The House That Alex Built

In the summer of 1991, a colleague at Southwestern College convinced me to be a foster parent for a dog at the Winfield Animal Shelter. I went to the shelter and there were so many that I just pointed at the first one I saw: a cocker spaniel jumping up on the cage door. This dog had already been spoken for by a member of the local law enforcement, so I decided I really should take a longer look and there I saw her-a small brown puppy, sitting in the middle of the kennel. She was the only dog not jumping up and down and barking. She just sat there looking lost and confused. I thought, "We have a lot in common" and home she went. A week later I returned to the shelter and adopted little Alex.

Miraculously she survived her first year of life living with a senior in college who had some not so bright friends that would try to feed her everything from all the pepperoni off a large pizza to chocolate brownies. And I must admit, I left a glass of peppermint schnapps down one night. She moved about 10 times during her life and although always afraid of being left the first few days in a new place always adjusted.

In 1994, Alex and I added a new member to the family, when I married John -- that June we sent out invitations for a wedding reception/graduation party/belated birthday party for Alex. We were married in the backyard of our rental in Manhattan. Alex sat on my sister's lap. Some children I had babysat for when I was younger and who had adopted my parents as grandparents, brought balloons, a tablecloth and presents for Alex. So there at the wedding reception was Alex's little birthday table.

In 2002, Alex was diagnosed with cancer. She put up a valiant fight but died two months later. During those two months, she went to work with me everyday and when I was in class, colleagues kept an eye on her. At the time I was also a member of the team negotiating the new contracts for the teachers at Butler Community College. This team included five other faculty, one dean, four VPs and the president of the college. Alex went to all the meetings during those two months, becoming an unofficial mascot. Right after finals week, we went to my parents' house, so that they could see Alex. My sister and her boyfriend drove down from Manhattan to see her too. Whenever we were at my parents' house, my dad would always share part of his hashbrowns with the doggies. Unfortunately when Alex was younger, she was diagnosed with bladder stones and had to go on a special diet, so dad could then only sneak her the tiniest of a piece. That last Saturday morning, he asked me if Alex could have hashbrowns and I told him she could eat whatever she wanted. I think he may have bought a separate order just for her. Dad was so happy the breakfast tradition could be reinstated.

That night we went to sleep and Alex woke me at about 2 AM to go outside. We came back in and went to sleep. At about 3:30, John and I heard her cry out. We got to her and she tried to roll over from her side to lie on her stomach, but she couldn't. I reached for her head. She wagged her tail and then her little head rested in my hand. As always Alex took care of me. She waited until my semester was over, until I was surrounded by family and then she made the decision, so I wouldn't have to.

We decided then that we would move to the country to help other dogs. It has taken six years, but we finally made it. Alex's House was initially envisioned as a place for old and sick dogs who had been abandoned by their owners at area shelters to go to ensure that their remaining time was a happy and comfortable one, but we quickly realized that dogs of all ages in this area are in need of rescue and so we opened our home to as many as we could.

Here are some of their stories: