Celebrating Life with Rescued Dogs

Our rescued pups Shelby, MollyBear and Briley.
Our rescued pups Shelby, MollyBear and Briley. Photo by the amazingly talented Michelle Conner.

Each of our rescued canine companions has a unique story, and a very special place in my heart. They each bring their own gifts of love, lessons, fun and laughter into our life everyday. Our dogs are truly our family, and I can’t imagine life without them. They’ve prompted me to hysterical laughter, kissed away my tears during sad times and have taken on the world at our sides, eagerly exploring every new adventure. Whether we’re hiking a nearby waterfall or simply snuggling on the couch, our bond runs deep, and it defines our life and everything we do. We are truly and happily living the Dog Life!

That’s why I was recently inspired to create this blog, in order to share the joys of living with pooch pals and to share some of my favorite pet products, events, dog-friendly travels and more.

But first, to kick things off, proper fur-kid introductions are in order! Please meet our adorably awesome canine crew…

Shelby’s adoption day!

Shelby, 12 Years Old
Australian Shepherd + German Shepherd Mix
I rescued my first dog, Shelby (AKA Shelboo, Das Shelboo, Sir Boosley, Shelbooda and lots of other nonsensical nicknames) more than 12 years ago as a tiny pup. He had been found with his dying mother and littermates underneath the rubble of a burned down home. Only he and two of several puppies had survived. After a long battle to overcome kennel cough and malnutrition, he came home with us at just 12 weeks old– and the little Australian Shepherd / German Shepherd mix changed my life (and my heart) forever.

I’d had pets my entire life. My mom rescued every stray dog and cat that wandered into our yard, and over the years we also shared our home with ferrets, rabbits and a guinea pig named Cocoa. But Shelby was my first dog as an adult, and he immediately became my co-pilot in life, whether he was cuddled next to me in bed or riding along as I ran errands. True to an Aussie’s reputation as a “Velcro dog”, this guy never leaves my side — even if I’m headed to the toilet!

Our Shelboo on a getway to Moonshine Hill Inn. Photo by Michelle Conner.

An intelligent and energetic dog who has always needed a job to do, Shelby is finally starting to wind down in his old age. It is incredibly bittersweet. After all, it is because we have shared more than a decade together that our loyal bond runs so deep; yet, the realization that his time with me is closing in utterly breaks my heart in a way that I cannot yet put words to.

Perhaps Shelby’s greatest legacy will be that he served as the sole inspiration for me to launch my pet magazine, Nashville Paw, in 2006. When I adopted him, I was freelance writing for national pet magazines, but his impact on my life inspired me to create a local pet publication that would support local rescue groups and shelters who were saving dogs just like him. It would also serve to celebrate life with our animal companions, sharing ways to make our pets happier and healthier as well as ways to better engage with other pet lovers in our community.

Longtime readers of Nashville Paw have likely met my handsome furry man at one of our annual events or at the dog park. And if you haven’t yet, know that you’ll be seeing lots of him to come on the blog!

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Sweet old MollyBear

MollyBear, 14 Years Old
Chow Chow / Portugese Water Dog / Boxer + Whippet Mix

I’ll never forget the day that I first held in my arms the sweetest and most forgiving dog in the world. Molly’s life, before I rescued her, had been filled with trauma and suffering. She had lived an estimated five years on a rope tether, attached to a dingy red collar. She was physically abused and horribly neglected. She was incredibly emaciated. She’d been bred with her brother multiple times and was suffering from advanced stage hip dysplasia and luxating patellas (inwardly rotated kneecaps), making it difficult for her to walk. She also had heartworm disease and intestinal parasites, as well as skin infections from fleas and ticks. She was nearly bald. Ear infections had been untreated for so long that they had caused hematomas, forever deforming the insides of her precious little ears. Her tangled tail was kept firmly wedged between her hind legs.

