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By Shelley Murphy
August has gone to the dogs: This month celebrates the annual Clear the Shelters campaign, and National Dog Day is Aug. 26.
As far back as I can remember, my two boys wanted a dog.
I held out until my sons were a freshman and senior in high school. I know, it makes no sense. Maybe, I hoped a dog would entice my older son to leave his college dorm and return home to visit his furry friend.
Through the years when the subject of adopting a dog arose, my husband simply said, “No.”
This response uttered by a man who had never owned a dog—ever. The closest he came was his childhood pet lizard on a leash (that’s another story).
Determined to find our dog, my sons and I snuck out to several shelters. We settled on a Lab-mix who stole our hearts with her beautiful big brown eyes. My sons named her Lilikoi (Lili) Cujo.
At the shelter, we were warned that Lili had been abused. The monster(s) who’d hurt and traumatized her left scars.
When we raised a hand to pet her head, she would duck or run. We weren’t deterred; instead, we were determined to love her and gain her trust.
On Jan. 31, 2012, they finally got their dog.
My boys knew they weren’t getting a basketball prodigy like Air Bud, but they hoped for something between an athletic pup and a leashed lizard.
The day of Lili’s homecoming, we realized we’d underestimated our challenge and our dog.
As we drove from the shelter, Lili began shaking like a leaf. Arriving home, she bolted from the car, ran into the street and hid underneath a nearby parked car.
My younger son’s friend, in a white T-shirt, shimmied on his stomach under the car and rescued her.
We tried consoling her that day and night, but our united efforts failed.
The following morning, as I stood in the kitchen, I saw Lili digging in the backyard.
At first, I was relieved and thought she was marking her spot. But, upon second glance, I realized she was on a mission like an escapee from Alcatraz.
I ran into the backyard just as she ducked her head under the iron fencing and pulled her back into our yard.
I learned that morning she is persistent; it’s perhaps her most marked trait.
On Day 3, Lili made her great escape and vanished. My husband, who didn’t want the dog, searched more than anyone, spending hours and days in the hills behind our home.
After three weeks of February’s freezing temperatures and hailstorms, my husband suggested we donate her dog food; I reluctantly agreed.
Hours later, Animal Control called; they’d found Lili burrowed in the hillside behind our house. Overjoyed, I raced to bring her home, but she didn’t share my enthusiasm.
Her return lasted one night. The dogged fugitive disappeared again the next day.
Dejected, we realized she was likely gone for good.
The next morning, my older son opened the garage door, and there on the driveway sat the escapist.
From that day forward, she flatly refused to leave the house.
My sons and I tried to get her outside, but soon admitted defeat.
My husband, however, devoted every morning and evening to connecting the leash to her collar and standing on the driveway, literally inching toward the sidewalk.
Perhaps my husband’s most marked trait is his patience.
Eventually, her persistence gave way to his patience, and after nine months, they ventured on the first of innumerable walks together.
Today, they are inseparable, and Lili tolerates the rest of us. In the evenings, Lili waits for the sound of my husband’s car, then races toward it with Air Bud’s agility.
Adopting a dog is a major responsibility—just ask my husband.
But it also delivers great rewards; their bond of loyalty, companionship, and affection is unbreakable.
Turns out, you can teach old dogs new tricks.
For more than 20 years, Shelley Murphy and her husband have lived in San Clemente, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to Picket Fence Media since 2006.