I have a story. It’s long, and I don’t know the ending yet. It’s partly a testament to my impulsivity and partly an explanation for why I have a red dog, with blue eyes that are going to creep out my mother-in-law, lying on my living room rug (Which he chewed a corner off of this morning while we waited for the furnace man). I know I don’t have to justify myself to anyone, except maybe my fantastic husband, who never would ask me to do that. Who once told me that I “probably was going to need an Ohio dog”, and later, when I said I was probably making a huge mistake, responded, “probably, but you love dogs.”
I’ve lived in Ohio, essentially dog-less for a year now. I’ve had clients’ and friends’ dogs visit and stay, but I’ve mostly been alone with my fish and my chicken. I thought that was a good idea since I was thinking I’d be working, working on school, traveling frequently, and I had open space for pet-sitting other people’s dogs and cats, and birds. I thought I’d enjoy the freedom of not having the responsibility of any pets. I didn’t want to have pets to introduce to the rest of the animals when I move home to Washington. Then I thought I’d really like a small dog, who could travel with me on the plane and do teacup agility, racing and obedience, and rally. I had a plan. I was going to wait, I was going to get a puppy from a breeder, I wanted to show in conformation, and keep the dog intact until at least 2 years old because I don’t want the perpetual juvenile behavior, lanky, slab-sided-ness, excessive fear, odd social interaction and later, incontinence. I had big plans for all the things I was going to do with this “clean slate” puppy from a quality breeder. I talked with a Jack Russell breeder, whose dogs look amazing, but she’s not really breeding anymore. I saw several litters of Aussie puppies, which is really something I’ve wanted since my last Aussie, Nitro, passed away and took a big chunk of my heart with him. I kept telling myself that I don’t need a puppy right now, and I could wait until I move back home in another year or so.
Then I went home for the holidays. My poor sweet Merlin is officially old. He turned 12 while I was there, and I had to shave his whole body. He seems to have some cancer on his lower lip, a lot of rear end weakness. I did some PT and made my kids commit to brushing and working on PT with him, though I doubt that will actually happen. After spending 3 weeks with my family, and my dogs, I couldn’t hold off the puppy fever any more. I had been chatting with a few breeders, both Aussie and Jack breeders, who had beautiful dogs with excellent pedigrees, titles at both ends, health testing, DNA testing, Puppy Culture. Their pups are $2000-3000. They are absolutely worth it, and I considered it, I even chose a pup, a black tri Aussie, who even had a perfect call name! Then I got a bill for $3000 that I thought was covered by my insurance. It isn’t. I cannot justify spending $2000 on a baby pup, and flying to Omaha or Denver to get the pup, then spending who knows how much campaigning the dog on the show circuit.
I gave up the idea of getting a dog. I got on a plane to come back to Ohio. I figured there was no dog for me. I don’t want a dog from a rescue who is not registered and was neutered at 8 weeks. I can’t afford a good quality dog from a good breeder. I just won’t get a dog. I was bored on the layover, sitting in the Denver airport, and looking at “my” puppy on facebook and Instagram. Then I wandered (as an animal person does) to Petfinder. Put on a filter of dogs near Columbus, OH. Front and center was a pup called Larkin. Red tri Aussie, advert says he’s 7 mos old. Okay looking dog, , he’s red tri, not my favorite, snipey muzzle, ears and earset aren’t great, has very light blue eyes, which aren’t great for the dog in bright light, has curly hair over his butt, skinny. On a whim, or a lark, I guess, I filled out an application, then put my phone in airplane mode and forgot about it. Got in around 1 am, went to bed, and got up around 2 the next day, when I heard my phone ping a text. It was his rescue, and they wanted me to know I was approved, and did I want to meet him? They had a lot of applications for him, but I was first. Sure, why not? What could possibly go wrong?
