Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
October 1st, 2010

Adopting Assisi

A four-legged love story



“God is beauty.”
— St. Francis of Assisi

Here’s what I expected to be able to rightfully call my own by the age of 35:

(1) an 18th-century farmhouse in the country and a corner brownstone apartment in either the Upper West Side or the East Village in New York City; (2) no less than five published books, at least one of which would be a New York Times best seller (if for no other reason than that I could say no to being in Oprah’s Book Club); (3) an ideal husband who liked cooking and traveling and could also fix computers; (4) yearly trips to Europe for wine, a tour of the Nutella factory that included free samples, and types of cheese that can’t even be found at Zabar’s.

On the morning of my 35th birthday, here’s what I had: A “one and a half” bedroom apartment and a 17-year-old cat (the “half” being a room big enough for the cat’s litter box and an IKEA bookshelf), and a nosy, intrusive neighbor across the hall who made Judi Dench’s character in Notes on a Scandal look like Fred Rogers. The good news? For $700 a month I had hardwood floors, an eat-in kitchen and huge windows on a tree-lined street. The bad news? It was three hours north of New York City, in Albany, where my Mom had died of cancer two years prior. I still lived back in my hometown, a graduate student and a freelance writer trying to move forward.

I had enough to pay the rent; just not in my beloved New York City. I was married to my work and to Netflix, though somewhat haunted by the socially-constructed cliché of, “Single woman dies alone in bed; survivors include Sallie Mae and a pissed off cat with a thyroid condition.” The fears had subconsciously been brewing in my mind since turning 30, when the “You’re supposed to be this” and “You’re supposed to have that” age comes around: the relentless cacophony of other people’s agendas drowning out your dreams. Society’s “must haves” included a marriage and a mortgage and at the very least — a dentist. But I wasn’t ready to commit to any of these things, preferring to instead follow the advice of author Ray Bradbury, who I had met a few years prior at a writing conference in California: “I’ve had my own loves, and gone my own way to find my own self.” Along the way, I found Assisi.

Love at first sight

Several people had already applied to adopt her. Homeowners with kids, backyards and stable incomes; people with dentists and attorneys and 401(k) plans; people more deserving of a dog than me.

The week before my 35th birthday, I fell in love with a rescued Jack Russell Terrier/Beagle who somehow needed me as much as I did her. Ironically, both of us were grieving the loss of a family member. “Adelphie” had been rescued from an abusive home in North Carolina where she’d been starved and beaten. She had untreated heartworm and severe anxiety; her sister was found in such bad condition that the rescuers couldn’t save her and she was put to sleep. I was later told that the rescuers named her “Adelphie” because it means “Dearest Sister” in Greek.

Adelphie was brought to New York in August 2007, and was sitting outside of a PetSmart when I first saw her, next door to Uncommon Grounds, the coffeehouse I frequented. I wasn’t looking for a dog, though I actually had wanted one for as long as I could remember. As a child, I refused to accept my parents “no” in regard to getting a dog. I had cut countless pictures of various breeds out of magazines and then taped them to the refrigerator and the windshield of our car. When this plan failed, I hid Milk-Bones that belonged to our neighbor’s Golden Retriever in random places around the house, even in my parents’ dresser drawers. My passive-aggressive “I want a canine now!” campaign officially ended on Christmas 1987, when my parents’ compromise was a calico cat. I loved Mistletoe, but she wasn’t a dog and never would be. I tried in vain to pretend that she was, hoisting her into a leash so that we could go on “walks” together. I even attempted to train her to “fetch” my slippers; she just sat there. I was a fan of the sitcom Frasier, not only because of the witty dialogue and Niles’ deadpan humor, but because I was obsessed with Eddie, the loyal and intrepid Jack Russell terrier that graced the screen with his very presence.

After college, I moved so often that getting a dog was out of the question. So in the summer of 2007 when I saw “Adelphie” among the dogs up for adoption, it was the only experience of love at first sight that I’d ever known.

My application to adopt Adelphie was initially denied. Her photo and story were posted on the rescue organization’s website and several people had already applied to adopt her. Homeowners with kids, backyards and stable incomes; people with dentists and attorneys and 401(k) plans; people more deserving of a dog than me.

When the answer from the rescuers was still “no,” I knew that I needed a miracle and I needed one fast. That’s when I turned to St. Francis.

