Welcome Home, Shylah! 48 Hours with my Rescue Dog

I have a new puppy. She came with the name ‘Vienna’ which felt dishonest. I’ve never been to Vienna, never particularly wanted to go to Vienna. And honesty matters. My puppy is a rescue dog. She deserves my best self.

Shylah is a ten-month-old rescue dog from Playa, Mexico. When I was a kid, they called her breed a Heinz-57. Lately I’ve been hearing Mexi-mutt. Whatever your chosen term, Shylah has many families of origin. German shepherd, labrador retriever and hound have been spotted so far. She has legs and paws more reminiscent of a deer than a dog. And, in case I forget to mention it later, she is gorgeous.

Dirty long haired St. Bernard
Goliath, 167 pounds of St. Bernard

My History with Dogs

It is unusual for me to adopt a dog like Shylah. I’ve done some work in Mexico and in remote northern Canadian communities, like Bella Bella, Innuvik and Yellowknife. Dogs like Shylah were everywhere and they scared me. Rail thin, running in packs and scrounging for food, these dogs seemed feral. I steered a wide berth.

With the single exception of a rescue dog from a local shelter, my dog history is filled with registered purebreds–four Saint Bernards and a golden retriever. The Saints died young, as very large breed dogs are wont to do.  My rescue dog, Kodee, was wonderful but also gone early with a paralyzed throat and a tumour in his belly.

Dog cautiously stalking rabbit
Rescue dog Kodee cautiously stalking Blackie the rabbit. Don’t worry. If he got too close, Blackie hit him in the nose.

The golden retriever, Lexi, needs a paragraph of her own. I adopted her a year and a half ago when she was seven weeks old. She turned out to be the antithesis of everything I’d expected from a golden. I imagined loving and loyal but got dominant and nipping, a working dog not a companion. I had the good fortune to meet Linda, a local dog behaviorist who helped me enormously and who became a good friend. Linda introduced me to her friends and together they have welcomed me into a warm and vital community of dog lovers. Nevertheless, despite everyone’s herculean efforts, I decided to return Lexi to her breeder when she was seven months old.

I was raw after Lexi–the death of a dream will do that to you–and took some time off. On occasional walks with my new dog-loving friends, I reverted to my schoolteacher role–counting to ensure that all of the dogs stayed with us on rambles through the woods; knowing that none of them would be leaping into the backseat of my SUV at the end of the walk. I thought it would be years before I got another dog.

Recovery Dog Charlotte

Then came Charlotte, what my sister referred to as my ‘rent-a-dog.’ The label isn’t quite accurate, no money ever changed hands. But for the last six months, every weekday from noon to two, my heart has gone for a walk with my neighbour’s chocolate lab puppy.

Eight-months-old in just a few days, Charlotte is everything that I dreamt Lexi would be. She is fun and friendly, smart and playful, trusting and loyal. Rather than a rent-a-dog, Charlotte has been my recovery dog. Loving her has confirmed for me that I do have the patience, understanding and skill to be a good person for a dog. After Lexi, I wasn’t so sure.

Being with Charlotte also reinforced my discontent with the maiden aunt role. I don’t want to love a dog and not be there to raise her. It became increasingly difficult to run and play with Charlotte and then give her back to her family. I told my neighbour that at the end of this week, I’d have to stop. Being with Charlotte was breaking my heart just like Lexi, albeit for a different and far more positive reason.Rescue dog Shylah in arms of shelter volunteer

Finding Shylah

Have you ever noticed that when you are ready for something, confirmatory signs are everywhere? For the past three weeks every book I’ve read has had a dog in a starring role, even when the book ostensibly had nothing to do with dogs. Television commercials with dogs have caught my attention. I have haunted Petfinder and Adoptapet websites. I was more than ready for a dog in my life, but anxious. After Lexi I could not afford another mistake, financially or emotionally.

Shylah was on Petfinder through DIBS (dogs in better spots) Rescue. Her photo on the site (to the right) spoke to me, as did the description of her as shy and in need of a quiet home. The people I talked with at DIBS, from Candice to foster mom Ashley, were keen to get her into her forever home quickly but didn’t shortcut any of the necessary steps. They worked hard over a forty-eight hour period to review my application, conduct a 45-minute phone interview, contact my veterinarian and three references, inspect my home, and arrange for me to meet my pup.

DIBS partners with, among others, Playa Animal Rescue in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Shylah has been in their care since she was found on the streets at two months of age. She flew to Canada just under two weeks ago, a traumatic experience, I imagine, especially for a timid, fearful girl. But I am so glad she made the trip.

