I think it’s about time I introduce our new pup to this blog. Hello, world! Meet Riley!
We’ve had her for two months, but you’d think she’s been here forever. She’s a mixed breed, about 40 pounds, and comes to us from an unlikely place: JAIL.
Let me explain. Savannah has a program called Operation New Hope [ONH], in which the local Humane Society pairs certain incoming dogs with inmates under the supervision of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office for a period of intensive residential training. Dogs enter in classes of ca. 4-5 and each is assigned to a specific trainer for the duration of the program. They aim to give shelter dogs some additional ‘polish’ to make them extra great pets — and it makes a dramatic difference in the adoption rates: Official stats say ninety-five percent of the dogs that complete the Operation New Hope program find new homes. More good news: The recidivism rate among ONH inmate participants is more than 75% lower than that of the general jail population.
As a New Hope dog, Riley came to us trained and socialized. Her social nature is perhaps the biggest surprise. We send her to doggy-daycare once a week and make frequent trips to the local dog park so she can make friends and play. Without friends, she tends to get a little sad and stir-crazy!
Riley’s nickname in the clink was ‘Riley-cat,’ btw, because she has a tendency to curl up on or next to you… like a cat. At forty pounds, she’s really not a lapdog — but she hasn’t gotten that message yet. In fact, this is one of the things that sealed the deal for us.
Manny and I had been looking at dogs in the weeks after Tilly’s passing, but more out of curiosity than anything else (so we thought). We were bereft at losing Tilly and weren’t sure when we’d be ready to bond with a new dog. The timing was also tough. We found out I was expecting just three days before Tilly died. I was actually really worried for the ‘baby’ (really: babies) in the aftermath because I was so consumed with grief. I still miss Tilly every single day. We think about her and talk about her a lot and sometimes I still get so sad about her being gone that it makes me cry. I guess my point is that we knew we couldn’t fill the Tilly-void just by getting another pup. If we were going to adopt again, it had to be because we found the right fit for a new beginning.
My mom called us while we were out running some errands one day to say she’d heard the Sheriff’s Office was having the monthly adoption event. We were twenty minutes away, so we got there a few minutes after it started. Already, two of the five dogs up for adoption that day had been claimed by new owners. No matter: The first dog we saw when we entered the narrow hallway where the event takes place was Riley, who was closest to the door. I kneeled down to say hello to her and her trainer — and she promptly sat in my lap. It was so funny and cute and unexpected that… I started to cry.
Granted, I was newly pregnant and a little emotional, the more so in my post-Tilly grief. I think I was especially moved by the fact that Riley was claiming me, though. To get to the point, I didn’t stand up again for another twenty minutes or so; when I finally did it was to sign her adoption paperwork and take her home.
While quick, the event was really special. The dogs and their trainers become very close in the course of the program and it was really meaningful to learn about Riley from someone who already knew her well and cared about her. We continue to be grateful to know Riley had such good guidance and training and socialization.
Granted, when we got her home, Riley was a bit bewildered. The Humane Society doesn’t know much about her history before she entered the program, and she is only about a year old. But it was clear that she had never seen a dishwasher before — or a laundry machine — or a television. The wicker chairs in our sunroom proved especially terrifying for some reason. Everything was so mystical and startling to her. Watching her adjust those first few days was pretty darn sweet.
By now, all that is ancient history. And we can’t imagine our home without her moving forward. A few people expressed surprise to us that we’d get a new dog, given that we’re expecting twins. And I’ll be honest here: We didn’t know we were having twins when we brought her home! If we had, we maybe (maybe?) would have been more reticent. I don’t know. I do know that we’re glad we got her. Who knows how we’ll fit Manny, me, the twins, their stroller, and Riley in a compact Prius and actually go anywhere as a family. But we’ll figure it out, I guess. In the meantime, it’s been great to get her settled in prior to their arrival. Besides, studies show that babies born to homes with pets experience fewer colds and ear infections. Viva la microbes!
Visit the ONH website for more info — and if you’re feeling charitable, you can make a donation to their cause. You can also follow incoming classes on the Humane Society for Greater Savannah Facebook page and see videos of the trainers and their dogs in action.