Time flies when you love dogs, and not in a good way. Otto, the canine love of my life, turns five years old this month. Of course, since he was a stray and I adopted him from my local shelter, I dont know his exact age; he was estimated to be about 7 months old when I adopted him in June 2008. So we assigned him the birthday of November 1, 2007 which would make him 5. Where has the time gone?
Otto was a challenging adolescent – and working to modify some of his problematic behaviors took at least two years. “Problem,” actually, was one of his early nicknames – just one more variation on my husband’s favorite joke. You see, my husband’s last name is Maddock, and so Otto is sometimes Otto Maddock and sometimes Problem Maddock. When he has gas, he’s Aro Maddock! These days, he’s mostly Charis Maddock. But early on, he was highly nocturnal, active and alert (read: barking at anything that moved) at night. On hot days, he would excavate in any shady, wet place (read: under the roots of any plant we water) And he chewed everything chewable in our yard for more than year, even when he was supplied with scads of toys and raw bones.
In his first three years, he was also fearful and anxious with strangers, a trait which has mostly resolved but still pops up occasionally. He loves it when my college-aged son visits, and he runs to all young men enthusiastically, in hopes, I think, that it’s my son that he’s seeing. However, he will occasionally quail and then growl in fear at the last minute, when he finds himself so physically close to a strange young man, not at all the one he expected.
But for the past two years, this dog has been a total joy. He’s healthy, happy, and reliable. I don’t fret about him misbehaving at friend’s houses, or when their dogs visit our house. I can count on him to be appropriate when he barks (or even snaps) at one of my two adolescent cats, who must know they are perfectly safe when they charge his food bowl, or wave their tails under his chin and rub up against his chest. He barks ferociously through the fence at FedEx trucks, but if I greet the driver and say, “Off,” I can safely open the gate and sign for a package, and he will politely stand still and graciously wave his tail.
He’s also been a valuable partner for me every time I’ve brought a dog from the shelter to foster at home. We’ve had several puppies, one mama dog (who wanted nothing to do with him, which he respected), and a wide variety of goofy adolescents who needed guidance. As they follow his very reliable lead, they learn not to jump up on people, to come when called, sit on cue, be calm in the house, and sleep in a crate. It’s a lot easier to find them homes after they’ve had a few weeks in Sergeant Otto’s platoon.
But here’s the thing: I have a number of friends and relatives who have senior dogs, sick dogs, or dogs who passed away this year. Every time I express my condolences, or hear about a dire diagnosis, I shiver, and hug my dog. The time we share on this earth with our dogs just doesn’t last long enough, especially this prime time when they are fit, healthy, and well-behaved. So I want to do everything in my power to lengthen this period, and set up Otto for long-term health and fitness.
Fortunately, this job permits me to explore every possible physical therapy and diet; and every conventional, complementary, and alternative treatment available; and to employ them when appropriate. Because I love and cherish Otto Maddock; I want to make sure he’s never Trau Maddock.