But the first day I held her in my arms, carrying her and gently placing her beside me in my car, she gazed up at me with an uncertain amount of trust and offered a weak wag of her tail. In that brief moment, my heart was simultaneously crushed and filled with a beautiful hope. In that moment, we belonged to one another.

muttsThe days that followed were long and harsh. Each heartworm treatment left her whimpering and trembling throughout the night as she battled the pain. I laid on a blanket beside her bed on the floor, softly stroking the fur on her head and whispering promises that if she’d just make it through, she would never have to suffer again. We’d spend the night crying together. In the morning, our eyes would be weary and void of light. Shelby, too, felt the stress. Ever by our sides, he nurtured his new sister and hovered over her in constant concern.

But then, ever so slowly over many weeks, life began to shine in Molly’s eyes. The tail began to thump gently. Her fur began to grow in, a soft and reddish fawn. She began to walk with more ease. Her weight filled in; her head lifted. Her test showed heartworm negative. She began to happily trot alongside Shelby on neighborhood walks, and for perhaps the first time ever, she held her beautiful tail high, like a peacock proudly displaying its plumage. Together, our hearts soared.

Every day since has been MollyBear’s Best. Day. Ever. She not only welcomes every day with unabashed enthusiasm and joy, but she is continually teaching me to stop and enjoy the present moment. Most mornings, she can be found in a patch of filtered sun in the back yard, sitting tall with her neck and head stretched upward, squinting into the sunlight. She sits like this for a long while in her apparent meditation — perhaps her personal gratitude practice? — and then, suddenly, she dives onto her side, rolling from side to side in the grass with joyful abandon. I usually watch her from the kitchen window, grinning wide, until I can’t take it any more and I have to go join her and massage her soft belly. These are moments that I will always cherish.

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This old girl makes my heart soar every day! Photo by Michelle Conner.

Of course, today, our sweet girl is thought to be 13 or 14 years old. When I rescued her, the vets were not sure that she’d even live through treatment, let alone enjoy another nine long, happy years on this earth. But she is a fighter. Despite her increasingly severe arthritis and hyperthyroidism, she pushes onward every day, showing us that she is nowhere near giving up yet. When she’s walking across the yard and her kneecap pops out of place, causing her to fall, a sheer determination takes hold and she usually picks herself back up and gets back on track.

IMG_3289On days she is too weak, she looks at us with silly grin and wags her tail, signaling for us to come assist her by rotating her knee back into place. Our hardwood floors are covered in mismatched carpet runners to aid in her traction. We do everything we can to keep her moving and feeling her best, from giving her Adequan (glucosamine) injections, salmon oil and pain meds to providing acupuncture, cold laser therapy and physical rehabilitation sessions. She handles all of it like a total champ! She is one of the most tenacious dogs I’ve ever known. She inspires me daily in my own struggle with a lifelong autoimmune disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and reminds me to never give up, to never feel sorry for yourself, and to always appreciate every day.

While MollyBear is no longer able to travel or strut around town, you’ll see plenty of her on the blog. We are truly cherishing every moment we have left with this precious old pup, and we think she’s got quite a few Best. Days. Ever. still left in her!

Briley, 3 Years Old
American Staffordshire Terrier (Pit Bull)
This is one happy pibble!

After rescuing MollyBear, a plethora of foster dogs came through our doors. Among them was semi-feral PoohBear, the AmStaff; a Pomeranian named Paul who was saved from a puppy mill; and Chuck, the American Bulldog rescued from life on a chain. Each one was eagerly welcomed by Shelby and Molly, who showed them the ropes and helped them learn how to simply be dogs and enjoy the good life.

We hadn’t planned on adopting another dog. But after Chuck left us for a fabulous family, we felt an empty place in our hearts and home. And I knew I couldn’t foster again anytime soon — my heart just couldn’t take it!

So, it was really no surprise when I went to Metro Animal Care and Control (MACC) in Nashville to film a spay and neuter PSA and wound up calling my out-of-town husband, begging him to let me bring home a pit bull puppy.

