Paws of Destiny Eleven Years in the Making

By Paula Nalbaru

Eleven human years or 77 canine years, if we are to believe the human-dog age comparison. Would you wait that long for destiny to unfold?

Merrideth MacDonald has been a dedicated volunteer at the Cape Breton SPCA for 11 years. For the first five years, she was in the shelter for a couple of hours almost every day of the week. She would come in and spend time with the dogs that needed the most socializing. When she had the opportunity to take training sessions to help the doggos who demanded more preparation before they found their forever homes, she rose to the occasion.

And if that weren’t enough, Merrideth fosters kittens and mama cats. So much so that last year, her house was filled with tiny but echoing meows and exhausted but relieved mamas almost 10 months out of 12.

She is also a proud fur mama. Merrideth met Layla at the Cape Breton SPCA in her first year volunteering with us. She walked the now 13-year-old Husky/Border Collie mix every day for months until she eventually gave Layla her forever home. Layla proved to be the most loyal fur baby and so bonded with her parents, she wasn’t too fond and welcoming to other dogs. After all, isn’t the only child lifestyle, with all the attention on you, the best?

And so, 11 years passed. Eleven years in which Merrideth continued to volunteer, foster, and meet and say hi to each dog that came into the Cape Breton SPCA during her shifts. When the time was right to open her heart and home to another dog, none of the adoptables she met proved to be quite a good match as a possible sibling to Layla.

Until one day in October of 2023 when a nine-week-old Great Pyrenees mix was brought into the shelter as a stray. Shelter staff shared her photo in the hopes of reuniting her with her family, but no one came forward, so Darby, as she was named, was put up for adoption.

Merrideth saw Darby a few times during her shifts, but the puppy was always with her back turned to the world. “I thought she was a calm puppy that could be a good fit for my senior. Turns out, she had a slight medical condition that was slowing her down. But once she recovered, she proved to be full of wild puppy and a very happy girl!” Merrideth remembers.

When wishing to adopt a dog from any of the Nova Scotia SPCA shelters, a meeting with all the family members is mandatory to ensure a perfect fit. The first meeting between a senior dog and a puppy can be nerve-wracking. However, humans have a saying, “when you know, you know,” and dogs are no exception because Layla and Darby’s first meeting exceeded expectations, immediately taking to each other.

And no wonder. Despite the age difference, Merrideth says, “Darby and Layla have a lot of similarities. I chose Layla after working with her for many months. She had been at the shelter for seven months before my adopting her and it was challenging, to say the least. Smart, strong, determined, but loyal and bonded. I wanted my second dog to be a breed that was equally challenging in some ways. We see a lot of Pyrenees in the shelter, despite that they are much loved, because they are strong-willed and are not always cooperative. I felt Layla prepared me to take on another dog like her. And Darby is very strong-willed and very clever, just like Layla. Luckily, as a pup, we have been able to help expose her to so many things (people, training, dogs) that Layla missed in her first two years. She is already making friends with other dogs, people, and cats.”

It’s only been a couple of months since Darby found her forever home, but she is very comfortable and like most puppies, she believes she runs the show. She and Layla love to wrestle and, obviously, hang out in the most important room in the house, the kitchen. Though Merrideth is happy Layla didn’t teach Darby a little trick she loved to do as a puppy: jumping on the kitchen table.

Merrideth’s experience as a volunteer helped her for the first time with Layla, who after 11 years is still an escape artist making sure her family can’t use the front door. But even more now when an actual puppy with high energy levels requires a different learning curve. Merrideth says, “I have been volunteering at the SPCA for 11 years, so I have seen so many breeds and types of personalities come in. I feel that the exposure to thousands of dogs has prepared me. I know that it isn’t easy, and each dog is an individual little character that you have to get to know. Different methods of training work for different dogs and we are still figuring out how Darby learns best. Some dogs love to impress you, for example. Darby does not care about that but LOVES to see the treat jar come out!”

Darby comes with a lot of exhaustion but even more love, which she gives to Layla the most. Merredith’s favourite moment since growing her family is the heartwarming bond her dogs formed. “There is no doubt Darby loves Layla the most. Watching Darby bring my senior dog so much joy has been incredibly special. Darby kisses Layla each time she sees her, before immediately nipping with her puppy shark teeth. She brings a playful side of Layla out that had been missing since she had her cancer in the summer.”

Eleven years apart, Darby and Layla both ended up at the Cape Breton SPCA. They walked through the same front door, walked the same paths, even met some of the same people. But it took one special fur mama who saw before anyone else the love these two could share to bring them together forever.

Because the perfect match knows no time. Only love.

If you were looking to adopt, volunteer, or foster with the Nova Scotia SPCA, Merrideth says it better than we ever could, “For me, the work I get to do volunteering and fostering is the most rewarding and challenging part of my life. It is very much a part of how I identify in the community, and it truly makes me feel like I am contributing to the greater good of where I live. If more people were involved, so many issues could be eradicated for these animals, so please adopt, volunteer and spread the word.”

Paula Nalbaru

Paula Nalbaru is the Philanthropy Communications Coordinator with the Nova Scotia SPCA in Dartmouth. She’s a proud fur-parent and referee between her dog, Summer, and cat, Marshmallow.