This year has been incredibly hard for me personally and professionally.
- Went through a regulatory audit
- Experienced another year of fertility troubles
- Started personal therapy
- Lost more clients than I gained for the first time in my career
- Burned out
But the hardest thing about this year, and frankly one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life, was rehoming our rescue dog, Penny. It has been so difficult for me that I haven't had the heart to go public about it. But after six months of healing, I'm finally ready to tell my story about the dog I saved.
All we know about Penny prior to us taking her in is that her first year of life was described as a "bad situation" by her first family that adopted her. Her second year of life was spent with this family during COVID and essentially was a traumatized, untrained, unsocialized backyard covid-dog. When the world re-opened in 2021, our guess is that this family quickly learned they had a lot more on their hands with Penny and, right or wrong, could not provide the necessary time and attention needed to rehabilitate her.
Ultimately, Penny was dropped off at a kill shelter. The day before she was scheduled to be euthanized, a team from the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) drove up to Redding, picked her up, and brought her to her new temporary home where she was safe from euthanasia as they are a no-kill shelter. Lucky Penny.
Jenna and I had wanted to get a dog since we married. Still, due to our work, living situation, and lifestyle, it really would have been an unfair deal for the doggo. So, for the time being, we settled on adopting two rescue cats from ARF.
Then, post-COVID, I was working from home full-time, and we moved into a townhome with extra space in Dublin just down the street from Emerald Glen Park. We were also much closer to family who could help if we needed to drop the dog off for a day or weekend while we continued living our active lifestyle. Much to my excitement, we finally had the living conditions that supported us in adding a 3rd animal to the family.
On May 13th, 2021, Penny had yet to be posted on ARF's website, and we drove up to ARF in Walnut Creek to check out three other dogs. All of them did not feel right to us, so right before ARF was about to close for the day, right before we were about to call it quits, the employee told us of a dog that had just gotten there earlier that week that he thought would be a good fit for us.
Still, he wasn't sure if she was ready to be adopted as she had just gotten spayed. So he went back to talk to his manager and see if Penny (Charlotte at the time) was ready - and sure enough, she was. Lucky Penny.
Penny immediately took to Jenna and Me, melting into our arms and laps and kissing us as if she had known us her entire life. We couldn't resist, and we couldn't take the chance that she would get adopted the next day if we stopped to think about it; we adopted her right then and there.
In the first few days with Penny at home, we quickly realized Penny's past was filled with trauma and that we had a lot of work to do with her to rehabilitate her. So we hired a trainer specializing in rescue dogs and started on a quest of intense behavioral, obedience, and socialization training with some pretty astounding success. If anyone is looking for a trainer, Art with Zen Your Dog is your guy!
Penny went from a dog that would bark, growl, or lunge at basically anything and everything that moved to a dog that loved other dogs, humans, and even our two cats at home. Penny's transformation over two years was nothing short of remarkable and incredibly beautiful to see.
Several months into having her, she began to actually smile. Then we noticed she started to wag her tail, A LOT. She learned how to play with other dogs at the park, and suddenly, she wanted to meet and play with EVERY dog she met. She was healing from her first couple of years of life, and her true nature was coming out. A beautiful, happy, affectionate, and loving dog that was always game to have fun.
Even though Penny was +2, her world with us was a world full of firsts, as if we had raised her from a puppy. We expanded her world, and she took it all in with a full heart. We taught her how to swim. We took her to the snow. She swam in the ocean and ran along the beach. She was my running companion (much to her disliking on hot days). She kept us company on long road trips. She came out to dinner with us. She wanted to be best friends with cows on hikes through the East Bay hills. She (slowly) adopted two brothers, Simba and Leo, our two cats.
As her parent, this was incredibly fulfilling and filled my heart with so much joy to see her come alive as she did. I've always been a believer in the underdog, and Penny was quite literally the definition of an underdog. I personally had never had a connection with a dog like I had with Penny ever before, and I've had some deep, meaningful dog relationships in my life. She is special in that way. She is very intelligent, intuitive, sensitive, and emotional, allowing for deep connection and bonding with those she trusts - and I was the one she trusted the most.
However, for all the good to speak of, this journey was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. The time and energy commitment to doing what was necessary to truly give Penny a shot at living in a human-run, modern world was honestly hard to explain in words. Jenna and I had a crash course into what it may be like raising a child, and a wild child at that.
And knowing us, this was probably preparation as we'll likely get wild kids. It forced us, individually and as a couple, to manage something that we had never needed to manage before, and we stepped up to the plate, learned, and grew from the experience. But as with all growth, there were growing pains.
There was also collateral damage. And by that, I mean our ownership of Penny was not isolated to just our household - It impacted our family and friends around us. And this was one of the hardest parts of the whole experience. It was so hard to reconcile our love and bond with this dog and her impact on others when she behaved poorly. And while it was rare, she still had slip-ups - Penny had hit a plateau in how far she could come in healing and breaking the chains of her traumatic past.
It became ever more evident that Penny could not quite make the full turn to be the kind of dog that we needed. It was not Penny's fault she couldn't either; with our lifestyle, that's a tall order for any rescue dog (lesson learned). Travel, friends, kids, (God willing) our own future kids, puppies, and constant new environments are really a lot to ask of a dog overcoming trauma.
So the solution for us if we kept her would be to constantly board and isolate her, which is no life for a young, fun, active dog. What she needed was to find a new family that was a better fit to accommodate the lifestyle that she needed - Active, yet also calm and predictable. And thankfully, through the Animal Rescue Foundation, we were able to provide the entire backstory of Penny, and detail the kind of lifestyle she would thrive in moving forward.
Armed with that information, I'm confident the right family has found her (a month after bringing her back to ARF, Penny was re-adopted). And I'm also completely convinced that Penny is melting their hearts, and bringing so much joy to their lives, just as she had ours.
Ultimately, this is a story of success. Mission accomplished. We saved Penny and rehabilitated her so she can live a long, happy dog life in a human world, which was very much in doubt. Jenna and I learned and grew so much as individuals and as a couple through this whole experience, and we are far stronger and better off for it.
I'm also convinced that the world is changed for the better through bottoms-up, grass-roots, individual, and direct community actions and efforts like these. Taken as a stand-alone impact, it hardly moves the needle in the grand scheme of things, but it made all the difference in the world for Penny and her current family.
And when millions upon millions of individuals across the country and world initiate similar actions of transformation and positive change, that, my friends, is how things actually change for the better.
Lastly, I'll end with this. I love that dog and miss her all the time. And maybe in another life, Penny and I can live together again. And as much as it broke my heart to let her go, and breaks my heart thinking about it, I know in my soul that it was for the best for both of us.
At least in this lifetime, my contract with her was to save her. At least in this lifetime, her contract to me was to teach me SO many things about myself that needed working on so that I could heal old wounds and level up as a person.
To that end, Penny is with me every day, leaving her paw prints wherever I go.
Matt Faubion, CFP®