My friend Leonora, owner of tiny Samson (my dog Woody’s BFF), is starting to search for a second dog. It’s been over a year since her last big dog died, and she’s just starting to look for just the right new family member. The candidate has to be gentle and dog-friendly enough to live with 4.8-pound Samson, whose legs are like chopsticks, so we’ve been frequenting our local shelter, which, sadly, is packed to the roof with dogs at the moment. Yikes.
Over the 14 years that I’ve been living in this town and volunteering for the shelter, I’ve earned the privilege of getting to visit and work with dogs when the building is closed to the public. So Leonora and I are able to wander through the adoption wing on weekends when she’s off work and take out any dogs we like.
I wanted to show her two puppies that I spotted. If my 14-year-old Otto was already gone, I would have adopted one of them myself. They both had irresistible scruffy faces like Otto and seemed like they were going to be a bit smaller than him, which I want for my next dog. I can’t bring a puppy home while we’re going through end of life stuff with him. I just can’t. But I was sorely tempted.
Leonora spent a long time with those puppies, and some time with a younger puppy. We’ve learned over the past few years that Samson can hold his own with very young puppies, effectively training them when they are young to not step on him or knock him over; if they do, he goes at them with a great show of ferocity, scaring but not hurting them. As they grow well past Samson’s size, they become increasingly careful with him! So getting a very young puppy might be the best way to raise a Samson-safe friend; older pups, in contrast, might not respect his ferocity, coming as it does in such a small package. For this reason, plus all the other work of raising a puppy, complete with housetraining and puppy kindergarten, Leonora is leaning away from the idea of adopting a puppy this time. Since she lives alone and works full time (and tiny
Samson gets to come to work with her, but a second dog could not), she’s not wild about the idea. And besides, puppies ALWAYS get adopted quickly; she’d like to help an older dog get out of the shelter.
I later learned that the two pups who tempted me so strongly were transferred to a shelter in the San Francisco Bay Area that has far fewer dogs. I’m so glad; they will get adopted in a hot minute down there.
Looking at adult dogs to adopt
We didn’t see just the right dog – but we saw one who needed help. There was a female Great Pyrenees, about 18 months old, pasted to the back of her kennel, who wouldn’t make eye contact with us. We looked at her cage card. She had been adopted two months prior, but was recently returned to the shelter because – I’m not making this up – shedding. No kidding!! A Pyrenees! There was one very hard, dry poop in her otherwise dry kennel; she was “holding it.” No wonder she looked so miserable.
I went inside her kennel, but she was petrified and wouldn’t approach me – wouldn’t even look at me. However, neither did she give me any aggressive signals. I scratched her chest for a moment, and she leaned a little closer to me. I slipped a leash over her head and she immediately moved to the kennel door; she knew this meant I would take her out.
Once outside and freed in a large run, the Pyr urinated for what seemed like several minutes, and then pooped several enormous poops. No wonder the poor baby looked so miserable inside!
This was Saturday morning on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend, so the shelter was closed to the public for three days in a row. The staff would be cleaning and feeding, but the dogs don’t get outside on those days. I texted the shelter manager and asked if we could bring the Pyrenees home for the weekend, and happily she agreed. Much of the fencing on my property is only four feet tall, whereas Leonora has six-foot chain-link fences, so she agreed to hold the dog over the weekend. The dog’s name was supposedly “Pearl,” but she didn’t seem to recognize it over any other word, so we started calling her Delilah (you know, to go with Samson!).
She’s a strange girl, with some weird fears and apprehensions. She hops readily into the car, but then won’t get out. At first, we had to practically drag and push her into and out of the house; she didn’t like going through doorways. She chose to sleep in Leonora’s bathroom. The first night in the house, she didn’t move from the spot where we put a big blanket for her; the next night, she went into the bathroom and slept wedged between the toilet and the shower.
Come Tuesday morning, neither of us could stand the idea of taking the big, shedding dog back to the shelter. The shelter staff had already reached out to a Pyrenees rescue, and they are trying to find a foster or adoptive home for her, but for now, Leonora is fostering her and hoping to bring her more and more out of her shut-down behavioral shell.
Training another rehomed dog
Right when all that was going on, another friend of mine had adopted a dog – rehomed from Craigslist – but had to travel for much of the month of February. When she was making arrangements for the adoption, I told her I could dog-sit the new dog until she got back. So she had the dog for just over two weeks before I was going to dog-sit, and every day that passed, my friend was more convinced that she had adopted the wrong dog. This little Maltese/Poodle-mix (also about 18 months old, hmmm) is barky, not house-trained, has separation anxiety, and chased her elderly cat. And returning the dog was not an option. Oops! I told her not to make any hasty decisions, but to let me spend some time with the dog; we could more easily find the little cutie another home with a little training under her collar.