I made an appointment for the next afternoon. The next day I worked on some web design, and an application. When it was time to go, I went out, and my car was stone-cold dead. Why hadn’t I thought to have my fish and chicken sitter turn the car on a few times while I was gone?? I texted, and the rescue was kind enough to let me reschedule for the next day. Friends came by and jumped the car for me. In case you need to know, you can’t put a 2002 Chevy Trailblazer in neutral when it’s dead, without pulling the console and hitting the solenoid. Your friends can, however, back onto your lawn and stretch their jumper cables. (Thanks Cid and Joe, and thanks to Shannon, who also offered!)
The next day I was a little excited, but going over all the things I want to look for, and am DEFINITELY going to say no to him if he isn’t what I’m looking for. I drove out to the rescue. The very nice guy who works there went to get Lark from an outdoor holding kennel, so I could meet him and play in a yard for a while. Lark was terrified. Rearing back, didn’t want to come through the gate, whale eye and full on terror. The person said, “He doesn’t seem to like me, or any males, really.” Red flags aplenty. I went into a play area with Lark. He was solicitous, played with toys, tugged VERY gently with a lot of encouragement. Flinched with any reach over, and loud noises. Went over a jump for me, and was eager to engage. I sat on a bench, he came up with me and was very snuggly. Then this happened.
And just like that, I had a dog. A dog I honestly knew nothing about. And to be fair, I’ve been kissed by a LOT of dogs and not taken them home with me. I’ve resisted some extremely tempting dogs at my friend’s rescue where I fill in. One in particular sticks with me, his name was Sweeney. But he’s another story. I don’t know if Lark was just in the right place at the right time, or I was having a weak moment of impulsivity. I brought him home.
The rescue was told that the young couple with a 1-year-old, and having another in June, just “didn’t have time for him.” He had just been dropped off on Saturday, I took him on Monday. We got home, I fed him dinner, he balked at going outside, we went out front on leash. He peed. We lounged around a bit more, then at bedtime, I carried him out the back. He peed and pooped. We went in to go to bed. He doesn’t know how to do stairs. I carry him up the stairs. He won’t get on the bed with me (happy about that later!). He pants and paces for a while, then finally lays down on the carpet and goes to sleep. I hear him up and nosing through the shelves a few times, but he goes back to sleep. At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about this. Yeah, he’s a scaredy cat, yeah, he’s really thin, yeah, he flinches and isn’t very coordinated, and he’s 9 mos old, not 7, but that’s all okay.
4:30 am, I hear the tell-tale retching sound that every dog owner knows. I’m sound asleep, he can’t do stairs, and he’s about to really vomit. The defeated feeling engulfed me. I looked up, to get up, he’s right in my face, in the angle between the mattress and the night table, and cuts loose, puking all over the leg of the table, the side of the bed, and hit me in the face with the overspray. Okay. Guess it’s time to get up. I run downstairs for bags and paper towels (and to wash my face!). When I get back up, he’s peed and pooped on the carpet. Well, I already have supplies…might as well clean it all up. I’m planning on pulling out the carpet anyway.
I emailed his former owner to introduce myself and ask a little about him, like if he actually has papers. She responded, telling me how he’s a great dog, but now that she and her husband are both working day shift, instead of him working nights and her working days, he’s just home alone for too long. Their 8 year old bulldog is okay, but he isn’t getting enough attention. He’s housetrained, (nope) he knows sit, down and stay (nope), he loves to play fetch (not really), he loves kids (does not seem that way).
Having just arrived back from Washington, I have both a doctor and a dentist appointment on Tuesday. One at 930, and one at 1. The doc at 930 is very close. I gated Lark in the kitchen, because I don’t have a crate his size. When I get home, I can hear the howling from the driveway. Pacing, panting, drooling, urine on the floor. I clean up and we hang out. I set up the camera in the kitchen. I leave him with some chews and food, and toys, and go to the dentist. I’m clueless, so I’m an hour early. I was hoping to go to Target and Petco after to get a few things for him. I watch him on the camera intermittently. The pacing, whining, howling and barking never stop. He urinates and defecates, and is still barking and howling after 2 hours. I do not stop at Target or Petco. I rush home to clean up and get him taken care of. I text the few friends who know about him that I’m going to have to return him. I email his former owner and ask, “Did he have severe separation distress, like barking, pacing, panting, howling, peeing?” She writes back, “Oh, I was afraid that was going to happen. He did that in the last home we tried to give him to, a friend of ours. He did it for four days, then they brought him back.” Also lets me know that she tried to return him to the breeder, who “didn’t want him back”, and he does not have any type of registration.
