I Rescued a Puppy and She Rescued Me

Each night around 9 pm, Disco watches my every move. Her eyes say, “Isn’t it time to go upstairs so I can put my head on your belly while you read? Isn’t it time to snuggle?”

I’ve had dogs since I was a child, but never slept with a dog on my bed. I’ve never let a dog sleep on my couch, but this was a year to break the rules.

The rules crumbled before I’d heard of covid or thought about pandemic because my rescued black puppy with a white blaze on her chest was insecure. She needed body contact. When I let her lie on my belly at 8 weeks old, her deep sighs made it clear how much she needed touch. She didn’t get much mothering since she was surrendered to a shelter with 12 puppies in her litter.

Why did I adopt a young, chew my socks, pee on the floor mutt? Truth is I needed body contact and bonding, too, and my old dog Willow and I needed a personal trainer to keep us moving. Disco lived with half her litter and her kind foster mother until she was eight weeks old and could come home with me.

I trusted my old girl Willow would tolerate a puppy, and I was right, but Willow wasn’t interested in snuggling and mothering. Believe me, Disco tried.

We’ve been a family for 16 months now. Every morning Disco stirs at first light, a shifting body curled into my belly. Her comforting warmth penetrates through the blankets. Willow prefers her cushy bed on the floor. Even though her old knees ache, Willow comes upstairs to sleep with the pack and stays until morning.

Willow and Disco after a snow walk

I wake slowly and Disco learned what Willow already knows. Good things come to dogs who wait. They follow me downstairs and watch while I load the wood stove and pull on my winter hiking gear. This is where the personal trainer part comes in. A puppy who hikes twice a day is a mellow puppy, so out we go for our before breakfast hike in rain, snow, or heat. Disco nibbles at Willow’s ears to stir up a chase or nuzzles my pocket for a tennis ball. My fields are littered with lost yellow balls to be found when the snow melts.

These four-legged girls are my body’s family, my soulmates, my soul animals. They’re the ones I hug with no rules or masks.


Do you have pets now or have you had pets in the past? Dogs, cats, rabbits? My first animal healer was Amigo after my dad died. I sat on the floor and Amigo leaned into me while I did my homework in 9th grade. Then there was Daisy when Vic died. I’ve had many dogs as an adult, mostly Labrador Retrievers,  one adult rescue that didn’t turn out well, and now Disco. It seemed right to rescue a dog in this crazy world–but I didn’t know a pandemic would be part of our experience with so much staying at home.

For a post about my childhood dog Amigo, see He’s Only a Dog. For a post about adopting Disco, see Inspired by Artemis, Lured by Joy.

  1. Before I move into your words, let me say how wonderful the photos of you and your beloved Willow and Disco are! I couldn’t resist clicking on your old post about A-meee-go either and how important he was to you. In my adult life I’ve only ever had one dog, “Sheba” for around 13 years; she was a beautiful, good-natured, short-haired German pointer. After she died I was heartbroken and couldn’t bring myself to get another dog, and never have. I tell myself, maybe I will after I finish work, but since that’s at least 10 years away, perhaps further as retirement seems to move every year or so! I don’t know. Maybe.

    “Good things come to dogs who wait!” Oh, what a line Elaine! As was your description of those badly needed hugs in these times, those without masks and social distancing rules. It’s lovely to think of you both snuggled up in bed together. Body to body, through blankets and this is how it’s been this way now for more than a year, in this wonderful reconfiguring of your family. Hmm, rescuing a dog, to me, speaks deeply about rescuing your own instincts and instinctual life too. I feel certain that the Monarch butterflies are playing their role in all this too! Sending much love and light across the oaks and oceans between us, Deborah.

    • Not knowing is fine for now, dear Deborah. Cats are good footwarmers, too, and much less trouble. I wouldn’t want to live where I live without a dog at my side. Disco is such a sweetheart and that’s my first requirement. No fierceness or growling. If she meets a new human, she watches Willow or me to make sure the person is safe. With dogs, she takes off running and playing without shyness. She’s learning basic commands like come and stay, but I can’t use a scolding voice with her or she gets anxious. She’s had a overly protected childhood since pandemic came along, but she teaches me the negative power of scolding a dog or anyone.

      At night or if I sit on the couch to read or watch a sunset, Disco lies as close to me as she can get. She’s warm and comforting. If she decides to hang out on a rug on the floor with Willow, I miss the contact. Yes, she helps me rescue my instinctual self, keeps me loving and moving, keeps me oriented toward something besides the sadness of these times and this time of year. The Monarch population in Mexico went down 26% this year and they have to travel through the part of the country, mostly Texas, devastated by an unusual arctic blast, so I don’t know what that did to the plants they need. I’m glad to know milkweed is tough and can take the cold. In any case, I hope Monarchs make it here this year because I have a writing plan that includes them, but as always, we’re not in charge of this life. We still have snow on the ground and the oaks are dormant and waiting. Warmth is forecast for next week. Sending love back across the ocean and I look forward to reading the new review of your book.

