An Update on Recent Foster Dogs & Rescues

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I’ve been doing a lot of fostering and co-fostering and rescuing lately, and I’ve written about it here and on the WDJ Instagram page, and a bunch of the dogs have been placed now, so I’m going to update all their stories here:

In mid-January, my friend Leonora and I went to our local shelter to look at a few older puppies that were there – and we ended up bringing home a super shut-down Great Pyrenees who had come into the shelter as a stray and had been adopted and returned twice. We felt so sorry for her; she was just terrified at being back at the shelter. Leonora has a large section of her property fenced with a six-foot chain link fence, so we brought the dog to her house to hang out for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., three-day weekend – and this dog has turned into a larger project than either of us imagined she might.

Great Pyrenees Delilah
Delilah is about two or three years old. It looks like she’s had puppies in the past. She was brought into the shelter as a stray and has been adopted three times now, but keeps flunking for some reason. Her most recent adopter found her anxiety to be too much.

Leonora has a tiny dog named Samson, so we started calling the Pyrenees Delilah, just for fun. Delilah started out afraid of everything – we had to push and pull her through doorways to get her into and then out of the house, and she slept in Leonora’s bathroom at first. Sometimes she would run right to us for affection and petting – and other times, especially if she sensed you wanted to put her on a leash (whether to take a walk or get in the car), she would run away and refuse to come even for the nicest treats, pacing just out of our reach. Once she learned Leonora’s schedule, and anticipating being locked up either in the house or the very large outdoor yard (with shelter) so Leonora could go to work, she started running away (within the fenced acre) as soon as she would be taken outside to go potty. Leonora had to leash her on work mornings so she couldn’t delay Leonora’s departure. This annoying habit aside, she very slowly started to reveal more and more of her anxious but sweet disposition, and so Leonora kept her on for some weeks, allowing her to decompress from her past and apparently traumatic experiences.

At the same time, I was fostering a Maltese/Poodle-mix that a friend had adopted and then had second thoughts about. Sophie had been adopted from a home where she was neglected and insufficiently trained or supervised; she had lots of unpleasant behaviors when I first brought her home. She would get distracted and tense outdoors and not go potty, waiting until I brought her back in the house; then she would sneak off into a back bedroom and go. (Obviously, once I realized that was her pattern, I made sure to wait outside with her until she “went,” and only then would bring her back in.) She was prone to screaming when put in a crate, and had some separation anxiety. She would also bark and scream in the car, and let out a piercing BARK when anything startled her (which would startle a statue, I swear). I committed to keeping her for a month of training and then started looking for a good home for her.

I started her behavior-modification plan with TONS of exercise. We went for off-leash walks daily and played fetch several times daily, for a total of at least an hour a day. With her exercise needs finally met, her behavior improved by the day.

In early February, Leonora and I were taking our dogs (my old Otto and middle-aged Woody, and her middle-aged tiny Samson, plus our fosters Delilah and Sophie) for an off-leash (except for Delilah) walk in our local wildlife area near the Feather River, when we found a young dog who had been apparently dumped (or perhaps just lost) out there. He was adorable, and desperate to come with us, so we loaded him (somehow) into Leonora’s car and took him to our local shelter. I returned the next day and put up fliers in that area, and I checked the shelter website weekly, hoping someone would come to claim him, but no luck. The shelter named him River and he spent weeks and weeks on the adoption row.

shaved maltese poodle mix
Sophie was less cute all shaved down, but given her love of fetching and rough-and-tumble play style, she was constantly full of burs and mats. After it took an hour to get all stickers out of her coat one night, I brought her to a groomer for a total shave. She liked it!

The challenge of re-homing Sophie was that she looked like a gorgeous little lap dog for an older person – but behaved like a field-bred Labrador who wanted nothing more than to run for hours every day, preferably chasing a ball. I knew that if she were rehomed with someone who didn’t give her enough exercise, all of her not-very-enjoyable traits would come back.

