Dog trainer and part-time administrator Stefanie Gibbons didn’t think she’d end up with a pack of Siberian Huskies, but after adopting seven-year-old Kimba from a shelter, she eventually welcomed three other dogs—Ollie, Gamble, and Lyra (ages 5, 7, and 4 respectively)—into her home. This is her amazing pet adoption tail.
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Waldo’s Friends (WF): How did you and Kimba meet?
Stefanie Gibbons (SG): Five years ago, I was volunteering with Alaskan Malamute Rehoming Aid Australia Inc. (AMRAA) at their kennels on the central coast. It was my first day, and my duties were to socialize with the dogs, in pairs or alone.
It was nearly the end of the day, and I had met about 10 different dogs. I’d noticed a pattern: some dogs were far more interested in checking out the yard I was in, while others followed me to where I would sit, for affection.
Kimba was an unclaimed stray who had been at the rescue for about two months. She followed me but sat just out of reach. She would stare at me with these big brown eyes, but would only allow contact for a few seconds before leaping away. My first thought was, “Oh boy, you’re weird.” My second thought was, “You’re coming home with me.”
We originally thought she was six years old. She was like a nana (grandma) and the fun police whenever other dogs were playing. When I got her home, it became apparent that she was significantly younger than we first thought. She was offering me toys and engaging in really playful puppy behaviour. We checked her chip and discovered she was barely two years old.
WF: Were there any issues you had to deal with when you took in Kimba?
SG: My first challenge was that I lived in a studio apartment with my 16-year-old cat Saturn, but we made it work. I made the decision early on to keep them separate as I wasn’t confident in how to manage the prey drive, and had a few close friends who loved taking Saturn for purr therapy.
Kimba quickly toilet trained herself and had zero issues with being left alone when I worked. It became apparent that she had some pretty major anxiety, but a regular routine and training helped her manage that. A week later, I brought in a 10-year-old Rottweiler-Malamute named Dakota (he passed away last January), and she flourished with the doggy company. We struggled with walking because every time Kimba saw another dog, she’d stand on her back legs and make horrid noises in excitement. Fortunately, Dakota was a steady influence on her. With each dog I’ve added to the household, Kimba has become so much more affectionate and confident. She’s learned to lean right in for cuddles and she loves guests.
WF: Is there a special bonding activity that only you and Kimba do together?
SG: When I first got her, the only affection she would allow was 15 seconds of ear rubs IF she could lick my chin at the same time! Now we’ve progressed to rubbing her neck and she will face plant into my chest or armpit, and melt down into my arms. It’s the cutest thing you’ll ever see!
WF: Aside from this exchange of affection, does Kimba have any funny or interesting quirks?
SG: When she’s sick, she’s the biggest baby ever. The first time she wasn’t feeling well, I had had her for maybe three months. She wouldn’t go for her walk, so I had to carry her home. She stood and stared at me until I cuddled her. She spent the whole day asleep on my chest in a hammock.
The next time she got sick, she woke me up at 2 am by puking on my head. After I showered and changed the bedding, I had to spoon her all night. Normally, she would sleep totally separate from anyone else and if you woke her, she’d have a lot to say about it.
WF: Why would you personally encourage adopting animals?
SG: Watching Kimba go from a nervous and shy dog to a total queen of the house has been very rewarding. She is so ridiculously affectionate in ways I never thought she would be. It’s also been wonderful to watch her learn from every dog we’ve brought in, either guests or permanent siblings.
WF: Let’s talk about your other dogs. Did you get them partially for Kimba’s sake?
SG: I actually got Ollie as a companion for Kimba. Her energy level outmatched Dakota’s, and Ollie was the first dog she actually played well with. I’d actually seen his photo on our rescue Facebook, with the big scar across his muzzle and my heart just melted.
A few weeks later, I boarded Kimba and Dakota while I visited family in Perth. The now president of the rescue sent me a video of them playing. Kimba’s play style is rough, but she’s a princess when it comes to returns. Ollie took all of her hits and came back for more. He was this skinny little possum, we called him. He looked like a stretched brushtail possum. When I first met him, he ran to me when I called his name and collapsed at my feet.
Ollie was recovering from malnutrition after being badly neglected and abused, so sometimes his legs would just stop working as he ran and he’d face plant. But he’d get right up again. That first day I went into his kennel, he scrambled awkwardly into my lap as I bent down. I had my hand on his chest and realised his pulse was slowing. He’d just fallen asleep in my arms immediately.
He was and is Kimba’s perfect foil. He is such a gentle boy, but he loves to play. He will adjust how he plays to his partner. He can play a non-scary chase game with a little fluffy, never towering over them or cornering them, or he can play gladiators with another husky. He will be the fun uncle to any puppy—if they squeak, he lets them initiate the next round.
Gamble and Lyra were kind of accidental babies. They came into the house “just for one night” and that became “just another week until she’s got more weight or I train her to do this.” Eventually, my husband would end up falling in love with them and how much they bonded to me and let them stay!
WF: What’s it like having so many dogs at home? Did you have to undergo any major changes to accommodate all of them?
SG: Once I got Ollie, I knew that studio life was not gonna work! I arranged to move into a family property. About this time, my relationship with my now husband meant that he would move in with me. We eventually moved into a large house (with four bedrooms, so several housemates) with a good sized courtyard. At one point we had five permanent dogs, one husky coming for daily day care, and several puppies!
My dogs, especially Kimba, benefitted from having other people and dogs in the house. It definitely socialised them all to different-sized dogs, and the puppies that I raised are totally bombproof. One dachshund is fairly sure he’s a husky!
Eventually, we moved and we knew a big yard wasn’t a priority. The most important thing was a couch that could fit five to six dogs and two people! My dogs prefer park jaunts over any yard because they like the chance to meet people and dogs.
WF: How has your life changed after adopting Kimba and your other pets?
SG: I changed my whole life to better accommodate Kimba. I started dog walking full time, I researched dog training, and now I’m on my way to being an accredited dog trainer.
WF: What’s your advice for people thinking of adopting a rescue? And what advice can you give for first-time animal owners?
SG: Be patient and mindful of what’s happening from their perspective. Everything around them is changing and they don’t know what to expect or what to do. Guide them with love and patience to the right choices (like where to potty) and reward them heavily. Building a trust bond with them will take time, but it’s not hard and it’s immediately rewarding.
For first-time dog owners, think about the life you can offer a dog, not what kind of dog suits you because you can change your life far more easily than a dog can.
See what Stefanie and her delightful pets are up to by following her on Instagram.
Read more rescue stories here! Do you know of an interesting pet adoption, foster, or rescue story? Share your suggestion with us by commenting below!