She’s not the life of the party. No. Polina is the type to hold up the wall.
You have to make the first move. You can’t be too cool or move too fast. You have to take your time and put in work.
But when the big, black dog with the white feet and chest smiles at you, it’s worth it. Her mouth may be huge and those jowls are surely sloppy, but her teeth are tiny and gentle. Her kisses quick yet sweet.
And she’s been living in a shelter for over a year. That’s a long time for any pet, but especially one who’s been through some things. We don’t know the details, but anyone who has ever been loved can see it in her soulful eyes: She’s heartbroken. And she is still shaking off the pain.
As children, we were taught to stop, drop and roll if we catch on fire. Polina has lived the kind of life that caused her to stop, drop and freeze with fear in new environments. She was found in October 2016, wandering off Northeast 83rd Street in Kansas City. Animal Control picked her up and brought her to KC Pet Project. She lay down in the middle of the floor and didn’t move.
But her friends at KC Pet Project have helped nurture her confidence. She loves short road trips and lying in grass. Her favorite treats aren’t dog bones. This girl likes cheeseburgers and peanut butter sandwiches.
“Netflix and chill kind of dog,” is how adoption counselor Wieteke “Wit” Waterborg describes Polina. On nice days, they sit together under an oak tree. She’s over 75 pounds but that doesn’t stop Polina from settling her butt on Wit’s lap.
“Sometimes I go in her room when I’m having a bad day and just lie with her,” Wit says. “She’s a staff fave. What she needs is a quiet, calm and loving home.”
It’s been a long year for the 7-year-old Mastiff mix. She’s got a team of advocates working with her to help her heal from her past hurt. She’s a little arthritic, but it doesn’t stop her from chasing a ball or taking walks.
When I meet her on a Monday afternoon, we’re outside of Petco at 95th and Quivira. She’s surrounded by her team — Karen Read and Chris Childs, “Aunt Karen and Uncle Chris.”
The couple volunteer with KC Pet Project and have been working with Polina all year. For the past six months, they’ve taken her on Saturday play dates. Car rides, creeks and parks are her thing.
“She’s goofy,” Karen says. “Super loving once she trusts you. She’s a big lover and loves to give kisses.”
If she could live with other pets, they would have taken her home a long time ago. But the high energy of other pets and children scares Polina. She needs to be the only kid in the house.
It’s not love at first sight when we meet. Polina cocks her head to the side. Aunt Karen puts some cheese in my hand. I kneel down and slowly move toward her. She comes over to me and gently eats the cheddar bites.
Within 20 minutes, she’s leaning into my side the way dogs do to hug your legs. I even get a kiss. She lets me walk her around the lot just a bit. She doesn’t pull. She looks up at me a lot to make sure I’m with her.
I get it. She’s a little insecure. Everyone talks about young love. But what really haunts us is old love. Someone who was supposed to love Polina forever is gone. We don’t know what she went through to survive the streets she was found on, but it’s clear it was hard and painful. It shows in the way she jumps and tenses when there’s too much excitement.
She lets me come in her room. At the KC Pet Project shelter in Petco, Polina has her own special space. There are piles of blankets, a bench and a dog bed covered with both KU and Mizzou blankets. We sit together for a while. I tell her if I didn’t have my own pup at home, I’d take her with me. The team tells me this is a common sentiment. Everyone who has a dog wants our girl. But she needs monogamy.
Polina shouldn’t have to spend a second year in a shelter. She’s been shell-shocked. You don’t hear a Sarah McLachlan song when you look in her eyes. You hear Sade. Somebody already broke her heart. Like most of us with some miles on us, she has a little baggage.
It’s going to take someone with patience, love and grace to help unpack her issues and get our girl a forever home.
Could you be the one?
Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist, @jeneeinkc
Polina is one of 10,000 pets that come through KC Pet Project annually. But this 7-year-old Mastiff mix has been there over a year and is ready for a home. Now through Christmas Eve, her adoption fee is just $40. The shelter is also offering free training to whoever takes her home.
To learn more about Polina, go to kcpetproject.org or visit her at Petco, at 95th and Quivira in Overland Park.