Jasper: Chronicles of adopting a rescue dog in a pandemic
“Hi this is Melissa with Emily’s Rescue, are you still interested in adopting Baron?”
My husband Julian nimbly puts the phone on mute for a nanosecond, and whispers (even though it’s on mute) “which one was Baron?”
I remember Baron. Distinctly. I remember his cute little face, with the darkness around his nose. And I also remember Julian wasn’t into him. Baron was a little “too chihuahua” for Julian.
I shrug. He un-mutes and says, with that tone in his voice he gets when he is in slightly uncomfortable but intriguing terrain, “would you be able to send us a photo of Baron? We’ve been applying to a couple of dogs in the past few weeks, and we want to make sure we are thinking of the right dog.”
Face palm. Really? My eyes plead at him. That’s what you chose to say to Melissa? Melissa probably knows the drill. Any hesitation means the adoption isn’t meant to be. She is going to hang up and immediately go down the huge list of Northeasterners who are desperate to adopt a dog in this lonely, strange time, and her interaction with us will be a quickly forgotten blip in time.
But, Melissa stays on the phone. She sounds a little desperate. “Of course, I’ll send that right to you. He’s a sweet little guy. We had a meet-up with his foster and they didn’t show.” Turns out she’d been driving up from Chattanooga for 14 hours, and was currently dropping off some dogs in Connecticut. The plan was to drive through NYC to get to a hotel in Harrisburg, PA, if we wanted to meet him.
I start whispering/feeding Julian questions, which he asks and she answers. How old is he? 1 year. Where did he come from? A kill shelter in Tennessee. How did he get there? She doesn’t know. All she knows is she gets lists of dogs in the kill shelters throughout her area in the South, where there is apparently an abundance of kill shelters and stray dogs, and then she drives to the shelters and takes as many dogs as she can, then works to get them adopted. She says she took one look at little Baron and he melted her heart. She had to take him.
It is 9pm on a Saturday night. In the middle of a pandemic. We do not have any supplies for a dog. We had been going on Petfinder compulsively for weeks, applying to dog after dog, but we were receiving messages that said in this unprecedented time, shelters were being inundated with applications, which actually made applying safer because we didn’t actually think we’d get a dog. But, here was Melissa, with her soft lilted Tennessee accent, calling us at 9pm on a Saturday night, and like a slinky tumbling recklessly down a flight of stairs, we spring to action. We agree to meet her in Brooklyn, near our apartment, to “meet” Baron. She estimates she’ll be there around 11pm. Julian hangs up the phone. We sit, silently, for a moment. Julian had been in the midst of kitchen chaos, which happens when he cooks. Something was simmering on the stove. The kitchen looked like a tornado had whipped through it. At first, I am excited, my heart leaping in my chest. We look at photos of Baron. Julian isn’t sure. I’m scared to say what I feel. Then, as time creeps toward 11, my appetite goes away. I feel nauseous. Anxious. If we get this dog, everything is about to change. We won’t be able to sleep in. Will our marriage change? Is everything as we know it going to shift? Julian eats dinner. I sit, nauseous, on the couch. Time ticks by. I feel fluttery, like that feeling when you have a really early flight you have to wake up for, and nighttime is a liminal space where you’re in transition.
She’s running late. Now, it’s almost midnight. We head outside, to the sketchy gas station Julian told her we’d meet her. As we approach, it’s even sketchier than I had imagined. A rat runs by. I’m upset. Why would you tell her to meet us here? To get a dog? She will think we are totally sketchy and take one look around and decide this isn’t a good new home for Baron. Julian thought they’d appreciate a gas pit stop since they’ve been on the road for like 14 hours.
Luckily, Melissa and her male “friend” overshoot by about a mile and we end up having to walk toward a park to meet them. They pull up in their van, which had been filled with nine dogs earlier that day, and now only one remained. Little Baron, alone.
At first, Baron barks when he sees us from inside the car. Julian and I look at each other, skeptically. We don’t want a barker.
Melissa carries him to us. She looks just like her voice feels - warm, nurturing, totally the kind of woman who rescues dogs in the South, and drives for days up the coast to deliver them to families.
Baron shakes. He is timid, scared. He is definitely small, but unusual looking - certainly not totally “chihuahua.” His coat is brindle colored - almost looks like tiger stripes. He is long, but his legs don’t look like a “weenie” dog’s stumpy legs. He doesn’t look like any dog either of us had seen before. He’s a special little creature. Melissa picks him up. We all wear masks, although the male friend keeps lowering his whenever he talks which is sort of against the point of the mask.
I ask if I can hold Baron. Melissa hands him to me. I expect him to writhe and wiggle, but he sits, calmly, and melts into my chest. He is so sweet, so tender, even though he is trembling. The trembling happens in pulses— a big tremble, then a pause of stillness, then a big tremble again. It almost feels like vibrations of a speaker, or a musical instrument. I hand him to Julian, and he does the same thing - melts into his arms.
We chat a bit with Melissa and her friend, all the while feeling out Baron, and he feeling us out.
Julian and I deliberate for a beat while Melissa and her friend go to the trunk of the car to see what supplies they have. Julian is into Baron, I can tell. I’m very into him. We decide to go for it. There is no doubt in our minds or hearts at all. We tell Melissa we are taking him and her reaction is a sort of non-reaction, she just keeps fishing in her trunk. Obviously we were going to take him.
