Wednesday, July 9, 2014


10" x 8"
oil on canvas

Cleo's story:
Note: Sailor is Susie's other adopted dog
- stayed tune for Sailor's portrait!

One year ago today, two weeks after initially heading to New Hanover Sheriff's Office Animal Services Unit with the intent of adopting her, Cleo FINALLY came to the home she truly belonged in all along.  I had visited the shelter with the full intention of bringing her home on 2 November 2012, but Sailor wound up joining us that day after putting on one of the most heart-wrenching, theatrical displays I've ever witnessed. 

Upon our first meeting, Cleo was calm, happy and seemed perfectly fine with the people taking care of her at the shelter.  Sailor...not so much.  Sailor was a great fit for our family but...something kept tugging at me. I could never get Cleo out of my thoughts. I monitored her status on the NHSOASU site hoping every day to see where she had finally found her family. On 12 November 2012 it appeared she had been adopted and was off to her new home.  On 13 November 2012, she was back at the shelter, apparently having the misfortune of being adopted by someone who didn't clarify to her roommates that this was a BIG dog, so back she came.  This is when my heart moved to my throat. I was so sad to see this.

Cleo had initially been an "owner surrender" and to be returned again was too much for me to handle. I made up my mind if she was still available by Friday, 16 November, she was coming home. I'd even posted my intentions on the shelter site.

Sure enough Friday rolled around and, true to my word, I headed to the shelter at noon following some prodding by my beautiful and wise daughter in law, Stephanie Tyler Parker who knew it was meant to be.

I walked tentatively back into the shelter and upon crossing the threshold, was greeted warmly by the staff who knew why I was there.  "Susie - Cleo's ready for you!" they announced exuberantly. I was toast.

But I still wasn't convinced entirely. Picking up on this one of the great staff at the shelter suggested Cleo and I go to the play yard and get to know each other.  Talk about a flat meeting - if this had been a date, we would have smiled, shaken hands and said "see you later" which is speak for "I don't think so". 

Cleo was having NOTHING to do with me. They would throw a ball for her and then hand me the ball and this giant loping black dog would return it to them, not me.  There was no chemistry, no "I'm so happy to see you please take me home and love me forever".  Cleo was playing VERY hard to get. I had doubts about it working out but a promise was a promise. The staff did everything they could to make it work but Cleo was having NONE of it.  She was far more interested in everyone there.

I half-heartedly nodded and signed on the dotted line, chose the complimentary purple collar and leash, smiled for the obligatory shelter photo to the cheers of the staff and as soon as the door opened, Cleo literally pulled me to my car.  No really - I had no idea a dog could have so much strength.  It took two hands and a lot of begging on my part to SLOW HER DOWN.

Oh my...this had all the ingredients for an adoption disaster.

I herded her to the back seat of my car and as I was backing up in the parking lot, I looked in my rear view mirror and was stunned to realize that Cleo was taller in the seat than I was.  What had I done?

Of course, I hadn't alerted anyone at home that I was bringing a 90 lb pony to live with us.  Sailor, after two short weeks, was running the show and the Prince of the palace.  You can imagine his glee at my opening the door and Cleo bounding in the house running over anything in her path, including Sailor. Talk about indignant - Sailor was all that and more.

My parents looked at Cleo and looked at me and then back at Cleo as if they were sure I had lost my mind. I was wondering the same thing. I'd never had a dog this huge. I thought Cassie was large at 50 pounds. Ha!

Sailor and Cleo circled each other and Sailor feigned a combination of disgust and fear. Cleo, for her part, was just completely clueless but seemed to love the backyard and really enjoyed chasing Sailor. I just didn't know if this would work at all. Here I was with a small terrier who was suddenly shaking and afraid of his shadow and a pony which didn't seem all that fond of me and appeared to think Sailor was an interactive wind up toy. 

Somehow, we made it through the rest of the day. That night, Sailor decided to bed down with my parents and Cleo thought my bed would be just fine and oh, by the way, I was suddenly her new best friend.  I can't pinpoint the exact moment it happened but during that first night she had gone from decided indifference to becoming my shadow; my really large, loping, gangly shadow.

Within 48 hours, I couldn't remember life without her and when someone would approach me she would sit upright and get in front of me in full protection mode, large white teeth exposed for added effect.

Sailor and Cleo spent the next week establishing their place which basically meant that Sailor let Cleo know that HE had seniority and size notwithstanding, Cleo would forever be his minion and underling.  Cleo seemed to accept this without any real static and within a week or two, you really would have thought they were siblings, save for the fact there was absolutely no physical resemblance and the approximate 70 lb difference in size. 

While Sailor is the clown of the family, Cleo is the steadfast, deeply devoted, follow me anywhere and everywhere (except the pool!) best friend I could ever wish or hope to find. She wakes me up at unreasonable hours to toss the tennis ball outside (and I usually oblige!) and she stretches out right beside me every evening. She gazes at me as if I really am her one and only mother and sits faithfully beside me on driving errands (unless Sailor is in the car and then she sits in the backseat).

Cleo, I absolutely adore you and I am so thankful that in spite of previous human misfortune you gave my species another chance and found a way to trust that I would take the best care of you that I know how.  I could ask for no finer companion and bodyguard and I am so proud of how you have acclimated to our family. I appreciate your menacing bark when I don't know who's at the door and I dearly love that you make me go outside several times a day to toss that ball and have some fun.

Thank you so much for waiting on me to meet you and thank you to the New Hanover Sheriff's Department Animal Services Division for taking care of my girl until we could properly meet. It was the best kind of destiny.

I ♥ you Cleo.

1 comment:

  1. Awww. I loved every word! And Cleo's painting is beautiful! I can't wait to see Sailor's!
    There's nothing better than rescuing a dog!
    Erica :)