I started promoting her through my personal Facebook page, with no takers. Another friend who has a nonprofit rescue offered to promote her through her group’s Petfinder account – and almost immediately we were inundated with emails and calls from older people. We had stated in the post that this was an active, barky dog who needed miles and miles of exercise daily, so almost every inquiry started, “I’m an active older person…” The problem was, all of these people went on to say they walk a mile a day, or they could walk her three miles a day and throw a ball in their backyard – and since I was walking her about 4 miles off leash every day (where she probably walked 6 miles) and throwing the ball all the way across my two acres with a Chuckit for about an hour day, none of those options sounded like enough. I didn’t want to set up Sophie for failure again, so I stuck to my guns (even though it was really hard, people were so nice!). But I felt strongly we needed someone younger and more active.

In mid-February, I was at the shelter, training a new volunteer, when some people came in with a big plastic Rubbermaid storage tub. We dread seeing tubs like this; they are always full of puppies and this was no exception. ELEVEN puppies, to be exact. Of course, the people said they “found” the puppies, who looked to be about five weeks old. The shelter staffers and I were dubious about this – I pick up strays all the time but have never found a litter of puppies! – but the shelter would rather have people bring unwanted puppies into the shelter than abandon them or sell them, unfixed. But given that we already had three litters of puppies at the shelter, and since I already had a foster dog keeping me mostly at home, I said I could foster the litter until they were old enough to get adopted. The staff took the pups into the treatment room to deworm them and get “weights, temps, and pics” of each pup. I kept working with the volunteer.

scruffy dog with puppies
Scruffy and some of the 11 foster pups pups. They 11 were about five weeks old when brought into the shelter. Scruffy was maybe 8 or 9 weeks old.

About an hour later, someone else brought another, older puppy into the shelter, saying they found him sitting in the middle of a street. A staffer came to find me, where I was still working with the volunteer. “Look,” she said, “It’s a baby Otto!” And indeed, the scruffy-faced youngster, perhaps about 8 weeks old, did look like Otto. “Could you take him home, too? What’s the difference between 11 and 12 puppies?” she asked. I said, “Sure, ok, but I better get out of here before any more puppies get brought in!”

Thank goodness for a mild spring. I was able to set up all the puppies in a large covered pen outdoors, with a special heating pad for dogs at the bottom of the dog house for cooler nighttime temperatures. I put down a thick layer of wood shavings on the bottom of the pen, and let them out to eat morning to eat from the puppy “donut” pans while I pick up all the poop in the pen. Every few days I remove all the shavings and hose the pen and let it dry completely before bedding it again.

puppies eating from donut pan
Early meal of food soaked with formula, eating from the “donut pan,” which has a round trough and a raised center. This is supposed to keep the pups from walking in the food, ha ha.

My son was born in early March, and he turned 30 this year – astonishing because he was just five when I was hired to edit the inaugural issue of Whole Dog Journal. His fiancée threw him a surprise party, and I hired a young person I know, who used to rent a room from me at my office/house, to look after the puppies for a night so my husband and I could go to the Bay Area and attend the surprise party and see some friends. The adult dogs got split between my sister’s house and Leonora’s house. My husband had fun telling everyone, “Well, we have to get home. You know Nancy has 15 dogs at home, don’t you?” Shoot, he was right: Otto and Woody, the Maltipoo, and 12 puppies. Oy!

newly adopted maltese poodle mix
A newly shaved Sophie with her new family, hurray!

In mid-March, I received an application for the Maltipoo from a couple who lived about four hours from me. They appeared to be in their late 40s, no kids. They worked at home. They lived on acreage. They walk a lot – and had owned hunting dogs in the past, as well as little dogs in the very recent past. To make a long story short, I ended up driving to their house and meeting them and their other little dog, and was satisfied that they were home enough, committed enough, active enough, and knowledgeable enough to take on Sophie and all her crazy behaviors. They loved her at first sight and I left her with them that day. They love and appreciate her sweetness and activity level and interest in playing and learning tricks. It was a perfect adoption, and I’m grateful to my friend for sharing her post.

Then another friend who runs a small rescue group contacted me about the litter of 11, offering to take some of them for her group to adopt. I contacted the shelter and asked if they’d like to transfer some of the pups to this other group. This would make things much easier when it came time to adopt them all; we wouldn’t have such a glut of very similar-looking puppies. My friend’s group took four of the pups – and I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to feed and clean up after eight puppies than 12 of them.

2 dogs laying in grass together
Scruffy and Woody, hanging out.