Paperwork is handed over. She gives us some treats, bowls, a leash, food to tide us over for the night. Before we depart, I see her look at Baron. I ask if she wants to say goodbye and hand him to her. He lays his head against her breast and relaxes. She has been fostering him for three weeks until she could find him a new family. I think about how she does it - falls in love with dogs over and over, and then has to say goodbye to them. I think she must be used to it, but I can tell she is sad to say goodbye to Baron. I hold him in my arms, expecting him to bark or something. But he doesn’t. He stays quiet, observing, taking it all in. Or he is frozen with fear. We walk the block back to our apartment building. I carry him, trembling in my arms. We walk through the security gate. We walk through the glass front doors. We take him up the elevator, down the hallway. Then we bring Baron into his new home, his new life.
Julian and I stand in our entryway, taking in what just happened. Julian says, “wow, I can’t believe he found us.”
I look at Baron and ask him “where have you been? what have you been doing for a year? did someone hurt you?” But all he does is cock his head a little. Wow, I think, that’s not just a thing that happens in cute puppy brand commercials. It’s real. I say to him, “This is your new home, and we aren’t going to abandon you. Ever. You’re safe now. We love you.” I really don’t know if he understands what I’m saying. I am starting to feel my heart bursting for him, but not quite knowing how to comprehend him. He isn’t a human being. He’s an animal. But there’s a soul there, something deeper and profound. But, also, he’s a dog and is already licking his balls and sniffing around. The next day, we FaceTime our families. My dad, in particular, is very taken with him. My dad looks at his little face in the screen, and says “where have you been? what have you been doing for a year?” I think about how my Dad and I are so similar. And how we are all made up of so many pieces - primal and nurtured. And how strange it is to have this little being in our home now, and to not really know what makes him up, or what his little body, and his consciousness, have been through.
It is now almost three weeks since we met Baron. His name is now Jasper, like the rock, because his coat has hints of red, and because jasper rock is known for its healing elements. When I think back to that night, Saturday, April 25th, we had no idea what we were in for. The learning curve has been intense. Our whole universe has changed because of Jasper. I am finding that training/acclimating a dog forces me to reckon with myself. My own personality obstacles in life are becoming highlighted and staring me straight in the face. Through Jasper, the most primal things become clear. I am seeing firsthand where I struggle and where I succeed, and where Julian’s strengths and weaknesses also lie. I struggle with saying “no,” I am terrible at setting boundaries, I struggle with pushing him through the discomfort, and I am abysmal at tough love. I am often indecisive in a crisis and my anxiety gets folded up in Jasper’s. I understand him because I think we are similar. We both have separation anxiety. I still sometimes silently cry to myself whenever I leave my parents after spending time with them, and I am 31. Julian leads Jasper like a pro. Julian is alpha, decisive, and has no problems setting boundaries. Jasper respects him, but is also a little scared of him. With me, Jasper knows he can turn over and expose his tummy to me, and I’ll rub it, no matter what. Julian is teaching me to just “go with it,” to feel things out, and to not need permission to do everything. It is okay to lead. Jasper actually needs a leader. He needs structure and leadership. Sometimes he tells us where he wants to go and what he needs. Other times we need to do that for him. You take your eyes off him for a split second on a walk, and he’s suddenly got someone’s discarded pizza in his mouth. Sometimes he looks at me like he has no idea who I am. Other times, his eyes are little slits of mischief, and I swear he is laughing at my submission to him. Other times, he looks at me with so much love, his eyes watery and full (but that could also be his seasonal allergies). We are all just figuring it out together, this new little family of ours.
Jasper is laying, splayed out, in one of his multiple doggy beds right now, at my feet, soaked in the strokes of sun coming through the window. His eyes are closed, his breathing slow and steady. He looks calm, a little more confident than when we met him, and I still can’t believe how lucky we are that he found us.
To be continued…
Mia creates and directs for theater, TV, and film. She was selected as TV Directing Fellow by the Drama League in 2018, for which she shadowed Director/ Executive Producer Tom Verica on the Shondaland/ ABC show For The People, and Mia is currently developing a new musical digital series. Off-Broadway/Regional Theater directing credits include:
All Nighter (by Natalie Margolin, produced by Lorne Michaels, originally presented by
Fault Line Theatre); Boleyn (a new musical by Jessy and Steve Tomsko, Musical Theatre Factory, 4x15); Into the Wild (The Encore, Michigan); Blind Date Project (Bojana Novakovic, Club Cumming); Walden (by Amy Berryman, Bay Street Theater); Storming Heaven (West Virginia Public Theater, World Premiere); Hang Man (by Stacy Osei-Kuffour, MultiStages); Normativity (by Jacob Jarrett); Camp Wanatachi (by Bekah Brunstetter and Natalie Elizabeth Weiss); American Sexy (The Flea, Resident Director); various new works at Ensemble Studio Theatre with Youngblood. Broadway/National Tour credits include: Associate Director, Jagged Little Pill (currently on Broadway); Tour Director, current National Tour of Finding Neverland and the recent National Tour of Pippin; Assistant Director on Waitress (music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles),The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Pippin, and Finding Neverland.Upcoming: directing Disney’s Freaky Friday at ACT of Connecticut. B.A. Harvard University (Magna Cum Laude; John Harvard Scholar; Louis Sudler Prize Talent in the Arts for Directing; Women’s Leadership Award; Carol Pforzheimer Fellowship). SDC Member. www.miapwalker.com