The First 24 Hours

There has been lots of heartbreak mentioned in this post. These early days with Shylah are no exception. For the first twenty-four hours (from noon on Sunday), she was completely shut down. Her bed in my library and crate in my bedroom were life rafts to her in the midst of shark-infested waters. She left her bed on Sunday afternoon for bits of cooked chicken, but only if she could keep her back paws firmly planted in her safe zone.  The occasional tail thump and millisecond of eye contact were hard-won victories.

On Monday, Shylah left the safety of her bed to eat from my hand then hightailed it back to her nest. She had been eating kibble and drinking water, but was reluctant to go outside. I didn’t have the proper collar and leash to encourage her participation so ended up carrying her. Outside, she quaked and shivered until permitted to bolt back to her bed. Still, we were making progress. I got longer eye contact, more interest in what I was doing, and lots more tail thumping. Yes!

The Second 24 Hours

When I’m especially stressed, I want to be left alone with candy, BBQ chips and a good book. Unsure, however, of how long I should leave Shylah afloat on her raft, I asked Linda (dog behaviorist friend) to come over on Monday evening to help.

I find experts impressive to watch and learn from. Linda is no exception. In a couple of hours, she showed me how to use a newly-purchased slip leash to get Shylah out of her bed, walk the halls with me and even, occasionally, sit when I stopped moving. We practiced going through doors and a sedate return to bed.

Most important, Linda explained that our very human desire to soothe a timid dog reinforces the very fear we are trying to alleviate. While it can take a long time for an adopted dog to settle into a new home, I can’t allow ‘shutdown’ to be Shylah’s default setting. My job with my rescue dog is to teach her that I’ve got her; to be confident enough for both of us that, with my help, she will overcome her fears.

It is early afternoon on Tuesday as I finish this post. We have been on three walks this morning, each a half-hour or longer. Sometimes Shylah darts or balks at the end of the leash, overwhelmed by the smells and sights of my country property. She skitters away from twigs on the ground, running water in the stream, and the wide wooden bridge that crosses it. Most of the time when we are outside, her tail is tucked to her belly, back legs are shaking, and one front paw is raised. When we return to the house, we practice again and again not rushing the door or the bed.

Two rescue puppies
Shylah (on right) with her sister Bruschetta in the early days at the shelter. Bruschetta is still looking for her forever home.

I said that it is heartbreaking to witness Shylah’s fear. But it’s a different kind of heartbreak than I experienced with Lexi or with Charlotte. The sadness I feel for Shylah is sweet and pure because she is mine and I am going to get her through this. This morning she took one little drink from the stream. Yes! She crossed the bridge half a dozen times. All right! She walked beautifully on the leash for maybe thirty-five minutes total across the three walks. Amazing! She sits up and looks around now when in her bed. What a smart, curious puppy! I am smitten.

Being There for a Rescue Dog, Cat or Rabbit

Rescue organizations and shelters do great work. Dedicated volunteers care for animals and escort them to their new homes, sometimes far from where they were born. They make those trips after other volunteers conduct phone interviews and do reference checks in the evenings or on Saturday morning after a full week at work.

Still others take their old sheets and towels into their local Humane Society, like new Profound Journey member Janis just wrote about in a recent post. Or they visit their local shelter to walk dogs or pet cats. Or they donate food, toys, beds, or money.

On Wednesday evening, as I review this post one more time, Shylah is on a mat beside my desk. Her dish with kibble and some delectable bits of chicken is maybe five feet away. She really wants that chicken but walking through those shark-infested waters to get to it is a little more than she can handle right now. I make a little trail of chicken from Shylah to her dish. Each time she ventures forth, she goes a little bit further. Each time she scurries back to her mat, she moves a little bit closer to me. Shylah and I are at the very beginning of a long journey, one that will include both progress and setbacks. I already can’t imagine life without her.

Under the signature line on her emails, DIBS foster mom Candice has “Rescue is my favourite breed.” Me too, Candice. Me too.

Do you have a dog/cat/rabbit/guinea pig that you love, rescued or otherwise? Are you involved in any way with rescue organizations or shelters? Please share in the comments below or in your own tribe story. I’ll be providing an update about Shylah in a few weeks. Stay tuned for the Adventures of Shylah the Wonder Dog, Part II.







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  1. Great read. I too am adopting 2 rescue dogs mar 25 for the first time after 3 English Bulldogs and one pug. They too are mexi mutts and are mother and son. I am excited but nervous about their arrival. I know it will be different and must be patient. I lost my pug in Oct of 2016 and was so heartbroken I thought never again but the house is so empty without him… So many dogs that need rescuing I just couldn’t go the purebred designer dog route again. We should keep in touch!

