The last two days Cooper has been taking good care of me. I started thinking a lot about how far he's come in just two months and how he even ended up with us in the first place. I saw Cooper on Petfinder a lot for about a year (maybe longer), he stood out because he looked like Tilly but I was never particularly interested in him. I don't know why I finally decided to send his profile to Edwin but I'm glad I did. I know it sounds corny but I kind of feel like he was waiting for us. I got really introspective tonight and wrote this.
"I want to talk to talk about Cooper, but to talk about Cooper I have to talk about Tilly. One of my earliest memories takes place in a shelter. I used to remember it so vivdly but I haven't thought about it in so long, the details are becoming fuzzy. I remember a chain link fence, the ground was either grass or gravel, maybe both, but most importantly I remember two puppies. Two puppies playing together in a tiny fenced in area, one blue one red, chasing each other in circles. I pointed at the blue one and said "that one." That's where the memory ends. There's no before or after, just that little yard, those two puppies and me picking the blue one. I was three or four and that little blue puppy and I grew up together.
My mom says we went straight to the local pet store and people kept stopping us to tell us what a beautiful blue heeler we had. My parents had never even heard of a blue heeler. She said they bought a few books and read as much about the breed as they could. They learned that the dogs were Australian and decided to name her "Waltzing Matilda" to honor her roots. I didn't know any of this until recently, I just knew we called her Tilly.
Tilly was beyond special, even people who didn't like dogs liked Tilly. Tilly ran countless miles with my parents. My parents were both competitive runners and my dad says that Tilly would run 100 miles a week with him. We had to be careful, we always had to spell out "R-U-N" in our house, otherwise Tilly would go crazy and wait excitedly by the front door. It wasn't herding cattle but running was her job and she loved it. Everyone in the local running community knew Tilly. She was there for us almost until I graduated high school when in less than a week a sudden and unknown illness took her from us. We took her to a specialist hoping to find answers but she was in pain with no answers readily available so we made a hard decision in her best interests. I remember that day with almost perfect clarity but that's not relevant to this story.
What is relevant is Tilly's spirit. She was intelligent and loyal and up for anything as long as she got to be with us. Tilly has been and will always be the epitome of dogs in my mind. I likely look back at my time with Tilly through rose colored glasses. I don't remember her puppyhood where she likely was hard to housetrain. I don't remember the times where she was probably under stimulated and destroyed everything in sight. I don't remember how difficult she was for my parents, who were first time heeler havers, to train. I just remember the end result of all the struggle and hard work and how amazingly it all paid off.
Tilly is how Cooper came to us. Having a dog was almost a part of my identity and when I was finally in a place where I felt I was ready for a dog of my own I really wanted a heeler. Through a series of events we ended up with a pug. A pug was the last dog I thought I'd end up with but he has turned out to be an incredible companion and I can't begin to imagine my life without George. At the time he was exactly what we needed. We lived in an apartment, we worked long hours and weren't especially active in our time off. As time went on and our circumstances changed I started getting that heeler itch again.
I frequently looked at Petfinder, searching for heelers and falling in love but the time was never right for one reason or another. About a year ago I was casually cruising Petfinder when a happy heeler face jumped out at me. "He's cute," I thought, "he kind of looks like Tilly!" I read about him and moved on. I looked at other dogs, fantasizing about the day when we were ready to add another dog to the family. I sent a few to Edwin, thinking maybe this was the one but we both always agreed the time wasn't right. The middle of that summer I found out I needed surgery to repair my hip that had been injured years prior. With my upcoming surgery and recovery I knew that another dog was out of the question but I kept looking just for fun. That happy heeler face was ever present on Petfinder.
After my surgery I started searching Petfinder again hoping to find the perfect heeler to help me get back in running shape. Happy heeler was ever present but for some reason I always dismissed him. I sent Edwin many dogs and still we agreed the time wasn't right. About four months into my recovery I did my regular search on Petfinder and there was happy heeler face as always, but this time something connected. On a whim, I sent his profile to Edwin. He immediately replied and said to talk to our landlord. I didn't think he was serious but he started wondering what our camping trips would be like with two dogs and speculating about our new life with four more paws. This was new, usually when I sent dog profiles I was met with "cute" and nothing more. We talked it over, spoke with the landlord, contacted the rescue and decided to go meet happy heeler face.
On our way to our first meet and greet we excitedly talked about how great it was going to be for George to have a brother and for me to have a running buddy the whole way there. Our first meeting was anything but great. Our happy heeler excitedly leapt out of the shelter into the yard living up to everything that we had seen and been told, we were eleated! He ran over to us, sniffed our shoes, looked up at us....and ran away. He was terrified. We took a break and tried again in a different area but he still wouldn't get close to either one of us. We spoke to the rescue coordinator and decided to come back and try again but we left completely heartbroken.
We remained positive and made another appointment to try again but I wasn't feeling great about it. This dog, who looked so much like the dog that shaped my life and formed my perception of what a dog should be, didn't like me, he was afraid of me. "It's not going to work," I thought. "Why should I try to force a relationship with a dog that is clearly terrified of me?" Edwin was in love with this dog though so I decided to keep these thoughts to myself and try again. We arrived to the second appointment, this time with George. The rescue thought that if happy heeler saw another dog interacting with us he'd be more willing to give us a chance. Meeting number two went much better, but I still didn't feel good about it. We scheduled a third meeting where the two dogs could play off leash. The third meeting went great so the happy heeler, Cooper, came home for a trial.
