Happy Gotcha Day, Otto


I adopted Otto from my local shelter on June 16, 2008. He was an estimated 7 months old when I met him. He had all his front adult teeth, but only just.

I still have a copy of his shelter “cage card” – the piece of paper that resides in a transparent plastic envelope on the front of the shelter dogs’ cages with their intake information. It shows that he was brought into the shelter on May 7, having been picked up by a county animal control officer. (Can you believe that a cutie like him was at the shelter for five weeks without getting adopted?!)

Otto’s cage card

The cage card does not show this, but his computer file at the shelter, which contains more detail, says that the country officer was dispatched due to a complaint from a person who found him in their chicken pen. He had killed the complaining party’s chickens. They had never seen him before; he was a stray. His cage card has a hand-written note regarding this incident that has always made me laugh: “Kills chicken.” (The typo makes me laugh, not the chicken-killing.)

The cage card shows that he was vaccinated with two different multiple-agent vaccines upon arrival to the shelter; that’s standard operating procedure for stray dogs with no ID and no microchip. He was identified as an “Airedale Terrier/Border Terrier” mix. Hmm.

He was given a brief health examination on May 13. His weight was recorded at 44.5 pounds. He had a normal temperature.

On May 14, he was given another vaccination and a heartworm test; it was negative. His weight was recorded again at 44.5 pounds.

While he waited for someone to adopt him, he was neutered, and vaccinated several more times – for protection from distemper, parvovirus, canine adenovirus, bordetella, and canine coronavirus. Shelters use a much more aggressive vaccination schedule than most veterinarians would recommend for an owned dog. He’s had a couple of nasal bordetella vaccinations since then, always as a requirement in order to take a class, but he’s never again been vaccinated for distemper or parvovirus. I have had his antibody titers tested for those two diseases at least a half-dozen times, and the results have always indicated that he still has ample circulating antibody levels.

He also received one rabies vaccination at the shelter. He has received a rabies vaccination at every legally mandated interval since then – until last year. He is actually overdue for a rabies vaccine, by law. But at his age, I don’t want to give him any more rabies vaccinations.

Time For a New Dog…

In 2008, I was spending every other week with my husband in Oroville, and every other week with my son, who was attending high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. (My son spent very other week with his dad.) We had cared for my father-in-law’s old Australian Shepherd, Cooper, until Cooper passed away, but I hadn’t had my own dog for a few years. Partly, because it took me a while to get over the loss of my former heart dog, a Border Collie named Rupert, at the end of 2003, and partly because the logistics of driving back and forth, and having to leave a dog behind with my husband every other week, were daunting. In the Bay Area, I was renting an apartment in a building where pets were not allowed and finding (and paying for) a pet-friendly apartment, for my every-other-week occupancy, was more of a project than I wanted to take on.

But we were having regular incursions of skunks coming into our yard at night and digging up our lawn and plants. My husband – who is not really a dog person – finally agreed that we needed a dog again, and indicated that he would be willing to care for a dog in the weeks when I was away with my son. We had that conversation on the phone on the night of June 14, 2008, at what was nearly the end of my week in the Bay Area, and I spent much of June 15 looking at every adoptable dog on the website of the shelter back up in Oroville. There were two I was considering, the “Airedale/Border Terrier” -mix and a black hound/Lab-mix.

On Monday morning, June 16, 2008, I said goodbye to my son, and drove straight to the shelter back in Oroville. I brought both of the dogs I had been considering online outside, and walked them on leash around the shelter. I had been volunteering at the shelter for some time – helping with their fundraising newsletter, and working with some of the adolescent dogs – and I asked if I could bring each dog home, to see how they would do with my cat, and to see what my husband thought. It wasn’t how things usually worked at the shelter, but they knew me and said it would be okay.

