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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Adopting Play... May 9, 2015.

And the Riccio house shall now be known as PlayDay Headquarters!!

Photo thanks to Stacie, Foster Mom of both our boys.
Day has a new little brother named Play and together they are quickly finding their way to becoming quite the duo of beauty... inside and out!

All through the winter Enz and I had found ourselves drawn to the pictures of Play being intermittently posted on the Northern Lights Greyhound Adoption website, as well as on their Facebook page; something about that sweet little face with eyes that spoke so deeply had just instantly taken us both in. Of course, our looooong winter had just barely begun, so driving the six hours down to the Twin Cities was just not in the cards right then. We had driven through a freezing-rain/heavy-snow, major storm on our way home after adopting Day and had sworn to never chance that narrow, winding highway between Thunder Bay and Duluth during the winter months again... Don't get me wrong, the drive is stunning as it winds around the outer edges of Lake Superior the whole way but the winds are high and the iciness that blows off of the roughly cresting waves causing ice mist to cover the roads can be a terrifying experience to maneuver! We knew that not being able to make the trip would mean that the boy we had already become enamored with would likely be adopted before we even had opportunity to meet him.

Still, we kept checking the web pages, and we kept silently hoping

It was pretty quickly that I realized Play had been placed to foster in the very same home that Day had been placed and I knew he was being incredibly loved and cared for. I couldn't get to him yet but I was at complete ease just in knowing where he was. I've been fortunate enough to have been able to keep in contact with Fantastical-Foster-Mom Stacie and over the winter I was given little updates on their newest foster boy, Play, along with news, both happy and sad, of their own beautiful hounds. We knew we were ready to adopt again but had to wait until the roads cleared which was still months ahead at that point. You have no idea how much we wanted to be able to say 'PLEASE... just keep him safe and happy until we can get there...' but we didn't do that. We couldn't have held him back if he had a chance at his perfect forever home before we had the chance to offer our hearts and home to him. Both heart-lifting and heart-wracking, it was.

In early January, I had mentioned to Enz that maybe we should make our way down to Minneapolis and he 'nicely' assured me that I was ridiculous to even think of attempting that drive in January. He also reassured me it would be only a few more months before we could do just that.

Then came late January and along with it some pretty rough times, physically, for me. I spent awhile in the hospital and the following weeks and months were focused on re-teaching my legs to walk and building my strength back up. But it was during this time when I started emailing back and forth with Stacie, specifically about Play and the fact that he was still waiting for his family; I also finally admitted just how taken we were with the sweet lil' dude!

Then, when Spring had finally started to appear in the Twin Cities, Stacie emailed and asked if our weather was finally looking like we might be able to make the trip. We were still a little snow and ice-locked but it finally did look like winter was about to call it quits which kept our adoption hopes high. Unfortunately, I knew and admitted to the fact that my legs just were not quite strong enough to handle a two day car trip away from home. I had to admit defeat for another little while.

Or, so I thought...

The next email I received was not only exactly what we were needing but an offer so generous I was beside myself in believing it was even real, or that it could even happen. Stacie and her husband, David, were willing to meet us halfway with Play (or another hound awaiting a family if Play had already found his) which would mean just one travel day for my still recovering body and even more importantly than that, it meant just one long day in the car for Day and just a few short hours in the car for the boys on their first ride home together. Trust me, that was an opportunity we were not about to let slip. We had been talking with Day all winter about the brother or sister he would soon have and all the fun that would be in store for all of us as a family... and it was finally on the verge of becoming real. We still had or hearts set on Play but we still couldn't let ourselves be selfish enough to hold him back from opportunity if it came in the form of a loving family before we could.

In the few weeks that followed, I focused on my healing so I could handle making that day trip without worry or setback. We had already been 'officially approved' by NLGA to adopt another Greyhound so I knew it wouldn't be much longer before we did. I wanted to make that trip and the wishing and hoping was getting pretty torturous... it felt like waiting for the call that we had finally been approved to adopt our sunshiny Day! And then came an email I had not been expecting; we had been given the 'official OK' from NLGA to adopt... wait for it..... Play!!!!!

I can't tell you how excited we were upon this news of perfection. And now that we knew sweet Play would soon be with us forever, we just couldn't get enough. Letters and pictures of his months spent with his Minneapolis family came to us, sharing his days from the very first ones filled with unsure shyness right on up to the playful, curious boy he has allowed himself to open into. We now knew, that in just three weeks our sweet Play would finally be with us and those three weeks just couldn't pass quickly enough.

