10 Favorite Lessons Learned from Two Decades of Animal Care

I’m thrilled to welcome Soul Mate author Ryan Jo Summers to the Power of 10 series. Today, Ryan shares lessons learned from the unforgettable pets in her life.

Here’s Ryan Jo!

ryanjosummersYears ago I was director of a non-profit dog rescue group. Aside from that, I was also active in other animal welfare activities. I also owned a boarding kennel/ pet supply/ training center for a decade sandwiched between working as a veterinary technician. Consequently, many of the animals I have had or known were the largest teachers in my life. Here are ten of my favorites.

Expectations: Becky came to our rescue as a ten month old stray. She was a pretty blue merle Australian Shepherd and something mix. And she had no manners, lessons or skills. She was a mess. Teaching her the basics in obedience was challenging and truthfully, while she was friendly, I did not hold much for her future expectations. She was a wild child, prone to impetuous overreactions.

About ten months after she came to us, a young couple adopted her. One day out of the blue, they called, wanting to share what she had done. Breath held, I waited, expecting the worse.

Seems their toddler son had been in the front yard and tried to bolt into the road. Mom wasn’t fast enough to catch him, but Becky was. Agile on her feet, Becky skillfully blocked the toddler’s advances with her body until Mom could catch him.

Becky- rescue

As great as that was, it got better. About a year later Mom was in the house with a new baby and Dad was out with the young son and Becky. A friend stopped by and the men got to talking. Becky’s frenzied barking erupted like a volcano. Dad followed the barking to the horse pasture, where the son stood, surrounded by horses and Becky stood at his side, barking furiously at the horses. So twice Becky saved the young son and showed me she knew how to rise above other’s expectations.

Will- Rescue II (2)Strength of Character: Will was a collie/ German shepherd left tied to the door of a local animal shelter. He was about a year old. The shelter turned him over to us. He had no obvious problems that I could find. In fact, the more time I spent with Will, the more I fell in love with his character. He was steady under pressure and showed great promise of intelligence, loyalty and patience. I contacted Leader Dog in Rochester, asking for him to be evaluated. He scored great so the decision was made to turn Will over to them for further training.

Several months later we received word Will had graduated and was paired with a human as an official Seeing Eye Dog for the Blind. Will showed me to quietly let one’s character and integrity shine through, without a need for words.

Courage: Spencer was a handsome three-month-old tri-color collie pup when he came to us. His breeder wanted to have him destroyed because he didn’t see well. Once we had him vet checked, he was diagnosed as having no eyeballs. Apparently, he’d been born without eyes forming. We also considered euthanizing him, but he didn’t have any apparent issues with his blindness. Once he cautiously explored a new area, he was unstoppable.

Spencer loved to run and play with the other dogs, his courage knew no boundaries and he truly had the heart of a lion. Within a few months, he was adopted by a couple who had previously adopted two sighthounds from other groups—a Greyhound and a borzoi. The blind pup took no time to learn the perimeters of his new home and yard and quickly settled in with his sighted family.

CalRescueTime: Cal was a homely old soul, about six or seven years old, when he came to us from a neighboring county. He was as sweet and gentle as he was ugly. And he was always horribly car sick. He lived with us for three years, until the age of about nine or ten. While we tried to make him comfortable, he still lived in a shelter environment. He was always passed up by the younger, prettier dogs. Our poor ugly duckling, always staying behind when they found new families.

Finally, I suggested it might be more humane for old Cal to be put to sleep. He could have a dignified end instead of languishing in a shelter his final years. One of the volunteers petitioned for more time for him. I granted her thirty days. It’d been three years, what was another month?

The twenty-nine day rolled around and still no interest in our ugly duckling. Day thirty was already set aside for an out of town adoption event. We were taking a litter of adorable puppies. The volunteer begged to take Cal. It seemed almost cruel to take him, with carsickness, to compete against cute puppies.

A family came by our booth, bypassing the playful pups and honed in on homely Cal. Before we could even finish explaining his long history, they wanted him. Turns out they liked the underdogs. The parents had adopted seventeen human kids, all from underprivileged countries and kept a small pet population. They had groomed goats and ponies, deformed cats and now a sweet old dog named Cal. The placement was such a great one, when we had an ugly duckling puppy later, called Dopey, the family wanted him as well. Dopey kept Cal company until he peacefully passed away at the age of thirteen.

Larkin- rescue (2)Regrets: Not all of my favorite memories are happy ones, but the lessons still linger. We took in a tri-color collie/ something mix stray and called him Larkin. He was unique in both appearance and personality. He was short haired, but not a smooth collie, his ears resembled a bat, his tail was bobbed and his eyes were large, round and red. He had an intense personality, never fully relaxed, never fully trusting, not aggressive but not completely friendly either. A true yin-yang. Due to his red eyes and keyed up demeanor, he tended to scare a lot of people. When he worked for me, he was obedient, yet always wired.

About a year into his stay, I realized Larkin would never make a good pet. Unable to trust him around others, I made the sad choice to have him put down. Many years later, Larkin remains one of my greatest regrets in life. I feel I personally failed him.

Now I see opportunities he might have excelled at. If only we’d have had knowledge or connections, he might have had a better ending. Each time I see a military or police dog at work, I can’t help but wonder if Larkin might have found a good fit in there.

