My Greatest Risk (and Biggest Reward): Why Rescuing My Dog Was the Best Decision I Ever Made

Minutes after the adoption coordinator introduced us to Freya, all I could think was, “This was a mistake.”

The little red dachshund launched into a nonstop barking/whining combination; the fervor and pitch of her objections made it sound like I was torturing her, not saving her.

My husband, Jerry, and I volunteer for a dachshund rescue and we’d agreed to foster Freya while she recovered from surgery for intervertebral disc disease, a back injury that left her without bladder or bowel control or the use of her back legs. Our role: Shuttle her to acupuncture and hydrotherapy appointments and do physical therapy exercises at home until she was ready to be adopted. Changing doggie diapers and running a rehab clinic proved to be the easiest part of her care.

Freya also had severe anxiety. The high-pitched incessant bark/whine combo that we heard on the night she arrived at our house turned into the soundtrack of my life. We quickly learned that Freya preferred Jerry and her anxiety increased exponentially when she wasn’t by his side. Jerry put Freya in a doggie backpack and carried her around while he ran errands or did chores on our farm.

“It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months for the typical dog to settle into a new home with new people and other pets and their routines,” explains Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, and global science advocacy senior manager for Mars Petcare. “Positive reinforcement will help a new dog warm up to their new family members more quickly and learn about their new home.”

I continued trying to win her over but no amount of snuggling, sweet talk, or treats that I offered provided any comfort. Despite not having any use of her back legs, Freya could scramble across the room to get away from me and closer to Jerry. Her anxiety was so disruptive to my work-from-home routine that I took calls in my car!

Courtesy of Jodi Helmer

We slowly started having a lot of little wins: Freya loved to be on the move; she raced along the sidewalk in her wheelchair, keeping up with her “brothers” as we circled the blocks; she whined less and explored more, barking at chickens in the pasture and sniffing around the entire perimeter of the yard; and, eventually, she objected less to spending time with me.

“As a dog becomes more comfortable with their new home and family, you can notice that they start anticipating routines like for mealtimes, walks, and bedtime,” Hughes adds.

As Freya’s foster parents, it was our job to introduce her to potential adopters. When her first adoption application came in, we dressed her in a pretty sweater and matching diaper and took her to meet the family. On the way home, we came up with a million reasons why they weren’t the right fit and it immediately became clear that Freya had already found her forever family; she belonged with us.

Freya must have sensed that she was home to stay. Very quickly after we made her an official part of our pack, everything changed. She started taking a few—very wobbly—steps and now she’s running; she’s regained bladder control and ditched the diapers; and she even started seeking me out to snuggle.

“Many dogs will become your shadow and will follow you from room to room as you move around the house because they just want to be with you,” Hughes says. “If they can, many choose to be touching you—either in your lap, next to you on the couch, or sleeping at your feet.”

Freya is still a big barker, letting us know when dog food is delivered, the chickens are in the garden, or she wants to be picked up. But she’s no longer barking because she’s feeling anxious or afraid. In fact, she’s happy and relaxed—and spunky, too. It’s a big turnaround from the broken, fearful dog that arrived at our house seven months ago.

Wilbur and Freya posing for the camera
Courtesy of Jodi Helmer

So, when the rescue coordinator called a few weeks ago to ask if we’d foster another anxious, paralyzed dachshund named Wilbur, we only had to look at Freya to know it was the right decision. Wilbur is currently scooting around the house in his diaper, whining and frantically looking for Jerry. Thanks to Freya, this time we were totally prepared.