The Perfectly Imperfect Pet


Okay so we discussed the adoption process but what happens when that seemingly perfect dog is imperfect? When I brought my recently adopted dog Bella home from the shelter she was quiet and calm and sweet. But within four hours of being at home she let her true personality show. She was rowdy and playful and chasing toys all around the house. I was completely amused.

But over the next few days she displayed some behaviors I was not only not amused by but had a zero tolerance for. She would bite any human that came near me while I was holding her. She would also have a meltdown if another dog approached. She would practically hyperventilate herself from anxiety and she would growl at the dog and charge the dog. Fortunately all the dogs we ran into were very understanding of her Napolean syndrome and did not bite her.

I decided to tackle the human biting first. First I stopped holding her in my arm in public. She is a healthy dog so she is able to walk and we do not walk so far that Bella cannot walk the entire distance. When I am going to interact with another human that I want Bella to have interaction with, or who I know will want to show her attention, I would pick her up, turn her around so she was facing me, and hand her to the other person. This immediately makes her submissive and agreeable to being seen by the other person. I made a point of taking her out in public often, especially around people I knew and therefore knew would be patient with her while she was re-learning social skills. It took about a week of frequent human interaction before Bella finally stopped biting humans. She is not happy to be interacted with and looks forward to meeting new people. She is shy initially but once they touch her she is happy and comfortable.

We are still working on dog interactions. I have discovered that with dogs her size or smaller, which is not the majority of dogs since Bella is only five pounds, there is no anxiety. It is larger dogs that bring on the melt down. Having fostered over 300 dogs in my 13 years of rescue, I have had some experience with dog aggression, but the results are not what I’d like, so I’ve reached out to a trainer for some assistance.

This is an important point in the adoption process. Adopting a dog is not a process that requires no follow up. Rescue dogs have pasts that usually have no record so there is no way to know where they came from or what they experienced. Many had fine homes. Some have had no love or were abused or were never socialized. In the case of small breeds many find it funny to get the little dog to be aggressive with larger dogs, like it “shows they’re tough”.  So when adopting you must be ready to make the investment to retrain them if needed. It is NOT a reason to return them to the rescue or shelter. That creates an even larger case of anxiety and confusion for the dog. The dog needs you to be dedicated to their care in every aspect, even hiring a trainer if necessary.

And it is not just training. There can be any number of needs immediately after adoption. It was only two days after I adopted Bella that I noticed she would squat to urinate but nothing was coming out. I took her straight to the vet where it was determined she had a UTI. That is no reflection on the shelter, who cares for hundreds of dogs, it is just a part of adopting a pet.

Adopting a pet is a wonderful experience. Just be sure to give thought to all aspects of the adoption, not just the fun part of bringing them home. Be sure to investigate the life expectancy of your pet. My pet’s breed has a life expectancy of 21 years. That means I’ll be approaching 70 years old at the end of her life. I asked myself before adopting her if I was prepared to have a dog until I am 70 years old. My answer was yes.

Pets are an investment of time, love and money and we must be sure we are prepared to fulfill all aspects of the investment for the lifetime of the pet. The return on that investment is priceless!

Chance’s Chance

They say as a rescuer that there will some day be “that dog”, the foster that you can never forget. In my case it is two dogs, who were in foster care together at my house at the same time, and were the best of friends. Both had horrific, cruel, abusive, tortured pasts before coming to me. But both were fighters and they learned to love and trust again, in spite of all that had been inflicted on them by humans.

Jeffrey was found in a plastic pet carrier in a field in the blazing hot summer heat of Miami. He was malnourished, covered in urine burns and paralyzed in his back legs. He was so scared he bit everyone.

Chance was tortured by his owners. Literally. He was also paralyzed in his back legs. But he had the added insult of having something tied to his leg so tightly and for so long, the bottom half of the leg died and had to be removed. Later the remainder of the leg would have to be removed as well.

Chance and Jeffrey became the very best of friends. They snuggled and slept together. As you can imagine with such histories and with paralysis, and in Chance’s case even amputation, there were no applications submitted to adopt them. But they were loved and happy. Jeffrey learned to trust enough not to bite people. Both of them learned to be mobile with their paralysis. Honestly, it never slowed either one of them down. Jeffrey learned to use his cart. Chance never really seemed to like his.

But chaos struck my life in the third year the boys were in foster care with me. I lost my house and so they had to be moved. It ripped my heart out to send them to another foster home. And it ripped my heart out again to learn that they had been separated. I knew it was likely as it’s hard to find foster space for two special needs dogs together, but I had hoped.

Jeffrey was adopted almost immediately. I never got to meet or speak to his adoptive mom. She didn’t even know he had a foster mom other than the one that adopted him to her. She sent one update, noting that Jeffrey went on long walks with her daily. That was the only update we’d ever get on him. I have no idea if he is still with her or if he has passed away.

Chance was adopted by a friend of one of the rescue members. Over time Chance’s forever mom and I would become friends. I got to see Facebook updates. Got emails and text messages about him. I even got to visit him and his family a few months ago. When I saw him then he had just overcome a serious illness and it was thought that he might not make it, but he pulled through. So I knew when I saw him that it might be my last time. I tried to hold it all together when I left but cried for days after I returned home, knowing it was the last time I’d see him.

He has lived a full and wonderful life. He is loved – I think he is probably the favorite, but don’t tell the other pups in his home – and he is adored and he is as well cared for as any dog could be. He has lived a long and wonderful life. He is likely 17 years old now, though we can’t know for sure since his age at time of rescue was guesstimated. He got the life I had always hoped he would have. And I got to be part of that life, a gift I could never have imagined I would get.