I was incredibly nervous. How could we be expected to integrate this dog, who wouldn't even let us touch him two weeks ago, into our lives? That first week and a half was awful. Cooper wouldn't eat, wouldn't go outside and would cower in fear any time we walked in his direction with an object in our hands. He barely slept and spent most of his time panting and pacing. We were so convinced that he hated us and being with us that we called the rescue with our hearts fully broken and our minds firmly made up that he had to go back. We were certain that he was miserable and would never be happy in our home, we thought we were acting in his best interest to give him back. After probably close to three hours on the phone with the rescue we still weren't fully convinced he could be happy with us but we agreed to try some different approaches. I still wasn't convinced that he'd be a good fit for our family but Edwin seemed to love him so I decided to try.
We followed the instructions given to us by the rescue and Cooper began to come out of his shell. Even though we were still nervous around him we started taking him on walks in the park and to the local dog park and amazingly he began to flourish. The more we got him out of his comfort zone the better he adjusted to life outside of the shelter. With each day Cooper improved exponentially and we finally began to know the happy heeler we saw on Petfinder.
Cooper is three years old. He has been at the shelter for two years. For two thirds of his life he's lived in a kennel surrounded by 30 other barking dogs with insufficient mental stimulation and outlet for his energy. He came from an amazing rescue organization, they take better care of their dogs than any rescue I've ever seen, but even they said that their environment is not a healthy one for any dog long term. They're volunteer run and give their dogs as much outside time as they possibly can but are understandbly limited by their resources. They do amazing work with the resources they have.
It was hard at first but I am so grateful that they took the time to educate us on dog behavior and where Cooper came from and asked us to give him more time. Someone did a number on Cooper and he just needed someone to give him the opportunity to see that not all people are bad. This dog that was terrified of men, going outside and even eating in our home now does a full slide into the back door every morning to go out, a happy dance at breakfast and dinner, and tonight he even slipped out of the front door to say hi to the man delivering our food. I feel guilty now that I waited so long to contact the rescue that had Cooper. I also feel that maybe he was waiting for us to be ready for him. I wonder if that similarity to Tilly that I saw in him is what drove my hesitation to let him in. He looks like Tilly and I wonder if I was scared that he wouldn't live up to her, or worse, that he would take her place in my heart.
My parents struggled with Tilly and we are going to struggle with Cooper. He's only been with us for two months so we're at the beginning of our struggle and hard work but I see Tilly's spirit in him. He won't ever be Tilly, it's not fair to any dog to expect them to live up to the standards of your childhood hero. He can live up to those standards in his own way though. I see the good dog in Cooper. I could always see the good dog in Cooper, I think I was just scared to open my heart. He's got a long way to go but I know that if we put in the work with him like my parents did with Tilly he'll be amazing. Tilly was the dog that made my childhood, and I feel in my heart that Cooper is going to be the Tilly of my adulthood."
About Tyson’s Chance Animal Foundation
Tyson’s Chance Animal Foundation Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit animal rescue based in Shelbyville, KY. Our primary focus is the rescue of special needs animals.
A majority of our adoptable animals are seniors, medical cases, and those with social or behavioral issues. We also provide hospice care to terminally ill animals who have been relinquished to shelters or given up by their owners.
Tyson’s Chance rescues all breeds, sizes, ages, and temperaments. We love to heal the sick, rehabilitate the misunderstood, and provide safe haven for those in their golden years.
Tyson's Chance is a special needs animal rescue located in Shelbyville, Ky. Our focus is seniors, medical, behavior, and hospice cases.
Nine years ago within a small boarding and training facility in Shelbyville, KY, a very special organization got its start. The owner of the boarding business was passionate about rescue work and several areas in her facility were dedicated to rescuing dogs and cats. A group of likeminded animal lovers became involved and wanted to see this idea grow into something more. One evening a large, beautiful pit bull from another rescue checked in to stay at the facility and take part in the training program. His name was Tyson and the rest is history. The demand for rescue work was high and it was decided a separate entity should be formed under the same roof to support this lifesaving mission. Tyson’s Chance was born. The mission was to help with the less adoptable animals, and it quickly became apparent that those would be seniors, behavior cases, and medical cases. The program grew, and grew so quickly that within a few years the owner relocated her business so the entire facility could be dedicated to saving lives.
The work at Tyson’s Chance has been so successful because of having the facility we now call home. Home to over a thousand animals that have temporarily lived here with us while searching for their forever families, home to many that were sick or old and never found a place outside of these special walls, home to some that can’t be adopted out because of the things that we feel makes them special. Any animal that comes through our doors is home.
We are so blessed to have this facility and to have rented from a very special landlord all these years that believes in us and has allowed us to make it our home. Now we have the opportunity to purchase our home and truly make it our own! We need your help now more than ever. This project means everything to us! Not only purchasing the facility, but remodeling it is going to make such a big difference in our program. Tyson’s Chance can do more lifesaving work and improve the quality of life for our long term residents and medical cases by completing this project. Please stay tuned for opportunities and information on helping us make our home our forever home.