Instead of turning and taking him straight back to the rescue, I took him for another walk around the neighborhood. We walk 3 miles. He’s afraid of cars, trucks, school buses, male humans, blowing trash, loud noises.
I read Malena Dimartini’s book. I try to figure out how I’m going to ever get groceries, or even work in my downstairs studio, when I can’t leave him alone even for a minute, until we build up some time. I can do this, I think…
I have a friend-date with a bunch of folks on Tuesday evening. I’m really not a person who goes out much, Tuesday just happened to have a lot of things scheduled for this particularly day. I briefly consider not going, but I really wanted to, and maybe he’s settling in. A few hours of constant barking, howling and pacing later, I return. My entire house smells like urine.
Discussed at length with some friends (who are also trainers and dog savvy folks). We all have serious reservations. The rescue agrees to let me have a couple of weeks trial instead of their usual 3 days, since he appears to have so many issues. I’m torn. “I don’t want a project” and “who better to treat this and make his life better than a trainer?” I know, it’s not my responsibility to take every dog who has issues, I’ve gotten past that stage in my career, I deserve an easy dog as much as anyone. But this dog, I don’t know what it is…
So I try in vain to get the pee smell out of the kitchen (and house), and he still can’t figure out the stairs. He’s exhausted from panicking for a couple hours, I carry him up to bed, thinking “I’ll take him back after the furnace guy tomorrow”. I pat the bed, he hops up and snuggles. We go to sleep. I wake up with some panic. He gently climbs onto my chest. Okay, so he’s an anxiety service dog in training. Well, I guess if I teach him some service skills, we’ve solved him ever having to stay home alone.
In the morning, the furnace guy comes. He’s clearly a dog-savvy dude. Lark is not scared, is polite, gives a sniff, lets the guy pet him, then jumps up for more petting! He’s quiet, pleasant and lays down after a few seconds of petting. Good boy. After the furnace guy leaves, I do not take him back. I go upstairs to change into running clothes. He eats a few treats and comes up a step, then goes away. I get dressed, talking to him the whole time so he doesn’t think I left. I hear him, he’s coming up ALL the stairs! YAY! He runs straight to me, full body wiggling. I tell him he’s a genius. He’s so excited, he squats and pees. Well, whatever, we can clean that up, and he’s UPSTAIRS! On his own! He waffles a bit on coming back down, but eventually comes down on his own! Lots of hoorays and treats!
I don’t take him to the rescue, I take him to Sharon Woods park. We run three miles in the woods, sniff lots of things, climb on stuff (he’s very uncoordinated, but we’ll get our Parkour on soon!). He panics and bucks and rears when we get back to the car. I pick him up, sometimes you just gotta do stuff. I mean, if you can’t stay home, sometimes you’ll have to go in the car!
We drive to Petco. I buy toys, puzzles, a harness, treats, some hemp and herb stuff to help him chill. Some joint support chews, bully sticks, teeth cleaning chews, stuffed shank, collar. His current martingale is so tight, I’m going to have to cut it off, it won’t come over his head. I figure I can use all this stuff for my Washington dogs, or the next dog, if I return him.
When we get home, I take him out back on leash, Blossom the hen is on the back porch, he sniffs her with great indifference. She runs, he doesn’t follow. Good boy. He really likes puzzle toys. He liked the egg carton, but tonight he loved the Kong Genius.
He’s tired, and says it’s time for bed. Tomorrow, I have to evaluate a dog, and I’m already worried about what to do with him, guess I’ll find a sitter.