I had been volunteering at the local humane society for a couple years. As much as I wanted a dog, I knew I couldn’t have one in the living situation I was in, and I had stayed away from the internal struggle of trying to find a way to take one home with me. March 4, 2014, I broke my streak.
–Jenna Rifer, Letter to My Rescue Dog
This past year, I interviewed Jenna Rifer about her work at The Capital Humane Society as a part of a series about animal welfare volunteers. At the time she shared with me a second story, that of an unexpected surprise from her two years of assisting the veterinarian staff there. Despite knowing better, Jenna fell in love with a seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Lucy. I knew that eventually I wanted to share Jenna and Lucy’s story at LAA Pet Talk. And now here it is, the first of three about how pets help their owners through even the worst circumstances.
Jenna had been walking through rows and rows of kennels when the sight of the Cocker Spaniel’s “stubby legs, long ears, and crazy curly doggy mullet” made her melt. As she began talking to the seven-year-old dog, Lucy jumped up against the door of the kennel and whined to be let out. Walking away from Lucy was tough, especially as Lucy’s cries grew even louder with each departing step, but Jenna wasn’t yet ready to adopt.
I wasn’t planning to rescue, but then I saw Lucy, and I kept thinking about her. Lucy had issues: she had underwent a hard surgery, needed to be housebroken, and expressed horrible separation anxiety. College was hard for me. When I adopted Lucy, she became my support system. We helped each other through our hard times.–Jenna Rifer
As the days passed, Jenna found she couldn’t put Lucy out of her mind. And, deep in Jenna’s heart, something felt right about the seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel. After a lot of thinking and planning, Jenna called up the Capital Humane Society. Although Lucy wasn’t yet available for adoption, due to being treated for an eye ulcer, Jenna was granted permission to take her home because of her relationship with the staff.
During their first few days together, Lucy kept watch over Jenna and followed her around the house. As Lucy’s trust in Jenna grew, she became less interested in what was happening around her and more interested in what Jenna was doing. Lucy began to express excitement when Jenna would wake up in the morning and show great delight when Jenna would return from a long day of school and work. Over time, nothing seemed to make Lucy more content than knowing Jenna was happy. When Jenna jumped with joy upon learning she had been accepted into veterinary school, Lucy barked and ran about with excitement.
The two continue to share an emotional bond. “Lucy is extremely responsive to me. Sometimes when I talk to her, she barks or howls back. I lay on the floor and play with her and she mimics some of my movements with her paws.” Similarly, nothing seems to make Lucy more concerned than knowing something is wrong with Jenna. If Jenna’s sick, Lucy pays even closer attention to her and stays close.
In spite of Jenna’s close relationship with Lucy, there have been challenges. Although Lucy was a middle-aged dog, she had to re-taught how to potty outside. Early on too, she had recurring trouble with ear infections and needed dental work. But those were nothing compared to the news delivered to Jenna at the first vet visit: Six tumors were found in Lucy’s mammary glands; three of her glands would need to be removed.
The surgery would be expensive, and Jenna was just a poor college student. Even so, Jenna viewed the money would be small price to pay for Lucy’s companionship. She made the decision to save up, preferring to be in debt that lose her beloved dog. After surgery, more care lay ahead. Jenna faithfully cleaned and re-bandaged Lucy’s incision regularly, and administered medications throughout each day.
There were times when Jenna wasn’t sure how the two would survive the tough times. Jenna’s strenuous curriculum and heavy work hours, the numerous apartment moves, and Lucy’s separation anxiety all took their toll. Jenna even had to patch a wall that Lucy destroyed in one of her separation anxiety attacks. She’s since learned how “to keep her calm when I have to be away”.
QUOTE: You had been there a couple of months by the time I saw you. The staff told me that you were picked up as a stray and were never claimed. You were 7 years old, friendly with other pets, knew “Sit” and “Stay” … How could anyone give you up? How could anyone not come looking for you?
–Jenna Rifer, Letter to My Rescue Dog
But all of the hurdles the two had to overcome pale in comparison to the endless memorable moments that the two have shared. For example, there was the moment when one of her roommates joked that he was going to teach Lucy to dance. Treat in his hand, he told her just one time, ‘Dance!’ Their jaws dropped as Lucy jumped around in a full circle. She already knew! Or there is the ritual that happens after Jenna comes home and takes Lucy outside. “When we get back in, she races to her doggy bed, sits down and watches me walk into the room. She looks at me and give me a cute little ‘I missed you’ howl.” Through her anecdotes, it’s obvious how enamored Jenna is with Lucy.
Jenna describes Lucy as “my best friend, my baby, and my support system.” She feels she couldn’t ask for a better-behaved dog. In addition, Lucy reminds Jenna not to take life too seriously and that there’s always something to be happy about. She brings Jenna toys so that they can play and makes Jenna laugh with her “random sassy howls when the room is too quiet”. By getting her through dark moments, Lucy’s shown Jenna that she’s always loved and that she can be herself.
You have such a pure and sweet soul. Everywhere we go people fall in love with you. When I’m happy, you’re happy … You’re the perfect ambassador of, “don’t shop, adopt!”–Jenna Rifer