Day Twenty-Four: Wrapped up in the great middle of my most melodramatic, Spinal Tap-esque meltdown ever (over poop bags of all things), everybody spared a few hugs my direction. Jim said: “It’s ok. We’ve all cried in this tent.”
And that’s true. This, I know.
Most dog-rescue-crying isn’t over poop bags, but emotions find a way to manifest from goofy stuff when you’re truly upset about the end of something incredible, something into which you and your motley family of friends have poured every ounce of blood, sweat, and, yeah, tears. Even though we do this for our dogs year-round, I can say with certainty the 24-day State Fair of Texas adoption drive serves as one of of the defining, unique characteristics of DFW Rescue Me, and we take every single measure to kick complete ass for those dogs and their adopters. We earn those tears honestly and collectively, and when one of us cries, everybody ultimately gets it. This year, I left significant pieces of my heart and soul behind in our corner of those fairgrounds. It was rough letting go, and I ain’t ashamed to admit it.
My family started this year’s fair off with our little foster guy, Jeggings, who came to the group as part of Villalobos Rescue Center‘s Louisiana Swamp Dogs Project. At 6:30 in the morning, I loaded my most secure, yet noisiest, metal transport crate into the back of the Jeep and told my kid, “Hear that? That’s the sound of the State Fair of Texas. It’s clankety-clank-clank for the next month up in here.”
At Fair Park, our volunteer setup crew had already laid a foundation of astroturf, assembled shelving, arranged merchandise, built a chain link dog run, and constructed fifteen dog crates, amongst other things. I escorted Jeggings into his crate before beginning my first long day of walking dogs and chatting with fairgoers about our rescue dogs and programs. Then I watched. And listened. And recorded stuff in my diary as to not forget. It went something like so:
Day One: Oh, thank God. Barbara bought chocolates and Oreos. She gets a medal. Nobody is even looking at Jeggings. They must sense that he’s a revenge pooper. I’m taking him to House of Blues to hang out with the guys and feel like the rock star he is after this ego-deflating business. Poor Jeggs.
Day Two: Good. There are still chocolates. I didn’t eat them all. Yet. Why is nobody looking at Jeggings? Today we decided to play music for the dogs to soothe them during fireworks. Meredith is currently holding a microphone plugged into a Fender practice amp to the speaker on her phone, and we are singing karaoke. The dogs are so shocked by this they are speechless — better than the alternative. This is living. Right?
Day Three: Barbara brought more chocolates. I’m living off bite-sized Milky Way bars and fried guacamole. And Diet Cokes. My leash is missing. There is a thirty minute line to the bathroom. Nobody has killed anyone yet, and we’ve had a few great adoptions…but not Jeggings. Tonight Jim made an amplifier for the phone-to-mic musical crisis out of a cup from the Nissan auto show exhibit. Making headway with the audio dilemma, I guess, but, dude, we need a sponsor for this crap.
Day Four: I finished my coffee from 7 this morning at 8:30 tonight. I have a blister on my foot from stupidly wearing flip flops while walking dogs, but I’m not complaining; Jill’s got a freaking medical boot on her leg from falling on setup day.
Day Six: Last night I dreamed Copper jumped into the dumpster at the fair, and I woke up with that trash smell still stuck in my nose from digging him out while I slept. I haven’t seen my husband in three days, but that was nice of him to wash my rescue t-shirts so I’d have something to wear this afternoon. Yesterday, he put two styrofoam bowls together to hold the microphone to the phone’s speakers for our fireworks distraction music. Then he used Barbara’s candy container as a base — this stroke of genius from a professional audio engineer, clearly. Also, Jeggings got an adoption app. Home visit tomorrow. Smiley-faced emoticons and stuff.
This was pretty much when I quit blasting my diary with the weird, crazy person’s stream of consciousness and just gave way to the wind. The days meshed together, and good things avalanched rapidly.
