Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Newest Addition

Since losing Aggie last year to cancer, Elizabeth has been asking when we'd get a new dog. My standard answer was "someday." At the end of the summer, Elizabeth looked at me one day and said, "Mommy, you said we'd get a dog someday and It. Is. Some. Day!" So, I started looking around. Acquiring a dog - by adoption anyway - is different in the internet age than it was in the past. Before, you'd visit the shelter and a dog would catch your eye and that would be it. Or you'd pass by an adoption event at the store or community event, or maybe if you were particular about the kind of dog you wanted you'd visit a couple of shelters or talk to the volunteers and have someone on the lookout for the type of dog you'd like. There was a bit of serendipity involved. The internet makes a lot of life easier, but overall, I have to say it removes a lot of chances for serendipity.

So here's how you adopt a dog today - you look online. There are numerous rescue groups who remove dogs from shelters and place them in foster homes, so you look up dogs by characteristics and then send an e-mail inquiring about a particular dog, and often agree to adopt the dog before ever meeting it. It's weird, but I suppose more dogs are adopted this way.

I started looking online and found a couple of things right away. Aggie was a westie mix, and we liked her size and most of her personality. There are westie rescue groups, but, here's the kicker, they won't adopt to families with small children, or families with cats. Hmmm. Apparently, most westies are surrended to shelters because of poor child/pet interactions - westies are known nippers. And, since they were bred to attack and kill small animals, cats can turn into prey. Perhaps this might have dissuaded us, but Aggie was so good with kids, and we're good pet owners in terms of teaching children and pets to get along. Kids have to learn to deal with the pets. And as far as the cat interaction, at 15 pounds and a bruising personality, let's just say we weren't worried about Harrison.

But this meant a westie would be hard to find. So I started looking at other possibilities, showing Rich cute pictures of needy dogs or just talking through other possibilities. Everything I suggested was met with a no. A beagle? Too barky/too much howling. A sheltie? Too shy/too much energy/too much hair. A collie? Too much hair/too big. It had to be a small dog (less than 30 pounds), not require a large yard, and fit into our lifestyle. A pug? Too ugly. Boston terrier? No. A corgi? How could I desecrate Aggie's memory by getting a dog breed that Aggie despised? Etc. It became clear a Westie was the only answer.

I saw a few dogs that might fit the bill, and contacted a couple of rescue organizations. But each time the dog was already pending adoption. It became clear that we needed to be pre-approved to adopt before we could really start seriously looking. So, I filled out the paperwork and started the process. Meantime, I also set up a search on - looking for a Westie. I checked my search nearly every day, but without much luck, while being interviewed by a rescue group on our philosophy of dog behavior modification, opening our home for a home inspection, and providing info on our vet, on the life history of our pets, and every other thing you could imagine and a few you might not. Finally, we were pre-approved, and introduced to a pet matchmaker who would be on the look out for a dog that met our qualifications.

Two weeks ago, I refreshed my petfinder search and scanned the familar list of Westies, and then noticed two new ones, available in rural Virigina, south of Charlottesville. I quickly sent an e-mail asking about availability, and got a fast response. We set up a phone call for the next day, where I learned about this woman, Susie, who set up her own rescue organization and worked within her community rescuing poodles and Westies. She told me two other people had e-mailed first, but we sounded the best. I told her we were pre-approved by another agency and offered to send all the info, but she said after doing this for so long she went with her gut and we were the ones for this particular dog.

Over time, Susie has developed a relationship with a backyard breeder who at one time was a fairly decent guy. But he was older, and his wife had died a few years ago, and his property, and his ability to care for the dogs, had declined rapidly. Over the years Susie has been able to rescue many dogs from this man. He keeps them all in his backyard with little to no human interaction and lately, no real care. The little dog we were interested in was 9 months old, had never seen a vet or had any vet care, and was kept in a pen with her sister, who had just given birth to a litter of pups. The breeder/puppy mill owner had called Susie and said his daughters were getting on him about the number of dogs he had and so he was going to let her pick up the two girls. Susie rushed right out and grabbed the dogs and took them home for their first baths and care they had ever received. Susie reported the little dog was blossoming, was very gentle, and would be a perfect pet for us. She had rescued a brother pup from the man and that dog was doing very well. Overall, the dogs from this man - and this litter - had sweet dispositions and had proven to be fine with kids and pets. She was confident this was a good match. And so, without any rigamarole, we had a pending adoption.

We didn't want to get our hopes up too much, as it didn't entirely seem real (especially given the hoops other rescues made us go through). We had to wait a week for the dog to be neutered and get basic vet care. Meanwhile we started slowly talking about it with E&A, mostly focused on what we should call a new dog. We had a short list, but decided we liked Skipper, named after the lead penguin on The Penguins of Madagascar. If nothing else, it would always remind us of this time in our lives, and since Westies are generally such spunky dogs, it would be a good name.

Saturday I got up early and made the drive, leaving Rich to deal with the kids. Initially we were all going to go, but decided it made no sense - a three hour drive each way, in the bitter cold, and we'd only pick up the dog and then be right back on the road? Not worth it. So I took the Mini, and made great time. I decided to stop in Charlotteville for a break, since I was running early, and got out to stretch my legs. Got back in the car, and - nothing. Car would not start. We've had problems with this car and the battery, and while we love the Mini, the particular design quirks of the car make jumping it a nightmare. So I called AAA. An hour later, I was back on the road, but knowing I wouldn't risk turning the car off again until I was safely home! The pick up went fine, the dog was super cute, and Susie was great. So I turned around and made the trek back.

Skipper has now been with us 5 days. And she's still freaked out and scared to death, though we can see her calming down. Elizabeth has been great with her, very patient and loving. Andrew keeps calling her Aggie (he was 13 months old when Aggie died!). Right now, she's hiding under the couch as I sit and type. I pulled out an old training technique and now carry a bag of chopped hotdogs in my pocket, which makes me infinitely less frightening. But she still won't voluntarily come to any of us, nor will she use stairs. Our strategy right now is just to let her calm down and become comfortable with us. Sometimes doing nothing is the hardest thing. And housebreaking? Yeah, that's not happening. She is too freaked out that we have to catch her, put on the scary leash, take her outside, and put her down in the freezing cold. So far, we have a perfect record - take her out, stand around while she shivers for 10-15 minutes, bring her in, and have her go on the floor within a minute of being inside. Perhaps we have to lower our expectations in this area until she's decided we're not that scary. The good news is she has extreme bladder control!

And Harrison? Well, he's been much better than expected. He expressed his displeasure the first night by vomiting 7 times, but that stopped. He's swiped at Skipper twice, but it's not been too serious, more his way of telling the dog to back off. I've never typed the story of how Harrison terrorized Aggie the very first day we brought Harrison home, but let's just say we were a little worried for Skipper's life, but that worry was for naught. Skipper is actually pretty interested in Harrison, so maybe they might become friends. Stranger things have happened. Although the last thing we need is for Skipper to learn the ropes from Harrison!

So, wow, I've typed a novella. Here are the pictures from the first day. More pics to come, and I'm sure many more stories in the future. For now, we're looking for doggy playdates and just trying to take each day as it comes!


Thrift Store Mama said...

So, so happy for you all. And Skipper is so cute ! We've adopted two rescue dogs and fostered another, so we're familiar with the hoops. It REALLY made me wish that there were such procedure before people (especially teenagers) could get pregnant with human babies !

Laurie said...

What a cute little fella. I love the name and hope Skipper starts to feel more comfortable soon.