Chicks and dogs: The strong ones


Carmella is so perfect (for me) I often forget I once failed fostering her five years ago after months of not wanting her.

Chicks & Dogs is a guest blog series featuring tales about, you guessed it, ladies and the dogs in their lives. The voices in this series are as varied as the pooches we all adore. Got a story to share? E-mail and please input “Chicks & Dogs” in the subject line. And now meet Carmella, a once unwanted dog who became one woman’s lifeline.

I had just turned 20 and had moved home to Minnesota to be closer to a family in turmoil.  Moving only helped financially; everything else continued on a very destructive path. I desperately needed distractions and got involved in a pit bull and Rottweiler rescue. The plight of these breeds tugged at my heartstrings, but I really knew nothing else about them. 

It was about this same time that a bitter, very pregnant boxer/pit bull mix was found in a cold St. Paul alley and hauled into animal control. The only thing they could get her to eat was Subway—yes, Subway—and despite her very pregnant status, she was scheduled to be euthanized because of her breed. 

Thankfully, A Rotta Love Plus (ARLP) swooped in just in time, and the stray now called Carmella gave birth within 24 hours. Her unfriendly disposition didn’t dissolve quietly, and for a time we thought she would be too aggressive to adopt out once she was done nursing. (Eventually, in true Carmella fashion, her trust was won with sandwich meat.)

Carmella had been busy in those alleyways of St. Paul. She birthed a smorgasbord of 8 healthy puppies, clearly fathered by a variety of dads. I was planning on fostering Carter, one of Carmella’s babies. He was going to be my first foster and I was delighted. ARLP had a different plan and surprised me by bringing Carmella to my place instead. 

She wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined for my first pup. Skittish and impulsive, within the first few days of Carmella’s arrival, she had stepped in paint and left prints all over my wood floors. While painting, every time I bent down to the paint tray, she would mount me. She stole pizza, buried it in my closet, and created a massive and frightening ant infestation. Here I had been expecting an adorable puppy and instead I got an unpredictable nutcase who refused to eat anything but sandwiches. 

Thankfully, ARLP provided training courses for foster dogs and Carmella and I attended. We worked on her dominance issues, and she slowly progressed to eating dog food.

Six months flew by and suddenly Carmella was starting to relax and behave; the problem was that she only behaved for those she trusted (me). 

No one had applied to adopt her, and the quirks I had learned to accept and work with seemed to be deal-breakers for most rational people. I had spent months trying to get her to sleep in my bed and hang out with me on the couch with no luck. (I know… bad foster mom.) When I put her on furniture, she fearfully scampered away. One day I was home sick, and I felt Carmella very cautiously climb onto the bed and curl up in the far corner. This moment was huge for me. I was the only human she trusted and I just couldn’t let her go.

I adopted her.

Carmella went on to live the life of a U of M student with me in Dinkytown, where she learned to trust most strangers just by the ongoing exposure to people. We fostered younger dogs throughout those years, which taught her to accept that other dogs do live on this planet. Most importantly, Carmella became the most stable constant in my life.

While my family fell apart, I still had my Carmella. Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. My old support systems and everything I relied on for 20+ years were gone; it was exhausting just trying to hold it together. I found myself unable to speak to even my closest friends about what was happening, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Smirnoff stayed in business those years purely based off my loyalty. So as cliché as it sounds, Carmella was the most stable living being in my life. She needed me, and having her with me gave me something to be happy about and a reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  

These days, I go to Veterinary school in California, where Carmella and I now live. She has a 3-legged Labrador brother whom she adores. The five years we just endured will hopefully be the worst I ever go through, but somehow both Carmella and I came out on the other side joyful with our heads on straight. 

I’ve learned a lot about the importance and strength of the human-animal bond through Carmella. She will probably not be around for too many more years, as she is now 11 and not as healthy as she once was. Fortunately, she will always live on in how I treat my clients and their pets.  No matter how devilish an animal may be at the vet or how unique the relationship between the owner and pet may seem, I hope I always remember Carmella and how important our bond was. I hope throughout my career I always remember to not judge a situation by what is in front of me, because there is a story behind the relationship that I may not know. I will always offer people the best I can give no matter what, because their pet may be their closest friend and all they have.   

If you told me five years ago how much my life would change and that the dog mounting me and burying pizza in my closet would be the strongest rock to lean on during the tough times, I would’ve sincerely thought you were insane. Carmella and I are an unlikely pair, but we found comfort in each other. I’m not a big believer in fate, but I do think on some level something bigger brought Carmella into my life. She helped me persevere and find the strength to take care of myself and look forward to a brighter future during the dark days.

Thank you ARLP, specifically Laura, for forcing Carmella upon me. My dog’s love has shown me that it’s okay to fail at fostering. Sometimes you should.

Nicole Wyatt and her rescue dog Carmella live in California, where Nicole will be graduating from Veterinary school in 2014.