In the meantime, Dan, the manager of PetSmart, was fostering Adelphie while applicants underwent reference checks and home visits. My building didn’t even allow dogs, so a “home visit” was out of the question. I was still convinced that Adelphie was my dog, so I had letters of reference from anyone of any local importance sent to the powers that be. I stopped by PetSmart every day to harass Dan. “How is Adelphie?” I would ask, plying him with coffee and banana muffins. “Please tell her that I love her,” I’d say, like a crazed stalker on a mission. I forwarded Adelphie’s picture to my landlord with the words “Help your humble tenant save a life!” in the subject line, while begging him to make an exception to the “no dogs” rule. I wrote a letter to the organization, saying that because I worked at home, the dog would have undivided attention, and, by the way, did you get the letter from my priest (who I had also coerced into helping me)? My efforts were indeed shameless. Later my brother Joe accused me of “Shawshanking” the “dog people,” a reference to Tim Robbins’ character in the movie Shawshank Redemption, who relentlessly wrote letters for help from his prison cell.

I didn’t want “any dog;” I wanted this one

“Why does it have to be THIS dog?” a friend said. “Many dogs need homes; you’ll get another chance.” But I didn’t want “any dog.” I wanted this one. If there is such a thing as a soul mate, this four-legged creature was mine.


When the answer from the rescuers was still “no,” I knew that I needed a miracle and I needed one fast. That’s when I turned to St. Francis.

I had never done a novena before. Nine days of prayers with a specific intention in mind seemed superstitious, and even if I were to pray for something, it should be for something important. Adopting a rescued mutt, albeit an abused one, didn’t seem up there with praying for world peace. I hoped that at the end of those nine days if the results of my prayer for Adelphie didn’t happen, then acceptance would, and I would be able to be satisfied with an aging cat with a thyroid problem. I found a picture of St. Francis along with “prayers to him,” and set it up on my kitchen table with a candle. Eight days later, I got a call from the founder of the rescue organization. “I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to wave the home visit. It seems that this dog is meant to be yours.”

I knew it had to have been divine intervention — and not my proof-of-income pay stub or my landlord who still wouldn’t budge (I moved in October) — and I started a new life as a dog owner. In thanksgiving to St. Francis, I named my beautiful girl Assisi. On Sunday, Assisi Adelphie Martone, “Sisi,” turns six.
I’ve told this story to friends who aren’t Catholic, some of whom aren’t even believers in God. Some call it coincidence; others just think it’s crazy. Yet the bond I have with Assisi began the day we met and my life is a much better place because she is in it. I’m still on the path of going my own way and searching for my own loves, only now there are four feet that walk with me. I will take Sisi to the Blessing of the Animals on October 4, even though it’s me who is really blessed, to have found this dog to know and love. Maybe “Dog” and “God” are one and the same word for a reason. St. Francis once said, “God is beauty.” I couldn’t agree more.

Originally published October 1, 2010.

The Author : Carolyn J. Martone
Carolyn Martone is a graduate of Fordham University and the State University of New York at New Paltz. In 2012 she received a three-month artist-in-residence fellowship to the Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, where she finished the screenplay, "Upstate," which is in development for television. She lives in Los Angeles.
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  • Dawn

    This story made me cry. I am in a wheelchair and live with my parents. My parents had two dogs, when I started working for the ASPCA in Maryland. I sat at the shows and tried to get adopted out several of these gorgeous dogs. I sat with four but, the last one, was labeled, NOT Adoptable. Anyway, they were going to put him to sleep and I was devastated. I HATE how people can make assumptions of dogs, with whom they do not know the entire situation of their past lives. Anyway, at age 35 I told my parents, “If Homer can come home and be a part of our family, I will quit this job.” I decided, while my other two dogs needed me, I needed Homer. He is a cocker spaniel and poodle mix and I adore him. He is now ten years old. Even though that place charged me $50.00 for a dog they were going to KILL, I feel it was the very best money I ever spent and my Homer (yes I kept his name) is the best friend I have ever had but, I do adore ALL my dogs. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I am Catholic and pray to St. Francis all the time. I even took the female version of his name as my confirmation name.

  • Patricia Leonard

    I have been blessed to have 4 rescue animals , Clancy a parrot who sat in a pet store for 4 years, Suzy left in an empty house, tigar had to move because cats were not allowed and my 83 lb Fox Red Lab who’s mother was a rescue dog from the Finger Lakes area. These animals have brought great joy to my life and they are living full lives. Clancy is going on 16 years with me, Suzy is departed, Tigar is 15 years old and Bonnie the Lab is going on three.All of these animals I pray over everyday line them up and talk to them. I am so blessed for having them in my life.

  • Leonora

    This story touched my heart so much I cried. Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your experience. You are a wonderful writer.

