This is the final Soapbox of 2019; I was planning on making it a “thanks for an amazing year,” message to all of you who have helped make 2019 literally the biggest in RAD Radio’s history in every measurable way. Alas, life has gotten in the way.
The double-edged sword of this relationship that we have with you, our audience, is that on the good blade, we have an amazing connection, bond, and understanding. You are the most loyal audience in broadcasting and you trust us in ways few outside of the RAD circle can fathom. Part of that inherent trust comes with the sometimes-bad-side of the blade; our obligation to be as open and honest and transparent with you as possible at all times. And while we reserve the right to hold back some things some of the time, we are, for the most part, open books, even when we want to be closed up and in a corner.
With that, I bring you the news from Williams Manor that we are now a two-dog household. Yes, two.
Most of you know that our precious girl, Nellie, passed away a few weeks ago after more than 14 miraculous years as a German Shepherd rescue. I have always taken pride in knowing that in the hands of almost any other human, Nellie probably wouldn’t have made it to 4, let alone 14. Within weeks of adopting her, her left ACL burst, requiring $10,000 in surgery. Three months later, the right ACL and another $10,000. There was never a question it would be paid and done, even though, being a partially inbred white German Shepherd with a background that clearly included abuse, the likeliness that she would live to be 8 was small.
Nellie was estimated around 18 months old when she joined the Williams pack which, at the time, included my first GSD, Shep. She came with a fear of men and water; and together, Shep and I showed her how to get over both. If it wasn’t for Shep, I don’t know how I would have turned Nellie into the sweet, protective, gorgeous soul that she was. But we did it, and she defied the odds.
When my wife Christina came into our lives in 2016 and Nellie was slowing down as she entered her 11th year, Christina declared Nellie her “spirit animal,” which made more sense to me than Christina could ever know. Like my wife, Nellie has instant charm and lit up a room. Also, like Christina, Nellie presented as the sweetest thing ever; and, again, like my wife, I always knew that despite appearances to the contrary, if I ever needed it, the one thing on earth that would kill for me was Nellie.
With all of that as backdrop, we rescued Callie the Sheprador earlier this year. Half Black Lab, half German Shepherd and about two years old, Callie was a head of steam from the jump and needed a home. Her owner had stage 4 cancer and the owner’s daughter, a listener of the show, had taken Callie in. But a 2-year-old Sheprador needs endless attention and outlets for her energy; something our listener with her family and career demands simply couldn’t give Callie.
Christina and I met Callie and realized she needed not just a home, but our home; one with striking similarities to what Nellie came to a decade earlier. We had our pack; Nellie, 5-year-old Scout the black lab, and 3-year-old Maestro, the alpha leader and distant cousin of the since gone Shep. Maestro would do for Callie what Shep did for Nellie, while the pack in general would teach Callie how to be a dog again. Plus, Callie needed experienced dog owners who could handle Shepherds and labs and who would commit everything they had to her rehabilitation; such were we.
Or so was the plan.
After spending a few thousand dollars to get Callie spayed and a much needed gastropexy to prevent bloat, we finally, with the help of Theresa at Dog Woods, assimilated Callie into our pack. It wasn’t easy; Callie was full of anxiety and quite literally didn’t know how to be a dog. She velcroed herself to Maestro, who didn’t know what to make of that behavior, and Scout and Nellie went to neutral corners. Over time, Scout warmed up to the duo but Callie didn’t reciprocate. While she and Scout never had issues, she also never wanted Scout to have any time with Maestro. After 2 years of the OG’s playing endlessly, this was a forced break-up of besties that wasn’t planned.
Callie’s food aggression and inability to comprehend that she would always have a meal for the rest of her life presented further challenges, especially in a house where any amount of any kind of food could be left at eye level and nary a lick of the food would be taken…prior to Callie. Once she snatched an entire rotisserie chicken and ate it whole from our counter, all food was kept out of sight, mind, and reach.
As days turned to weeks and then months, it was an endless process of two steps forward and three steps back. There would be stolen food to include entire cups of coffee being drunk, skirmishes between the dogs that had never existed in the prior pack, and an almost bi-polar element to Callie that Christina and I weren’t prepared for. No matter, of course, she was a Williams Dog now, and we would do what must be done.
We enlisted the help of Theresa at Dog Woods and reached out to multiple trainers. We bought everything from Thundershirts to e-collars and tried CBD and even Prozac under the watchful eye of our vet (who has been with the Williams Pack since Shep).
Sadly, and ironically, in one fell swoop, it all came crashing down in the course of two weeks. At the same time Nellie was leaving us, we had come to the realization that Callie needed something other than us. Not only had we tried it all, we had others try it all as well, to no avail. During the summer, whenever our dogs went to Dog Woods, they never got to play or socialize with others because Callie wouldn’t have it. She was too possessive of her pack and unwilling to properly and politely engage with new dogs. The simple fact of the matter was this; Callie needed to be the only dog, period.
To use a seasonal reference, if Callie were a character in Rudolph, she would find herself on the Island of Misfit Toys; and in her out-of-place voice would say something like “I’m a pack animal that hates being in a pack!”
If this seems a harsh or knee-jerk judgment, my apologies for the need for brevity. To truly tell you of the endless efforts, expense, and sleepless nights that were put into Callie would require words equal to that of a novel. It was simply obvious to us and all that we trust with dogs, that while Callie had made great strides with us, she had also set our pack back, as well as Christina and me, in ways that were bad for everyone, most notably Callie.
We set out to complete our commitment to her and enlisted the help of our most trusted dog circle; Theresa, Deb at Vom-Walters from whence Maestro and Shep came, and friends of more than 20 years in Reno, Troy and Stephanie who run Adventure Pet (The Reno Dogwoods I call it). In the end, it was the latter of the group that found Callie her new home; A young couple with a big house and yard and experience with hunting dogs but no other pets or children. After countless candidates and house visits and dead-ends, Callie had her home. When I handed her off to her new human, it was surreal; despite Callie having formed an extreme, and at times, unhealthy, bond with me, she took right to her new man. It was seamless, and almost as though she knew; we had done all we could for her, and it was time for her to take her next step towards her best life. This was days after Nellie had passed. What a week.
Since then, Callie has seen snow for the first time and by all accounts is thriving. Scout and Maestro, meanwhile, have returned to us. While Nellie is missed, the BFF’s are back together and their personalities are shining through. And Christina and I are relieved and rejoicing in the boys being the boys again. We still struggle with thoughts of what we could have or should have done differently, but the end result, for all involved, is inarguable. We gave Callie what she needed at the time; support, structure, love, commitment, and safety. When that wasn’t enough, we gave her what she needed and deserved; an even better life.
And in the time that we had Callie, she gave us what we needed; endless memories of joy and frustration, and a reminder that sometimes commitment and love aren’t enough to fix everything. We end the year with two very happy dogs and two very tired humans ready to stay a 2-dog household…until my wife sees a puppy, I’m sure.