Sophie’s understanding of housetraining is fine, but she’ll sneak a pee indoors if you’re not paying attention. And her separation anxiety is not severe; she’s improving with my efforts to only slowly increase the duration of the minutes I leave her alone. I’ve been working a lot on name recognition and “leave it,” so whomever she ends up with will have solid tools to get her to turn away from whatever she is barking at and come back.
Five dogs go, six return
Given the exercise needs of both of these adolescent dogs, Leonora and I have been taking a lot of walks together. Given her mild separation anxiety, Sophie is terrific off-leash (I like to joke that the problem with separation-anxiety dogs is that you can’t leave them, but on the other hand, they won’t ever leave you!). She likes to run with my big dog, Woody, and looks extremely cute bounding through the tall grass in our local open spaces.
We don’t take Delilah off leash. The Pyrenees rescue group warned us that no matter how attached to you a Pyr seems to be, when given the opportunity, they tend to take off running and not look back. And since it’s still a challenge to get Delilah to so much as look at us when we say her name (she can do it well without distractions, but out in open spaces, forget it), we keep her on the long line.
Last weekend, Leonora and I took all five of our dogs (my three: Otto, Woody, and Sophie, and Leonora’s Samson and Delilah) for a short, slow, sniffing walk in the hour before sunset in a part of our local “wildlife area” where we don’t often walk. All of our dogs except Delilah were off-leash. When we were almost back to Leonora’s car, we heard a dog barking at us – though at first, we couldn’t tell where the barking was coming from. We have been out on the trail at this time of evening and had coyotes barking at and watching us, so Leonora scooped up tiny Samson and I quickly called Sophie to me and snapped her leash back on. A minute later, the barker revealed herself: a short, fat, (maybe) Cattle Dog-mix, came rushing out from underneath a tree, looking for all the world like a castaway on a desert island who just saw a boat on her beach. She was wary of all of our dogs, but came at me in a frantic fashion, “Oh my dog I am so glad to see you thank you thank you thank you I thought I was going to starve out here!”
Given that Leonora had her hands full with tiny Samson in her arms and giant Delilah on a leash, I told her to walk ahead so I could try to assess what was going on with the stray dog.
This wild enthusiasm had little Sophie freaked out – she wanted to get away from the whirling dervish – so I unclipped her leash and dropped a loop around the neck of the castaway, to try to contain her writhing and leaping about. Instantly she transformed into a wild horse at the end of a lasso: “What the heck? Are you trying to kill me? Help! Someone! Help! I’m dying!”
I hunkered down, food treats in hand. “Hey, buddy, it’s ok! Look! Food!” But the little dog was convinced she was about to be murdered. I slipped the leash off – and she reanimated immediately. “Thank you, thank you! Friend! Thank you!”
Given how portly she was, I wondered if she had pups under the tree; she was too close to the ground for me to see if she was nursing. I walked back over to the tree where she had been. The grass was all pressed down in that area, as if she had been hanging out there for some time, and there were torn-up fast food bags and wrappers strewn around. Had she raided garbage cans in the area and brought the bags back to her hiding spot? Or had she been abandoned there with a bag of food? There’s no telling.
Given that we already had a car FULL of dogs – small ones in the front seats with us, the giant one taking up the full back seat, and my two boys in the generously sized “way back” of Leonora’s SUV – I was worried about whether we could (or should even try to) bring the castaway with us in the car, especially given that she had not, apparently, had a leash on before. I decided not to make her come along with us, and instead, see if she would follow us the short distance back to the car, or go back to her tree. She not only followed, but hopped into the car pretty easily, hunkering down on the passenger side floor on my feet. Okay, well, we don’t have to worry about coyotes eating her, but where are we going to put her? I texted the shelter manager and asked if I could bring her in, and put her in one of the outdoor pens where local law-enforcement officers sometimes bring dogs they catch after hours. Thankfully, despite the crowding in the shelter already, she agreed.
At the shelter, I took pictures of the dog and put her in one of the outdoor holding pens with food, water, and a blanket. Back at home, I posted her picture on all the local “lost/found pet” sites I know and made a “found dog” flier to post back in the area where we found her the next day.
I had to scratch out the “female” part of my fliers the next morning when a shelter staffer texted me to let me know that my desert island dog was a neutered boy, not a girl. Whoops! He was fuzzy and low to the ground! But despite being neutered, no microchip. Argh!
I hear that in some parts of the country, there is a shortage of dogs to adopt? If that’s you, let me know! We’ve got way too many here.