Faith leads a dog home

Captain the dog next to Jill Shaw, who is looking at him, smiling and petting him
Captain was returned from every home he had and diagnosed with two heart conditions and cancer. But thanks to inspiration from Best Friends co-founder Faith Maloney, he’s now home for good.
By Jill Shaw

Editor’s note: Jill Shaw is a Los Angeles-based philanthropy adviser at Best Friends, and, as you’re about to read, she also fosters dogs.

Well, some people predicted it from the start: We are keeping Captain, our foster dog. But it’s a little more complicated than you think. And it all starts with a little Faith.

Faith Maloney was one of Best Friends Animal Society’s founders. I only met her twice — once in October 2021 and again in April 2022. While I hardly knew her, I was wowed with her from the start. She gave the tour I was on at the Sanctuary, and I instantly thought of her as my favorite aunt — like a lot of people seemed to do.

I was wowed by Faith’s dedication to the animals, especially the pups. I loved hearing her stories about the early days of Best Friends. As a newbie to the organization (hired the month before), I was drawn to Faith’s colorful stories about almost every spot we visited. She even taught me the importance of enrichment for all animals after I asked why one of the most popular volunteer shifts was to take the pigs for walks.

Meeting Captain

A few months later, back at home in Los Angeles, our family decided to foster a dog. We had one “foster win” at home, our sweet dog Indy. And we were determined to foster in the way we thought was “by the book” — meaning we’d foster a dog for a while and get him or her ready for a permanent home. Enter Captain, a six-year-old dog who was at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles.

[6 pet foster-win stories]

We brought Indy to the lifesaving center for a meet and greet between him and Captain, and they seemed to get along. So my 13-year-old son and I loaded the dogs into the car and headed home. It was going to be temporary. I was headed to the Best Friends National Conference in a couple of weeks, so I figured we’d love Captain for a bit and then send him back to the center, where he would surely be adopted.

Well, here’s the thing: Captain wasn’t exactly what some people might call “adoptable.” He arrived at Best Friends in September 2021 and was adopted and returned at least three times because of his separation anxiety issues. (His former neighbors weren’t his biggest fans due to his barking.) He had a heart murmur and an enlarged heart, and he’d had two masses removed, one of which was cancerous. And he was a six-year-old, black pit bull terrier mix (a type of dog many shelters are overflowing with).

We kept Captain until I left for the conference in July, and I hoped that he’d be adopted when I got back. But he wasn’t. My husband suggested we take him back to foster again, which we did. Later that month, I got a message that someone wanted to foster Captain with the intention of adopting him. I hugged Captain, had a good cry, and took him back to the center, knowing we’d done our job. He was adopted!

Faith’s inspiration

Then, beautiful Faith Maloney passed away from ovarian cancer on August 4. I read this on the Best Friends website:

Until her final days, Faith gave of herself whenever called upon and set no limits on her willingness to do whatever needed to be done. Her generosity of spirit and reliability that you could set your watch by made her the bedrock center of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. There will never be another Faith and we will miss her terribly as a friend, a founder and the heart of the Sanctuary.

On August 10, there was a virtual gathering to remember Faith. I was on the Zoom call with other Best Friends employees, listening to stories about her, and someone was talking about how Faith believed that every dog deserved a chance. Then, like a shot from above, my phone buzzed. Captain was being returned because he didn’t get along with the family cat. Did we want to take him back?

Sad at the idea of his adoption not working out, I headed back to the center to pick up Captain. He greeted me with joyful barking and jumping. We headed back home.

On the way home, I spent time thinking about this dog’s journey. In my heart, I wanted him in our family. But my head wanted to avoid the pain of thinking about his long-term health. At that moment, I thought of Faith. She wouldn’t have deserted him, and neither would I. I started calling him my “Faith Dog,” and I decided that Faith and the universe would tell me what to do.

Captain goes home for good

After a short adjustment, Captain was back in the swing of things with our family. Through his behavior, we learned a little bit about what his life was probably like before, most significantly when my husband was carrying a belt he was about to put on and Captain cowered, terrified. And his fear of walking into a room first, combined with his separation anxiety, made me wonder whether he’d been locked up for hours at a time.

[A story of love and learning with an anxious dog]

What a life this poor pup has had — and every family who took him ended up returning him. We started thinking about making Captain an official member of the family. Oh, Faith, I know this was your doing.

About a week later, I took Captain in for some blood work. Vets were concerned about some of the results, so I brought him in for a chest x-ray. While I was at the lifesaving center, I learned there was another potential adopter for Captain, pending the test results. Hooray! Faith and the universe were coming through!

Well, the test results came back, and they weren’t good. Captain’s heart had gotten larger, and his condition was worsening. He was also diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. As soon as my husband and I heard that, we had a family meeting and together decided that the only place for Captain was in our home. We wanted to be the ones to love him for the rest of his life — however long he'd have.

We don’t know what the future holds for Captain, but he will never be returned again and will only know love from now on. And I know in my heart who was behind this adventure. Thanks, Faith. And thanks to the crew at Best Friends in Los Angeles for taking care of this sweet, gentle boy on his journey home.