I started keeping the unrelated, older puppy with me and my adult dogs for much of the day. The age difference between him and the smaller, younger pups meant that they were starting to whine and run from him when he bounded toward them. I let him work that out with fun Uncle Woody, who was happy to roll the chunky pup over and let him blow off some steam by chewing more-or-less gently on each other’s limbs.

By this time, my friend Leonora had been fostering Delilah for two months. The beautiful dog was completely out of her shell now, racing in and out of the house with ease. She had finally become comfortable with every room in the house, would enter the living room and sleep on the couch, get in and out of the car with ease, and was getting a little better at meeting new people without running or freezing. We started promoting her on the shelter’s social media, emphasizing that she needed a soft landing due to her past failed placements.

great pyrenes and puppy
Delilah has been a dream babysitter with Scruffy. They sleep together in my office at night. Note Otto keeping a safe distance in the doorway on his no-slip mats.

The shelter took a call from one person who sounded great, who had a very securely fenced property of more than five acres; if she could live with horses, goats, chickens, barn cats, and other dogs, she could live there! Leonora and I drove her for an interview, to see how she would do, and it appeared as if she would be happy to live peacefully with all of those other species. We warned the adopter that with yet another change of home, she might be anxious again for a while. We begged her to give the big dog some time to adjust, but the adopter struggled with Delilah’s unpredictable, on-and-off habit of being hard to catch and difficult to convince to, alternately, come into the house or go out of the house. After not quite two weeks, she pulled the plug and returned the dog. This time, she came back to my house to stay here for a while.

But by now, the puppies were old enough and big enough for spay/neuter and adoption. The shelter had me send three puppies a week to the shelter, starting with the biggest ones, and they got snapped up as quickly as they got altered, with the last ones (except for the scruffy guy) going to their new families this week.

adopted dog with new family
River and his new family.

And get this! I went by the shelter on Monday evening, the one day they are open late, to bring in the last pup who was going to get neutered – just in time to see a young couple walking out the door with a dog they just adopted: It was River, the stray Leonora and I rescued from where he had been (presumably) dumped out in the wildlife area! A happy ending for that guy, too.

So what about the scruffy guy, who has been big enough and old enough, really, to go back to the shelter for adoption ever since his “stray dog hold” expired, a week into his stay with me? He’s got a predictable hold on my heart – predictable because dang, he looks so much like a baby Otto. I sent out his DNA to Wisdom Panel, and he even has some similarities in his VERY mixed mix.

Otto’s Mix (according to Wisdom Panel)

12.5% American Staffordshire Terrier
12.5% Australian Cattle Dog
12.5% Border Collie
12.5% Chow Chow
12.5 German Shepherd Dog
37.5% Breed Groups: Asian Terrier, Sporting, Guard

Scruffy’s Mix (according to Wisdom Panel)

36% American Staffordshire Terrier
29% American Pit Bull Terrier
6% Boxer
6% German Wirehaired Pointer
5% American Bulldog
4% Great Dane
3% Australian Cattle Dog
2% Chow Chow

I’ve been wrestling all this time with the decision: To adopt, or not to adopt? If Otto had already passed on, there would be no question; I’d love to keep him. He’s an extraordinarily calm, even-tempered pup, smart and confident without being at all cocky. He’s affectionate and playful – everything I’d want in a puppy!

scruffy puppy
Eye contact is ALWAYS a clincher for me. I am having a hard time resisting this pup.

But as Otto slows down and the puppy grows, there have been more moments where the puppy has annoyed Otto, or made him have to stop or turn suddenly. Otto hasn’t particularly enjoyed puppies since he was a very young dog, and in the past few years, he’s been openly impatient and intolerant of them. When they get within 10 feet of him, he starts growling; within four feet and he starts snarling and grrrrRUFFing at them. It’s been easy to keep the little puppies mostly away from him; they’ve come into close contact only outside, where there are plenty of more fun things for them to do and plenty of places where he can escape them. But obviously, if I keep the scruffy guy, the pup will be integrated into the household, where Otto can’t help but cross paths with him many times a day. I don’t want to see Otto unhappy.