I dropped Jeggings off with his new family the second Friday of the fair. It was my second home visit of the day after having worked the adoption tent from 9 until the end of the second shift, so I was tired but also sincerely dreading parting ways. He’s a neat guy, and, of course, I especially love him since he came so far from the swamplands through the partnership between two great rescues. Once the deed was done, my bitty foster dude followed me to the door of his new home, kissed my nose one last time, and watched next to his waving people as I disappeared into the dark. Dog-rescue-crying for the first time during the fair, I pulled over down the street and texted Jim that everything was cool. On the very quiet, reflective ride home, I kept hearing Jeggings’ new dad’s voice in my head when he said, “We didn’t even look at the other dogs. Jeggings was the only dog we could see in the whole tent.” The next day, I smiled again when I saw all the selfies Jeggings’ teenaged “sisters” texted with him.
The following week blurred further between working my day job and the fair, taking care of my kid and my resident animals, and tending to our new foster Grace. It’s how it was for us all. Everybody stayed insanely busy filling shifts, conducting home visits, doing grody dog laundry, managing social media, transporting dogs from shelters and partners and staging areas, keeping track of merchandise, walking dogs, walking dogs, walking dogs, walking dogs, and everything else we always do. There was no avoiding mind-numbing Dallas rush hours no matter which of the three shifts we worked, so the whole lot of us got the bad end of that stick on a daily basis — often slowly passing one another along the way. In the eye of the hurricane, we even managed to help Costa Sports Marketing complete a rescue dog calendar with the Dallas Cowboys. [Shameless Mom brag: Sweetie the Incredible got to pose with Gavin Escobar, some cool school kids, and two of Claire’s awesome rescue dogs for this project.] No room for real sleep, but we were doing it again for the fourth year in a row.
TX/OU weekend came and went without a hitch (unless you’re a TX fan, of course), and the tent was decorated for the game like a football field. Everybody worked together and prepared food, including my sweet mom, who sent me to the tent with her homemade, original gangsta chocolate cake so that I wouldn’t kill volunteers with my own terrible cooking. Jill and I sang a super fabulous not-to-ever-be-outdone duet for our anti-fireworks show of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” in which we changed the lyrics to: “It just takes some time/Little dogs, you’re in the middle of the ride/Everything, everything will be just fine/And you’ll get adopted in time, in time!” (Don’t shoot me, Jill. I could have posted the nine million videos everybody took of that instead.) In the mix of it all, Jim asked, “Did you do something different with your hair?” I told him, “Yeah, I think I washed it yesterday?” It’s not a real glamorous lifestyle.
We received a great adoption application for Grace during the third week right around the time Claire solved our impending audio crisis (with Russell adding computer speakers from the 17th century). I guess you could say that was a pretty excellent day.
When I dropped Grace off at her home, I dog-rescue-happy-cried all over again, but this time for a different reason. Chip, her new pops, confided, “My daughter was terrified of dogs until about a year ago. We had our terrier, Bella, for a very long time before my child was able to even be in the same room with her.” I asked the teen daughter, “Are you ok with having Grace in your home? She’s a big gal for you, but has a sweet spirit.” Her response slew my heart: “We spotted Grace at the fair earlier today. There was something about her that was special to me. I couldn’t get her out of my head. I asked my dad to drive me back to the fair right after we got home.”
They traveled thirty minutes for the second time to the tent, sat in bizarro world fair traffic once there, paid for parking, re-entered the fair, and asked if they could spend a few moments with Grace. None of us knew about any of that until the kiddo shared her story at the home visit. As I staved off ugly, dog-rescue-crying, the young lady sat on the floor with Grace, kissing her face and telling her, “I’m so happy you’re here.” It’s exactly why we do this, for the stuff like that. Animal companions possess magical healing powers, especially and often to those of us facing our fears. Dogs don’t care who we were before we met them. They don’t judge us for our yesterdays, our successes, our trials. They’re just in it for the basic reward of steadfast friendship and a few belly rubs. Some days, that’s the extra nudge a lot of us need in order to move forward, and I hope Grace will continue to open that path for her new, brave girl.
With a solid streak of high quality home placements underway from the fair, Villalobos volunteers arrived with a second group of swamp dogs the final week of the fair, adding to our roster of dogs pulled locally. It was a long day. They’d driven a bus from Louisiana; we’d worked the fair. Everybody was beat. While our crew waited at the staging location for VRC to arrive, I noticed something tiny dart in and out of the bushes across the street, so I crossed the road to get a better look.