  2. Trish, so happy to hear about your upcoming rescue! A mother and son, wow! I’ve always heard that it’s difficult to adopt two dogs together because they stay bonded to each other rather than to their humans. On the other hand, two of my Saints were brother and sister and I don’t remember that being a huge problem. Tough to know with Saints, of course. They’re not the most active or involved dog in the world. They do a LOT of sleeping.
    In any case, I’m sure that forearmed with knowledge and experience, you’ll figure it all out. I’d love to keep in touch. I’m not much into social media, other than Pinterest, but can easily be reached either through this site in the comments section of posts or, directly, via my email karen@profoundjourney.com. I’ll be thinking about you, Trish. How lucky your rescues are to be coming to a home where you are already looking forward to them with such positive anticipation. Let’s definitely stay in touch.

    1. Ah yes, when I was on your site I spotted a cat reposing on a console table in your home. It looks as if your rescue cats are definitely living the life, Susan. Good on you!

  3. Congratulations Karen and hang on for a great ride. From my own experience this dog is with you to teach you more about yourself than Shylah. You have met Jasper, he is six now, he was one when we got him. We had some really hard work ahead of us, which I didn’t realize when we adopted him. But I can tell you with much certainty, the hard work pays off. I am so proud of him, and very proud of myself. If I can offer any help, it is try really hard for the first while to do the opposite of what you really really want to do. This will be hard for you, better for the dog and before you know it she will trust you and the love you have for her will be amazing. Once again congratulations, she is beautiful…

  4. How right you are, Donna. I’ve already learned a lot about myself, but the biggest lesson came last night/this morning. Last night I brought Shylah in from her last pee before bed. The wind was fierce and she was terrified, dancing and darting on the leash. We came inside, I took her to the laundry room and sat with her hoping she’d eat. Over the next ten minutes, Shylah sat closer and closer to me until she was almost in my lap. I stroked her a bit then kept my fingers extended, waiting to see if she’d initiate a request for more just as Linda had taught me. And she did! We had a great few minutes and then she ate all of her dinner.
    So a big step forward, but the big learning for me came this morning. Shylah had been in her crate in my bedroom overnight but with the door open. This morning, when I was having breakfast, she ‘spoke’ for the first time – a single yip. I went along the hall and encouraged her to come out. No dice. Clearly too much too fast. So, thinking she needed to go outside, I got her slip leash and tried to put it on her. First time ever she moved her head from side to side and wanted nothing to do with the leash.
    My breakfast was getting cold and I realized that my energy was all wrong so I left the leash on the floor outside her crate and went back to my oatmeal. After breakfast and a shower, I got myself into a stronger, more assertive mindset and energy. I realized I’d been feeling so soft and full of love from last night’s great moment and that I was convincing myself that we’d won the war, not just a tiny little battle (wrong analogy, but I’m sure you get it). I definitely need to keep reminding myself that this, like so many worthwhile things in life, is a journey not an event.
    I went to Shylah with an entirely different energy, calm and assertive instead of soft and loving. She accepted the leash without a second’s hesitation.
    Thanks for your comment, Donna. I’m looking forward to Jasper and Shylah meeting when the time is right.

    1. Yay!!! Many more of those times to come. Jasper and I look forward to meeting Shylah when the time is right…

  5. I’m so glad you have a dog in your life again, Karen. I hope one day Shylah will meet my Tiearne, a gentle dog who lets puppies crawl all over her and chew her fur without complaint. To-day is Tiearne’s sixth birthday and I am reflecting on all the joy and laughter she has brought into our lives. It is nearly fifty years now since the first dog came into my life — and into my heart. I can no longer imagine going through a day without the companionship of dog. Is there heartbreak sometimes? You bet. But in the end the good times outweigh the bad. A dog, as Dr. Seuss might say, makes you think thinks you might never have thought. A dog attracts people, who become new friends. A dog makes you less selfish. And a dog makes you get up and go down the streets, across the fields, through the woods, seeing the world in a whole new way. I wish you joy in this new adventure.

    1. What a beautiful comment, Dinah. You have always had a way with words. I should know. You beat me at Scrabble often enough! Shylah will definitely meet Tiearne. Wishing her the happiest of birthdays today and an extra hedgehog treat because it’s a special day. Thanks so much for writing.

  6. Great to see you have a new “friend”. I’ll look forward to reading more about her in the coming weeks.
    She is a cute little girl.

  7. Shyla is gorgeous! Congratulations on your new partnership! After the November death of our Siberian-Husky, and beloved companion, Cody, my husband and I have not been ready to adopt a dog of our own. But we are volunteer dog-walkers at our local SPCA. The SPCA does incredible work. Since volunteering with them, I have been very impressed with their hard work and dedication to animals in need.