The 12-week-old, 13-pound pup was lying in her cage, trembling and afraid, pleading at us with dark, soulful eyes.


“How long does she have?” I asked an animal control officer, knowing that back then (in January 2012), pit bulls were not given the opportunity to be adopted. Rather, if no owner stepped forward, they were automatically euthanized — a practice borne out of fear and misunderstanding of the breed. (More on that here.)

The officer shook his head apologetically and said, “Her time is already up. Past time, actually. We just haven’t had the heart to do it.”

Her cage card revealed that she’d been here for 11 days. A compassionate man had seen her dumped along busy Briley Parkway three weeks earlier, and had rescued her from traffic and taken her back to his apartment to care for her. But when his landlord discovered her and demanded her gone, he had no choice but to take her to the shelter.

I opened the cage door and she immediately crawled in close to nuzzle my neck. She offered small kisses and tail wags as I stroked her tiny head. “I’m so, so sorry,” I whispered.

On my way home, I began sobbing so hard that I had to pull the car over. I couldn’t rid my mind of the image of her hunkered in the corner of a cold, metal cage, shaking with anxiety and facing certain death all because of her name: pit bull. And that is when I knew that, somehow, I had to save her.

After calling my husband, Chris, and sharing a photo of her that I’d snapped while at the shelter, we decided that this little girl had been brought into our lives for a reason. We both felt a connection, a sense of purpose, and a deep desire to rescue her before it was too late. I turned the car around and rushed back.

After some conversation with the shelter staff, we decided that who knows? She could just as well be an American Bulldog, right? (Wink, wink!) She was scheduled for her required spay surgery, and we returned the next day to take her home. Chris met her for the first time as a staff member handed her across the counter, swaddled in a pink towel, into his safe and loving arms. Their bond was immediate. Still somewhat drowsy from anesthesia, she gazed sweetly up at his face, then nestled herself against his chest and sighed. She was finally home.

We named her Briley, for the place where a human cast her out like trash and for the place where a human rescued her in a moment of beautiful empathy. In the days that followed, she soaked in her new surroundings with intent curiosity and great courage. She followed her big brother and sister, shadowing their every move and trying to replicate their behaviors. We watched in wonder as she discovered a whole new world: toys and treats, long walks and snuggle sessions in bed. And our hearts tripled in size.

Since then, Briley has become the face of Nashville Paw magazine and a bully ambassador in our community. Every day, she helps dispel the myths that continue to plague one of America’s most loving and loyal breeds. And we are thrilled that nowadays, MACC has a fabulous pittie adoption program, working with local pit bull rescues as well as promoting them as the highly adopt-a-bull dogs that they truly are. And no one could be more excited about the positive shelter changes than Briley!

Briley now happily spends her days chasing balls and squirrels.

Today, The Bri (as we tend to call her) is Queen of her Squirrel Kingdom, as well as Official Sofa Redecorator, a role in which she exercises the right to randomly reconfigure seat cushions and throw pillows in any manner that may suit her whims at any given time. (Read: The Bri is why we can’t have nice things. But that’s okay, because we have The Bri, which is even better.)

Not a day goes by that this girl doesn’t make us laugh until we almost cry. She is the goofiest and most ridiculous dog ever, and her antics keep us cracking up. And when she crawls up into my lap as I work in my office chair (as she does several times a day), demanding me to stop and hold her like a baby for at least ten minutes, I am always taken back to that first moment I touched her. Just like that day, and every day, she nuzzles her face under my chin and gives me soft little kisses, and sweetly thumps her tail. And my heart swells with love.


2 thoughts on “Celebrating Life with Rescued Dogs

  1. Thank you Heather for what you’ve already inspired with the Paws and now this blog. In fact you inspired me today to create a WordPress account. Who knows what Maggie Mae the Yorkie (aka Maggers) will get up to next!!


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