The Good Life: An Unexpected Journey Through Dog Rescue and Adoption.

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

Any Damn Thing Can Happen: An Unexpected Journey Through Dog Rescue and Adoption.

A friend once said to me after a shocking turn of events in her life, “Any damn thing can happen.” The more revolutions I make around the sun, the more evidence I see of this understated truism. It is apparent in happenings both life-changing and unremarkable. Sometimes you win the lottery; sometimes the socks match up. Life after 40 is a game of chance, not skill. With luck, you will get to 50 on the right side of the grass, but along the way, you will be surprised again and again.

I wasn’t raised with pets; My mother thought they were dirty and quite possibly disease carriers.  My dad tried a few times, once bringing home a crazed Irish Setter named Fitz from a “friend.” I screamed at his arrival, and refused to leave my perch on the back of the sleeper sofa until that Tasmanian devil was locked up and sent away in an extradition vehicle. Years later, my brother convinced my father that he would take care of a dog if he would only give him a chance. My dad gave him the chance, he lost interest as kids do, and my dad took care of that dog until the day she died. I was afraid she would hurt me, and didn’t know how to even begin a relationship with an energetic, 4–legged lightning bolt, so I stayed far away. She became my dad’s dog, and I went on into self-absorbed pre-adolescence, not having to take care of anything or anyone.

Fast forward 35 years, and I am a humbled mother of 3 who has seen her share of critters. We’ve hosted goldfish, hamsters, a gecko, and even a hedgehog. Then the inevitable. The children wanted a dog. They promised to take care of the dog’s every need if we would, “only give [them] a chance.” My husband had a childhood dog he loved, but he balked at the projected cost of care over the pooch’s lifetime. My risk-averse neighbor, Tom, said, “Do you know that it costs $30,000 to raise a dog over its lifetime?”  That was all my husband needed to hear. No dog. I wasn’t a willing caregiver either, given my lack of desire and experience with canine companions. I also felt busy (overwhelmed, really) with kids, laundry, work, and the heavy trappings of family responsibility. Ironically, my brother-in-law needed someone to take care of his 9-year-old boxer as he and his young family moved into an apartment that didn’t allow dogs. My family was over the moon with this development, and quickly mobilized to take in this deserving doggo.

Knowing the arrangement of care would be shared, I was able to get my head around taking her in.  She was house trained, elderly, and smart. Home she came. She only lived a year before she was overtaken by a terrible growth in her belly, but she lingered with us, long after she died. After she had been gone a year, we began taking in foster dogs one at a time for a local rescue. It seemed the antidote for the empty space she left behind. It was rewarding work that required little other than affection and daily care. The rescue paid all food and vet costs, we just had to be willing, and able, to give them up. Most stayed a few months. Some just weeks. It was always exciting to get a new arrival, but extremely hard on some members of the family as they became attached to one dog or another. I began to feel the strain of taking dogs to meet their new owners, only to be asked to take them back after a few days when the arrangement wasn’t a good fit. My youngest was nine years old at the time, and we saw him benefit from the security life with a dog somehow gave him. He felt good with a dog in the house. We all did.

I began looking at dogs online at places like, which seems like a great big doggie dating site upon first blush. So many deserving dogs! Which one to choose? I learned a lot in those months (yes, months). Here are the highlights:

  1. Just because there is a dog with a heart-tugging photo and a sad story does not mean that you can adopt that dog. Many of the dogs are already spoken for by one and sometimes many would-be adopters. The only way to even get close to one of these pups is to already have your paperwork in place, which leads me to:
  2. When you fill out the paperwork to adopt, you are really only filling out an application to potentially adopt through that particular rescue. You may or may not be added to the list of their worthy adoptive families. Some rescues won’t let you adopt if you don’t have a fenced yard. Other rescues won’t let you adopt if you are away more than 3 hours per day. Still others won’t let you adopt if you have kids….or don’t have kids. However, once you have paperwork accepted by a few rescues, and you see dogs on their Facebook pages (usually more current on what new dogs are available), you can inquire about dogs without waiting for approval. You are pre-approved! It is better this way. Really. The rescue people get to know you over some phone calls, and you will develop a trusting relationship. They really want what’s best for the dogs. The greatest rescues will also understand what works best for you. These are also the ones that will return your calls. Many don’t.
  3. Descriptions like “Has the basics of potty training” means, “knows how to pee”…not where. Enough said.
  4. Lots of dogs are rescued from the south, and you sometimes have to agree to adopt without meeting the dog first. I would not adopt a dog I hadn’t met first, but my risk-averse neighbor Tom did. It worked out great. Go figure.
  5. Be really honest about what kind of “dog energy” your family can manage. The kids will want a playful, high-energy companion. Remember that you are the primary caregiver of that animal no matter what the kids promise. They mean well. You know better. There is no shame at all in adopting a low energy dog. There are LOTS of “senior” dogs, meaning dogs older than 6 that still have 6-8 years of living to do. Have a 12–year old? Perfect timing for a senior dog.
  6. We have our forever dog now. We found her through For the Love of Labs (which has all dogs, not just labs) based in Connecticut. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Our girl was found under a porch in Alabama with puppies. She was scared of loud sounds, cars, wood floors, and stairs. They reassured us that she would make slow, steady progress. She has.  ny damn thing can happen.


Sarah Mattison Buhl

As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.

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