Six and a half years ago, I felt the itch to add a second dog to my household. My boyfriend at the time and I already had a red-furred husky child, Sequoia, who, near the age of ten, had the temperament of a grumpy cat. I wanted to see if a second dog in the home would perk up his spirits.
And so I contacted the local Bay Area group, Norsled, which rescues Northern breed dogs (huskies, malamutes, samoyeds, and akitas), and signed up to become a foster parent. Gail, a spunky woman who coordinated the adoptions, emailed me back quickly, letting me know of a little guy named Ken who needed a foster home. He was cooped up in a boarding facility with another husky they happened to name Barbie. According to Gail, Ken had been picked up by the local animal shelter in Modesto. He had been wandering the streets and looked like he had been surviving on his own for some time. I was stoked to take him on as my first foster dog.
One early Saturday morning, we drove over to the facility that he was staying in temporarily. He was a quiet but friendly pup. He readily followed me, with leash in hand, and excitedly jumped into the back of our car. I heard Sequoia grumble, “Who is this young’un in my car?”
Ken behaved perfectly normal until we arrived at the doorsteps leading to our apartment. He suddenly froze and refused to go up the stairwell. We coaxed him. We tugged at his leash. We tried to lure him with food. He didn’t budge. At some point, I gave up and let him hang out in the front yard until he was ready. Three hours later, he finally came upstairs on his own. Clearly, there were signs of anxiety, indicating that he had been a stray dog for quite some time or he had suffered abuse/neglect in his previous home.
Newly named Julius, my first foster dog was quite skittish. He was easily startled, preferred to hang out in the corner of rooms or underneath tables and was wary of men. The biggest problem behavior he had was with other dogs. We had one memorable experience at a dog park when he drew blood from a scary-looking boxer—and he was so quick at nipping the boxer’s ear that no one in the busy dog park actually witnessed him doing it.
For about two months, I brought Julius to adoption fairs and introduced him to families who were interested in adopting him. There were no perfect matches (in my motherly opinion) and I became rigid in my recommendation of what kind of household I thought was best for him. I obviously was very protective and attached to him.
Soon after I had taken Julius in as a foster dog, Sequoia started showing signs of illness. After several weeks of symptoms that came and go, he, one night, went into a state of acute distress. We had to bring him to the emergency vet at midnight on the day of his 10th birthday. We soon learned that there was a large tumor in his abdomen and he was bleeding internally. He had to be put to sleep that night. I was completely devastated. I felt immense guilt that I caused him to be stressed by bringing in a second dog in the home. He never warmed up to Julius and did not welcome him into the family. This is a guilt that has never dissipated to this day.
Having to care for and train Julius kept me from sinking into a long stage of mourning. Now that Sequoia was gone, I wavered back and forth for many weeks on whether I should keep Julius. I felt concerned that he had already developed a bond with me and would have to go through this process again with another family, who may or may not have the ability to help him with his behaviors. I don’t know what finally convinced me to just say YES to adopting him…but one day, I called Gail and confirmed that I would keep him.
Julius was with me as I transitioned through different jobs, homes, relationships and stages of life over the last six and half years. I have walked over a thousand miles with Julius, two walks daily. I’ve declined many night time outings so that I could be with him in the evenings. I’ve spent more minutes of my adult life with him than I have with anyone else. He was with me so that I would never be alone. And I tried my best to be with him so that he would never be alone. I loved him like a son.
I was so lucky to have such a gentle, well-mannered creature be my friend for these years. I cannot write about the intensity of the pain I am feeling right now. For now, I can only share about the joy, memories and love that he brought into my life.
Here’s to Julius and to a peaceful transition to the next world.