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From picture to picture perfect home

Edited by Melanie Dziengo 

All that separated Jennifer Guest and her future dog, Willa, was a 5,000 km road trip. So, she travelled from Toronto to Houston, Texas in October 2018 to meet the dog she only knew from a picture. Read on to learn about her road trip, how Willa’s name came to be, and what it’s like to adopt a dog in a different country.  

I adopted Willa Houston from a rescue organization in Houston, called Dachshund Rescue, Education & Adoption Mission (DREAM).

That was in October 2018, when she was 1.5-years-old, so she will be 4-years-old this year. They chose July 13 as her birthday, and I’ve kept that up, but I tend to celebrate her “gotcha” day more, which is October 4.


Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Guest

Photo Courtesy of @thebinzy 


Willa was originally called Willow by DREAM, but when her lovely foster mother said it, it sounded like “Willa” to me. I loved that, and kept it. 


I first saw Willa’s picture on DREAM’s website, and the only background information I had was that she was picked up with a pack of stray dogs on the outskirts of Houston.


She’s part dachshund and part lab, most likely. And I fell in love with her photo - she has the face that launched a 5,000 km road trip!  

Photo Courtesy of  Jennifer Guest

When I decided to adopt her, I contacted DREAM and filled out their form. 


Someone from the organization called me for an interview. They were very clear that they didn’t ship dogs, but once I had assured them that I would drive down to pick up Willa from Toronto, everything went quite quickly. They sent me more photos and a video, and I had a phone conversation with Willa’s foster mother.


Then, I sent many, many photos of my house and garden (because they couldn’t do a site inspection) and they called my vet for a reference. They would have been happy to take her back if there had been a problem, but in practical terms, that would have been difficult! There were follow-up e-mails and I’ve been sending pictures to Willa’s foster mother.


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Guest

I knew from her foster mother that Willa was happy in the car and also fully housetrained, so the ride back to Toronto was easy, although less like a vacation than the ride down had been. I had researched motels and patios that accepted pets, and she was very well behaved - quiet and watchful. I was looking forward to getting home, but I also appreciated the three days we spent together with no distractions.


At the border, I showed the paperwork that DREAM had prepared for me and declared the adoption fee as Willa’s purchase price. It took about five minutes, and we never got out of the car. 

It took about two or three months for us to adjust to each other fully. I called her my favourite mistake for a couple of months in the beginning when she was very anxious. I had a dog for 16 years that was very anxious, and I thought maybe I was going to have the same experience. But Willa is a very different dog. I could tell when she started to relax because she started to behave like more of a brat! Now, she’s settling in very nicely.


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Guest

I didn’t expect a “nervous” dog to become less nervous. My previous dog, Tilde, was nervous for all her 16 years, and I learned to accommodate that. But, Willa gets used to new people and new experiences, and her reactions change.


What I want readers to take away from my story is to take your time - the beginning is not the way it’s going to be forever. And get lots of help.

The advice I have for someone thinking about adopting a rescue dog is to explain that your dog is a rescue. It can be difficult to stop strangers from being overly enthusiastic about greeting your dog, especially if she’s small and cute. My dog is still shy about meeting people, particularly children. But if I say, “She’s a rescue,” they understand and ask questions. It helps keep everyone smiling.

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