I can’t say I’ve made a decision yet, but I’m starting to promote the scruffy pup to people I know, and asking them to promote him to dog-savvy people they know. In the meantime, he and Delilah have been spending nights together in my office; during the day, my office door is open and all the dogs – just four now! – can roam my two acres or snooze in my office with me while I work. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring.

20 COMMENTS

  1. I couldn’t resist that Scruffy face either. I fell for him as soon as I saw him. I adopted a pup that my oldest boy hates (is jealous of) only when I’m around. Then I have to keep them apart. But I don’t think either is super sad. But I couldn’t resist the baby (now 4) and my older boy has cancer now so I’m glad I don’t have to face that alone.

  2. Very interesting about Delilah. I also have a Great Pyrenees who I adopted as a 10 week old puppy. She has the same traits as Delilah. I cannot get her in and out of doorways without dragging her. She really is not a people person. I tell everyone to not go into her space. She will eventually come to you on her own terms. She’s very particular about who she likes and who she doesn’t. She is now eight months old and getting too big for me to drag in and out of doorways. She is an absolute love with my 12 year old Golden Retriever p, but a bit much at times. Loves cats, horses and other dogs. She has only barked twice, which I find very strange since this breed are supposed to be barkers. I have to admit she has been a challenge, but also one of the calmest, smartest puppies I have ever had. She is completely trained off leash and will run to me if something scares her. I will continue to work with her. Every time I bring her to my daughters house my daughter has to come out to the car and carry her into the house. It is ludicrous! Once she’s in the house she is very happy to be with my daughter and her cats. Any advice anyone can offer about going in and out of doorways would be helpful.

  3. Just want to put out there that I have found a litter of pups. It was a long time ago, and it’s likely the owner dumped them on the side of a less-traveled road, but I picked up 10 8 week old pups. When we work in sheltering and rescue, it seems it’s more of a challenge to care for and love the humans than the pets. But we must. Believe them. It doesn’t hurt anything.

  4. Nancy, you’re simply AMAZING! Thank you for all you do for dogs. You’re generous and inspiring beyond measure. Thank you so much for the update. Wishing the very best for all the pups!

  5. I hope you keep baby Otto. Maybe he came to you for a reason. If anyone can make it work you can. And it sounds like big Otto doesn’t dislike baby Otto – he is just grumpy around pups. I also hope you keep Delilah. She is thriving with you. Newfies are great, but I believe they find their people – people don’t find them. Best of luck and thanks for all you do.

  6. Scruffy will learn from Otto and you will be there to protect Otto when Scruffy is being disrespectful.

    I love getting pups where they can learn behavior from the elder and it gets passed down to each generation. Its like you still have a piece of them when they pass on.

  7. Loved the update and I was so delighted that Sophie has found the right family. I was sorely sorely tempted as I have a 12yo maltipoo, adopted when she was 2 yo, with so many of Sophie’s characteristics! The startle bark, the intense activity demands, the ball mania and the distracted potty behavior, oh yes, all too familiar. I am that active senior, 5 mile walks daily, and ball time for my girl, but sounds like Sophie might have been a bit much, especially now that my girl is so much more laid back. I am so happy Sophie has found the right home and do hope she settles in well. Thank you, Nancy, for all that you do, and so glad you reported back to us here.

  8. I’m pretty sure your Delilah is a Maremma, which is essentially a Pyr on steroids. They are working dogs, much closer to their guardian roots than Pyrs, and have an independent, highly intelligent temperament which makes regular pet dog life very hard for them to adjust to. This is vastly complicated by the fact they are truely more intelligent than your average human, but without the hubris.

    Maremmas are bred to play high speed, life and death chess games to protect livestock from predation-coyotes, wolves, cougar. They do it better than almost any other breed…but their skill set doesn’t mesh with suburban life at all. And they despise being told what to do.

    In the field, living without humans bossing them around, they make impeccible livestock saving decisions. In the city they go nuts. Find Delilah a workikng home where she can live her best life.

    • I was thinking this too. Also being LGDs most of these breeds are very untrusting of strangers and take a while to trust their people

    • Now that you mention it, yes. She does look a bit more like a Maremma than a Great Pyr. She is a working dog, guarding flocks. That likely is contributing to her difficulty adjusting. She is never going to be happy as a family pet and will likely never be comfortable in the house either. Without knowhing her background it could be she has always worked as a guard dog. Perhaps a sheep farmer would like to give her a try, especially if he already has a few dogs that could show her the ropes.