      • “Even though you may not dance, you do Disco!” Hahaha! Marian, that’s Brilliant!

        And my own ears pricked up at the mention of a summer writing plan. Oh, I feel a howl of delight coming on! I shall keeping coming back to read this week’s post as I’m just loving everyone’s wonderful dog stories and your rich, instinctive replies.

        Jeanie’s review is amazing! I thought, surely she can’t be writing about my book.

        • My summer writing plan includes raising Monarch butterflies and creating a myth for them (or a how-to guide) but the census is down by 26% in Mexico and much of habitat through which they migrate north is distressed and severely damaged by the frigid weather that damaged Texas a month ago. There’s concern about having enough viable milkweed and nectaring plants for them to do their life cycle because they need milkweed plants to lay eggs and other flowers for nectar after those eggs become Monarchs. Sigh… I’m sure (may it be so!) some will make it, but who knows how many? There isn’t a thing I can do except hope a few arrive here and lay lots of eggs.

          Jeanie’s review is wonderful, Deborah. More people need to know about your exquisite poetry.

  2. You so eloquently express what I have suspected ever since Disco has leapt onto your land. Indeed, the doggie you rescued has rescued you.

    During the pandemic, isolation has emptied our love tanks of touch, so necessary for physical and emotional well-being. Think of all the missed hugs and kisses and other tactile connections gone since last March. But I believe they’ll be coming back sometime this year, thanks to the vaccine.

    The idea of your pet as personal trainer is choice: “My old dog Willow and I needed a personal trainer to keep us moving.” Even though you may not dance, you do Disco!

    Your post stirred the memory of Aunt Ruthie, who always had a dog: Airedale and then a succession of Schnauzers. I know she slept with all of her Fritzies: I – IV, usually keeping her feet warm. 🙂

    • I’m not surprised you knew this, Marian. I’ve been a little starved for physical and emotional affection. Willow is a sweet dog, but more independent and not interested in snuggling at night, so I needed a shy dependent dog. It’s a strange world where I don’t hug my sons, but I’ve had 2 vaccines as of yesterday so hope that will change soon. I’m watching the information on the variants and for all things covid, I listen to Anthony Fauci. I laugh when you say “I may not dance, but you do Disco.” Yes! I also teach Disco to turn with me in playful circles so we disco together. I like Aunt Ruthie more and more. Disco and her Fritzies are like hot water bottles in the winter.

  3. I love seeing her standing–or sitting–tall and happy next to you.

    • She’s sitting, and she has the most erect posture of any dog I’ve ever lived with. Alert and head up. I need to follow her example. Love to you, Harriet.

  4. Hi Elaine, I’ve read your blog for years and have only posted once before, to thank you for helping us grieve for my father in law. Since then we’ve had big life changes, bought our first house, made a little baby girl, and adopted my first dog. Josie was already an old girl when she chose us. She climbed into my lap at the shelter and asked us to take her home. She’s a needy, old chihuahua mix. Her strange habits, like staring at me for hours, never bothered me until I was pregnant. She hady been on my heels every second since. Then, when our daughter was born Josie became afraid and reclusive. I wondered if a new baby was the reason she had been left at the shelter. She would only come out when the baby was asleep and then she would pace, pee on the floor, and whine. I became very angry that I had this dog when all I wanted was sleep and have peace in those few free moments. I lost my temper with her several times, she would go lay in her bed and sulk. In those first months I was so overwhelmed I didn’t even want a dog anymore. 9 months ago we were finally getting into a groove, I was coming out of PPD and went back to work, then Covid started. Because I’m a teacher, I left work to protect my family. Josie suddenly became ill, couldn’t breath well or eat. She had lymphoma. After sleepless nights we decided we owed her a chance despite the cost and work. She had stuck with us through death and birth after all. Chemo was terrible, dropping her off was heart breaking, she was so sick, so miserable. But she was brave, and tried her best to be a good girl. Although I still was sometimes impatient with her, she put up with me. During her illness she taught our daughter to crawl, then to walk. Her first real word was ‘osie. We’re done with chemo now, the check up for relapse is next week. Josie tolerates being followed around by a toddler, she sits with us on the couch in the evening, and tells us when it’s time to get the stroller out for a walk. It’s unbelievable we have dealt with a newborn, a pandemic, job loss, and cancer in one year. Josie has been our grounding force. She has taught me patience, love, dedication, and has forgiven me more than I deserve. Josie is 11 going on 12, I pray the cancer is gone forever but she knows we will never let her down or leave her now, because she never gives up on us. Thanks Elaine, may all find Peace.

