10" x 8"
oil on canvas
Note: Sailor is Susie's other adopted dog
- stayed tune for Sailor's portrait!
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
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.
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 match.com 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.
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
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.
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.
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
I ♥ you Cleo.