I recently helped my grandmother say goodbye to her furry companion of nearly 16 years. Harley, a Toy Fox Terrier, was the first dog that was ever truly hers. Harley was 1 year old when she came to live with my nana, and the two were inseparable. Around her 16th birthday, Harley was diagnosed with cancer. She also had severe arthritis and some other health problems. Very quickly, her health declined to the point that the most humane thing to do was to let her have a peaceful goodbye.
Like most people, my has nana healed to the point where she became open to the idea of having another dog. Being retired and living alone, she realized just how much Harley was a part of her daily routine. I began searching local shelters and rescues, and I let my contacts know that we were looking for another Toy Fox Terrier. My nana wanted a dog like Harley. I found a dog named Maggie who was almost Harley’s twin at the Bainbridge-Decatur County Humane Society in Bainbridge, Georgia. At 6 years old, Maggie was found and brought in by local animal control. She had cataracts, but shelter staff said she seemed to get around just fine and would adjust well in stable surroundings, which my nana’s home would offer.
I sent Maggie’s pictures to my nana, and she was definitely interested. I didn’t want her to be set on just one adoptable dog, however, so I planned to take her to other area shelters to visit their dogs, too, beginning with my local shelter, the Thomasville-Thomas County Humane Society. Walking through those doors marked the first time my nana had ever set foot into a shelter. I was thrilled to introduce her to the world of shelter dogs! Unfortunately, there were no smaller dogs there at the time, so we drove on to the next shelter, this time in Tallahassee, Florida.
I had seen a dog on the Tallahassee Animal Service Center’s adoption page who was simply called Empty. (As it turned out, that was because a name had not been put into the system, so the default placeholder was “Empty.”) From his picture, it was hard to get a grasp on exactly how big he was, but his ears stuck out like Harley’s had, and I thought he looked pretty cute. Tallahassee being almost an hour drive, we had plenty of time to discuss my nana’s impressions of her first-ever shelter visit, as well as what she was looking for in a dog. One thing we had agreed on was a “no Chihuahuas” rule. Although Empty’s breed description was “Chihuahua — Smooth Coated mix,” we were sure they had just chosen that label due to size.
“They’re just so yappy,” my nana said. “I don’t want a dog like that.”
I agreed. “They’re these shaky, nervous creatures who no one seems to be able to discipline or train,” I said. “Who wants that?”
Now, I’ve always prided myself in trying to be pretty open-minded when it comes to dog breeds and my expectations of them. I know that shelter staff label dogs as best they can, and breed traits are merely guidelines as to what you might see in a particular dog. I’m one of those people who is always correcting others with, “Every dog is an individual and should be judged as such.” Well, look at me not taking my own advice and approaching this with some serious preconceived notions!
We toured the entire dog portion of the Tallahassee shelter, but none of the dogs seemed to really pull at my nana’s heartstrings. I was beginning to think maybe she wasn’t ready for another dog, after all. Before we left, I asked the front desk staff if Empty was still available. As it turned out, he was! He had just been neutered, and all of the noise and bustle of the shelter environment had proven too overwhelming for him, so they had stowed him safely away in an office. When they brought Empty out, you could tell he was nervous; however, the moment they placed him in my nana’s arms, he immediately seemed to settle down.
I like to think it was love at first sight for them both. Nana just smiled and petted him, and she asked all sorts of questions about his care and background. He was found running at large, and he had been at the shelter for about a month. Empty didn’t have a microchip, and no one had inquired about him. At 5-and-a-half pounds, he was very small, but his big ears and sweet demeanor gave him a huge presence. We filled out his adoption paperwork, and soon he was headed to his brand-new home.
Before we could leave, they did one final checkup to check his neuter surgery and to give us care instructions. That’s when we found out that he had a real name thanks to the shelter, Jasper, and that he was a Chihuahua mix. You can imagine our surprise!
“A Chihuahua?!” Nana exclaimed. “But he’s so cute … and quiet!”
They explained he was what’s called a “deer-headed Chihuahua,” which essentially meant his head isn’t that stereotypical round shape usually associated with Chihuahua-type dogs.
On the way home, we had a good laugh at our own expense. We went in very closed-minded, and all it took was one little dog to prove us incredibly wrong and unreasonably judgmental. Jasper is now known as Little Man, and he lives a very spoiled life with my nana. Since he’s so small, it’s much easier for her to pick him up and carry him. Currently, they are on their first vacation together, visiting family and meeting more of the family dogs. I think we both learned an excellent lesson in practicing what we preach, and we’ll be sure to keep an open mind in the future!
Have you ever had your preconceived notions about a dog breed smashed by a dog? Tell us your story in the comments.
Read more by Meghan Lodge:
- Do You Ever Go Overboard When Educating Others About Pit Bulls?
- We Chat With Emmylou Harris About Her “Shelter Me” Episode on PBS
- How to Help Your Dog Stay Active and Enjoy His Senior Years
About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby and Odin (cats) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.
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