Finding Sylvie

The sound of excited, whimpering dogs filled the room around me as I sat down on an orange plastic chair in the newly-built Humane Society for Southern Wisconsin. On the wall behind us, name plates and paw plates of humans and their companions who supported the construction were scattered up to the ceiling. I tried to relax as we waited to meet the latest in a line of dogs we’d been trying to adopt. All I had to go off of was a crisp photo of a black dog, sitting and staring into the camera with a calm and inquisitive look, her ears pulled back.

And then I saw her.

The foster mom walked across the sidewalk and into the double-door entryway, leash in hand. I saw the dog’s fluffy black tail wagging back and forth as she entered the building, an enormous grin on her face. Yes, this was the dog from the photos, but she was even better than I could have imagined.

It was a long journey to find a dog. After losing Bozeman in January of last year—truly the dog soulmate of my life—we struggled to figure out what exactly we wanted in a new dog, and where we would get one from. Yes, adopting a dog was the obvious choice to us, though it would come with unexpected challenges. I grew up with golden retrievers all my life, but wanted to find a dog that was just a bit different so it would be easier for me to build a new relationship with less comparisons to Bozeman.

After spending a month in Alaska in August, John and I returned to Madison and started the search in earnest. I’d been scanning PetFinder for months to see what kinds of dogs were out there, but now we had a chance to actually apply for dogs we were interested in. We got off to a rocky start. The first dog we were interested in was adopted before we could make it to the shelter. The next small rescue we applied to rejected our application solely because we rented, even though we’ve lived in our lower-level house apartment with a backyard for 3 years and likely won’t move until we buy our own house. (That same shelter had a news article from 2018 that they rejected a 70-year-old woman from adopting a 1-year-old puppy because she was too old—they would only allow her to adopt a dog that was three years and up.) In another attempt, after reference, vet, and landlord checks, plus photos of our home and yard, we were approved to adopt a puppy only to find out that multiple families were approved. The shelter wanted us to meet with the puppy separately before they chose who was the perfect fit. Needless to say, we met her, we loved her, and in a stressful two-day emotional rollercoaster, we were not chosen.

If I’m honest, I was heartbroken, even though I knew that it just meant our dog was still out there. I wondered how many times I could go through that kind of rejection again. But that night I pulled out my computer and checked local humane society websites, something I didn’t often do as I usually relied on the PetFinder app.

And there she was. A young black dog named “Annie” with no information, who had just arrived that day on a transport from Louisiana. I decided to apply, and they only required our contact information (a stark contrast from the 5-page essay applications I’d been filling out for the previous few weeks).

The next morning at 8am, I received an automated email from the shelter that said we would not be approved or declined until we met with the dog we were interested in, and that we could stop by anytime during their open hours. Though we tried to visit that day, we were soon told that Annie was already in a foster home, and we needed an appointment to see her. The foster family wasn’t free before work but we set up an appointment for Friday afternoon, and John was able to leave work early so he could come with me.

As I sat in the lobby, I had nerves wrapped up in my belly and I wondered aloud if I would feel this nervous before every dog that we met.

When she arrived, we were ushered into a room smaller than an office with just enough space for two chairs. Annie was immediately affectionate, launching herself at us with endless kisses on our faces. She pranced around the tiny room, tail wagging, grinning and shoving herself into our arms to be pet while we talked with the foster mom. She told us she believed Annie had belonged to a family before being a stray because of the way she jumped into the backseat of her car with familiarity. She seemed to be housetrained and was well-mannered and affectionate. Annie also had a microchip, and had been spayed, but had bounced around in Louisiana shelters for two weeks before catching a transport up to Wisconsin.

Her ears stood taller, but as I stroked her long black fur I couldn’t help but think of the rest my former dog Misty’s puppies—Bozeman’s siblings—who were all golden retriever mixes with black fur. I watched as Annie picked up the handle of her rope leash and dropped it in front of John, who was sitting on the floor with her. She looked up at him expectantly, panting and grinning.

“I think she wants to play,” I told him, and as he picked up and gently tossed the end of the leash—the leash that she was still attached to—she retrieved it and dropped it at his feet once more. John looked up and our eyes met. We knew we had found our dog.

Sometimes life works out in such a way that I know it was meant to be, yet a thousand puzzle pieces had to fall into place at the right time for that beautiful path to exist. Sylvie was meant to be.

Now, we have already had Sylvie with us for eight months. She is similar to Bozeman in all the right ways, but has enough of her own quirks that it’s easy for us to see she’s her own spirit. She is playful indoors and obsessed with fetching a frisbee in midair, our own sassy AirBud. Sylvie is strong and graceful and continues to kiss us endlessly. She has brought so much joy and laughter into our lives and I am once again in awe at how dogs make us smile every day. We even tested Sylvie’s DNA for breeds: she is 52% German Shepherd, 31% Golden Retriever, and 17% Pitt Bull. Looks like our Golden hunches were right after all!

After weeks of being rejected by various rescues or missing out on dogs we pursued, Miss Sylvie found us exactly when we needed her to, and we were so ready for her. She is sweet and well-mannered and smart and silly, with a smile and happy attitude to boot. I’m not sure how we could be this lucky.

Thank you for sending her our way, Bozeman. We will fill her life with so much love and adventure thanks to what we learned from you.

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?”

—Mary Oliver, Dog Songs

4 thoughts on “Finding Sylvie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s