C. Ariel Wulff on Animal Rescue, Quirky Mutts, and Her Book “Circling the Waggins”

I moved to the woods with five misfit dogs and a case of mental illness. Their love saved me.


Editor’s note: Ariel is offering Dogster readers a chance to win a signed copy of her new book, Circling the Waggins. See the contest details after the article.

In 2001, my world came crashing down. I lost my job of 18 years, my house was in foreclosure, my car had been repossessed, the city was harassing me over property violations on the house I was losing, and my spirit was utterly pulverized. Every day had become a herculean struggle just to stay alive, as despair gripped me and cast me into a dark well of depression.

My life partner and I were pet rescuers, and over the 16 years we’d been together, we had accumulated a houseful of permanent, unplaceable foster animals. I was panicked over finding a place to live that would allow all the pets, and was sure that we would all find ourselves in a cardboard box under a highway overpass.

But somehow, my life partner found a secluded home for us in a national park, where all of our pets would be welcome.

Medication and a move to the peacefulness of the woods was a good start for healing my unbalanced brain, but it was the constant and steady love of the pets in my life that really held me together during that difficult time.

Sometimes the icy grip of mental illness is so profound, that even those who love you most are powerless against it. Even when you’re not alone, sometimes all you’ve got is your dogs.”

That’s what I wrote the introduction of my new book, Circling the Waggins: How 5 Misfit Dogs Saved Me from Bewilderness (Barking Planet Productions).

Our pets didn’t judge me for not being able to concentrate or for sitting and staring vacantly for hours. They didn’t criticize me on the days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. They just continued to love me, and to do so unconditionally.

Dogs accept us in spite of our flaws and bad habits. Even when we fail, or make mistakes, or judge the world or ourselves too harshly — they never stop loving us.”

Not that our pets didn’t bring their own brand of challenges. All those years of performing pet rescues and caring for a constantly changing houseful of pets could wear down even the most stalwart animal lover. Especially when the animals who ended up being permanent residents in our home — they were the most irascible, insane, and ridiculously unadoptable creatures on the planet.

All throughout my struggle, though, they were what kept me tethered to this world.

By the time I began to feel like I was starting to recover, the youngest of our pets was 13, the oldest 20. We began to lose the beloved pets that had kept me propped up for so long, and I started to question why we even put ourselves through the heartache of rescue in the first place. I feared in my tentative state of recovery that I would slide right back down into that pit of despair — but then something pretty remarkable happened.

A new parade of misfit dogs — the silliest, quirkiest canines — began to enter our life and take up residence in our home.

There is Waldo, the way-too-brainy Boxer mix having an identity crisis, who taught himself how to bounce a ball and sheepishly tried to learn to read.

There is Rocket Boy, the mentally challenged, hyperactive Shi-Chi, who begs at the Christmas tree, barks at an inappropriate volume, and can’t remember what he’s supposed to do or where he’s supposed to do it.

There’s Taco, a little old lady in a Chihuahua suit, who for all her sweetness has oppositional defiance disorder. And Lammy–Lamb, an obsessive-compulsive Jack Russell Terrier, who invents games of terror and mischievousness, setting the worst possible example for the younger pets.

Finally, there is Maria, a paranoid, screaming Rat Terrier-Chi with a corkscrew tail, who lifts both back legs and walks on her front paws when the grass is wet.

The five comical misfits kept me on my toes, helping me navigate the losses of the elder pets and ultimately reminding me that joy comes in furry packages.

Circling the Waggins is my honest portrayal of the true-life adventures of two animal rescuers. Coping with the losses and canine misfits is difficult enough. But when you add a senior dog with night terrors, a mysteriously humming cat, and an impromptu mouse-rescue gone ridiculously wrong, you have what might be a recipe for total disaster. But as my partner and I maneuvered through one unexpected pet debacle after another in our rugged and isolated cabin, we rediscovered that even the tiniest of lives is precious, that heartache and joy go hand-in-hand, and that love is an eternal circle of wagging tails.

Win a signed copy of Circling the Waggins

To enter to win, simply leave a comment below telling us about your dog’s quirkiest traits, and we’ll pick our favorite. The winner will receive a personalized signed copy of Ariel’s book. (And yes, she’s happy to dedicate it to your quirky mutt if you want.)

The contest closes at noon Pacific time on Friday, October 26, 2012. To be eligible for prizes, you must use your Disqus account to comment below. Creating a profile and avatar takes just a minute, and is a great way to participate in Dogster’s community of people who are passionate about dogs.

Note that you MUST have a valid e-mail address associated with your Disqus account, or we’ll have no way to contact you if you win! (Boo!) We’ll pick a winner and give him or her two days to respond, after which we’ll offer the prize to someone else. Those are the breaks!

A special offer for Dogster readers

To celebrate Adopt a Shelter Pet Month, Dogster readers can buy Circling the Waggins for 30 percent off the cover price (normally $14.99) through Oct. 31. Go to this link and use the coupon code 8LU6U7PZ.

If you’re a Kindle owner, the book is available in the Amazon Kindle store for $2.99.

C. Ariel Wulff has been involved in pet rescue for more than two decades. An author, artist, and animal advocate, she uses her art and writing to spread the joy of the human/canine bond. Her books, Born Without a Tail and Circling the Waggins: How 5 Misfit Dogs Saved Me from Bewilderness, chronicle her personal journey of animal rescue. For more about Wulff, visit her website.

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