She is scruffy and adorable. Plucky and resilient. Smart and resourceful. When she runs, she does so with unfettered joy. It’s as if she thinks she’s Super Dog: with each leap, each bound, she stretches out so fully she goes airborne with her body hovering parallel over the ground. She stretches out her forepaws and she looks like a superhero on a mission. All she needs is a cape.
She has a lovely little face. It’s sweet, and innocent. She has dark, round eyes that search my face for clues as to what I want, or maybe what I’m thinking. She has the look of a baby seal.
Despite surviving some pretty horrific situations, she tackles life with innate sunniness and unflagging optimism. She has a good sense of humor but she takes seriously her role as bodyguard and buddy. She’s putting my shadow to shame.
She is a chewer and a sniffer and a licker and a lover.
And she’s mine.
That she is a OTAT PDX https://otatpdx.org dog gives me immense pleasure. The reason why is that when it comes to adopting a companion animal, there is no finer organization for the rescuing, fostering, and adopting of dogs.
I first heard about One Tail At A Time https://www.onetail.org through my daughter Juli. From 2009 to 2012, when Juli was completing her law degree at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, she somehow managed to volunteer at a south side Chicago animal shelter and foster more than 60 OTAT dogs. I remember thinking, Who else does this? –During law school? But Juli’s core decency demanded that she do this selfless work–the work of unsung heroes—no matter how many exams and papers might be staring her in the face. And so Juli’s introduction to fostering was my introduction to the world of animal rescue.
Little did either of us know it would lead to the busy life she now leads.
Or to the purposeful profession she would fabricate out of the vapor of her dreams.
Or to my new sidekick.
In the five years since my beloved Donovan passed, Juli has kept a close eye on my emotional readiness to welcome another dog into my life. As the Founder and Executive Director of OTAT PDX, she had the ability to set me up with a dog whenever I gave her the go-ahead.
That day might never have come but for Covid-19.
As is the case for many people, 2020 kicked the foundation of family and friends from beneath my little universe. For me, the forced isolation caused by the pandemic has been tantamount to cruel and inhuman punishment. My philosophy has always been The more, the merrier; come one, come all. But geez Louise, really? A pandemic? At precisely the moment that this lifelong Ohioan moved to Indiana? When suddenly it’s impossible to make new friends, have people over to my house, or pursue activities such as CrossFit, personal training, ballroom dancing, horseback riding, book clubs, or entertaining, all of which play a part in keeping me healthy and happy?
Nice timing, Universe.
Nevertheless, one day not long ago I was pedaling along a hike-and-bike trail when I spotted a man up ahead. He was pushing a stroller with a mop-haired toddler strapped inside. It was the small gray pup trotting cheerfully behind that had caught my eye. I saw that dog and I did a double-take. I braked, put my feet to the ground, and watched as if in a trance.
As the group passed by I called out to the father.
“Is your dog a Schnoodle?”
“Yes,” he answered, and his face brightened.
“I had one once,” I said, my voice trailing off as my entire being was flooded with longing for Donovan.
“Oh, she’s the best,” he enthused. “The best! We love her!”
I thought about that dog all day. It seemed to me that Donovan himself had put her in my pathway. It was as if he were giving me permission. As if he were saying, Go ahead, Mom. Get yourself a girlfriend.
The next day, I met Tiamo.
* * *
True to 2020 form, I met her virtually.
You’d never know from her bark, but Tiamo is a cowgirl from Texas.
Matter of fact, for a scruffy rescue mutt, Tiamo is enviably well-traveled. She has traveled from Texas to Oregon to Indiana. A trio of heroes formed the rescue triangle that brought her to me.
The journey began with Heather Horton Hall. Her stated mission is helping to keep underground dogs above ground, to meet all their needs, and spoil them a fair bit too. Heather works with seven different shelters in support of dogs “on the edge” in Far West Texas.
That’s an incredibly understated description of the immense amount of work she does in saving the lives of animals who would otherwise be euthanized. It’s a mystery how Heather was able to notice this particular little mutt. Lucky for me, she did.
Seventy-two hours after arriving at the shelter, one-year-old Tiamo gave birth. She raised her puppies well under the most difficult of circumstances. Through it all, her sweet, loving, cheerful disposition never wavered.
Heather and Juli have gotten to know one another fairly well in the past couple of years. In the strange world of animal rescue, one side of the matchmaking involves pleading the case for creatures who deserve a chance at life. This would be Heather. The other side of this transaction involves the person who studies the profiles and decides which animals to “pull.” This would be Juli.
Juli learned that she can rely on Heather to speak truth, to find dogs that will do well in Portland, and to spring into action whenever opportunity knocks.
I met Heather last October. She was the featured speaker at OTAT PDX’s 4th Annual Bone Ball. I was blown away by her presence, her poise, and her pitch.