I started with the red dog. I put a collar and leash on him, and walked him toward my car. When we got close to it, he suddenly balked and braced his legs, ducking his head in that precise way that dogs who have managed to slip out of their collars on a number of occasions know how to do. I was ready for him, though, and I slacked the leash enough so that he didn’t slip the collar. He sat down, and I picked him up and put him in the back seat of the car.

When we got home, I took him out of the car and started walking him around the yard. My husband came out of the house and said, “Is that the one you picked?” I said, “Well, I thought I would bring both of the ones that I was considering home for you to meet, and to meet Shadow (our old cat).” My husband said, “I would just keep this one; he looks just right!” And so he was.

My husband is the namer in our family; he names and nicknames all of our pets. He named Otto “Otto” for two reasons: because he looks like an “Otto,” and because Otto was chief among all of the jokey, punny names that my husband always joked about naming one of his children. My husband’s last name is Maddock, see; he envisioned having kids named Otto Maddock, Dram Maddock, Proble Maddock, Charis Maddock, and so on. (It could have been worse; he could have tried to name the dog Dog Maddock!)

Life With a Night Owl

Our first year with Otto was a little bumpy. I think this was partly due to the fact that I was home only half the time; on my husband’s weeks alone with Otto, not much training went on. Otto also had quite a few distinct behavioral quirks. He was fearful of certain types of people, including kids and short people and people with dark skin. (Our next door neighbors used a gardening service and the workers were short Latino men; Otto was terrified of them!) He used to dig in any moist soil he could find – meaning, any plants and trees in the yard that we watered were at risk from his digging! (This was ultimately – mostly – solved by giving him his own sandbox, which I would wet down every morning.)

And, that first long, hot summer, Otto was an utter night owl! Oh my goodness: He slept ALL day and was highly alert and barky at night. He didn’t want to sleep in the house; he wanted to be outside. After a few sleepless nights of trying to keep him indoors, nights that I spent trying to get him to stop whining and settle down, I set up a bed on my back deck, and slept outside with him for the rest of the week! He liked having company outdoors, but he barely slept; he would jump up off of the bed and run to the front fence to bark at every feral cat that walked by the front of the house, every late-night person that walked on a sidewalk within blocks of our house, every single bang or bump in the night. I would call him back to me, give him some treats, and encourage him to lie down again. Soon, I, too, was sleeping during the day, having gotten almost no sleep at night!

When I went down to the Bay Area the next week, my husband just let Otto sleep outside, and mostly slept through whatever barking Otto did. While I was gone that week, I came up with a solution: I would let Otto spend the night outdoors, but arm him with all the toys he loved to play with, so it would be more likely that he’d have a toy in his mouth when he barked. I didn’t usually let him have stuffed toys without supervision, he was prone to tearing them up. But in order to get some sleep, I’d do anything.

The plan mostly worked. Summers are consistently hot where we live, and we slept with the windows open. So, while he still woke us with barking at least a few times in the middle of the night, at other times I’d wake and hear Otto doing laps around the house at night with a squeaky toy in his mouth:

squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak

Otto playing with one of his favorite squeaky toys, one of many

12 Years of Memories

Oh, I could go on and on. Twelve years with Otto have given me so many memories and stories. As you can see, he grew out of any possibility of being part Border Terrier; his adult weight has always been within a pound or two of 70 pounds. And he’s been absolutely the best dog: a little serious, a little silly, always game to try, always interested in playing the training game. He’s the first dog I’ve owned since I was introduced to no-punishment training, so he was the first dog I’ve raised without incorporating a choke chain and collar yanks, or the routine use of “No!” (I’ve said it before and will say it again: The difference between a dog raised without being punished for “mistakes” and one who is constantly punished is astounding. Otto isn’t afraid to try, to raise his hand, so to speak, and volunteer an answer. As superstitiously anxious as he is about certain things – floors that he thinks might be slippery, for example – he always sees me as someone who will help him; he’s not afraid to come to me ever.)