The day, at last, had arrived...

The morning was quiet and overcast as we set out toward Two Harbors, Minnesota, which is situated halfway between the Twin Cities and Thunder Bay; about a three hour drive for each family. Our drive there, for the most part, was quiet. Our nerves worked overtime in wondering whether the boys would like each other and get along well. We also had wonderings of how Day's reuniting with his foster family would go. We were so excited for him to be able to see them again and knew he would be so excited and happy and huggy but in the back of both of our minds we had an inkling of worry that neither Enz or I had even admitted to each other until we had crossed the border back into Canada... would he be so happy and have missed them so much that he would say 'Later, Dudes... my posse's back!' and make a move to follow into their car? So many conflicting emotions but the only emotion that really mattered was one that told us we were exactly where we needed to be right then. We were on our way to our new wholeness of family.

We arrived at the park a few minutes early and wandered around for a few minutes to let Day check out the new area. It was much chillier than we had expected so he was happy to quickly get back in the car for another little warm rest while we waited. It was only a minute or two later when Stacie, Dave and the hounds arrived.

Day was just beside himself with excitement when he saw his foster parents. His tail was in full crazy-wag and his little body just wiggled in for big hugs and snuggles as they reunited. Beautiful beyond beautiful, it was!!

And then they brought Play out of their car to come and meet us.

Play came out of the car and (taking only a second for a quick touch of noses with Day) walked straight over to me and then to Enz for long hugs and just immediately leaned in for the love he already seemed to know we had for him. I felt tears threatening as I looked into his big brown, trusting eyes but somehow managed to hold myself together. The boys then 'checked each other out' but not overly so as I had expected, they really did seem comfortable in one another right from their first little nose-touch.

It was a few minutes later when Max and Annie (Stacie and Dave's own two hounds) had come out of the car to join us. After Day and Max had reacquainted, and Annie had a chance to feel out her comfort zone with the three of us being new to her, we all set out for a little path walk along the shoreline. For most of our walk Annie and Max walked side-by-side and to our surprise, Day and Play did the same and were even slicked shoulder-to-shoulder at times. It was as though they already understood that they were to stay together and it both flared and calmed my heart at once.

We had some adoption paperwork to fill in once back at our vehicles. I made mistakes because I wasn't focussing as well as I should have been; my eyes only wanted to set on my sweet boys standing in patient wait. When I did take a second to peek over I was relieved to spy exactly what I had been hoping for; there was Enz holding both leashes as the three of them quietly stood nestled together. Enz, Play tucked in the middle and Day in the front... a line of leaning togetherness as play turned to rest his head over Day's back. Big changes were still ahead but this was the sign that said, without doubt, we would all make it through perfectly!

When the time came to head home, just as was the case with Day, my heart lifted as much as it sank. Our family hello meant their family goodbye and actually seeing it happen was hard. Even though I knew and could feel how honestly happy Stacie and Dave were for all of us, I still felt the goodbye-pulls for the boy they had spent the past months nurturing out of his protective and worried shell. Play had openly and willingly come to us on his own that day only because they had spent months teaching him that it was okay to trust and that he would always be safe and loved. And now they were letting him go.

It was time to get the boys set with their (skin-protection-we-don't-really-know-each-other-yet) muzzles and comfortably settled in the car for the three hour drive home. Both boys were exhausted! Before we had even turned onto the highway Play was curled up, Day was stretched out and both were sound asleep, eyes shut tight, tight, tight! Day switched positions a few times and Play stretched out once but other than that, they slept solidly until we had to stop at a light in Grand Marais... where they lifted their heads, took a quick peek around and promptly returned to slumbering the instant we were again in motion. It was a quiet ride home but sometimes, the loudest meanings are born in quiet.

Our sweet Play is a happy, playful and huggy, huggy boy. He loves to be held and talked to. He's curious and trots over to each new fascinating find with a skip in his step and excitement in his eyes. And then there are the toys... Play LOVES toys and especially so, the ones with squeakers, the louder the squeaker, the better!! He's funny to watch with the toys, too. He has a sorting system; go to the toy baskets, choose one of the hundreds, play with it for a second or two and decide which stash-pile it should go in... the kennel stash, the living room pillow stash or the bedroom bed stash... go drop it off and repeat. We now have perfectly sorted stash piles and thankfully Day has been very patient in allowing Play the freedom to sort out not only the toys but his new life in the family of four we have become.