    • Your story makes me cry, Betsy. You must be the most important thing in the world to Josie–so she watches you to make sure you don’t go anywhere. Poor Josie must have thought she was being replaced by the baby (or who knows what they think?), but this sounds beyond exhausting for a new mom. You’re heroic for sticking it out with Josie. I’m so glad she withdrew and pouted rather than becoming vicious which is the worst, especially with a baby. (The other day Disco chewed a sock I’d left in a stupid place but when I scolded her–no hitting–she began shivering. I felt like a bully, but fortunately she recovered fast. We’re only humans. They’re only dogs.) Congratulations about your daughter, but what a challenging year to have a baby. On the other hand, you got to be home with her. Our dogs can put up with our human moods if they know we won’t abandon or hurt them. I love imagining your daughter crawling with ‘osie–and Josie’s tolerance is so, so sweet. I hope the cancer is gone forever and you can have peaceful years together. Yes, may all find Peace, including you and Josie.

      • Thank you for your kindness, I wish I felt like you describe me. But I have good news! Josie’s remission is stable and she’s gained a half pound! That’s a lot for a little dog! Baby Cora and I have been taking her on small walks everyday and she can get around the block easily. I hope she can build up to our long walks we used to do. Cora is in charge of the dog treats but she keeps giving them away to the neighbor dogs. We’re really going through them!

        • Such good news, Betsy. I hope little Josie will keep getting stronger and enjoy her extended life. I love imagining Baby Cora handing out dog treats.

  5. Yes, those dawgs really are women’s best friends. The dog I inherited from my daughter was such a comfort and blessing. Suki is getting old now and I have to curb the hiking and massage the aching legs but, in these COVID times, she’s become my constant companion, my heater, my dearest connection to my daughter, my alarm clock for waking and getting the next meal going, and my dance partner. I can’t imagine life without her now.

    • Suki is getting old and so is Willow, but it breaks Willow’s heart if I leave her out of a walk. She’s stronger since Disco came into our life and it’s easier (this week) since the snow is melted in some places or frozen hard in others. Every night Willow slowly climbs the stairs to sleep with the family. I give Willow a few herbal medicines for her painful knees–Dasuquin with MSM recommended by the vet and Boswellia (anti-inflammatory) recommended by a dog loving friend. Willow likes the taste of both of them. What would we do without our animal buddies? Marika left you an incredible gift to help you through grief.

  6. This is beautiful. Dogs are amazing to have in our lives. I also wrote about our dog that we adopted -> https://thought2ramble.wordpress.com/2021/02/24/rescued-dog-rescued-us/

    Thank you for sharing

    • I love your article, Thomas, and I love Cheese. What a sweet temperament and what a great addition to your family. She made her way into your hearts and sounds like the greatest dog–plus she’s beautiful. Disco is young still and needs lots of exercise, but I just sat on the couch talking to my son on the phone and there was Disco with her head on my lap–and then her front legs and then her upper body. Dog snuggling is good medicine for your wife and for me. I love that Cheese checks that everyone is still in their bed and safe. Good girl. Excellent girl!

  7. Oh my goodness, how cute they are both.
    I love dogs, and as I had experienced in my life, I have a connection wire to them. I mean, when I met a dog, we could mostly understand each other well.
    I like all animals and appreciate them. When I was a young boy, about 12-13, I had a lot of cats and dogs which, I’ve brought home as I came back from school every evening. Our house in which I was born had a big yard with a garden and a pool, therefore, enough place for them all. You know, the animals are suffering in Iran, those days and still now, specifically, dogs and cats. And I wanted to rescue them as many as I could. Of course, my mother was not so happy about it, but she allowed me, with the condition that I take care of them myself.
    I have no animals living with me now. Maybe in the future.

    • Thanks for commenting, Aladin. I understand your mother’s perspective and I understand not having animals. They’re a lot like having a child that never grows up and needs lots of exercise. Disco is so tuned into me because she hasn’t had the social experience I’ve given other dogs (because the pandemic keeps us home). I have a few friends who come here for walks with their dogs and Disco gets so excited to run with another dog. She also loves exploring life with Willow and meeting human beings of any age, even though she’s shy in the beginning and needs reassurance. I slip visitors a few dog treats and that lures her. Oh, this person is good! A friend who knows dogs well said, “Disco will have a hard time adjusting when Willow dies because she’s so attached.” I said, “I know. Even dogs have to pay a price for love.”

