Features January 2012 Issue

Every Dog Adoption is Like a Box of Chocolates . . .

The first adult dogs I adopted after beginning my animal protection career at the Marin Humane Society was Mandy, a tri-color Rough Collie who was surrendered to the shelter by her owner at eight years of age because she was leaking urine – she had spay incontinence. I am a sucker for Collies (my childhood companion and confidante was a Collie), and I offered to foster her, brush out her matted fur, and medicate the urine burns on her legs. She came home with me and laid down on the living room floor as if she’d lived there forever. Medication for her incontinence quickly resolved her leaking problem, and she stayed with me for the rest of her life, until she died of a stroke at age 13.

Few (if any) dogs will arrive in a new home and immediately understand and follow all the house rules, get along with every member of the family (human, canine, feline, etc.), and display perfect health as they consume and perfectly digest whatever food they are given. Rather, all dogs present their new families with unique health issues and behaviors; you never know what you are going to get along with the darling face you fell in love with at the shelter. Your new family member may need medical care, remedial training, and/or socialization in order to adjust and adapt to their new circumstances.

Here are the short stories of our current adult-adoption canine family:

We adopted Dubhy (pronounced “Duffy,” means “Dark” in Gaelic) a Scottish Terrier, when he was about 6 months old. He was in a shelter A former stray, he’s now 11 years old. Dubhy actually came with no noticeable behavior challenges, but became reactive to other dogs as he matured.

Lucy (short for “Footloose and Fancy Free”), our Cardigan Corgi, was surrendered by her former owner to my husband’s shelter (Paul is the executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, Maryland), when she was about 7 months old. I’m sure it was because her high energy level (in a home with small children) was problematic. I had long wanted a Corgi. She arrived with high energy, borderline canine compulsive behavior (spinning), and a shrill voice she didn’t hesitate to use. Living on a farm, doing barn chores, and going for daily hikes quickly resolved the energy/compulsive behavior issues. Lucy is now about 8 years old. We live with – and manage – the voice.

We call Bonnie (Bonnie Wee Lass) a “Scorgidoodle” – we think she’s a mix of Scottie, Corgi, and Poodle. We adopted her when she was about 6 months old; she’s now 6 years old. Bonnie was surrendered to the shelter by her owners because they couldn’t housetrain her. She was a submissive urinator. Careful management and modification has reduced her urination incidents to a rare occasion.

Missy, our Australian Shepherd, was all of 8 years old when we adopted her; she’s now 13. We were Missy’s fourth home in 12 months. I suspect she had one long-term owner who had to give her up for some reason, and the separation issues she demonstrated within the first 24 hours in our home likely resulted in her being passed from home to home until she landed with us. Fortunately her behavior is at the “distress” end of the scale, not the “anxiety” end; it manifests only as vocalization (barking). Because I work from my home office, and we have no nearby neighbors, we are able to easily manage this behavior.

Scooter, our Pomeranian, was also about 8 years old when we adopted him; he’s now 10. Scooter was on the euthanasia list at our shelter after failing part of his behavioral assessment by the shelter staff; he very fiercely guarded resources. The staff knew I had taken an interest in the little guy, and contacted me after the behavior assessment.

As it turned out, while he may act fierce from time to time, Scooter has superb bite inhibition – which means that it doesn’t hurt when he bites. Having been on the receiving end of his ferocity on more than one occasion, I can attest to the fact that there is no pressure from his teeth when he puts his mouth on your skin. It’s a simple matter to manage his resource guarding by not pestering him when he has a valuable resource in his possession, or by trading it for a high-value treat if he has something that we need to take away (which rarely happens).

Scooter had another troubling habit when he first arrived in our house; he frequently peed in the house, lifting his leg on anything and everything. Fortunately, a discussion of the problem with our veterinarian and an examination resulted in a quick resolution of this “training problem.” After having surgery to remove a cherry-sized bladder stone, which was preventing him from fully emptying his bladder outside (and causing him to almost stand on his head to pee), Scooter stopped peeing in the house. Can you imagine how tragic it would have been for him if he had been living with someone who punished him for his “stubbornness”? His story is a good reminder to always give a dog the benefit of the doubt – and look for factors beyond the dog’s control – when problematic behavior persists.

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