Gentle Giants: Rescue Dogs, Pet Adoption, and Lessons in Love and Survival

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity.

Nothing prepared me for this.

It was 2011, and there I was, standing in the grass outside a Panera Bread, waiting to meet a woman about a dog. I had wanted this forever: an Italian Greyhound. And now here I was, adopting not one but two of them with my fiancé.

The woman arrived, smiling and holding a small cat carrier. Out they tumbled, Romeo and Juliet—two tiny, shaking brown-and-white dogs with legs like matchsticks, big, nervous eyes like Dobby the House Elf, and perfect matching harnesses designed to look like sailor suits. They wouldn’t even look at us. They flinched from our touch. But into their new crate and our car they went.

Romeo and Juliet had a rough start in life. It’s important to understand that they were horribly abused in a puppy mill for seven years. They had many health issues, but their scars were even more emotional than physical. The rescue gave me a book about puppy mill survivors to better understand what we were taking on. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever read, and I’ve read The Silmarillion three times (sorry, Tolkien!).

Words on a page can sometimes fall short in conveying the full reality of a situation. Romeo and Juliet got to our apartment—and wouldn’t come out of their crate.

Then the tornado happened. It was early fall, and the wind was howling. Lawn flags and even small garden pots sailed past our fourth-floor apartment windows. I was on our couch, anxiously waiting for it to stop—when two small objects hurled themselves into my lap, vying for space. I put my arms around Romeo and Juliet, and that’s how we weathered the storm.

After that, whenever one of us sat on the couch, they joined us. They taught me patience. They taught me an incredible capacity for forgiveness. They taught me about survival.

The next year, we bought a house with a big backyard, and decided to adopt a retired racing greyhound. I had never been around a large dog before, and realized I was a little afraid at the adoption event. I tried walking one greyhound who about knocked me off my feet. Another peed on a lady’s legs while I held his leash. Things weren’t looking good. Then out came Josie, who would become our Khaleesi, called “Kali.” She was fawn-colored and smaller than the rest. With her tall ears, she looked like a little deer. She walked up to Romeo and Juliet, and all three of their tails started wagging.

Whatever hang-ups or difficulties Kali had developed in her past, she didn’t bring them into our home, though she was welcome to. The only sign of her previous life was her hesitance to play with toys. Kali loved to “roo” at us, a sound that echoed her wild ancestors. I couldn’t believe that a group of functional adults had trusted me, an only sort-of-functional anything, with this wild beauty. Kali loved Romeo and Juliet like a mother, despite being younger, but they couldn’t keep up with her.

Enter Grimm: A few months later, we met a greyhound called Blue (now Grimm). He was gentle despite his size—at his heaviest, 93 pounds—quietly leaning against our legs. There was something special about him.

Still, once again, nothing had prepared me for this.

For nearly two weeks, Grimm cried every night, and I worried that we were making him unhappy. But one day not long after, he stopped crying. He shared dog beds with Kali. They raced in the backyard. When I was sad or exhausted, I’d look down and there Grimm would be, by my side. He shared every joy and sorrow with deep understanding. He still does.

Grimm and I didn’t find love at first sight, but we had something better: a slow-burning love, a relationship born out of respect and shared emotion that blossomed over many months. One day, months after we adopted him, I was working on my laptop when Grimm came up and held my gaze. I still remember it perfectly—not the day, but the moment—how I knew right then, in some quiet part of my heart that doesn’t speak often, that we had something special, something more. That we were cut from the same cloth, two parts of something that were whole together.

There’s a reason that my favorite relationships in my books are between people and their animals—a girl and her grizzly bear, a girl and her over-excited dragon. After loving Grimm, gentle giants will forever have a golden place in my heart.

Years later, Kali got very sick. There was blood in her water bowl. The vet found a tumor in her mouth and tried to biopsy it, but something went wrong. The tumor was so vicious, it couldn’t be cauterized, and Kali was bleeding out. Time slowed down when I got the phone call to rush to the vet. I held Kali in my arms and watched the light leave her eyes.

Nothing…nothing prepared me for this.

I had—purposefully—avoided stories about animals dying my entire life. You will never find animal deaths in my books for a reason: They do enough suffering and dying in the real world. After losing Kali, I wanted to stay in bed forever.

But Grimm, Romeo, and Juliet needed me. Especially Grimm. He was as lost as me. We went to the lake. We drove to Starbucks for puppacinos (a cup of whipped cream). I promised Grimm I would do everything I could to make his world bright again, even knowing what the best solution was—adopting. At first, the idea felt so wrong, but it was what Grimm needed. And while Kali was gone, and I couldn’t change that, I realized I could shape her legacy. I could donate, adopt, and volunteer for her. I could save other lives to honor how she made ours so much better in her too-brief six years with us.

Along came Gatsby and Guinness, Grimm’s new brothers, a saluki and a young greyhound, respectively. We donated when possible to organizations where the money goes directly to helping dogs. And I began volunteering, processing adoption applications for a sighthound rescue. Doing something positive—getting dogs like Kali into good homes—helps distract from the negative that her absence, and now Juliet’s absence, still brings. But that deeply-felt absence is also proof of how amazing they were, and they’re the reason why, whenever you open one of my books, you’ll find a girl with a four-legged companion by her side.

Sarah Glenn Marsh has been an avid fantasy reader from the day her dad handed her a copy of The Hobbit and promised it would change her life; she’s been making up words and worlds ever since. When she’s not writing, Sarah enjoys painting, ghost hunting, traveling, and all things nerdy. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and their menagerie: four rescued sighthounds, a bird, and many fish. She is the author of Fear the Drowning Deep and Reign of the Fallen.

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