I grew up having pets and have always been an animal lover. My husband and I married in July of 2005, and were living in the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago.
We had just bought our first place—a loft in an old globe factory with high ceilings, exposed brick and a fabulous view of the skyline.
In September of 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Prior to the hurricane, we had talked about getting a dog and had heard about a no-kill rescue called PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) Chicago.
We loved the message that PAWS sent about no-kill communities, and we knew we wanted to go through their organization to adopt. PAWS was a huge part of the rescue efforts after Katrina, and that is how our first dog made her way to Chicago.
When we first brought Saki (aka Wilma) home, she was nervous about everything! Being a Hurricane Katrina survivor, she’d had a traumatic start to life, so it was understandable. She didn’t want to get in the car or the elevator, she was scared by someone pushing a stroller down the street, and she often peed on the floor when friends stopped by.
The first time we left her in her crate with a brand new fluffy bed, we came home to find it completely gutted, and the crate filled with stuffing.
Saki was truly our first “baby” though, and we didn’t mind helping her overcome her fears. We planned our weekends around trips to the dog park and walks in our neighborhood. We spent our evenings watching movies with her on the couch and even brought her on vacation with us. Saki became a regular at doggy daycare when we went to work, and quickly made friends with other dogs in our building. Slowly, her fears became less and less—though she steadfastly refused to go out onto our fourth floor balcony.
Since then, our family has grown and Saki has grown right along with our changing family dynamic. We now live in the suburbs, and have three young kids who love her very much.
Saki has contributed to our lives in so many ways. As newlyweds, adopting Saki helped us feel like a family. As young parents, she has helped our kids learn how to care for others, become responsible pet guardians, and experience unconditional love.
The questions our kids ask about Saki’s history have allowed for many teachable moments regarding shelter animals, puppy mills, poverty, natural disasters and more. As a teacher, I enjoy the interest my children show in learning about her history, rescue groups, and doing right by animals.
Saki has given us the tools to teach them about compassion for animals, and to help those who can’t speak for themselves.
It’s hard to pick one moment or memory, but some of our favorite things to do with Saki are to take what we call “family walks” around the neighborhood. Saki shows her appreciation when we return home with a lap around the house and the signal that she wants a dental bone.
Her signal is a “subtle” nudge with her nose, some leaps towards the kitchen and a long howl until she gets the bone. Another favorite, and daily moment with Saki, is when she makes the rounds with us each night as we tuck the kids into bed. She joins us in each of their rooms until they’re settled in with lights off and we’re ready to close the door.
Often times when we leave the house without Saki, I come home to find one of the kid’s stuffed animals has been carefully brought downstairs from their room and left on the living room floor. And every night Saki follows us upstairs when it’s time for bed, snuggles into her bed and snores lightly.
Saki truly is a member of our family and we’re so happy that she’s a part of our lives. We believe in PAWS and their mission to have no-kill communities. We love the fact that PAWS helps people in low income neighborhoods experience the joy of pet guardianship, as well as all the events that families can participate in to support PAWS.
My dream for the future would be to someday be part of a no-kill world, with all animal shelters following that philosophy. Pets really are worth saving!
Samantha K. Riggi is an elementary school teacher with a passion for animals, the environment and writing. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband, children and two old dogs. She is the author of Bravo’s Freedom, and Wesley Reese: Fourth Grade Hero.
The author is available for school visits, author signings, and interviews. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.