Best Of 2011, Guest Editors: Over The Rhine On No-Kill Shelters

As 2011 comes to an end, we are taking a look back at some of our favorite posts of the year by our guest editors.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Over The Rhine issued its debut album. The Ohio-based husband-and-wife duo of multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have marked the anniversary with new album The Long Surrender, which was produced by Joe Henry at his Garfield House home studio and features an assortment of musicians handpicked for the project by Henry, including Lucinda Williams. Though Detweiler and Bergquist had never worked with Henry or his assembled backing band before, The Long Surrender was finished in less than a week. The fan-funded, 13-track album was just released via OTR’s Great Speckled Dog Records, which the duo named after Elroy, their much-loved Great Dane who passed away last year. Detweiler and Bergquist will also be guest editing all week. Read our brand new Q&A with Detweiler.

Karin: Linford and I have been what you might call “dog people” for almost 15 years. It all began when I first took in a rescued Weimaraner and named her Willow. She was an old soul who was found running along a highway, buckshot in her side, pads worn off, a world of story and sadness in her face. And somehow, we like to think she found us. After a few years, Willow began to slow down, and we thought we would get her a partner to maybe spur her on a bit, give her impetus to run with complete abandon every now and then. And we found just the right one in Elroy, a Harlequin Great Dane/Labrador mix who we adopted from Harlequin Haven Great Dane Rescue, a no-kill shelter in south-central Ohio They were fast companions—Willow teaching Elroy some things he had never before experienced, like a walk through a snowy neighborhood on leash and just the right way of marking your territory, communicating selectively every few yards as opposed to dumping your bucket all at once on one poor struggling shrub. Willow and Elroy had some truly great years together before she left us all behind, and so began his turn to slow down, mourning the loss of his girl.

Enough time had passed since Willow died (six months to be exact) so that when it was brought to our attention that a neighbor’s six-month-old Weimaraner (go figure) needed a new home or was going to end up at the pound, we thought we should at least check it out. I took my husband aside, and we made a plan: “Linford, let’s have the dogs meet and see how they do, but no matter what, let’s say we are going to go home and sleep on it and then call them with our decision the following day.” Well, I think Linford lasted for about 10 minutes before he blurted out, “I think we should take him home!” So upon Elroy’s (and Linford’s) more-or-less immediate approval, we brought home a six-month-old Weimie and named him Shakey, and Elroy found himself a new spunky companion to keep up with.

Three years passed, just enough to get through the intensely destructive and challenging Weimaraner puppy phase that the breed is famous for (what the hell were we thinking?) when the fourth rescue opportunity raised it’s hand (or should I say, paw). After a much-needed move to a more rural setting in Ohio, we would often walk Elroy alone, down quiet country roads a couple of times a day leaving the exhausted well-Frisbeed Weimaraner behind to catch his breath; it was our bonding time with Elroy. But sure enough, one day another adorable puppy and his mama came bounding at us out of the woods. Elroy was smitten with both of them, and we would look for them on our walks for weeks thereafter. When the weather took a turn for the worse, it was becoming obvious to us that these two were homeless outcasts, hungry and not faring so well. One bitterly cold snowy night they simply and deliberately followed Elroy home. Looking up at Linford, they seemed to ask, “You don’t mind, do ya?”

In they came, to the laundry room where we got them bedded down and fed. I planned to call the no-kill shelter in the morning and get them placed, seeing as how I already had one sweet old kitty and two dogs—big dogs. My hands were full. Well, no such luck. All the no-kill shelters were full within 100-mile radius. No room in the inn. So we set to finding a home for these two and soon found a wonderful home for the mama dog (once we had her spayed and got her back to good health.) Her new people named her Ruby. She resides happily on a 36-acre farm replete with horses but rarely ventures far from the cozy couch we are told. Livin’ the good life.

The puppy—that’s another story. I’d made up my mind that I just couldn’t handle a third dog. So eventually I’d contacted a veterinarian friend who said she’d seen my photos and knew she could easily place this cute pup with a good home. Well, I packed him up and drove him the hour to Cincinnati, during which time he whined and puked pretty much the whole way. I wondered if he hadn’t been “dropped off” once already in his life, because this trip just seemed way too traumatic for him. I arrived, took the little guy in to his new transitional home and proceeded to fill out a few papers and hand him over, at which point he turned, looked at me and started cryin’ real bad. I stiffened my lip and turned and walked out the door and started cryin’ real bad. My drive home was just awful. And once at home, I was inconsolable. Linford took this all in for a few hours and finally said, “If you think you can’t live without the little guy, then you better go back in tomorrow and bust him out and officially adopt him. But sleep on it first.” We named him Porter, after Cole Porter, Porter Wagoner, the Johnny Cash song “Hey Porter” and the dark beer.

Just this past summer, on July 6, we lost our sweet, tenderhearted Great Dane, Elroy. He was 12-and-a-half: an unheard of lifespan for a Dane. A few years prior, we had named our indie record label after him—Great Speckled Dog Records—and intend to honor his memory there to the best of our ability. I’m still grieving his loss; he took up a lot of real estate, we used to say. He left a Great Dane-sized hole in our hearts. But somehow our house can still reverberate with celebration when we arrive home from a tour. Tails wag in ridiculous patterns, Porter (now 60-plus pounds) howls with coyote ecstasy, and Shakey barks joyfully, trembling with excitement, air-licking. And Elroy’s spirit remains, silent but present.

There are few things in this world better than a canine companion, tried and true. And there are plenty of good dogs just waiting down the road at your local shelter. Waiting for you.

Here’s a little song we wrote for Porter, called No Kill Shelter. You can have it for free. Enjoy.

“No Kill Shelter” (download):