    1. It’s wise of you to wait, Donna. I also waited a couple of years after my Kodee died. Linda (dog behaviorist friend) would tell us both that adopting a new dog too soon after a beloved one passes away is a recipe for more heartache – for you and the dog. Apparently dogs pick on energy and your sadness about Cody would be communicated.
      In the meantime, it’s terrific that you and your husband can be volunteer dog-walkers for the SPCA.

  8. What a wonderful post Karen – and Shylah looks like a dear soul. I have a cat, Maggie, who was found in a dumpster when she was about 3 weeks old – I’ve had her ever since and never once regretted those nights and days of feeding her with a eye dropper. Knowing you, you’ll persevere and Shylah will grow into the incredible dog and friend she was meant to be.

    1. It’s just heartbreaking to imagine any animal tossed in a dumpster. It’s completely unimaginable that it would happen to Maggie, a cat with a great personality and love and affection to freely share. Your days and nights of feeding with an eyedropper have definitely paid off. Maggie is a great cat.

  9. A wonderful first chapter of Shylah’s new life. Everyday she will find her confidence because of you. I can’t wait to keep reading about her. I will email you some pictures of her first night in Canada.

    1. Hey everyone – This Candice is the volunteer I told you about from DIBS Rescue. She is responsible for me being able to adopt Shylah. Candice, I cannot thank you enough. And thank you for coming on this site to comment. Profound Journey was made for women like you.

  10. Confidence will come and sounds like you are doing a great job with her. Commitment and patience are what is needed for most rescues. Thank you for giving her a home full of love and patience. Good luck!

    1. Thank you, Caroline. It’s easy to be committed to such a wonderful little girl. I’m super patient right now. Knowing myself, I know that won’t be the case always, but I recognize how important it is to Shylah so unending patience is something I’m keen to acquire.

  11. Welcome home Shylah! You have found your forever home and I know when you spend enough time there you will never want to be anywhere else.

    I am so happy you wrote a post to welcome Shylah. Documenting these first days will make a wonderful post to look back on and remember the early days. I am sure Shylah will thrive under your care, Karen. You have Linda to help guide you and already you are making remarkable progress with your little girl.

    I, too, look forward to reading the next installment about Shylah the wonder pup to see how she is doing. Congratulations on choosing to rescue a dog and as I was saying on the phone when we talked…I think Shylah will rescue you right back. 😉

    1. You are so right, Susan – about everything. Shylah will indeed rescue me right back, and I am very happy to be documenting these early days. We’re having successes and setbacks and I know that later, when she willingly gets out of her bed or follows me somewhere or plays with a toy, I will have forgotten these days when she can’t do any of those things. She is so, so afraid, but she is trusting me a tiny bit more each day.

  12. I loved reading your story! You also communicated alot about yourself that I never even knew about you even after all these years. Enjoy your time with your new pet Shylah. She is very lucky to have you in her life.

  13. Shylah is adorable Karen. She needs a caring and committed owner like you. This is perfect for both of you. We have so much gratitude for what you have done for us and Charlotte. You got her through a tough puppy stage where I had to go to work… an aunty was needed and you were a fabulous one. Now she is able to be running the house out of her crate when we are away! Yes! We are so happy we were part of your dog journey and we wish you all the best in the making of your happy ending!

    1. Thanks so much, Laura. Shylah is such a different puppy from Charlotte, but I hope someday that she’ll be feeling strong and confident, knowing that she is loved just as much as Charlotte is loved by all of us.

  14. What a lovely story! It sounds like you have the love, kindness, and patience to care for Shylah and work with her so she’ll be the strong and confident pup she was meant to be. It breaks my heart to see animals who have been neglected or otherwise mistreated. They have so much love to give and they ask for so little. Thanks for the link to my blog! I hope it spreads the word about a way to simply and easily give assistance to local shelters.

  15. Thank you, Janis. The love and kindness are definitely there. Right now so is the patience, but that’s not my strongest personality trait! I’m sure Shylah will teach me that and so many other things. Every time I see a tiny bit of progress, my willingness to be patient, loving and kind increases. Yesterday was a red letter day! Shylah left her life raft in my library and came to her life raft in the living room so that she could be close to me. Yes!
    I’m very happy to link to your blog. Your article was excellent and,as you said, provided simple easy ideas for assistance to local shelters.
    Have a great weekend.

  16. Karen, your description of Shylah’s first 48 hours with you reminds me so much of when we brought home Sophie, our terrier mutt rescue dog. She was terrified to come into the house, trembling at every sound or movement. However, once she settled into our family, she became the most loving and loyal dog. We lost her to cancer two years ago just before Christmas and it was devastating.

