Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Must Love Dogs

Loving dogs seems to have become a family requirement of late.  The one dog we own, Charger, has charmed his way into all of our hearts.  Even those of us who weren’t terribly fanatical dog fans before he came along.

We took him in as a foster through a local German shepherd rescue group.  I wasn’t sold on the idea of getting another dog after Smokey passed away early last year.  She had a lot of health problems during the end of her life which just weren’t very fun to deal with.  I thought it might be nice to have a break from pet responsibility for a while.

But Shaggy was just so sad, and missed Smokey so terribly, that I agreed to try dog fostering.  A rescue volunteer brought Charger to “meet” us.  The meeting turned into a short term foster agreement.  Which turned into an adoption.

Within a few days, we knew that we couldn’t let this dog slip away.  He was too much of a gem.  He was fabulously patient with the kids--even R who “loved” him a little too much.  He endured ear pulling and eye poking and tail yanking with more tolerance than I would, that’s for sure.  He joined right in the kids games of chase, refusing to be left behind.

He became our reliable alarm clock by hopping up on the bed at 6 in the morning, then racing away, only to charge back in and do it all over again until one of us got up.  This particular behavior wasn’t my favorite, but it did make me laugh, even at 6 am.  And there’s not much that can make me laugh at that hour.  Thankfully, Charger has since decided that it’s ok for him to sleep a little longer in the mornings and we’ve successfully taught him that it’s not generally ok to hop on our bed.

The sofa, however, is another matter entirely.  He has adopted it as his own personal lounge space.  Which is a testament to the power of his charm.  We owned Smokey for 10 years and never allowed her on the sofa.  Though we would occasionally catch her guiltily hopping off when we came home from a long absence.  But she was NEVER allowed on the sofa when we were home.

So why does Charger get it so easy?  Part of it might have to do with the fact that we now have four children and are much more worried about what they’re up to and tend to let a layin’ dog lay.  But in order to REALLY understand why he’s allowed so many perks that his predecessor was denied, you have to get an idea of his personality.

He is the BIGGEST baby.  Sometimes I wonder why he wasn’t born a cat . . . or at least one of those tiny, toy dogs that people carry around in purses.  He would probably like that.

But what he really wants, is to be a lap dog.  Though because he’s a shepherd, he’s a little large for that.  So usually, he ends up with only his front half on someone’s lap.  It happens most often to me in the mornings when Shaggy heads out the door to walk the girls and J to school.  He is just incredulous that they would dare to leave without him.  So he cries and cries.  As they walk away, he watches out the window, making the most mournful sounding howls you’re ever likely to hear.  Finally, when he can’t see them anymore, he howls and whines and comes over to me and tries to climb in my lap, like I’m somehow going to be able to make it all better.  Once I’ve petted him and comforted him as best I can, he goes back to the window to make sure they’re still really gone.  Then he hops on my lap again before heading into the kitchen to look for breakfast leftovers to eat.  I guess the food helps to dull the pain of separation.  Humans aren’t the only ones who need comfort food, apparently.

He also likes stuffed animals, and blankets, and will always find the softest place possible to lay down.  He’s a comfort seeker.  So when he climbs up on the sofa and looks at us with his beautiful, mournful eyes, we let him stay.  And since he never does any damage, and always gets off when we tell him, it’s probably not something that we’re going to worry about all that much.  He believes he’s a central part of the family.  When we all gather to watch a movie together, he’s right in the thick of it, carving a spot for himself on the sofa, hoping for a nice lap to rest his head on.  And maybe some ear scratching to go with it.

And he does provide some valuable services in exchange for his place in our home.  He always raises the alarm when a cat DARES to tread on our property.  He lets us know when a truck drives by the house.  He NEVER EVER lets the little girl who lives two houses down ride her scooter out front without raising a ruckus.  I know you must be wondering what we would ever do without him.

But he also looks intimidating when a solicitor comes to the door.  He keeps the back yard a virtual bird-free zone.  He’s the best running partner Shaggy could ask for, and always alerts him to the graffiti artists they invariably encounter on their late night walks.  He would defend us from even a bear--as a story with a foster dog will illustrate shortly.  His very presence makes our home more secure.  But the thing that has come in most useful on a daily basis is the fact that I NEVER have to clean up the small scraps of food dropped on the floor.  He is QUITE happy to do that for me.  At least he's looking out for my welfare.

But owning one great dog isn’t quite enough for Shaggy.  He’s gotten a taste for volunteering and helping these shepherds, and he’s hooked.  Of course, it helps that the rescue society itself is so great.  They make a life long commitment to ALL the dogs they take into their program.  They focus on German shepherds specifically, which some might consider to be a bit speciest, shall we say.  But they simply don’t have the time or resources to help all dogs that come their way, so they focus on one particular breed that they all happen to be in love with.  The German Shepherd.  Once a shepherd is in their program, they stay in . . . forever.  An owner can always surrender a dog to the rescue society, even if it’s one they adopted as a puppy and who is now 8 years old.

From a prospective adopter’s point of view, that’s a VERY big plus.  I love knowing that if a dog simply won’t fit into my life in a positive way, I’m free to give him back so the rescue can find a better placement for him.  They work very hard to match the dogs’ personalities with specific circumstances that can ensure the dogs’ happiness.  Happy dogs are just better dogs all around.