My heart is gratefully full.

Adopting Day... December 16, 2013.

Finding my sunshiny Day!

Photo thanks to our Adoption Coordinator, Steve.
I knew, from the first instant of my first encounter with Greyhounds, that I would one day share a world with one. At the time, my husband, Enzo, and I had been buried in the needs and worries of life with a thirteen year old Lab/Whippet cross pup named Hope who was in need of specialty care. It was during our second visit down to the Veterinary Medical Center in the Twin Cities when we first met these incredible and gentle spirits.

It had been a very long and troubled day for us. Hope was in having surgery and the waiting was beyond painful. She had been having fainting spells with all signs and symptoms pointing toward a heart problem. Because we live in Canada and a six hour drive from the hospital it was deemed necessary to have a heart monitor surgically implanted to take her readings whenever a spell might occur. Amazing technology? Without doubt! Still, she was thirteen, she was having heart troubles and she was under anesthetic. She was also only the third dog ever to undergo this new surgery and the not knowing was agony while we paced the long corridors in wait of news.

Enz had been taking yet another hall-stroll while I  had found a quiet spot to lean back against a wall, just across from the door that led out to the fenced run, when a woman came through that door with two absolutely striking Greyhounds. All I could say was, "Enz..... looooook..."

I am and have always been painfully shy but I just had to know those dogs. I pulled myself from the security of the wall and asked the woman if we could meet them. The dogs stopped and stood so proudly as we introduced ourselves, letting them sniff our hands through their muzzles before reaching to pat their velvety soft coats. "Are they Greyhounds?" Enzo had asked. Like many people, we had never before seen a Greyhound other than in pictures and we were both immediately and completely taken with these two beauties. The lady had explained that yes, they were both Greyhounds and that they were there in the hospital healing from racing injuries. Racing injuries?? That kind of stuff really went on in this world? I am ashamed to say that I had NO idea, at all. Of course, I had heard the term 'dog track' in movies and on television but, I honestly had no clue that it was such a reality. I was shocked. It was Enz who asked about the muzzles the dogs wore, I really hadn't even noticed them, I just saw through them and somehow knew immediately how gentle-natured they were so it was no surprise to me when she explained that it was simply skin protection for the dogs when they were in pairs or groups... play-time and tissue paper thin skin just don't mix very well.

After that very first meeting, we knew. We also knew that we had a very sick little girl who needed every bit of us and after the lady took the two gorgeous Greys back to their beds to rest, we continued our restless wait for our Hope.

Healing cuddles for Hope after her surgery
We met quite a few other Greyhounds on that visit and also during our following many visits. We met Greyhound patients, blood-doners, fosters and adoptees; we talked to and overloaded with questions everyone who would offer us even a moment to talk about these unbelievably majestic animals.

It was three years later when we lost our hope at the age of sixteen. It had been a challenging and draining three years that had taken a massive toll on our hearts. We loved that little girl and had spent the last year and a half carrying her like a baby, hand-feeding her and snuggling her like it might be our last snuggle every time we did. The loss, when it came, was all-encompassing, blinding, devastating.

It was two and a half years after that loss before we had healed enough to open our hearts again. We began our Greyhound search in the place we had first met them and found our way, on-line, to the Northern Lights Greyhound Adoption website. Going through the names and pictures of retired racers waiting to find their families was exciting yet painful... I wanted to give every single one of them the love and care that they had worked their whole lives never knowing, the love and care that they deserved to have known from the moment they had been born. I couldn't choose just one out of all when I knew that all were in need.

Filling out the adoption application was both exciting and nerve-wracking. What if the adoption organization thought we were unworthy and rejected our application? What if only having a large attached pen for bathroom breaks wasn't enough because they expected a fully-fenced yard?? What if they couldn't get in touch with our references at the only moment they had the time to try??? What if our application simply had been overlooked???? Questions and doubt clouded our enthusiasm from the moment we had actually faxed in our application until finally, a couple of months later, we received a call.