In her speech, Heather did the undoable. First, she put a face to facts. Second, she turned a blindingly unforgiving spotlight on a dire situation but nobody dared look away. Third, she painted a vivid picture of desperation but she also sketched ways we could turn it around. We were moved to tears, yes; but they were hopeful tears. They were tears of resolve. I’ve often thought that her speech should be posted in its entirety on the OTAT PDX website.
So anyway Heather wrote an email to Juli about this little baby mamma. Juli mentioned it to me. The dog hadn’t had it easy. She was victim of a hoarding situation and, along with other neglected animals, had been forced to live outside in the Texas heat, receiving very little human contact. That she mothered well despite such neglect is to her everlasting credit.
She raised her puppies in the adoption room of the shelter. The only breaks she got were during one walk in the morning and one in the afternoon. The shelter was closed to visitors and many of the staff had been furloughed due to Covid, which meant that there wasn’t much in the way of stimulation for any of the dogs. Even so, even in these less than ideal conditions, she did a fine job nurturing her puppies.
Everything changed in a big way the day that Heather brought her home. Heather had been charmed by her buoyancy. Her personality. Her indomitable spirit. All of this came through in the 60-hour report Heather wrote about this little muppet.
Now, I’m a word person. Words are my favorite toys. And what happened is that the specific words Heather used in writing this dog’s biography really grabbed me. An example: She wrote, This dog in three words: eager, happy, snuggly.
Surprisingly, and perhaps in part because I had received the green light from Donovan, when Juli shared what Heather had written about Tiamo, I didn’t say no. The universe stopped its infernal spinning. I felt a stillness inside my heart and mind. It felt like a knowingness. I knew instantaneously that this was my dog, and I was her person.
It will not surprise you that when it came time to name my dog, I gave her a middle name. She is Tiamo because in Italian ti amo means “I love you.” She is Tiamo Heather in honor of the woman who spotted this tiny diamond in the rough and made it possible for her to brighten my world.
The next hero involved in Tiamo’s miraculous journey was Dr. Peter Rork. Dr. Rork piloted Tiamo (along with a lot of other animals; watch this video to see Rork and OTAT PDX in action: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dog-is-my-co-pilot-flying-dogs-to-their-forever-homes/ ) from Texas to Oregon. Nothing but gratitude for the extraordinary sacrifices performed by this man on behalf of animals and the families waiting to adopt them.
Juli and a team of OTAT PDX volunteers were waiting at the airfield. When Dog Is My Copilot touched down, they sprang into disciplined action. On New Dog Day, every animal is welcomed as if the whole city had been waiting for this one pup. It amazes me how each volunteer peers into the kennel even before they walk away from the plane to say hi and coo over and comfort the scared little soul inside.
The kennels are then lined up in the shade on the edge of the airfield. The animals are triaged according to their needs with water and walks. Identifying paper work is scrupulously checked and re-checked to make sure that the right dogs go home with the right volunteers. And then off they go, from a cage on an airfield into somebody’s home.
Through their fabulous foster care system, OTAT PDX places each animal in the home of a trained foster parent. Here, dogs get whatever they need in terms of socialization, training, feeding, intervention, veterinarian care, and love. The next step is to match the right animal with the right adopter. The final aspect of this well-organized process is the promise that once a One Tail dog, always a One Tail dog. In other words, One Tail is a true family: no matter what happens, every dog can come home again.
And last but certainly not least, the third in Tiamo’s trio of heroes is Juli.
My fearless daughter completed the triangle of rescue by — get this — hopping in her car and DRIVING all the way from Portland to my house in Granger. She set off with Magpie and Tiamo cuddling together in the back of her Subaru and she made a beeline for Indiana.
She ate food packed in a cooler so she didn’t have to go inside restaurants. She stayed at air b-n-bs to reduce her exposure to strangers/Covid. It took her four days and three nights to get here, and when she arrived on 10 October she was as perky and bright-eyed as if she had come from around the corner.
Now I ask you: Who does these things?
And I also ask: Am I not the luckiest mom in the world?
Juli could stay for only one week before she had to leave. She had a lot on her mind, as there was much work to be done before the all-important 5th Annual Bone Ball, which will be held virtually on Tuesday, 17 November.
And that is one of the reasons why I forced myself to make the time to tell you about Tiamo.
Because I am hoping that now that you know a little more about this wonderful organization, maybe you will scrape aside time this Tuesday evening to support an outstanding community of idealistic, selfless people.
I know from past Bone Balls that this community rallies in a big way around OTAT PDX. The craftsmanship and artfulness of the donations are mind-boggling. There’s plenty of fun stuff too. I mean, what do you have to lose?
Please join me in attending the first ever virtual Bone Ball.
Visit the website at https://otatpdx.org and register for free.
I’ll be posting more stories about and pictures of Tiamo this week. She’s quite a character. I think you’re going to love her.
I know I do.