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The Special Animals of HRA Staff

Special. When it comes to animals that share our lives, this adjective can mean many things. It may relate in some way to the strength and intensity of the relationship we have with them. It also may refer to an unusual or unique ability or personality trait. And sometimes an animal earns “special” status because of a physical abnormality or disability.

No matter what the reason for this designation, it’s fair to say that many people consider their animal companions to be special. And those of us at the Humane Rescue Alliance are no exception. Here are just a few examples.

Two Buns of Joy: Magic & Houdini

Ronald Herbert, Development Operations Manager

They say that you never really pick your pet, your pet will pick you. That was definitely the case for me when I joined the team at the Humane Rescue Alliance. Recently having to say goodbye to a pair of Sun Conures whom I grew up with as a child, the desire to have an animal companion was always there; I just never new how to fill that void and start all over again.

Bunny being held by HRA staff member

For months I would go over to the adoption center and look at the many dogs and cats that were available, falling deep “in-like” but never really in love with any one rescue. I thought for a while that maybe my fear of having to say goodbye to another pet that I grew attached to was clouding my ability to make a decision.

One day in June, I went to visit a dog I liked, but I just couldn’t decide if I was ready to adopt. Walking out of the kennels, a colleague called me over to look at the newborn baby rabbits that had been born here in the shelter. Their mother and more than 20 other rabbits had been picked up from a hoarding case. I casually walked over to appease my coworker, thinking I was going to simply say how cute the bun was, and then be on my way. Boy was I wrong! One look at the little buns and I couldn’t turn away. They were too adorable, nestled together in a group of four. I was offered a chance to hold one of them and as soon as I cupped little Mojito (now named Houdini) in my hands I knew that he would be going home with me. After I filled out the paperwork and started doing research back at my desk I made another crazy decision: to adopt one of his siblings with him!

Bunnies Houdini and Magic

Now I have the most loving pair of buns I never would have guessed would be part of my life. Magic and Houdini have lived up to their new names, creating sparks with anyone who comes in contact with them. They accompany me to work almost daily, bringing joy to my work day, as well as to my peers. Never in my life would I imagine being a father to two bunnies, but I can guarantee you that I will never regret my decision to let love lead.

Social Butterfly Loves to Spread Joy: Dolley

Alison Putnam, Director of Finance & Administration 

Dolley and I met when I agreed to train her for life as a service dog. But, apparently, fate had a different plan for both of us. Although Dolley and I went through more than a year of training, she just couldn’t accept the rigorous discipline required. She’s too much of a social butterfly and loves people so much that she couldn’t pass her advanced training. As a result, she was released and came to live with me full time.

HRA staff member Alison and her dog Dolley

Dolley may not have qualified as a service dog but she’s very smart. She knows upwards of 50 separate commands and is comfortable in the majority of settings. She has even ridden the metro (while in training as a service dog).

Dolley and I continue to train together and this has created a bond and a level of trust I have never had with any of the other dogs in my life. We’ve applied this training to Dolley’s new career as a therapy dog. Unlike a service dog who is dedicated to helping one person, a therapy dog is tasked with helping everyone! Dolley visits with residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home who shower her with hugs and kisses, and participates in a reading program at the Takoma Park Library. Her “job” is the curl up and relax as children read to her.

Our favorite visits are to the assisted living and memory care units of a senior living community. Assisted living is for adults who need 24-hour nursing care but are expected to return to independent living. The people we visit love seeing a dog. Oftentimes, we are walking down the hall and are stopped by family members who say, “Come visit my mom! She loves dogs and misses seeing ours.”

The memory unit is very different. Dolley provides comfort to those visiting loved ones who are not returning to independent living. When invited, she will approach for the rubs and cuddles so needed by family members who are in very stressful situations.

We are always thanked for visiting, but the pleasure is truly ours. Both Dolley and I enjoy the smiles on people’s faces when they get to play, pet, or hug a dog—something many have missed for a long time.

A Life of Love and Challenges: Tango

Pam Townsend, Media Coordinator

My husband and I adopted Tango at the age of 14 weeks. I remember sitting with him on my lap at the adoption show and thinking what a calm, quiet puppy he was; he hardly moved at all, even though a dog sitting next to me was chewing on Tango's tail. Wow, I thought, this is going to be one easy-going dog. I was wrong.

