By Leslie Gallagher
Well, we knew that Kenny and Winnie liked each other. We knew that Megan and her husband were ready for another dog to join their household after the loss of Tucker. We knew that Kenny desperately needed a home with another dog to play with that was a female. But could we make this match work? The only way to find out was to try.
The next day Bryan popped Ken into the car and told him that they were going to see if he would be willing to leave us and join a new home. It was decided that we would do a playdate for a few hours and see how it went. Bryan would drop him off in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon. Bryan was a wreck. I was a wreck. I fought back tears as I hugged Ken as hard as I could without injuring him and told him how much I loved him. I told him that he was going to go try a new home, with a new sister. I told him how happy he’d be there as no big male dogs lived there and he would be free 24/7 to run around and play with Winnie. I told him I would always be there for him. I told him I’d visit as often as he wanted. Ken seemed anxious.
Bryan drove to his new house with a knot in his stomach. We kept telling ourselves that he wasn’t going far (Bel Air, moving up!), that we could visit at any time, that it was only 15 minutes away, that he and Winnie would be coming by for maintenance therapy all the time, that it would be best for Ken, etc. Of course, you can tell yourself that until you are blue in the face and it doesn’t matter. We loved Kenny with every fiber in our bodies. Giving him up, even to the right home, was going to be devastating. When Megan opened the front door Ken bounded right in and proceeded to greet Winnie with a little smooch. He was happy to see her again.
Bryan drove off with a heavy heart and promised Ken he’d be back in a few hours. And told him that if anything untoward happened, we’d be back in a New York minute to pick him up. Several hours later he returned to the report that it had gone very well. Ken and Winnie had hung out together all day. Winnie showed Kenny where the toys were and even offered him one. Ken found that the good spot to hang out was either in Winnie’s bed (she shares!) or under Megan’s desk when Megan was working. They explored the very hilly backyard together. Winnie seemed really happy to have a friend.
Ok. So this was it. We had to give him to them. Just. Gut. Wrenching. Ken had been thrilled when Bryan picked him up again and bounded into the car with a huge hello and a big wag of his stumpy tail. The playdate had gone well but as far as Ken was concerned WE were his true home. He was joyful as he tromped back into our house. Oh my god, how were we going to do this????
The next 24 hours were a blur of sadness on our part. In the morning we packed up his bed, his toys, his food and his meds and put him back into the car for another trip to Megan’s house and the start of his new life. I waited till Ken was gone to throw myself on the floor and cry my eyes out. I didn’t want him to see me so sad. Bryan arrived and greeted Megan and her husband with tears rolling down his face. They felt terrible seeing how sad Bryan was. Ken seemed confused, going from Megan to Bryan trying to smooch everyone and make it all ok. Ken and Winnie ran into the house and started to play and when Bryan started to leave, again crying nonstop, Ken tried to go with him. As expected, Ken wanted to be with Bryan no matter what. Bryan returned him to the house again and again. Finally Megan’s husband David said, “Why don’t you just keep him? It’s clear that you two are so incredibly bonded”, but we knew we couldn’t. Leaving him there was the hardest thing Bryan had ever done. He gave Kenny one last kiss, promised he’d be back to visit soon, and sobbed all the way home.
Postscript: We’ve been back to visit twice now and Kenny is happy and thriving in his new home. Ken has been with them for almost a year and a half now. He has come once to visit us at the facility and did doughnuts around the building for half an hour, tail wagging, kisses all around, greeting everyone like long lost relatives. He and India, Casey and Winnie all did the happy dance running around the garden. We were so thrilled with his visit. Unfortunately, even though Megan and David travel so often, they have not brought Ken and Winnie to stay with us, instead choosing to house them at a nearby daycare facility. Our dreams of being able to see Ken on a regular basis, to continue to do monthly therapy on him, and to have him stay with us when they travelled have unfortunately not been realized. While we are intensely sad about that, we know that we did right by Kenny, giving him a good home where he could succeed. But, oh, how we miss him!!
Would I do it again? Absolutely. In a heartbeat. Was it difficult? Of course. Exhausting? You bet. Overwhelming and stressful? Yup. Expensive? You have no idea. While we could never recoup the money spent in the many, many hours myself and all of my staff worked on him, at least we were able to cover his most expensive medical bills, surgeries and hospitalizations. Thank god for having so many good friends in the veterinary community (you know who you are Dr. Robles, Dr. Berry, Dr. Downing, Dr. Leonard, Dr. Saelinger and so many staff members at ACCESS, ASEC and Southern California Vet Referral Group). And thank god for the generosity of online donors and our amazing clientele, many of whom reached into their wallets as soon as they met Kenny and offered cash, checks and, in one amazing instance, a credit card to pick up the balance of Kenny’s big neck surgery. A huge shout out to Dr. Jill Bailey who held my hand and gave me pep talks when I worried that he was never going to walk again and “what have I gotten myself into!!”, and to Dr. Steve Ettinger who was available literally in the middle of the night when Ken had an emergency, and who personally carried him in to ASEC to perform a series of tests of his heart. I could not have done this without each and every member of my amazing staff and my incredibly forgiving and supportive husband who was awakened every single night for months to help carry 90 lb. Kenny outside and express his bladder. The glamour of it all!!! GO KEN!!!!