far, he’s great!”
I was feeling optimistic with each observation she made.
When can we meet him?” I asked.
“Why don’t you come by around four-o-clock, on Monday. You can meet him here and see him with the other dogs. And, if you like him, I can bring him over to your farm some time later next week,” she offered.
Time passed slowly as we waited for Monday to arrive. As I drove the six miles to Liz’s farm, I felt that tingle of anxiety in my chest. I hoped that he would, indeed, be Okey Dokey!
Reaching the lane to Liz’s farm, I climbed the long, steep, rutted driveway up to the house. As the car approached the house, two barking German Shepherds came running to inspect the car.
“Taz, Petey, come here!” called a voice from the barn. Liz walked out to greet me as I left the safety of the car.
The shepherds had retreated, only to be replaced by a tall, athletic black lab mix. Oakley came bounding over to me, like a hurdler at a track meet, tail wagging, and offered his welcome greeting. He jumped and threw all of his weight onto my hips with his front paws. It reminded me of the canine version of the chest bump I had seen so many football players do. One jump, that was all. He didn’t know me, but had decided that he already liked me. It was a good sign. He took me by the wrist with his teeth. I was amazed to feel no sharpness against my skin. I would later come to realize that his teeth had been ground down from chewing something hard in his unknown, mysterious past.
“Yeah, he does that when he wants you to play with him,” Liz had observed.
This was an inherently joyful dog, who looked at life with nothing but enthusiasm. My fears were allayed. This was going to work out just fine. If this dog could get along with four German Shepherds, he would certainly mix just fine with our two low-energy girls at home. Hopefully the rest of the farm animals would prove to be no challenge for this happy boy.
I was greeted, four days later, in my own driveway by this same energetic, enthusiastic dog. I was sure he remembered me as he once again came bounding over to greet me, his tail wagging vigorously, and his front paws once again bouncing off my hips as if he was trying to give me a “high five”. Although, months later I would come to understand that he greeted everyone that way… like they were his very best friend in all the world!
Oakley met Sadie and Maddie with mutual, nonchalant sniffing. Sadie tried her best to ignore him. Sweet Maddie loved everyone and everything, and Oakley was no exception… so far, so good. Apparently, the girls were willing to accept this handsome, athletic man… and he, them. It was a good sign that he accepted Sadie’s boundaries.
A walk, on leash, around the farm to visit the other animals was the only test left for Oakley to pass. As Liz had found, he had no interest in our horses or our goats. The chickens were a curiosity to him only until we said “No.” With that he turned away and proceeded to ignore them.
Oakley had run the farm gauntlet and had passed with flying colors.
We headed back to the house. Inside, I sat on the floor and immediately had a lovable Oakley on top of me. This seventy-five pound runner, jumper, tail-wagger was also a lap dog! In the first hour after his arrival it was apparent that we had found our perfect farm dog and that he had found his perfect home. We were elated, and relieved as well.
It was time for Liz and Oakley to leave. This visit had been a success. Our references had all been checked. Our Veterinarian had been contacted. We were one step closer to bringing Oakley into our farm family. All that was left was the adoption ceremony at one of the big pet stores in town two weeks later.
It would be hard to wait another two weeks to bring our boy home, but this was the rescue’s procedure. Nothing was rushed. We were happy to know that he was in good hands until that time and we were assured that we could visit him often.
Imagine our surprise, then… a week later, when we received an email from the rescue network saying our application for adoption was denied.
“WHAT?” I shouted as I read the email, “DENIED!” I was flabbergasted, dumbfounded, confused. I re-read the words…. application denied.
I kept reading, hoping for an explanation. Apparently, they did not care for the brand of dog food we were currently feeding our dogs.
“What?” I went on…”You mean we cannot adopt this dog, that was basically going to be executed, because they don’t like the DOG FOOD that we feed our dogs? What the…”
Unbelievable. I was livid. Jack was stunned. This was completely nonsensical.
I called Jack’s sister, who was our Veterinarian. She was speechless when I told her that our application was rejected.
“You mean…. a dog that was going to be killed… isn’t better off in a good home eating less than perfect dog food? This makes no sense…and by the way, your dog food is just fine. I use the same brand for my dogs. What brand do they want you to use?” Her reaction was the same as mine had been.
“Oh, some super-expensive, top-of-the-line, designer food that I’ve never heard of.” I answered.
“That’s just ridiculous! I’m going to email them.” She was indignant and not about to let the matter end there.
She wrote to them, as promised, saying: “Quit dicking around with this adoption and just let these people have the dog.” My sister-in-law never minces words. “Even the dog’s foster mom wants, in her next life, to come back as one of their pets!! I promise you that dog will have the best home!”
Unbelievably, even this endorsement did not sway the Food Nazi who was in charge of the rescue. She held her ground. I wondered if she would have sent Oakley back to Kentucky, rather than have us adopt him and feed him a food of which she did not approve. I also wondered if she was getting some sort of kickback from the manufacturer of that over-priced food.
I was not going to take “no” for an answer. I knew I could give our tail-wagging friend a better life than he had had up to this point. The emailing was done. It was time for a conversation. Heart pounding, I dialed the phone and called the rescue.
I introduced myself as the woman who had applied to adopt “Oakley, the lab mix from Kentucky.” I explained that I felt her denial of our application was ridiculous.
“I think this is going to make a very interesting news story for our local ABC station. I‘ll be calling them and telling them how your rescue network would rather let a dog be euthanized than allow him to be adopted into a great home, because we don’t use the brand of dog food that you require!” It was not an empty threat and she knew it.
Later that day an email arrived stating that we were approved for the adoption of Oakley. Along with the approval came a fervent admonishment of our feeding habits and a list of preferred dog food. She was allowing us to have Oakley, but not before getting her point across. She had acquiesced, but still wanted her day in court.
Liz telephoned early one morning at the end of the week. She wanted to give us the time for the final adoption ceremony. It was to be the following week. I told her about the events that had transpired since our last meeting.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” she yelled into the phone, astonished. She hadn’t known that our application had been rejected. “Oh, thank God you pushed back! That’s just crazy.”
“Yeah! Crazy!” I echoed.
“You know, I’ve been really annoyed with them and how they handle these adoptions. It seems like it’s always something… like they forget what their real mission is, here. I’m thinking about using a different rescue. I’ll tell you what… I’m not supposed to give Oakley to you until the final paperwork is signed, but I ‘m gonna bring him over today, instead. You deserve this dog, and he deserves you. To hell with the rescue... they don’t have to know. I can just pick him up and drive him to the ceremony next week. No one will be the wiser!”
That afternoon, Oakley with his seventy-five pounds of love and enthusiasm arrived at the farm. He seemed to know he had found his forever home as he happily bound down the walkway to the house. Door opened, he ran in the house and offered his elated greeting to Sadie and Maddie. As expected, Sadie pretended he wasn’t there. Maddie, in her slow, heavy, Newfoundland way, initiated a friendly game of tag. In that moment, Oakley became one of the family.
Assured that she had done the right thing, Liz left to return home to her own pack of rescue dogs.
I sat on the floor, surrounded by a mass of fur. Everyone was happy. The rest of the afternoon was spent showing Oakley where his food and water were and learning to pick up on his cues. He knew basic commands like “come” and “sit”. And although we weren’t sure what his original name had been, he had obviously accepted “Oakley” or even “Okey Dokey” as his. He was housebroken and barked at the front door when he wanted to go outside. Trips outside were spent marking his territory… watering all of the bushes, trees, tires… basically anything that stood upright was given a little sprinkle of urine.
When Jack arrived home from work that afternoon, we headed down to the barn to do the afternoon chores. Because Oakley was “on loan” to us until the official adoption happened, we kept him on a leash. Once again, though, he proved that he was no threat to any of the farm animals. For all we could tell, this dog was pretty near perfect.
That evening as we sat in our home office reading emails and discussing just how perfect Oakley seemed… and wondering why anyone would have surrendered him to a shelter… we stumbled upon a possible answer.
“Oh my…God…Geeez…what is that smell? Seriously, that is the worst smell ever… what is that?” Jack gagged.
“Geez…. Is that a dog fart?” I asked, holding my breath.