There he was: a tiny, black kitten living on his own amidst empty food cartons and a small box for shelter inside the shrubbery of a desolate parking lot. We unsuccessfully tried to grab him until the new dogs arrived and had to get back to business. After walking the noobs and getting them situated in their kennels until the next day at the fair, I sat on the street corner and chatted for a second with everybody while I kept an eye out for my homeless pal across the way. “So there’s a kitten over there,” I told them. “We tried to grab it earlier, but couldn’t quite get it cornered.” I stared a while longer, didn’t see it again, said goodbye, and crossed the street again just to give it one more go.
When I got to the shrubs, Earl, one of the Villalobos guys, appeared behind me and said, “You’re not giving up on that baby cat, are you?” I told him I felt bad, and he said, “Let’s get it.” We made a few attempts, and then Earl decided, “Let’s get Sugar Hill over here. He can get a cat.” A minute later, Sugar Hill and Jim reported for kitten rescue recon duty, equipped with gloves and better lighting. Man, this cat had zero idea how lucky it was.
Within no time, I was inside the bush, blinding the poor, cornered kitten with Sugar Hill’s phone’s flashlight while Jim held a light on the opposite side. Earl and Sugar Hill blocked off the bush as Sugar Hill announced, “I can get a cat, yeah. I got this. We’re gonna get this cat.” And he pulled the scared baby out of the bush, cussing and screaming. “I told you, ‘I can get a cat.’ ” Once we were on the other side of the street, Jim secured the kitten for transport in a dog crate, and I shook Sugar Hill’s hand. Meredith told him, “We’ll name it Sugar Hill, dude.” It may have taken two dog rescue groups to capture a tiny kitten, but, hey, we do what we can. At midnight. In the middle of Deep Ellum, Dallas. Covered in dog hair and slobber and fair gunk and road blech.
Back at the van, Jim distributed hand sanitizer, which he’d already slathered liberally all over his hands and forearms.
“Jim, is there glitter in this?!?!?!!”
“Yes. Would you like some without?” He casually pulled out another bottle sans the girly stuff; I appreciated his commitment to abundant variety as he stood there sparkling like a vampire from Twilight on the side of Elm Street.
As the fair concluded, we continued to meet character after character. They came into the tent sharing their own rescue stories and photos. One elderly guy, who was dressed in the exact same outfit as his wife, explained to me, “She’s the hottest thing on Medicare!” and proceeded to show us interesting photos that may have been a bit more than we’d bargained for, but…well, hell, bless his heart for loving her so much.
On the last day, Meredith and I stowed away to the dregs of the fairgrounds to introduce a couple of dogs — one of whom had been pretty surly with every dog who passed her crate. Meredith said, “I think she’s insecure and needs a dog she can trust.” After a bit, we let them walk closer…and closer…and closer…and then we observed cautiously while the grumpy gal gathered her bearings a bit with the other dog. Slowly but surely, each read the other until our funny, curmudgeonly Gidget accepted an invitation to play. Meredith said, “This makes it all worth it for me. Look at her. She’s just misunderstood.” I agreed. We let them hop around and tag one another for a while before calling other volunteers over to observe, too.
Within moments of closing time, we all commemorated the great year we’d had by engraving items of jewelry with the names of our dogs, who’d been patiently waiting for us back home. I chose a sliver band with the words “Pants” and “Sweetie” forever embedded in the metal. Both of them made appearances at the fair themselves at one point along their ways, so it seemed an especially fitting tribute.
As always, we ended the evening with a well-deserved toast after sending someone out in a hurry to binge-spend leftover tickets on last minute fair foods. Jim announced, “So, we’ve got over 70 dogs in homes as of yesterday, more scheduled for home visits tomorrow, and only three left to be boarded overnight. We kicked serious ass.” In other words, since 2011, we’ve placed almost 1,700 dogs in adoptive homes. We are the little rescue that could.
So now the countdown to the State Fair of Texas 2015 begins. We survived 2014. We were charmed by great dogs and great people yet again. I’m excited to introduce the tiny-yet-determined wee feline “Sugar Hill Kitten Lobos” to Miss Sweetie the Incredible and Pants, who both love a wily rescue cat.
It’s been one hell of a badass ride. Dog-rescue-crying and all.
I love you, homies. For reals.