Determination: So much can be written about Kip. A stray mahogany collie we took in as a favor for an overbooked group. I learned volumes about separation anxiety, which was his only real fault. Three times he was adopted out and three times he was returned. He could escape from anywhere and non-compliance was the resounding reason of return. The only time he was content and compliant was when he was at my side. However, the rule was Rescues Don’t Stay. So Kip fell into a slot of not being my dog, but never far from me and mingling in whatever my dogs were doing.

For many years he and I were inseparable. He went from about six when we took him in to about thirteen. His body and mind wore down. Finally I made the painful decision to let him go. Though by rules he was never my dog, he accompanied me south when I divorced and moved. And his quiet determination and eyes on his goal earned him a spot forever in my heart. I will always miss Kip, the big, bad, brown dog who knew unquestionably what he wanted.

Fun: Sometimes caring for animals can be fun as well as rewarding. I did some rehabilitation work for orphaned wildlife. My first squirrel I named Chico. He was so tiny he needed to be bottle fed every three hours and kept on a heated pad. Chico grew and learned to climb—quickly. He went from blind, hairless and helpless to flying from shoulder to shoulder almost overnight.

Chico was great fun as he scampered along my arm, my desk or the furniture. All too soon it was time to move Chico to the outdoors and real trees. He made a few trips up the trees, always returning back to my waiting arm. One day he did not return. For a few days I’d spot a squirrel watching me from atop a limb. Chico was back where he belonged, among his own kind.

Opportunities: While volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center I encountered a domestic rabbit that had been captured in a cemetery. Having always liked bunnies, I took him home and he quickly bonded with the rescue collie, Kip, helping to ease his separation anxiety. When I moved south, Jade and Kip both moved with me. When I got involved in another animal rescue group, it was learned that “I do rabbits”. Suddenly the floodgates opened and I inherited three more. Two were rehomed and one I held on to, naming Delainey. About three later I rehomed him with a sweet little girl who always wanted a bunny.

Jade and Kip (2)

Because of the knowledge I gained from having rabbits, I was able to publish three different articles correcting misconceptions people have about rabbit care. Due to a random opportunity, I also regularly post Easter Bunny warnings, doing my part to slow down the harm done to rabbits each spring.

Trust & Faith: Back in my vet tech days, a client brought a sick kitten in from a feral colony she was caretaker of. The kitten was so wild and fearful, it was difficult to handle her, despite her illness. Over time we bonded and when she was cured, I asked the caretaker if I could adopt her. Kryshnah and I have been together ten years now and her total trust in me still leaves me speechless sometimes. However, for the first four years, no one but me ever saw her when they visited.

ryanjosummerscatsTwo years a smoke tortishell cat showed up at my door one cold November day. She was fearful and hungry. For many long weeks I fed her and tried patiently to let me pet her. Five weeks later I still had not achieved a single ear scratch, but I knew I was making headway because she brought me her month old kitten.

As wild as the winter wind, and no bigger than a dust-bunny, little Avery Faith was determined not to be touched. Gradually mom and daughter’s visits grew more then just a nightly trip. Two years later they live inside and are sweet and loving as any normal cat. Aspen sleeps with me at night, purring contentedly. While visitors still don’t see them yet, I know in time, and with patience, they will trust visitors as much as they trust me.

ryanjosummersdogHope: My last dog died in 2013 at age eighteen. It was nine months before I was ready to replace her. On March 21st, I adopted Ty, a handsome blue merle collie. Ty had spent many years in a terrible hoarding situation. When we first met, he wouldn’t even look at me or let me touch him. I knew what kind of care he would require and I questioned whether I still had that inside me anymore. I had survived a life threatening illness not two years prior and have been battling chronic health conditions, so could I do a service to Ty’s needs?

Hoping so, I finalized the adoption. Now, three months together, his progress has been marked by baby steps, occasional milestones and inevitable backward slips. But we are getting to know—and trust—each other. Our rescue group supporters follow our travels, hoping we succeed.


Ryan Jo Summers is a North Carolina writer who shares her mountain cottage with several rescue pets. She has been infatuated with the written word since early childhood, writing her first book at age ten. She comes from a long line of wordsmiths, in the form of poets and songwriters. She has had numerous articles and essays and one poem published over the years, many of them dealing with animals and nature. Her debut romance novel was published in 2012, followed by two more in 2014 and those will be followed by two more in late 2015/ early 2016. Her hobbies include painting, doodling cartoons, taking her new dog exploring in the regional national forests, visiting with friends, reading, working wiggly wordfind puzzles and playing Mah Jongg.


whencloudsgather‘When Clouds Gather’ is Ryan’s third novel, a suspenseful romance.

Set in tranquil Driftwood Shores, Darby Adams has the perfect life running her bed and breakfast business and caring for her son, Matt and a pack of unwanted animals. Then a guest is found murdered in one of her guestrooms. Suddenly she is the number one suspect.

The surviving family wants to ensure Darby is fully prosecuted so they hire new-in-town Private Investigator Sam Golden to get the evidence that will send her to prison for good. Sam starts his assignment in the guise of a much needed friend for Darby while searching for the evidence to put her away. When strange and scary events begin happening, Sam has to rethink his opinions.

Darby and Sam battle constant dangers, growing closer. Until the day arrives that Sam has to confess his original motives, driving them apart. When a sinister new threat rises, Darby has to decide if she can trust Sam one more time, or risk losing everything.

Where to find Ryan Jo…

Website | Blog | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon