Foster Dog Lila joined our little family right around this time last year and the day before Thanksgiving will mark her one year anniversary with us.  Today, when she woke and dashed to the carpet for her morning belly rub–a scene that always starts the day off on the right foot–a vision of Lila sitting bolt upright at the Thanksgiving Dinner Table, side by side with the humans, came to mind. It’s an odd vision, I know, but not surprising given how dog-centric our lives can be.

I imagined Lila’s favorite part of the festivities, save the freshly roast turkey on her plate, might be the opportunity to share with the family what she’s most grateful for this year.

Above all, I think she’d be thankful that my strict and extensive criteria for potential adoptive families ensured that no one who inquired about her could ever pass muster!  Perhaps she practiced some doggie mind control that forced those who inquired about her to say things like: “I already have a dog but he’s unruly, bored, destructive and home alone all day. So, I’m looking for another dog to train my dog to behave.”  Or my favorite: “Does she hunt? I lost my last dog and this one looks good.“  Uh, no.

These sad, farcical conversations repeated themselves many times over the past several months until late this summer when we (predictably ) dropped the ‘Foster’ from her name and replaced it with OFFICIAL FAMILY MEMBER .  I forgot to ask for a drum roll just then, but yes, it’s very big news around here. Though if you ask my friends Lucille and Nicole, they’ll tell you that they knew Lila would become a permanent fixture from the moment I mentioned that we’d taken her in.

Watching Lila squeak her giant and very loud Woobie toy like a maniac while lying at my feet just now, I find that I’m both annoyed by the racket and also completely smitten with this wild hound.  That Lila is so spectacularly happy here and adores Theo and Theo’s Other Favorite Human with a remarkable intensity makes her permanent residency a most natural and poetic solution to her homelessness.

And though I’m not entirely sure that Theodore is as grateful for this turn of events as dear Lila, he’s a generous and tolerant boy and I’m incredibly grateful for his patience with the new kid.  Just the other day, Theo and I celebrated nine delightful years together. 

Nine years!

How did the time pass so quickly?  To commemorate the occasion, the three of us took a long walk along the Hudson and settled into a spot on a bench facing the river.  Both dogs jumped up to join me watch the sailboats float by in the distance.  Several months ago, that scene never could have happened.  Lila was too wild and far too reactive to manage nor enjoy a mellow break.  But though she still has her anxious moments,  in most ways, she’s a radically different dog than the hellion who arrived here 12 months ago.  Sitting there, the Indian summer unfolding all around us, I felt my heart go tender…and then came the happy tears.  How grateful I am for these dogs and the lessons they continue to teach me about commitment, belief and patience.

This year, as with every year that leaves us standing, it’s so obvious to me how important it is to give thanks for all of our blessings.

One of the things that I’m most grateful for is that Lila’s transformation from reactive shelter dog to beloved family member was an endeavor made possible by a small coterie of loved ones who fully embrace and live the adage: It takes a village to raise a child (Lila).

Reactive to every sound, shape, and movement, and as difficult to train as any dog I’ve ever adopted, Lila required constant oversight and enough exercise to exhaust a thoroughbred.  She needed to learn our language and we needed to learn her unique quirks and sensitivities, and it’s an understatement to say it was a challenging full time job.

I give Theo’s Other Favorite Human a ton of credit.  He’s lost more socks, cleaned up more unpleasant dog accidents and witnessed more Tasmanian-Devil-Like-Fits from this 48 pound furry kid than I can even recount.  And yet, he opened his heart wide to her.  In time, the annoyance her wild and disruptive tendencies caused turned to deep affection and understanding that Lila simply needs us to accept that her transformation was, and still is, a process.

And what saved me, especially in those challenging first months of Lila’s stay here, was our dear friend Kiersten Chou’s willingness to raise Lila together with us and invest in her future.  A year ago, Kiersten and her husband Sumin and their sweet dog Fern lived just around the corner from us in Manhattan.  They have since moved out of the city, seeking a yard and more quiet for Fern and their first born child.

But at the time, Kiersten, juggling a demanding job and her first pregnancy, volunteered to take on a great deal of Lila’s care-taking duties in order to allow me some breathing room and time to keep up with my own work and endeavors. With great effort, Kiersten made sure to maintain the protocol I’d designed to help Lila to become the best dog she can be.  Sumin too did his part to aid in Lila’s upbringing and what I appreciate so much is that he often took Theo for play dates when the rest of us had our hands full, even when he had his own work to attend to.  So on those days when sweet Theo needed a bit of TLC and a nice calm break from the foster kid, Sumin and Fern welcomed him and gave our boy exactly what he needed.

Six months or so into her stay here, after several hours of research, I finally found Mike Lam via DogVacay.com and he became the first person outside of our ‘village’ whom I was certain could care for Lila.  It had taken so much effort and time to get her to a place where she could take a walk calmly and confidently without tearing at the leash and listen to directions–even in the midst of a wild doggie freak out–that I knew I needed to find someone who had the skill, confidence and commitment to assist her with her continued progress….or risk regression.  Mike was that someone.  It was Mike who taught Lila to tolerate short trips in the car and who carefully introduced her to his pack of other canine charges.  Lila’s time with Mike broadened her circle and further built her confidence and tolerance for new places and situations.

Lately, Lila lounges about our place like a dog who knows that she’s found the forever home she deserves.  And while she’s dramatically calmer than she once was, she’s still a quirky and energetic character.  At least a few times a week, I’ll hear her nails clicking against the porcelain of our bathtub and I know she’s working to leave behind her unmistakable multi-pawed imprint before moving on to some other fascinating activity.  Her sensitivity to the city and it’s bombastic noises and unpredictable movements ebbs and flows.  But we keep up with our work together and I know that we’ll slowly and surely shave off the sharp edges of her fear until all that’s left is a confident, furry, loveable canine.

With gratitude for every waking moment, we wish you and yours a Thanksgiving chock full of all the love you can possibly imagine. And we send out heartfelt wishes that the millions of homeless dogs still roaming the streets and languishing in shelters will somehow find their forever homes, too.

With love to you all,  K

All photos © Kimberly M. Wang / Eardog Productions