Oakley’s only bad trait had just revealed itself. This dog had the worst God-awful case of flatulence we had ever experienced. No, seriously… the worst of any man or beast!
(For years that smell would be a nightly part of our bedtime routine…. fluff pillow, pull up covers, kiss goodnight, roll over, smell dog farts, fall asleep. We grew to love those dog farts just as much as we loved the dog that gifted them to us… knowing that some day we would miss both.)
Later that evening we were downstairs watching a movie… the dogs occupying the couches with us. Engrossed in our movie, we had not noticed Oakley at the French doors that overlooked our front lawn, until he began barking. Intending to take him out for a quick potty break, Jack opened the door. Oakley barreled through… dashing across the porch and out into running the front yard. At that same moment, Jack saw a fox running across the front yard towards the chicken house. A milli-second later Oakley was in hot pursuit of the fox. (In that moment, as he raced across our yard, we discovered how amazingly athletic this dog was) And with that, both animals were gone.
Gone! The dog, that technically wasn’t yet ours, was gone.
We called and called.
”Oakley, OAKLEY…. Oakley, COME!”
Over and over we called for him. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes passed… and still no Oakley. We had lost our rescue dog… our almost-perfect farm dog was AWOL!
Twenty minutes passed and suddenly Oakley appeared at the front door panting hard. He had returned after having chased off a fox and saving our free-ranging chickens from certain death.
We had, most definitely, found our perfect farm dog… but more importantly, he knew where he belonged.
In the following weeks Oakley’s personality would unfold to us, giving us just a little more insight into this dog and his mysterious past.
We learned that he was deathly afraid of the garage. While our other dogs would come and go with us through the door between our house and garage, Oakley would stand only at the front door… barking to be let out so that he could come along with us. Upon returning to the house, he would once again go to the front door to be let in…. refusing to enter the garage. Little clues like this led us to believe that Oakley’s past might not have been an entirely happy one.
He apparently disliked car rides… refusing to get into the car without being forced. As luck would have it, once he arrived… he never had to leave the farm again. Our Veterinarian was Jack’s sister and she lived on the farm as well. When we travelled we hired a house-sitter. Oakley had found his home and he was here to stay!
His hunting instinct remained strong through the years… getting him into multiple tussles with skunks, porcupines and other wild critters. There were seasons where he would wear “eau de skunk”, like a light touch of cologne, for weeks on end… despite repeated baths with baking soda and peroxide.
With time we grew to understand this big, black, lovable mutt as though he had been with us all of his life. We learned his language and he, ours. He became our constant companion and remained that long after Sadie and Maddie had passed. He spent countless hours chasing tennis balls, and running through the woods with us… sitting at our feet during meals, climbing onto our laps when we watched TV, and sleeping on the floor next to our bed.
He soaked in every ounce of love that we lavished on him… never getting his fill. But for every ounce we gave to him, he gave a quart in return.
Seven years have quickly passed since the day that Oakley came into our lives. He’s old and grey now… his eyes dulling a little from cataracts. He still accompanies us everywhere we go on the farm…but at a slower pace. For seven years he has loved us with every fiber of his being. He is 90 pounds of pure devotion and sits beside me as I write each page of this book… the faint smell of skunk wafting up from his coat. Such is life with our Okey Dokey… fierce odors… but an even fiercer love.
Epilogue: Oakley left us in June 2018. We were privileged to have cared for this fellow for eight years before he left us. I am hoping they were the best eight years of his life. He deserved no less! There is no day that passes in which we don’t think of him.
Here is the final photo of the finished pantry... painting done. I am happy to report there is plenty of room for everything...with some room to spare. It's a much more efficient use of space than the old.
You might be wondering why this pantry has such unusual angles to it. It is actually a triangular space that lies at the point where our house is built on an angle. We also have a triangular powder room next door to the pantry.
To Ladybug Loves Lilacs... the shelves are adjustable. Those two tiny shelves on the right are filled with spaghetti, lasagne, etc. boxes on one side and a stash of chips (shhhh! don't tell anyone) on the other side.
I hope, wherever you are located that you have power and are warm and safe in this crazy winter weather the country is experiencing. We had an ice storm yesterday and a snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow. It looks like we will be digging more paths for animals tomorrow.