  • Sean B

    Beautiful, inspiring story. Clearly, you showed your loved and perseverance for “Sisi”. It’s hard to deny that. Also, just another wonderful testament to the power of prayer. I’m in a similar situation – mid 30’s, homeowner, good job, but not maaried and no kids. I thought I would’ve by now, but my life is God’s plan, not mine. I have resceued 4 dogs and currently have 2 lovable black labs that were rescued from the sides of roads. I wish you have many many long years of love with “Sisi”.

  • Barbara DeLorenzi

    I stopped by the website on a whim, read William Grogan’s comment and knew I had to read your terrific article.
    I am at the other end of life, a retired college teacher. I had no time to devote to a pet due to my workaholic habits. When I retired, the need to have a pet, a cat in my case, grew stronger and stronger. As I put it, my catalogical clock was ticking. I, too, found two rescue Persians that I fell in love with. And I had not wanted a long-haired cat! They had been abandonned in a laundry basket, covered with a blanket, in the midst of a Montreal winter. They remained exceptionally sweet and loving little brothers and were named Humphrey and Bogart. I was accepted to adopt them and they have been part of my life for 17 months now. They are like angels and I know heaven would never be as good without them.

  • William Grogan

    What a great story!! I do believe that animals are angels to assist us. We have a rescued chihuahua and love him as family. When he nestles on my lap it is such a relaxing, enjoyable treat for both of us. I also believe that when each of us parts this earthly plane, we will see each other again. In fact he, and all other animals deserve to be in heaven before we humans do.

  • Ellen Hilburn

    This is a great love story. As one with two magnificent mutts, I know the love of a dog is incredibly special. For 12 years I had a wonderful Irish Wolfhound-mix named Molly. She was my life. My best friend, through thick and thin she never failed me. As she grew older and her legs grew brittle, I stood with her just as she always did for me. When I lost Molly, I was devastated. Still am. It took me two years to get another dog. When I stumbled upon a mini version of Molly on Petfinders I was determined to save the dog named Patsy. She had been found in the middle of the road nursing 6 pups. The pups all found homes, but two year-plus Patsy was in the Grand Bahama Humane Society for over half a year with no interest. So I sent an e-mail. It took some time, but about 4 months later I picked her up at National airport. She didn’t know how to walk on a leash, get into a car, go upstairs, nothing. Now, she’s got it all down, a year plus later. She was housebroken in a day, hugs me, gives me kisses and is the greatest friend and companion to me and my 13 year old beagle-mix, Nelly.

  • Sheila J

    what a nice story. Your writing style makes me feel like I’m right there with you. I’m not a big animal person but your descriptions of Sisi touched my heart.The ‘God’ and ‘Dog’ reference is a new one to me but such a nice thought.
    Please remember me when you write again, I love the connection it keeps between us. (Clarence)

  • Lisa Gendron

    This story is is rad! You really are a sister moon!

  • Bridie McCaughey

    I am moved by this beautiful literary piece Carolyn and Sissi is truly blessed to have someone as wonderful and sweet as you to care for her and love her. Believe in the power of prayer, and life will surely surprise you:)

  • Anne Moscinskik

    What a lovely story to read with my second cup of Sunday morning coffee. Sisi was probably praying for Carolyn while Carolyn was praying for her! This author has a special gift of gently connecting to the reader. No matter what the topic, I smile as I read and have a tinge of disappointment when the story ends – because I want more.

  • Nancy Calkins

    A great story of love, persistence, and joy. Love the pictures of Sisi (and Francis too).
    Thanks for writing and for sharing.

  • Sadie

    What a great essay! Assisi is already blessed to have such a compassionate owner (who just happens to be a great writer as well)!

  • Amanda E

    This was a really great story! The Nutella factory tour with free samples seems like a great idea, but the story of how you got Sisi was even better. Since I’m in the hospital for the second time this month, this story.. lifted my spirits. You’re a great writer and thanks for sharing it with me!(:

  • Marilyn M.

    Just beautiful, Carolyn. Keep writing and keep sending your stories to me. Much love.

  • Karen

    I really enjoy reading your stories. Keep them coming Carolyn! Sisi seems very sweet..glad she found her way to you!

  • Brittany

    I love this story!Thanks for sharing Carolyn! Sisi is very blessed to, to have such a loving caregiver and best friend.

  • Patty Hatch

    This story is simply beautiful. My husband had cats growing up and always wanted to have in our home. I was timid around animals and wasn’t really interested. We finally decided to visit a shelter and adopted a cat. I was a bit afraid, but she immediately took to both of us and is the most delightful companion and has the sweetest disposition. I believe St. Francis himself intervened so I would have a wonderful pet-owning experience. Thank you again for sharing your story. You are a terrific writer-I hope you will be able to publish more.

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