He’s also been an awesome partner in fostering goofy adolescent dogs and countless puppies, and the best “older brother” to foster-failure Woody, my 4 ½-year-old pit bull-mix. Today, Woody is bigger and stronger than Otto, but he still lowers himself and, as my son put it once, shows an almost “aggressive submission” to Otto, groveling and licking Otto’s face like a puppy licks its mama, even as Otto growls and snaps at Woody: “Get out of my face!” Otto is the boss! But he’s never left a mark on Woody or a single guest, no matter how rude or unruly.

Otto and Woody

I’ve forgotten to celebrate his adoption day several times in past years, but, dog willing, Otto will be 13 years old in November. I won’t overlook any opportunity to celebrate him any more. He has some chronic health problems that we are monitoring. Thanks to good health insurance, he has been getting an abdominal ultrasound every six months for the past few years. He has some growths on his liver that we are watching, and he’s getting slightly lumpy with lipomas. I don’t want to worry you – I’m worried about him enough for all of us! – but my point is, at this point, Every Single Day with him is a gift for me, so I thought I would share that with you. Happy adoption day, Otto Maddock. I love you so much!


  1. What a wonderful tribute to an obviously well loved dog. Makes me want to leave work to go home and hug my 14 year old Maltese. 🙂 Dogs always have something to teach us if we’re willing to listen and learn. Three cheers for Otto!

  2. So happy for you and for Otto! Animals are our best friends and I can read on your words that Otto is loved and loves back.

    His story is wonderful and I wish him many more seasons with his family that love him so much!

  3. RE: Otto’s lipomas. Kale works wonders! I have a rescue who came to me with a huge lipoma on top of another lipoma as well as several smaller ones. I had the two large ones surgically removed and started giving her kale, which she adores. (I had to raise the pot out of her reach because she would pick her own and the pot was quickly decimated.) She is now lipoma-free and gets kale every day, either from some fresh that I have frozen or what she picks herself. The “cure” doesn’t happen overnight, but it does work.

  4. Hi Nancy, I remember when you got Otto, and all the trials and frustrations you wrote about. You won’t remember me, but I’m a friend of Mardi Richmond and love the WDJ. Congrats on 13 (almost) years of joy with your Otto. He is such a lucky boy. You were so fortunate to have access to the best of the best behavior and training minds when you had questions. All dogs should have homes like yours.

  5. Happy Gotcha Day Otto. So glad you and Nancy found each other back many years ago. My rescue mini Aussie, Sadie, and I will celebrate Gotcha Day next month. Three years ago Sadie came to us, my first dog at age 75. Just saying, you can teach an old human new tricks. Sadie was 19 months old when she came to live with us. She was an owner surrender and we believe she was abused. She nips at people and is afraid of tall men and any man with a stick. She has bitten and broken skin. The rescue from which we got her has since ceased operation and I have read stories from others who adopted there of receiving sick and injured dogs. There are many reasons to shun internet adoptions like mine of Sadie. A more responsible shelter would probably have euthanized Sadie but by now I’ve been working with her long enough toI know she is basically a loving animal and I, of course, adore her. She needs to be introduced to new people and dogs very slowly while being restrained and reassured by me. I have learned much from you Nancy and want to thank you for teaching old dogs and older humans new tricks and how love and treats can work wonders.

  6. This story warmed my heart. There is nothing like the pure love people and dogs share. It’s pristine. I have a lab the same age as Otto, who came into my life at 8 weeks old so this story really touched me. Thank you for sharing it.

  7. very similar story, I adopted my Caroline Dog/x in 2006 he was 7mths old. Possibly born outside to a chained dog. I was trying to heal after the loss of my beloved epileptic Aussie and thought I would never find a dog I could love enough. My son saw Snuggi at a WV shelter he was volunteering at and brought him to me. He became a registered therapy dog and has brought joy to many. Fed raw since I got him but dx with oral malignant melanoma 2017. They got clean margins and he was put on Oncept/medicinal mushrooms/chinese herbals /prayers and I started cooking his food as I felt his immune system may not handle raw altho he still get some raw items (chicken necks/beef hearts). A tumor came back May 2019 and they didn’t get clean margins, he has now lost most of his upper lip on one side due to surgeries. However he has surprised the oncologist by still being here and so far no spread of the melanoma. He has seen me thru alot of heartbreak, not sure what I will do without him but I know somehow God will see me thru it. I am a senior myself so will only be adopting seniors.