Shaggy has recruited our family to be a part of that process.  Dogs who come into the program have to be observed and assessed.  Watching them as they sit in a cage in a kennel is NOT a feasible way to do that.  Hence the need for foster families--people who take a dog into their home to see how they interact with people and other animals.  This information is vital if a dog is to be given a good placement.

Some of our fosters have been great, others, well, not so much.

Mixi was our first, and probably the best fit in our home.  She was terrified, at first, since she came from an abusive environment.  We had a hard time getting her out of the backyard bushes where she liked to hide out.  But she was gentle, and never felt threatened by the kids.  After a few weeks, she began to warm up and showed us her playful side.  She and Charger LOVED to wrestle.  And she had some pretty sly moves, even against a dog who was nearly twice her size.  R adored her and still talks about her every time a new foster comes or goes.  She was adopted shortly after her time with us.  We were able to help her trust people again and observed that she was good with kids, and animals, would respond well to obedience training, and needed a gentle soul to care for her.  She always responded best of all when we called her Mixi baby.

Revi was our next foster dog.  Let’s just say that that arrangement was VERY short lived.  She wasn’t necessarily a bad dog, but absolutely could not settle down with kids around.  She was way too high strung.  And any dog that gives my baby THAT MANY kisses, is just not welcome in my home!  So we sent her back to the shelter in a hurry, with the recommendation that she be placed in a calm home, one without little kids.

After a while, Shaggy was finally able to convince me to foster again.  I heard lots of stories about how the kennel was overcrowded, about how they were trying to place all the dogs, etc., etc.  But I think the REAL reason he pushed for this next foster was simply because he was enormous and black.  He’s always had a soft spot for black shepherds.  And he’s secretly been looking for the perfect second dog.  Something that I am a little unsure even exists.

Apparently, Charger is simply not intimidating enough for Shaggy’s home security plan.  So when a dog the size of a small black bear came into the program, he jumped at the chance to foster him. 

Unfortunately for Shaggy, Leroy Brown just wasn’t appreciated by Charger.  Charger didn’t care that he looked like the ghost dog of Rushen Castle in the Isle of Man.  Leroy was old.  He was big.  And he was a male.  Who wasn’t necessarily on board with being terribly submissive to a younger pup like Charger.  And this was just not ok with Charger.  Who was willing to fight for his place as top dog.  There was one evening when Charger was laying down peacefully until Leroy came stalking down the hallway.  That was just too much of a threat for Charger to ignore.  So a very loud dog fight ensued.  After which the two dogs remained safely separate.  We realized that having Leroy around was simply not safe for the kids who could too easily be caught in the middle of a fight.  So we kept Leroy in the den while Charger was inside.  Getting him in there was no easy task, either.  Have you ever tried getting a small bear to go somewhere he didn’t want to go?  Not so easy.  But we finally managed to cajole, push and pull him enough to get him inside to spend the night.  An idea he wasn’t so crazy about.  He howled until we had the brilliant idea of leaving the radio on for him.  After which he settled down nicely and remained quiet all night.  Thank goodness!

Leroy has been adopted and is doing well, from what we hear.  I have since convinced Shaggy that we should maybe stick to female fosters for a while since Charger seems to get along with them so much better.  I am not eager to have anymore dog fights in my home.  I don’t think my laundry basket will ever be quite the same.

Our latest foster dog was Bobbi, named thus because part of her tail was missing.  She was an older dog and a bit thick, I must say.  It didn’t seem like she’d ever had any sort of obedience training and seemed to have trouble understanding the idea of sitting and staying.  But she was gentle, did fine with all the kids around, and interacted fairly well with Charger.  She was taken north to a neighboring rescue group for placement.

I know that most of these dogs we foster are better off having spent time here.  A home, even if it isn't the perfect fit, is always better than being locked in a cage all day and night.  It remains to be seen what sort of long lasting influence dog fostering will have on our family.  S is a long time animal lover.  R is headed in the same direction--she has already developed an unhealthy adoration/obsession with dogs everywhere.  J used to be nervous with a dog around him, even Charger.  But he's become much more confident and comfortable around them--even sometimes recruiting one or more of them for backyard company.  K likes Charger, not minding a bit when he lays his big head on her lap or snuggles up next to her on the floor as she's doing homework or reading.  Shaggy, obviously, is in his element with dogs around.  They greet him with unbridled enthusiasm whenever he gets home--even if he's only been gone 10 minutes.  They never get mad at him, or ask him to do anything other than love and nourish them.  As for me, well, I believe I will remain very picky about which dogs stay and for how long.  I like the idea of helping creatures in need, AND the idea of a temporary arrangement.  I enjoy trying to take good photos of them for the rescue website, so prospective adopters can see how beautiful they are and hopefully want to take them off our hands.

But when it comes to the so-called “perfect second dog,”  well, the search goes on.

1 comment:

Natasha said...

I can't wait til I can have dogs!!! This really brings a great smile to hear your adventures, thanks for bringing the topic to light. I don't think most people know about fosters. I definitely wouldn't know where to find one out here...?