Lessons learned from a resilient 90-pound golden

by Vanessa Loverti

As a volunteer Intake Medical Manager for GBR, you never know what situation is coming your way or which dog will capture your heart and teach you something about yourself. Yates was that dog for me. A 4-year-old, 90-pound male golden retriever, Yates was rescued from the streets in China and placed in a foster home there with a woman who loved him very much but could not keep him.

GBR flew Yates to the USA, and his new foster family (foster #2) picked him up at the airport. He completed his medical requirements, but circumstances with the foster family’s older resident dog, coupled with Yates’ high energy, was problematic. Six weeks later, he needed to be moved, so I arranged to pick him up.

As I pulled up to his foster home in Bothell, WA, all I could see was this dog shooting out the entry door with his devoted foster parent holding on for dear life on the other end of the leash.  I thought to myself, “Looks like he’s going to need some work!”

Yates jumped in the cab of my Toyota Tundra as if to say, “Nice try, but that situation was a no go!”  I then drove him from Seattle north to Bellingham to Kate, a wonderful woman with three female goldens. It was immediately clear that her dog Molly had no intention of welcoming this male interloper. So, to avoid a four-dog-fight, Yates and I got back in the truck and headed south to Portland, OR. (Nice visit Vanessa, what’s next!)

I said to Yates, “Now, where am I going to take you?” My house? Probably not since I have six dogs, and a fight would surely erupt. Then Kay, our amazing Intake Director, who had been helping me all day, found an emergency foster in Vancouver, WA, where Yates could rest from our long trip.

Barbara and Pete stepped up to the plate, and without them I would have been checking myself into a hotel for an overnight with a bottle of wine and Yates by my side (things could be worse!). Barbara took control, immediately heading out for a walk with Yates and her older dog. During his stay, Yates stayed busy helping Barbara and Pete by gathering and organizing every stick in their yard. What a helpful boy!

Two or three days later, Yates and I were back in my truck to meet Kay and Shelly, who drove him to Corvallis, OR, to meet Jane, his next incredible foster (foster #3). During the drive, Yates became very anxious, barking , panting and saying, “Why do you have me tied up in the back? I called shotgun!” Jumping to the rescue, Kay leapt into the back seat with dog treats, tossing goodies to Yates one-by-one, keeping him distracted for the rest of the trip to Jane’s!

With Jane, Yates enjoyed spending time outside gardening. When they were in the yard, he had the habit of stopping 50-100 feet away to just sit and stare at her. One day she was having a jerky snack that she shared with him. Yates finished his very quickly and sat beside her while she finished hers. Then, without prompting, he scooched over in front of her, sat back on his haunches, brought his front paws up in a perfect begging stance, and gave her a big smile. Right then Jane knew Yates would be okay. He is a smart boy, and it was obvious he had been through some training.

With Jane, Yates was able to decompress, explore the yard, and continue his favorite stick gathering activity. But as time went by, he began to take interest in Jane’s cat – who was looking very tasty. To avoid a bad situation, he had to be moved again.

After three foster homes, I think we were starting to wear Yates down a little – and he us. Up to this point, he always had a sad look in his eyes, but we hoped that would change. We had a trainer evaluate him during his stay at Jane’s, and the report was good. Yates was a keeper, with no major behavior issues. He just needed time.

So, it was on to Nancy (foster #4), another experienced foster, and Yates did well there, as do most “problem children.” After 4 weeks, we found what we thought would be an excellent adoptive home for him in Seattle. Unfortunately, his energy level proved to be too much for his family. He knocked down everyone who came in the front door, including their 90-year-old mother.

Once again, we needed to find Yates another home. He wasn’t yet ready for his forever home , and he needed someone who could commit to intensive training. The intake team and I knew Yates was a great dog, but we were concerned that he still seemed distant and sad. What now?

Our Intake Director Kay – always there for us – suggested that Norman (foster #5) take in our problem child. A long-time GBR foster, Norman has a lot of experience with challenging dogs. The only potential issue was that Norman has two large male goldens, and I wondered how I was going take a 90-pound male into a home with two other large male dogs.

When I picked up Yates from his former adopters, he happily jumped into my Tundra with his tongue hanging out and a dumb look on his face as if to say, “Hey Vanessa, where you been? Road trip!”

We drove to Norman’s house, where I let Yates out of the truck and into the front fenced yard. Then I held my breath for the decisive moment when Norman let his dogs out to meet Yates. They burst into the yard and there were a few growls, but Norman wasn’t concerned because he could see they weren’t aggressive. Five minutes later, all three boys were sniffing and running around in the front yard, then the shop, then the back yard, and finally in the house.

When I drove away, Yates watched me leave with a look that I will never forget. I realized I was attached and heartbroken. That evening, Norman let me know Yates was doing fine. He had already picked out a favorite toy (many to choose from!), was playing with sticks and balls, and was snuggling in his dog bed.

It had been so nice to see Yates smile, hang out with the boys, and have the freedom to play. How could we have known it was exactly what he needed? It was a boys’ vacation, and it would be hard for Norman to give him up. He fit in perfectly there, but Yates had one more trip to make.  A potential adopter had expressed interest in Yates before he checked in at Norman’s all-you-can-eat boys’ house party.

When it was time for Yates to meet Ram and Jackie, his new potential family, I was apprehensive. I felt sad that Norman didn’t have a chance to adopt him, and I knew it would be hard to let him go. During the meeting, Ram took Yates’ leash and it was as if they had always known each other. Yates was 100% calm. Before we even left the parking lot, Ram asked when he should let us know that he wanted to adopt Yates.

We had worn Yates down with five fosters, three adoption managers, one full adoption, one emergency foster, one tired and emotionally wrung-out intake manager, and it was time for me to say goodbye. To be honest I was half hoping it would not work out, so we could do another road trip together. Nevertheless, it did!

After a few weeks and then a few months, I contacted Ram and Jackie to see how things were going. They adore Yates, who is now named Archie.  Archie waits by the gate every day for Ram to get home, jumps into his car to go for a ride, and when they get home, happily goes for a walk around the neighborhood. Archie is attached to Ram and Jackie as if he has been with them all his life. He follows Ram everywhere. Ram says that they are bonded and so lucky to have him. Archie’s smile is here to stay. He is a different dog.

It was never an option to quit on Yates, and for every other dog that comes to us from China or locally, we are standing by with our cars, vans, and Tundras, ready for the road trip to find that that perfect place.

Yates taught and reminded me that life is a journey, and that it is okay when things are constantly changing and our journeys take us through uncomfortable situations. Life is a road trip, and we need to jump in the truck and move on to our next adventure without fear, until we find that happy place. Don’t be afraid to live. If it doesn’t pan out, move on!

To all the people who touched Yates’ life, thank you! It took a village and a long time to get home, but he made it!

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