Our first telephone interview went really well, despite the three disconnections that cut us off mid-sentence each time. We had talked about how we had first learned about the plight of the retired racers and the few but impressionable Greyhounds we had met on our hospital visits and all of the reading and research we had done over the past years in knowing we would one day adopt one. I remember Steve, our adoption coordinator, specifically asking us why we had decided on adopting a four year old, as we had written our age preference on our application. That's when I realized that we didn't actually have a real preference on age, or anything else for that matter. Before we had begun our search I had been incredibly compelled to adopt a senior dog, one who needed all that we had to give for the time when they would be in aged need; Enz had wanted a puppy and so we agreed on somewhere in the middle. But answering Steve's question came so naturally as I easily explained that age, colour and sex were of absolutely no difference to us and as we looked at each other while I answered, I knew we both fully meant every word. We wanted a family member and nothing else mattered.

The following days and weeks were nothing less than torture in waiting. Our interview had happened just a day or two before the American Thanksgiving weekend which meant we would need to wait longer than the usual three to five days we were told it would take to find which of the dogs would be the best fit with us. It turned out to be almost two full weeks of re-living and worrying over that interview before we finally heard back with the tear invoking call that we had been approved! Our only real concern was that our new family member be small-dog safe since my mom has a HUGE Newf/Husk/Lab cross whose best friend and next door neighbour is a TINY Chihuahua/Terrier cross... we had always hoped that the three of them would be spending lots of walk and play time together. Steve told us then, that he would compile a list of which of the dogs would best match and he would then be back in touch... more waiting..... but, we did set our adoption date for December 16, 2013. at 9:00 am and that left us ecstatic and looking forward during that wait of two additional weeks!

The instant we got off the phone with Steve after setting our date, we were calling to make our weekend reservations for Minneapolis. We knew, from experience, how hard waiting at home had been and decided that the final weekend wait might be easier with a trip to the Mall of America to help ease our minds from the seeming foreverness.

The next few days we spent busily preparing for our soon-to-be new addition. I spent hours upon hours on-line choosing and ordering the perfect beds for whoever might choose us as their family. I felt a bit like an expectant parent having made the choice not to know the sex before their baby is born, everything had to be neutral to start; beds, dishes, blankets, even the flannel welcome home quilt I busily got to working on was made out of neutrals though we stopped in Duluth on our way to the Twin Cities to buy enough flannel for both a boy and a girl quilt so I could make a new one especially for our pup once we got home.

Oh, having just mentioned the 'choosing' part of the adoption... I worried about this choosing part of things that Steve had mentioned. He had told us that they encouraged the dogs to choose their new families and although it made perfect sense it concerned me greatly. I was petrified of having to meet and losing my heart to more than one. The thought of leaving a pup behind, of having to choose one deserving and loving soul over another was something I more than questioned my ability to do.

It was then, when I knew that this was actually now a reality that I could bring all that was happening out to share. Up until this point I had only shared this journey with one extremely supportive and fantastical friend, Miso, who also happened to have a friend named Rick who had adopted a Greyhound from the same place a few years prior. I was so grateful that he had given Miso permission to send me his e-mail address in case I wanted to talk with him about the process, and now that it was real I felt I needed the guidance he offered.

Rick was so upbeat and excited to share his own past and current experiences having adopted Earl and I knew that I had made an instant ally and friend in this process we were maneuvering. I felt a little guilty having asked of him right from the start but his willingness to help came from the love has has for his own dog as well as for that of the entire breed; traits we entirely share. I told Rick what I was most afraid of, meeting more than one dog and having to make the heart-wrenching choice of whom to bring home. His answer? It would definitely happen.

Finally, the weekend before our adoption date came and we were on our way to Minneapolis. I had ordered, literally, a ton of things delivered to the border that we picked up on our way and as we opened the beautiful squooshy beds and set the SUV back area up all cozy and ready for the ride home, reality finally sank in completely. The mall plan was already back-firing. Once we got checked-in at the hotel and made our way across the street to shop we realized we had no desire at all to be there. Our minds were filled with anticipation, both happy and nervous anticipation. We couldn't concentrate on anything, though we tried. I think it may just have been the longest three days I have ever known.

And then, our adoption day morning finally made its appearance.

We left the hotel early and drove the forty minutes it would take to get to Coon Rapids from the hotel. It was still dark out and the drive was a very quiet one. We still had two hours until our appointment time and decided to go for breakfast after finding our way to the animal clinic we were scheduled to meet at. Our breakfast was as quiet as our ride had been, each of us lost in our own thoughts and concerns of how this important morning would unfold.

We finally made our way to the clinic as huge snowflakes began to fall. We knew we had a few hours for the adoption appointment and then still a six hour drive to follow so we hoped the snow would prove to be no more than a flurry as we walked in through the doorway.

