As is the case with many of the owners that I interviewed for this project, Vanessa is a devoted Mighty Mutts volunteer. In 2007, she was enrolled in Animal Behavior College’s dog training program. Part of the requirement was to volunteer at a shelter/rescue organization. Her mentor and trainer, Kate Perry (www.kateperrydogtraining.com), introduced her to Mighty Mutts. She’s been helping out there ever since.
After a few years with the organization, and falling in love with countless dogs, she met Izzy. Izzy came to Mighty Mutts after Kathy Galloti saw her wandering on the streets in Brooklyn and decided it was up to her to take action. “I remember that morning so clear,” Kathy said. “Everyone was saying she was loose, but no one was doing anything about it. I happened to have my dog’s leash in my bag because he was at the vet, so I got down in a squat and called to her.” Kathy was surprised that she came over since she thought that Izzy was an outdoor, stray based on her shaggy coat. “She didn’t have a collar, so I had to use the leash as a lasso. She was afraid to walk with me and she tried to slip out of the lasso several times.”
Kathy walked Izzy over to the local vet, but there was no ER clinic. So, she called John over at Mighty Mutts and met him at a vet in Bensonhurst where she turned Izzy over to him and the organization. “I would have taken her in myself,” said Kathy, “but at the time I already had four dogs and many cats.” John understood, and took Izzy inside. “That was the last I saw of her.” After being cleared by the vet, John introduced Izzy to Mighty Mutts. But, according to Vanessa, there was something different about this dog. She had never known a dog to act so aloof and disengaged when it came to any type of human interaction. She decided that this was a dog she needed to foster and rehabilitate in order to prepare her for a forever home. Timing was everything according to Vanessa. “When the last recession hit, I was home a lot more and realized I could probably foster a dog.”
Once she got Izzy home, there were definitely some challenges. “She was a little skittish. She was scared of men, loud noises, balloons, skateboards, etc. She would bark at all of these even though they are very common in New York.” Within a few weeks, however, Vanessa began to notice a change in Izzy. She began to calm down and be more trusting of humans, especially Vanessa. Little did she know that the attraction would grow so strong that even the thought of giving her up to a new family would tug so hard at her heartstrings. Izzy soon became the first dog that Vanessa could call her own. So, how is Izzy doing now? “She is comfortable 99% of the time.” According to Vanessa. “She is the true definition of man’s best friend.” In fact, she has come to love men now, especially the doormen in Vanessa’s building who are always there to give Izzy love. “She has truly grown so much.”
Growing up, all of Vanessa’s pets were either rescued or adopted. But Izzy is the first dog that she has had on her own. Now, she says that she cannot remember her life before Izzy and doesn’t want to imagine it without her. “Izzy is my baby girl. There could not have been a better match for me. I feel like Izzy chose me and not the other way around.” When asked how adopting Izzy has impacted her life, Vanessa said that “on any given day, no matter what it brings, I know I will go home to a warm welcome from Izzy. She greets me the same way each and every day. She is waiting at the door with her tail wagging and beaming with excitement.
She runs around the apartment wiggling and we play. I am reminded each day that this beautiful, gentle, and soulful creature relies on me, and only me.” Vanessa says that this mutual dependency on one another is what keeps her going even when she is exhausted. “If she wants to play, or if it is the middle of the night and she wakes me up because she needs to go out, I remember most of all how much she gives me in return.” She would do anything for Izzy. In fact, she is about to sign Izzy up at Water 4 Dogs to get her swimming and exercising to hopefully help with a thyroid condition. “Izzy has made me laugh and has made me forget about the day’s worries the minute I walk in the door for the past five years.” She gives Vanessa so much joy and is a constant reminder of how rewarding this whole experience has been. I asked Vanessa if she would ever do this again: “1000%. I would adopt again and again.”
I asked Vanessa about Mighty Mutts and how their process works. Since she has been a volunteer for a number of years, she knows firsthand that Mighty Mutts (and Ollie’s Place) have a rigorous process set in place to make sure that each and every animal finds their forever home. “Mighty Mutts does a thorough screening process to assess that each individual animal is the best fit for each home. Other rescues may give animals to people on the spot without asking them the right questions. We have a questionnaire, phone interview and home visit(s). If the home has children or other animals, it is specifically addressed during one or more home visits. We check balconies and windows and ask about lifestyle and work schedules.” She says that the questions are asked in a way that truly strives to assess if the animal will be cared for now and in the future. Unfortunately, the screening process cannot account for the unforeseen circumstances that sometimes happen.
During her time at Mighty Mutts, Vanessa has seen adoptions not work. The difference between Mighty Mutts and other organizations, according to Vanessa, is that “the Mighty Mutts adoption paperwork states that if the adopter, for any reason, has to give the animal up, he or she must return the animal back to Mighty Mutts.” Vanessa said thatshe has heard of many places that refuse to take animals back, even if it is just after a day. Vanessa could recall at least two occasions where she has seen dogs come back after being with families for years. “Mighty Mutts took them back with open arms and made sure to work tirelessly to rehome them.”
Vanessa had one more thing to add about John, the founder of Mighty Mutts: “John cares about these animals and their well- being like no one I have ever seen. This man has dedicated his life and heart to all the animals that need him. I feel blessed to know him. He is a true hero.”
Vanessa…To Izzy, you’re a hero. And it seems as if in some way, she has saved you too.