When you’re a dog, a car ride is pretty magical. It can be pretty magical for a human, too, especially when it’s the first car ride with a new four-legged best friend.
I had the opportunity to share that first car ride recently when my friend Bob adopted his new dog. We’d spent several days visiting shelters before finding her — a beautiful two-year-old black lab mix — at North Shore Animal League.
The adoption process can be stressful for a shelter pet, but she was surprisingly calm, as if she’d already realized that she was going to a great home and had nothing to worry about.
Shadow (as she would later be named) got into the car happily enough, and immediately curled up on the back seat with a sigh; she might not know where home was yet, but she seemed content to be taking the ride.
Unlike my still-insane lab mix — who thinks car rides are about sticking her head out the window, rubbing her body against every part of the car she can reach in case there’s a Shedding Olympics she’s inadvertently been entered in, jumping from front seat to back seat to the compartment where the convertible top folds down, and occasionally gnawing on a seatbelt — Shadow seemed a natural for car rides. She sat quietly, moving her nose just enough to nuzzle Bob’s hand when he reached back to pat her.
No barking, no whining, just a quiet sigh, almost too soft to hear. As if she, too, knew that this first car ride was special, something to be savored.
She’ll have plenty more car rides in her future. Dog parks, vet trips, pet store visits, meetups, holidays with friends and relatives, and of course her annual dog vacation as a staff dog at Canine Camp Getaway of NY.
She’ll probably stuff her head out the window at some point to take in the scents, whine in excitement as she develops and recognizes new favorite places, poke Bob looking for a pat, or maybe even scoot up to the front seat looking for a taste of some drive-through dinner one night. She’ll grow more confident each day, and with each trip, more bonded to her human buddy, more excited about getting into a car that will take her to extraordinary places, places that will help her experience all the joys of life as a traveling dog.
But nothing will ever be the same as that first trip.
When we adopt a rescue dog, it’s an act of faith. We don’t really know about the dog’s past, or what the future will hold. We don’t know the dog’s quirks, or if there are latent behavioral or medical issues. We don’t know if the bond will “take.”
But we rarely realize how much more of a leap of faith it is for the dog. The dog doesn’t know she’s being “rescued.” She follows the person on the other end of the leash, hoping that she will end up someplace safe, where they will feed her, shelter her, care for her. She hopes that the person who picked her out from hundreds of other dogs won’t grow tired of her. She hopes someone in her new home will play with her…exercise her…cherish her. And keep her safe forever.
Even though her having been dumped in a shelter in the first place probably means someone already failed to live up to that trust.
Thankfully, Shadow is one of the lucky ones.
But watching her on that first car ride to her new home, it was clear she already knew that.