But today came the email I have always known would come and dreaded with all my heart. Chance is not well. There is no more that can be done for him. It is a combination of symptoms associated with his age and the affects of long time paralysis and the issues that come along with paralysis. His mom says he is not having quality of life any longer so it is time to let him go to the Rainbow Bridge. My head knows this is the best and Chance deserves to be let go. But my heart is scream NOOOOOO at the top of my lungs. Not yet. I’m not ready. But the truth is I’ll never be ready. Chance was a purpose and a focus for me in a time of chaos and turmoil in my life. I know that I rescued him, but really he rescued me as well. Chance and Jeffrey both.

So I will send him off with all my kisses given to him by his mom on my behalf. I will take joy in knowing that I got to see him recently and give him my own kisses. He slept with me each night and spent his days on the couch with me. Another unexpected gift.

Sleep well little buddy. I love you. I’ll see you again some day but this time you will be healthy and whole.

Picking A Pup

There are so many dogs in rescue, how do I know which one to pick?

It is a question often asked of us as rescuers. The best answer is to create your “absolute no” list and then let a dog pick you. What is an “absolute no” list? It’s the habits or requirements in a pet that you cannot live with. For example if you are a parent with little ones your “absolute no” will be a dog who is not good with children.  If you have other pets your “absolute no” will be a dog who does not get along with other pets. If you live in an apartment a dog who needs a yard is your “absolute no”.

But there are some things you will want to be more open minded about such as purebred versus mixed breed or age or coat color. Perhaps the best example is my recent experience with adopting a pet so let me share that with you.

I have not had a pet in a while. My last dachshund passed away last year and having taken a new job that required travel, I decided not to adopt a new pet until things slowed down a bit. Once the slow down arrived, and realizing I missed the companionship of a dog, I started out on the pet adoption journey.

I have been working with DARE for 13 years but the truth is I am a huge Chihuahua fan. I just know that I can adopt out dachshund fosters. If I fostered Chihuahuas I could not adopt them out and I’d have my own little chi-herd following me around the house.

I created my “absolute no” list: separation anxiety, requirement for a fenced yard (I live in a townhouse), aggression or biting issues (because I like to take my dog downtown with me to the shops & restaurants).

So I set out looking for a dachshund or chi that was very old and very inactive. I believe the term I used was “decrepit old couch potato”.  That was born partly by my love of the senior dogs and knowing that I work from home each day, upstairs in the loft of my apartment, and I wanted a calmer dog who would not be distressed knowing I was in the house with them, but not able to play with them and focus on them, because I needed to be focused on work.

I checked with DARE and did not find the decrepit old couch potato type I was looking for, so I headed out to and searched for small dogs in my area. I found a local rescue with a Chihuahua mix named Chicklet. She was adorable! Her bio noted she was a senior and good with other dogs and had no special requirements. She was mixed with Chinese Crested and had a Mohawk of coarse hair down her back. I made an appointment to meet her at the rescue location. She was cute beyond words but honestly she just did not pick me. She was s much more interested in the other dog she liked to play with, and I was concerned that she would be bored as an only dog. There were two other dogs there that did take to me, one of which I was told never liked anyone so they were surprised she liked me, but she had multiple applications on hand already (I had read that on their Facebook page) so I told them I’d put some thought into it and get back to them.

Next I saw on Facebook a video of available dogs at my local Animal Services and it featured a 10 year old, solid black Chihuahua that was stated to be 10 years old. He had the biggest ears I’d ever seen and I had already decided I’d call him Batman. I headed to the shelter the next morning and met him, but he was 10 months old not 10 years, and I was concerned he was far too active for a dog that needed to spend the day alone while I worked upstairs. I asked if they had any dachshunds and was told they did not.

On the way home I stopped at another local shelter to see what types of dogs they had. In a cage were five small dogs, two of which were Chihuahua or Chihuahua mix. Chance was the first to come visit with me. We went for a walk. He was a Chihuahua dachshund mix which appealed to me. He was adorable, older, and had the same name as one of my most favorite DARE fosters. I wanted so much for him to be the right match for me. Chance also did not pick me though. I asked to see Bella, a tiny, petrified little tan and white Chihuahua.  We also went for a walk and then returned to the shelter where she literally jumped into my arms when I bent over to take off her leash. She nuzzled up under my chin and wrapped both front paws around my arm that was holding her. Yep, she chose me. I knew she was 18 months old and that was not at all what I had been looking for, but the shelter told me she was very shy, quiet and mellow. It only took 4 hours at home with me for the “real” Bella to come out and she was not shy or mellow! She loves to play fetch and tug of war for hours on end. She also plays what we call “ninja chi” where she stands on her back legs and bats her front paws at my hands as I wave my hands at her paws.

I suppose you might think that makes Bella not a good match for me, but the truth is Bella is absolutely the perfect dog. Though she is 18 months old and quite playful, she is also perfectly content to lay on the sofa while I work upstairs. She goes downtown with me and enjoys having lunch at the pet friendly restaurants. She sleeps under the blankets with me and is already house trained. And she is absolutely not at all what I had in mind when I set out to adopt a new pet. But she is perfect for me in every way.

It is important to know what your “absolute no” list is and to stick to it so that you can have absolute flexibility in other areas to let the right dog for you pick you to be their pack leader. It can take some time and effort but in the end it is so worth it!

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