Dog Tango

We soon discovered that Tango was startled and frightened by many things: the sound of the dishwasher, the automatic ice maker in the refrigerator, umbrellas being opened, unfamiliar people, and even familiar people wearing items of clothing that changed their appearance. He also was terrified of Mark's black briefcase and large black plastic garbage bags. I remember being mortified and embarrassed when Tango backed away, barking, from neighbors during walks. It was like his nerves were perpetually raw and that the world was a frightening place where potential danger lurked around every corner. And as Tango matured, it became clear that he didn’t like any dogs he didn’t live with or hadn’t met as a puppy.

Interestingly, he did well in obedience classes, easily handling 3-minute "sit-stays" and 1-minute "down-stays" with me across the room. But such mastery didn’t address the issues that made life with him—and certainly for him—a challenge. So in an effort to better understand my troubled boy I read books on dog behavior and attended seminars by respected behaviorists, putting the knowledge I acquired into action with Tango.

And it did help. Although Tango never became comfortable enough with new human acquaintances or accepting of other new dogs to go to dog parks or for "play dates" with our friends' dogs or to attend yappy hours or other "dog friendly" events, I was able to take him for walks without him lunging, barking, and growling at other dogs we passed. He also became more trusting of new visitors to our home...especially if they were willing to throw a ball instead of trying to pet him. Basically, he became more comfortable in his own skin.

Tango at the beach

In some ways, Tango’s passing hit me harder than that of previous canine companions…perhaps because he required so much work and “management.” The bond I developed with him over nearly 14 years was incredibly strong, and the sense of loss I felt was equally powerful. Life without him is easier but somehow emptier.

Worth the Wait: Murphy

Debbie Duel, Director of Humane Education

In August 2016, our beloved dog, Nigel, died, leaving Charlotte as the only animal in our home. When I adopted Charlotte as a tiny kitten 6 years earlier, she was welcomed by Micky and Merl. The cats played with her, bathed her, and let her sleep close by. And, Nigel, the patient pooch, tolerated Charlotte, allowing her to bat his ever-thumping tail. 

HRA alum Murphy

Our house was suddenly quiet and empty. I missed Nigel terribly. And Charlotte missed having company.  

Two cats are better than one—if you have the right pair. Another cat had to “fit.” A new cat had to be the right companion for Charlotte and our family.

I began my search in earnest in September. I really liked one cat, but by the time I decided he might be the one, he had gone to his new home. Then there was another who seemed calm and looked like a bigger version of Charlotte. But I went away for the weekend, and when I got back to work, the cat had been adopted. I checked out an enormous black-and-white cat with a scratched nose. He was sitting in his litter box. I ruled him out.

Eventually, a large, orange-and-white cat named JR arrived at the shelter. He looked like a giant marshmallow doused with butterscotch. At 3 years old, Jr was a bit younger than my “ideal” cat. I was hoping for a 6-year-old to match Charlotte’s age. 

I visited Kitty City every day and was surprised that JR was always still there. He played well with other cats and was good at amusing himself. He used the litter box. According to his paperwork, he had lived with another cat. He was the ideal cat—for someone. But was that someone me?

As I fretted, Charlotte was becoming more demanding, meeting me every day at the door meowing and waking me up every night. We needed a cat. 

So on November 13 I adopted JR.  Charlotte didn’t hiss when I opened the carrier and her new friend popped out. And JR, who we started referring to as Charlotte’s Buddy, acted like he’d lived with us forever. A couple of weeks later, my son came home for Thanksgiving and admonished us for not giving the new cat a proper name. And, JR, aka Buddy, became Murphy.

Charlotte and Murphy play chase. When Charlotte has had enough she tells him so and he goes off to amuse himself. Murphy bathes Charlotte and while I’ve yet to see Charlotte bathe him, he is rarely out of her sight. 

Murphy is a curious cat. He greets guests at the door, likes the water dripping from the sink, and doesn’t mind loud noises; in fact, he is fascinated by the vacuum cleaner and the blender.

Best of all, Murphy sleeps with me, all night long. He was worth the wait.


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