    We also have 12-year-old Oliver, a rescue cat, a very loving guy, and Kate, our pampered blue heeler.

    Btw, this is my second attempt to write a comment; the first one disappeared when I hit the “post comment” button yesterday.


    1. Hi Jude. Thanks for trying a second time. No idea what would have happened the first time. A computer gremlin?
      How long did it take Sophie to settle into your family? Do you remember? I can only begin to imagine how hard it must have been to lose her. I already feel so connected to Shylah. It’s a very different bond from the one I formed with my other dogs, probably because Shylah is so afraid and needs me so much.

  17. I can’t remember for sure, but certainly the first week was most difficult for her. Another problem was that aside from weekends, there was no one home during the day, as I had to work, and my kids were in school. So Sophie stayed outside during the day (she had a doghouse that she refused to use) and my son would come home from school at lunch to spend time with her. The problem was that Sophie was an escape artist. I had a third of an acre that was fenced, but somehow she would manage to dig under the fence or squeeze through gaps and go off on excursions. I didn’t want to chain her (and the couple of times that I had to do so, she somehow got her collar off). Eventually, she realized that our home was her home and she decided to stay home rather than running off. There were some upsetting times when we thought we had lost her, though.


  18. Thanks for replying, Jude. Linda came over yesterday and helped us take her to the next step. Shylah was using her beds as an unhealthy sort of security blanket so we’ve taken them away. Now she sits on the carpeted floor near us and travels around the house with us as we do our various little jobs. It’s helping to bring her out of herself a bit more but that also means she seems fearful or at least uncertain more often than before. It helps to hear other people’s accounts of challenging early days. Very much appreciated, Jude.

  19. Such a great read! I really hope shylah is doing better each day. My husband and I adopted a puppy from DIBS as well (I believe a day before you got shylah) and we are experiencing similar timid behaviours. I would love to be in touch via email for some advice and maybe become in contact with your animal behaviorist friend?
    Thank you for writing this!

    1. That’s wonderful, Amanda! I’d love to be in touch with another DIBS dog adopter. And for sure I will share Linda’s contact information. She has been an absolute godsend. I will write to you via your email address.

    1. That’s awfully nice of you to say, Debbie, but I’m feeling pretty humbled by this puppy. She has gone through so much. As we paraded around the lower meadow this morning I was saying to her over and over, “I’m going to be with you forever, Shylah. You’re going to have a good life. You don’t need to worry about anything ever again.” I don’t think my words meant anything at all to her, but I felt I needed to say something because I’ve just been reading about the street dog problem in Mexico and it makes me ill to think of what she has gone through… and she is one of the few lucky ones.

  20. Great story, Karen! They do bring us such joy. I just lost my friend of 14yrs three weeks ago…miss him terribly, even though we have two other dogs.

  21. Hi Karen, congratulations on adopting Shylah! I too am a DIBS dog adopter. My wonderful girl Ella has just turned one year old, and has been with us for six months now. Reading your post took me back to the early days with Ella. She too was nervous, spooked by nearly everything and everyone, and her eyes were filled with uncertainty. I am happy to say that six months later, she has become a brave adventurer by comparison! She boldly walks into pet stores through automatic doors that terrified her at first; treats a new pathway to walk as an adventure to be had, not a black hole that might devour her; plays with other dogs at the dog park with joyful abandon; and confidently approaches other doggie parents at the dog park to say hello (although still wavers about letting them pet her). To love her and support her through this continuing journey of finding her confident self has been my privilege. And what I have given her has been returned in spades – Ella is the most loving, gentle, kind, and devoted of friends. I trust your Shylah will bring as much joy to your life as Ella has brought to mine! I look forward to hearing more of your journey.

    1. Hi Linda, Thank you so much for taking the time to write. Congratulations on your Ella! I am so delighted for her to have found you and vice versa. I choked up when I read that it has been your privilege to love and support her – I feel exactly the same. I already can’t imagine life without Shylah.
      I’ll be doing another post next week and would love to refer to other DIBS dogs. Do you remember what you did in the earliest days to help Ella?
      Thanks again for writing, Linda. I appreciate it very much.

  22. I admire you Karen – you’ve taken on a dog who needs a great deal of love, guidance and patience – and that is something that not many people would do. I have no doubt you’ll succeed with Shylah and she’ll be your loyal friend for the rest of her life.

  23. Thanks, Anna. I’m learning so much. We crossed another Rubicon yesterday and I’m hoping for lots of good progress this week before I post next week’s update.

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