My Shelter Dog

On Sunday after mass, my priest invited the parish community to return to church at 5PM for the Blessing of the Animals to celebrate The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals. I graciously accepted the invitation and my daughter and I brought our dog. As I stood there and watched the priest recite the prayers and then walk around to bless the animals with Holy Water, I reflected upon what a blessing our dog has been to our family.

A friend once told me, “You don’t pick the Animal, the Animal picks you”. I began looking for dogs on Petfinder in the spring of 2012. Of course I was looking for a puppy because everyone wants a puppy. During my search I spotted a black mini poodle, male and 2 1/2 years old. A black mini poodle.  Exactly what I wanted! But why was a 2 1/2 year old dog up for adoption? I kept looking. During my frequent online searches, I kept going back to the black poodle. I couldn’t get past the look of sadness and rejection in his eyes in the pictures that were listed online. I emailed the shelter about the dog and my husband and I decided to take the kids and go meet him. We agreed that if it didn’t feel right, we would not bring him home.

The dog was playful and full of kisses when the woman at the shelter brought him out to us. I fell in love with him the moment I saw him and I knew I had to have him. We took turns walking and playing with him. My husband wasn’t sure. He’d never had a dog before. It took me almost two hours to convince him that this dog would be good for our family. We filled out papers, paid for him and took him home. I sat in the back seat of the car with the kids and the dog as we drove home. I knew taking him was right because he put his head in my son’s lap and sighed with relief as if to say, “I’m going home”.

I remember the morning after my son was born. I was critically ill, whacked out on pain medication and magnesium sulfate, and the nursery nurse brought my son to me for a feeding. In my drug induced fog, I realized that I had no idea how to feed a newborn and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. We felt the same with this dog. The idea of having a baby or adopting a pet seems lovely and heartwarming at the time, but once you get into the nitty gritty, you realize it’s going to take patience, trial and error, education and a lot of love. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with this shelter dog. My friends said it would take a few months for him to adjust. I believed them and remained hopeful.

One evening shortly after we adopted him, the dog was sitting at the screen door barking at our neighbor who was outside mowing his lawn. The barking became excessive and my husband who was sitting on the couch, rolled up the magazine he was reading and smacked it against the side of the couch to distract the dog to get him to stop barking. The dog cowered as if he thought he was about to be hit. The dog did not allow us to touch all parts of his body. We couldn’t go near his lower back closer to his tail and hind legs. Once we tried to wipe some remaining poop from his backside and he almost tore my husband’s arm to shreds. We also discovered that he had moments of insanity where he’d just lose it and start spinning and chasing his tail. We also discovered he went crazy at the groomer and at vet appointments to the point we worried he was going to rip their arms to shreds. It was obvious that this dog had inner demons from his past to work though. We were fortunate to have found a groomer early on who was familiar with shelter dogs and made some recommendations which our veterinarian agreed with. We tried distraction, behavior modification, Prozac, a shock collar and nothing could break him of this excessive spinning and chasing his tail. The groomer recommended Acepromazine, a dog anti anxiety medication for grooming days, vet visits and situations that will be stressful for him. We also brought a trainer into our home for an afternoon. The trainer taught us techniques to break him of his spinning and to, in dog language, show the dog that we are the alpha, not him. It really has taken patience, trial and error, education and a lot of love but I am pleased to say he’s doing great.

It has now been exactly four years and five months since we adopted him. We have given him more love than he has ever dreamed of and he has learned to trust us. We have learned what his triggers and social limitations are.  We take him on vacation with us because we don’t want to board him and make him think he’s being surrendered and we don’t put him in situations that will stress him out. He’s a good boy. He doesn’t have accidents in the house and he doesn’t tear anything up. He knows our routine of family life and he’s part of it. He has a unique relationship with my each member of our family; my husband, my son, my daughter and myself. He’s a sweet boy and he loves to cuddle. He comforts us when we are sad, he’s our buddy and a trusted friend and confidant. He gets presents for his birthday and on Christmas and we allow him to put his nose in the bag to drag each present out. Our friends joke and say this dog owns my husband and I. He does.

My friend was right about the animal picking the human. This dog picked me before I even met him. The look of sadness and rejection in  eyes in his petfinder picture is what called me to him and made me bring him home. I never want him to feel that way again. I have absolutely no regrets about adopting this shelter dog and I encourage others to give shelter dogs a chance. They have so much to give. We gave this dog a home and feeling of security, love, tons of toys, good food, lots of playtime, discipline, health and grooming. In return he has given me the ability to love a dog in a way that I never knew I was capable of. He’s the best dog ever.

 

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