Adopted Dog Inspires College Student to Work in Animal Welfare

For Marilyn, a puppy named Ginny was just the beginning.

Marilyn + Ginny

As a college student, Marilyn started volunteering at an animal welfare organization and brought home a puppy named Ginny. That little dog led to a lifetime of work on behalf of animals, and helped Marilyn find a pack of her own.

"I found that helping animals through rescue, rehabilitation, and rehoming is my purpose in life and I have one dog to thank for that: Ginny."

Ginny the dog

I didn’t have much interaction with dogs until I went to college. Until that point, my most notable dog experience was being unable to fall asleep at a friend’s house because of her dogs’ horrible smell. My second week at school, I stopped by the local animal shelter to volunteer. As I slowly became more comfortable with dogs, I decided it was time to help this small shelter by taking home one of my own.

What did I choose to adopt as my very first dog? A puppy. A 10-week-old ball of energy with needle-sharp teeth and a seemingly endless need for bathroom breaks. Little did I know that this puppy would change the course of my life forever.

Ginny the dog and Marilyn

The first thing I figured out was that this puppy was smart; much smarter than a first-time dog owner! I named her Ginny after the Harry Potter character whose intelligence and fearlessness she emulated. Together we braved the ups and downs of puppyhood and she taught me something new—where there are dogs, there are people! I am a naturally shy and anxious person, but Ginny was brave and outgoing and instantly made it easier for me to talk to people. She and I made dozens of new friends together, and my dad always joked that I would meet a nice guy because of her.

Ginny the dog and friends

As Ginny taught me the ins and outs of dog behavior and training, I used what I learned from her to help the dogs back at the shelter. She taught me the power of positive reinforcement training over punishment, of being proactive to stop a problem before it starts, and above all else to be patient. I became more passionate about animal rescue and rehabilitation, and got more and more involved at the shelter, moving up the ranks from volunteer to board member to part-time employee. I found that helping animals through rescue, rehabilitation, and rehoming is my purpose in life and I have one dog to thank for that: Ginny. She helped me develop both the social and technical skills that got me where I am today.

Ginny the dog and family

Tonight, over eight years since I adopted her, I sit here trying to find the words to express how much Ginny has changed my life. My two “foster failures,” a dog named Isis and a cat named Tiny Cat, sleep soundly on the chair across the room. Tomorrow I will get up and go to my full-time job as the Volunteer and Education Coordinator at the adoption center that has since replaced the small county shelter where I first started volunteering. The love of my life, who was also a volunteer dog walker, is talking to me on FaceTime while he works late. I have found my place in the world and Ginny, the reason for it all, is asleep at my feet.

Each year, the Petco Foundation invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by Marilyn won Montgomery County Animal Care and Adoption Center in Virginia a 2018 Holiday Wishes award.

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