Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New Dog

We have a new dog in our house, and it is an interesting adaptation.

Our dog, Ender, died December 23, 2006. He was 13, so while it wasn't unanticipated, it was a surprise- he really hadn't shown any signs of impending death. I did have a dream, around the first of December, in which Ender was playing with a dog my husband and I acquired one month after we got married, and who had died in 1990. I told him he wasn't to go play with Tanqueray without telling me first.

Ender was a terrific dog, but had a large set of idiosyncracies. He had come to us as a stray in 1995, and our vet estimated he was right at 7 months old. He had been living rough at the Lake of the Ozarks; we tried to find his owners but were unsuccessful. Ender was afraid of feet; wasn't too fond of people other than our family; was probably single handedly responsible for turning my father from a "dog guy" into a "cat person". He had, on occasion, snuck up behind people and bit them. But he learned to love our foreign exchange students (as long as they had ample supplies of dog treats) and co-existed amicably enough with two different house rabbits. If I had known as much about dog psychology when we first got him as I do know, I would have made different choices in how we dealt with him and his fears, and perhaps he would have had a more fulfilling life. But I think he was happy with us. He was difficult to live with, but we adapted and loved him.

Because of my addiction to The Animal Planet, I had been thinking of volunteering at the animal shelter for some time, or perhaps fostering a dog or two. I knew we couldn't do it with Ender; he was too alpha to share his house with another dog. Now that our house was sad and quiet and dogless, I went up to the shelter just after New Years. Unfortunately, our local shelter doesn't really foster dogs, so I volunteered to walk dogs on my lunch hour.

I had some dreams about what kind of dog we would have next. In my family, we have never really chosen our dogs, mostly we are chosen by them. This time, I thought I would take a lot of time, meet a lot of dogs, and find one who didn't bring so much baggage into the relationship. I thought I would like to have a dog who could be walked in the daylight, instead of at midnight (to limit the number of interactions with joggers, bicyclists and other dogs), a dog who could play with other dogs. Maybe even a dog who could become a therapy dog, and go with me to nursing home, and march with the Kindly Canines in the Halloween parade.

Well, the first dog I walked, a pitbull female who had been at the shelter for over 9 months, was definitely Not My Dog. She was incredibly strong, had no leash skills, and I couldn't get her to release the leash from her jaws in order to even WORK with her on leash skills. I left there severely humbled- I had visions of being the Grande Dame, taking the poor unfortunates out for the day. She was delighted to be out, but took all of my strength to even get from the building to the enclosure.

The second dog was also Not My Dog- a young husky lab mix who was sweet, but had way more energy than a couple of 50+ sedentary people without a fenced yard should deal with.

But on the Third Day, I met my match. A pretty 2 1/2 year old Akita Lab mix, she had been in the shelter half of her life, off and on. She had a lot of energy, but seemed pleased to walk with me. I still walked other dogs, but I walked her as well. We walked a few more days, and then I brought my husband up to meet her.

She didn't like him one bit. In fact, she was terrified of him. But she was happy to see me, and he admitted later that she did indeed seem to be my dog. I brought him up another day to meet her, she still didn't seem to like him much. But the shelter was overcrowded because of a recent seizure and we offered to foster her for a period, to see if familiarity helped get her over the fear. After 2 weeks we had to either adopt her or bring her back.

Well, of course we didn't take her back, and we have now had her unofficially for 2 weeks, and officially for 2 more. She is still fearful of Chuck, although less so when they are outside, or when she has a leash on, or when he is sitting in his chair with treats. She's getting better. Today she went into the kitchen and stole some bones off the counter- I guess she is feeling more comfortable. She loves to play in the snow, and can curl into the smallest ball I have ever seen. She's not the dog I thought I would get, but I was chosen, and that's a tremendous honor.

If you would like to share your life with a shelter dog, visit Petfinder.com

1 comment:

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

We're thinking of getting a dog soon - and I think rescue dogs are the definate way to go.