  8. Trudy [adopted at age 7 from a top-rate animal shelter] sends her warmest tail wags to Otto. She came with multiple issues — but we have MOST of them happily resolved, so long as tall men stay away!

  9. What a beautiful tribute to your Otto. Squeezed my heart and made me tear up, feeling your love in every word. These dog angels in our lives are so very precious. Thanks for sharing Otto’s story with us. My Baxter makes me feel the same way.

  10. Nancy – I also have a 12 yr old, my devoted Irish Setter, Paddy. I was curious as to why you no longer want Otto to have the rabies vaccination at his age. Happy rest of your life, Otto!!

  11. I’ve been a subscriber since before you got Otto so i do remember when you brought him home and i loved reliving your memories!!! He is definitely well loved and has been a source of many enjoyable articles over these many yrs! Next week is my yr anniversary of bringing home my mini golden doodle puppy Halle Rose Beary and i have a card to send to the breeders thanking them for the gift of loving her and being loved by her…if only she wouldn’t bully my springer doodle Abby who will be 12 next month!!! I realize Halle is only trying to play with Abby but Abby is not having any of it and is probably mad at me for disturbing her peace!!! Well, thanks for the memories and good luck on his health issues…(Just wondering which pet ins you keep on your dogs?)

  12. Happy Gotcha Day Otto. Thank you for an uplifting story of unconditional love. Dogs know our souls and if we’re so blessed to have that relationship. My Maxie was also like your Otto. She was a black Lab and the best dog I have every had. I was at my friends house the day she was born and was able to hold her after Mom had cleaned her up and I also held her the day she passed, March 18, 2020. I always knew that with large dog that their life expectancy is not as long as smaller breeds and that every day over 10 years was a gift. I’m so happy that Otto has you and you’re his Mom. Thank you again for sharing your love story.

  13. Happy Gotcha Day Otto! I read your story and thought how amazing our rescue dogs are with all of their quirks. It is those quirks that make us love our dogs so much. You obviously love your dogs and it always comes out in your stories. Thank you for sharing your story of Otto!

  14. Aaaaw Nancy! I always love seeing pictures and hearing stories about Otto. He is such a wonderful dog. I lost my “heart dog” a year and a half ago. He was a Wheaten Terrier and it was a love story from the start. We had Murphy for 14 blessed years and I still well up thinking about him. 4 months after he passed, we rescued a Border Collie/Terrier mix. It was a rough start at first and I couldn’t help comparing her to Murphy, which of course, is not fair. Fast forward a year and she is the most amazing dog! So smart and so loving. I can’t believe we have been so fortunate to have not one but two incredible dogs in one lifetime!

  15. Nancy. So enjoyed your tribute to Otto. I too have been around since before Otto came into your life. You amaze me with all you do for dogs. My current dog is a Brittany rescue senior for senior. He arrived from Texas to Buffalo on December 10, 2017, in a snowstorm at 9pm. I changed his name to Buddy because that is what I needed, a buddy, since my Springer ❤️ had crossed the rainbow bridge less than a month earlier. I was not cognizant after losing Michael until Buddy came to love me and I him. I’m no good without a dog. Buddy would immediately get close when he realized I was upset about something. He was/is amazing. And no he wasn’t trained for that, just left outdoors apparently for years. If we are only allowed one heart dog then Buddy is my Broken heart dog. Credit goes to NBRAN for making the match. He had to have one and then the second eye removed due to glaucoma early last year. A trying time to be sure. As I guide him he takes the time to teach me patience. C He is a very sweet dog to me and everyone he meets. I love him so much.