      Investment in either Wisdom or Embark would probably be worth it for her. When you know what you’ve got, it’s easier to adjust to that breed’s characteristics.

      I initially rescued Freyja because I thought she was a Keeshond and they don’t do well when left alone for more than a few hours, resulting in destructive behavior. She was small, had the coloring, I thought at least a Keeshond mix. But nope. 55% Siberian husky. It was then I learned about agouti coloring and how that made her look so much like a Keeshond. But some of the same problems. Huskies don’t tolerate being left along all day while their people are at work either. Knowing her breed mix I’ve adjusted both my training and my expectations. Now I’m looking into bikejoring, thinking maybe she and Diana might like to take some short runs now and again. They just need to learn Haw, Gee, On by and Whoa.

  9. Poor Delilah. I feel so sorry for her.

    My own Freyja was picked up off the streets of Hesperia (where she probably learned to be a trash digger) and was returned twice to the shelter, the second time within 24 hours, for destructive behavior. She is 55% Siberian Husky and 12% border collie, plus a lot of other stuff. I suspect she was being left alone all day while her people went to work. The second time she was returned the shelter red carded her. It was just luck that I happened to be surfing their website one night, having had a conversation about celebrating Diana’s birthday and Diana was rescued from the Hesperia shelter.

    She was lucky I did, Diana and I made the 3 hour drive to meet her and brought her home. I’m not sure how long she had left before they needed her kennel for new intakes. The staff didn’t seem concerned that she was going so far away or that it was such a quick adoption with basically no screening. I think they were just happy to have her walk out the door on all four feet.

    Now she has a companion and a big yard and gets to sleep in the house with us (although she seems to prefer the floor), gets to go to the dog park, has good food and the best treats and has learned to play with toys. She didn’t know what a toy was when I got her. She didn’t know what a play bow was or how to play with dogs when I got her.

    The adjustment period was several weeks. Within a week she stopped the destructive behavior and knew her name (even though she never learned it at the shelter for a month) and I curbed the trash digging by keeping the lids tightly on the cans. She digs in the yard but so does Diana. She does not bark or howl which is odd. She does scold me when dinner is late. The jumping up is greatly reduced but there is still a lot of face kissing. She eventually learned to play with toys and has completely adjusted to the routine of the house. She got lucky in that I am retired and home most days and never gone for more than few hours and she always has Diana for company. In turn, I’ve had dogs for almost 3 decades and I knew what I was getting into. I promised her that no matter what she would never go back to a shelter again.

    I do hope Delilah finds her perfect home and people patient and committed enough to giver her a wonderful life.

    As for Scruffy, what will be, will be. He will either learn to leave Otto alone or will find a fabulous forever home. Whatever his future is, he has had a great start, will become a great dog and will have a great life.

  10. You have my heart. I couldn’t part with Scruffy myself. Playing the lotto every week to see if I can afford a home with a yard. In an apartment now with a dog and cat. If I win, I’m coming for Delilah! Best wishes to all.

  11. I really enjoyed reading your update on the pups and about all the latest puppies. I recall asking my vet many years ago when we were considering adopting a beagle puppy after losing one of our 2 dogs if it would be OK, since my other dog was 10. She said yes, it would keep her young. She ended up just tolerating the puppy due to fact that puppy always acted dominate. Good luck with your decision and THANK YOU for being such an amazing person to help out so many precious pups!

  12. Great Pyrs are amazing dogs, we’ve adopted two. They do take awhile to come out of their shell, but once they trust you they will live you forever. I miss my Kaya and Nuno, both came from terrible neglect but lived to be 13.
    They are independent thinkers, though…

  13. I remember this same rationale with Woody. It’s the eye contact thing. Scruffy has already decided he’s yours. He’s waiting for you to catch up. Otto is a fine old man–he gives the appropriate signals, Scruffy will learn. I guess only you can decide, but I know you will ask yourself, how will you feel if you let him go. I think we both know the answer to this question. Good luck. I have been a reader from the beginning, and your articles have changed my life, time & time again. Thank you for opening your heart to all the pups as well as to us readers!!!

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