We were there. We were there and we were waiting. And, we were overfilled with emotions of every kind imaginable. I was still questioning whether it was even really happening. I was still worried that no one would choose us.

And then we were brought into a room where we watched a video about Greyhounds and about how they adapt into their new lives. I know I should have studied like I was going to be quizzed on that video but keeping my mind focused at that moment, when I knew that my new fur-baby was waiting somewhere behind that closed door I could see across the hall, was maybe the toughest thing that had been asked of me yet.

And then Steve came into the room. It was wonderful to finally be able to meet in person and I hoped that he would somehow be able to feel just how much this whole experience meant to me, to us.

We talked for awhile. Steve had questions. We had questions. And, all the while there was this current of energy surging, so positive, so perfect. He told us there would be three Greyhounds that we would meet and my heart sank as much as it lifted with my nervousness. He told us he would head on back and see who was there waiting to meet us first and that we would finally get to see who would choose us... There was that 'choose' word again.

It seemed like a hour had passed but it was probably more like five minutes before I really started to worry when Steve hadn't yet returned with one of the Greys-in-wait. We were sitting together on the love-seat in the waiting room and i just couldn't take it anymore as I turned and whispered to Enz, "What happens if no one chooses us?"

It was the very second that I had finished whispering that question when the door from across the hallway opened. All I heard was scrambling nails on the tile floor. All I saw was the briefest glimpse of recognition-filled eyes before I saw nose, then chest and finally back as Day came straight for me, awkwardly and determinedly climbed me then turned and settled on my lap, claiming me as his mamma in no uncertain terms. My heart was filled completely and immediately with his instant trust and willing love. I had to fight so hard to keep my grateful tears at bay even as they pooled in my eyes. I couldn't speak. All I could do was hold him tight and stroke his quivering body as he relaxed into us. There, on that love-seat, the three of us connected into an instant family that I honestly can't even seem to remember a time when we weren't.

Field Day was the only Greyhound we met that day and I will never forget that first moment of meeting him. When I could trust myself to speak again I asked Steve if this was how Greyhounds chose their new families? Even he had seemed quite flabbergasted by this immediate reaction and told us that in twenty years of coordinating adoptions, this had been the first time he had seen a Greyhound just immediately crawl up into a new someone's lap, as our sunshiny Day had just done, and laid claim.

I can't even begin to describe how grateful, how honoured, how filled my heart became in that moment when Day 'chose' to climb me. And, believe me, once the connection had been made none of us wanted it to be broken, not even for a minute; Day had to, vocally-reluctantly, be physically pried off of me just to be taken back and have his micro-chipping done before we could bring him home with us. The instant they brought him back in to us he ran straight for me again and slicked himself tight in against me. He already knew we belonged together, we all knew.

It wasn't until we were helping him into our vehicle when I actually got my first full look at Day. Beautiful. Inside and outside, he is love and he is beautiful. He is my ever-sunshiny Day.

I knew, and it weighed on me, that my sunshiny Day had spent months in a foster home before we found each other. I knew that his foster family had dropped him off that morning not knowing whether or not they would be taking him back home with them later on that day. Knowing that really pulled at my heart. I know that the foster families who help by giving of themselves and their homes want for the animals they help to find loving forever homes and happiness with a new family but it still has to be just so hard to care for, to become attached, to love these sweet souls and then to let them go... I don't know that I could be strong enough to do that and as happy as I was for my own joy, I was just as sad for Day and his Fosters' goodbye. He was a happy boy, right from the start, so I knew he had been well loved in that home and I so wanted for that family to know how unexplainably thankful I was of them.

I was fortunate when one day, right here on Facebook, I saw a comment made on a picture of Day that became a 'hmm..???' kind of moment. I wondered and then, I asked. It was Day's Foster-Mom!! I was so beyond happy to connect with Stacie, to be able to thank her for all she had done for Day in helping him to learn about life in a home was emotional far past emotional for me. I know a simple 'thank you' can never be enough for all that the people who voluntarily help all the Greyhounds in need but I sure hope they understand how much they mean to the dogs and to their families; how much they have meant to Day and to us.

All in all, it was and continues to be an incredible, emotional journey that promises more and more every day! Day is smart and hungry for learning, he is loving and demanding of closeness and snuggliness, he breaks my heart but he fills my heart.

He is totally my Sunshiny Day!!!

( Written January 30, 2014. )