  8. Such loving companions you have Elaine who reward you in spades for the love you give them. I can almost see Disco and Willow smiling. Yes, we’ve had mostly rescue dogs and cats. It’s such a heartache when they die. Funnily enough we were talking about this this morning at my pottery class and I was reminded of the gentle passing of Harry our ginger cat who is buried in our garden in Johannesburg and of Mad Murdoch and Betty Dog also buried in the garden of our old home. We talk a lot about getting a dog here in Plettenberg Bay. Just have to take that step. I fantasise quite a bit about this. Please give Willow and Disco a pull of the tail from me.

    • I’ve had dogs most of my life and they teach me about many things including patience and acceptance of death without fear. Over the years, they were buried near the garden or in the forest. Dogs are a lot like children–love and laughter and lots of tending. If I didn’t live alone, I might not need their companionship, but with them I always have someone who says yes to a walk and wants to go wherever I want to go. Marion Woodman told beautiful stories about her little dog, her “soul animal.”

  9. Elaine, I’ve kept an eye on you and Disco since you first got her, what a beautiful dog and you what a beautiful human and story teller. Your pictures of your property and your walks let my mind imagine a time when I am able to travel and meet you for coffee one day. 🙂 I’m glad your Disco has provided that play, touch, and warmth that you need during the year of isolation.

    Shortly before my wife fell ill, I spoke to her about getting a dog, (my secret intention was to get her some companionship due to her increasing refusal to leave the house) and she loved the idea and we went looking. we came home with two puppy mill moms that had been discarded after giving birth (they were found wandering near a hiking trail near our home) starving, flea ridden, and underweight, both were plagued with various ailments mostly due to neglect and little by little the issues were healed and trust and bonding took place. My wife loved “Lucy and Ethel” and became very entertaining with her training and play, she would give them “greenies” and sing a song to them that she made up and change the lyrics while the dogs obediently waited until she was done and called on each of them. then she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and those dogs provided both of us so much love and diversion. My wife has been gone for 2 years now and my constant companions provide security and like you say the closeness and touch that I crave during this time. I sleep sandwiched between 2 dogs and a cat and I can swear that their sole intention is to keep me safe and loved. Dogs truly rescue you, and mine have done just that, first they provided joy to my wife in her last couple of years and they continue the work with me, our daily walks are the primary reason I leave the house, caring for them has given me so much joy. Hugs to you Elaine! Thank you for all you share and the magic of your stories and photos. ♥️

    • My heart goes out to you, Carmen You’ve been through such hard times, and our hearts don’t heal as quickly as we wish. Two years isn’t long for finding a more comfortable relationship with grief. Today is my husband’s birthday and I wept this morning even though he died almost 13 years ago–and then I took the dogs out. It’s a hard time to be alone, unable to get out and be with friends. I hope that will change soon for all of us. I’m glad I have a few friends in the neighborhood who like winter walks or snowshoeing, but I so look forward to this week’s melt. I’m glad I’ve had my 2nd vaccine & hope our worlds will become less confined soon, although I’m fortunate it doesn’t drive me wild to be alone. The dogs are a big help with that.

      I’m glad you have two dogs and a cat taking care of your body and heart. Sounds like the 3 of them get along well. Rescuing puppy mill moms is brave and rewarding. (People are unbelievably cruel to “factory” animals.) Disco loves dog and human visitors, and I’ve never heard her growl. As the weather warms, my goal is to take her for more walks in town on leash. We did that last week and she was surprisingly cooperative considering she hadn’t walked in town for a year when she was only 6 months old. She was scared by a yappy aggressive little dog and hid behind me, but I turned and walked away with Disco quickly. She recovered. I’m glad your dogs are such healing friends for you. I send hugs back to you, Carmen. May spring come to your world soon.

  10. Hi Elaine,

    These photos, as usual, are wonderful.

    I have been teetering on the verge of getting a dog. Mia, my daughter, who is now living in our guest house wants one. She is in graduate school and god only knows where she will be in six months so the truth is, if she gets one, it will probably end up as mine.
    I am resisting the constraint that having a dog imposes. What happens when I want to go to Santa Fe for six hours? Who will let the dog out if Mia is gone? And what if I want to go on a trip? Or camping? or, or, or. It is a hassle trying to find someone to come and stay with them. I don’t think I would trust a kennel. Of course I haven’t even looked around in this new town we are in but in general I am skeptical of them except in real emergencies. Although, I have heard of great ones so I may just be uninformed on this.

    And what of vet bills? I know they can be exorbitant. Especially for surgeries or cancer and I, like many of your friends, could never let an animal friend suffer.

    And yet when I read your stories and see the warm love you and your pack share? My heart begins to melt at the edges of my resistance. One day maybe I will be sending you a pic of our new pup. In the meantime I can live my furry animal appreciation through your rich posts.

    • Thank you, Lauren. As you know, I’ve always had dogs and they’re more important than ever now. I have a wonderful kennel a few miles away. How do I know it’s wonderful? The dogs are ecstatic when I take them there because they get to play in a big fenced area with other dogs. My friend Lisa is also willing to dog sit and my dogs love her, even more than the kennel, so I have options, although this year I haven’t needed them.

      Dogs are expensive. There’s no way around that when I buy quality food and take them to the vet for routine stuff. Willow had two knee surgeries when she was younger. I vowed that if a dog had cancer I wouldn’t put it through chemotherapy and haven’t been tested so far. Old Willow required a tooth extraction this winter, so an added expense, but they’re my buddies and companions so worth it to me. Yes, they hamper complete freedom unless you get a young one who can travel with you and stay with you anywhere. My dogs could easily stay alone 8 hours when necessary, and people build indoor-outdoor housing if the humans have to work long hours. There are ways if you have the passion, but you know and it does sound like Mia will leave you with a pup. You have to teach a dog to climb the ladder-stairs to your rooftop camper. You should see Disco go up a steep stairway that’s almost like a ladder. You should talk to someone about the downside of living with dogs other than muddy feet. My only caution is adopting an older dog that hasn’t been fostered. You remember when I adopted a dog that became vicious, but I was naive. If I’d gone through a fostering organization or the SPCA, that wouldn’t have happened. Sorry I can’t think of good reasons to not have a dog. I’ll watch to see what you do.

  11. Well,Elaine, your magical pictures and beautiful way of describing the gifts of living with your dogs during this time has convinced me (and my husband) that we are going to get a rescue puppy this summer. Our old dog (lab mix) Olive died on September 16, and we needed some time before being able to make this decision. We know that there will be overwhelming moments, less sleep, and all the other adjustments that come with a puppy, and yet there are so many greater reasons (for us, anyway) to bring dog energy and love back into our lives. We do want to get a dog like Disco with no fierceness or growling; I wonder if that was obvious to you when you adopted her.
    May spring blessings be coming your way! Anne

    • Anne, as you know, summer’s the best time to bring a puppy home, especially if they’re young and not housebroken. I understand taking that time between dogs which is what Vic and I usually did–although not always. With my older dog Willow, I got her when my previous dog was 11 years old–and I adopted Disco when Willow was 10. I don’t want to live without a dog and didn’t want to have that space after my older dog’s death–and besides, the older dog teaches the baby so much and is such good company for them. I had the best fortune going through an organization or consulting people I trust to know dogs and foster the puppies well. I told a friend who is a Clicker Trainer and used to work at an SPCA I was looking for a puppy. Turns out she was still involved with puppy rescue. A few months later, she sent a video of 6 black puppies, 6 weeks old, who had been driven here from FL when they were dropped at the SPCA. The pups were being checked by a vet before being fostered for 2 weeks before adoption. Turns out this was only half the litter–there were 12 puppies but they divided them into 2 groups. Disco got the best situation possible. A woman near me fosters SPCA puppies with incredible kindness and patience. She had them all watching her every move and relating to her as well as each other. I met Disco at 6 weeks old, a day or two after she and 5 others joined the foster mother. I knew I wanted a female, so sat on the floor with the 4 female puppies and waited to see what they’d do. Disco curled up on my lap and didn’t leave–so I chose her or she chose me. I think going through an organization that knows dogs well helps eliminate the vicious ones, but it may be just as important to get them when they’re 8 weeks so they haven’t had scary experiences. This could be especially important because you have a granddaughter, but if a dog is older but fostered, it’s known if they’re gentle with children, with other dogs, with cats, etc.

      Disco barks when someone comes to the door, but she’s not fierce. I’m glad I had knowledgeable people to support my view and also people involved with positive training techniques (lots of treats!). Good luck on finding your new sweet family member.

  12. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful and helpful response to my question, Elaine. It would be lovely to live near you for a number of reasons,including walking our dogs together and getting training advice from you!

    • I’m not the best dog trainer, partly because I don’t need to keep Disco on leash on our walks, so she’s a bit of a wild child. I keep her on leash near the house and I’m taking her for more town walks and she does surprisingly well around cars, people, and dogs (unless they’re the barking snarly type).

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