Going to the Dogs

IMG_0793Just so there’s no misunderstanding, this entry is about the four legged variety, not the two legged version. 

It’s also about fantasy colliding with reality.  And, for those of us with any years of experience tucked under our belts, we know exactly what that means. 

This all started back when BlackJack moved onto Kitty Heaven and I was pet-less.  I signed up at the local humane society center to be a dog-socializer which was a lot cooler than walking the pooches in 100 plus degree weather. I also signed up to cuddle the cats, but, given truth in advertising, they really needed volunteers to clean the kitty litter boxes and I am past that stage of life.

So, by default, the dogs got me.

Sammie’s Friends, a rural county facility staffed by employees and volunteers, is really remarkable. There are two buildings, one for dogs and one for cats.

The dogs are walked twice a day by volunteers along a mile plus long trail; there are outdoor pens for small, medium and large sized dogs where a behaviorist works with the dogs individually and in small groups, and then there are the socializers, who are also assigned a day or more a week to sit one on one with the animals.

That’s me.  We socializers go into each kennel, all of which are rather large and remarkably spotless. Each pooch has toys as well as a comfy bed, water and food.  The socializer’s job is to spoil the dogs, so we arrive, grab the provided stool, and go into each kennel laden with dog treats and ready to pet, play and cuddle each animal.

It’s a tough job, but given my background as a grandma, I already had the prerequisite training.

Some of the socializers prefer the little dogs, but I like the larger ones.  So, when I was being trained, which was really how to open and close the kennel doors without being run over by an escape artist, I said I’d take the larger dogs.

Then I discovered that most of them were pit bulls.

It’s not that I have anything against a particular dog breed, but let’s just say, some of the breeds leave me a bit leery.  Fortunately, the majority of the pits are actually quite sweet and love the treats.  We get along just fine.

Then, there is Bailey.  It was love at first sight.

I’m beginning to recognize that I’m a romantic at heart. 

Bailey is an eight month old purebred German Shepherd.  She is stunning.  She was also abused by her owner, who should be hung up by his toenails.  Evidently Baily finally did something to protect herself and law enforcement and the courts stepped in. Good for Bailey.  An intelligent Shepherd to boot.

When Bailey arrived at Sammie’s Friends, the staff housed her in a two room kennel, separate from the rest of the animals, their barking and the general confusion.  She was terrified and cowered in the corner. Her entire body would tremble when anyone entered the room. She was under court ordered supervision to watch her temperament so that a decision could be made about her future.

As I’ve had German Shepherds throughout my life, including one retired K-9, the staff told me to go on in.  I took my little perching stool and entered her turf.  She watched me from her corner and, about thirty seconds later, had her front paws planted on my lap and was licking my face. 

Sometimes dogs just know. It was love at first sight.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Bailey.  We not only play in her kennel, but also go out to the pens where she can really run and work off some of her puppy energy.  A staff member watched the other day and asked if I wanted to take her out to a park, to my home, or anywhere in the area.  She also mentioned that the courts were going to be releasing Bailey for adoption and would I be interested?

And that’s where fantasy and reality collided.

The heart yelled YES!!! 

The mind yelled even louder, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? YOU HAVE NO FENCED YARD. YOU RENT. YOU ARE JUST ABLE TO PLAN A BIT OF TRAVEL. AND YOU HAVE TORN LIGAMENT IN YOUR KNEE, CAN BARELY HOBBLE AND BAILEY DOESN’T HEEL.

OK. But at some point, the knee will be better. Unless, of course, I destroy it again playing at golf.  Who knew golf could be so dangerous, but that’s a topic for another day.

By the time I got home, the mind had won.  Bailey will find the perfect home, just not mine. Hopefully she will be with a loving family, children to grow up with, and acreage.  She deserves nothing less.

 

 

A Woman and her Dog

Back before there were grandkids, cats and an ex, there were dogs, German Shepherds to be exact. On the cusp of the youngest kid going off to college, the last of the Shepherds went on to doggie heaven.  I was well past the puppy stage of life, but not quite ready to be animal-less, so I called a friend who was a police chief.

How can I get a retired K9?

Call Randy. 

FeroI called Randy, a well-regarded K9 trainer, who, as luck would have it, was looking for a home for a retiree.

Fortunately, she thought I sounded like a nice person, so the vetting process began with her checking us out with our local vet. As we had put our vet’s kids through college with the medical bills of a number of horses and dogs, that was not a problem. He loved having our pets as clients.

Then, the entire family, including the son at college, had to meet Randy and the retiring K9.  Fero was pretty intimidating, prancing around us and checking us out. He was a Schutzhund III (the masters level of training: obedience, tracking, protection) German Shepherd imported from Germany. 

Fero made up his mind as soon as he nuzzled me.  He jumped into my car and waited to go home. He was mine.

Randy handed me Fero’s teddy bear and a K9 vocabulary list in German with two commands — attack and track — circled and not to be used. He was still the top tracking K9 in the area, so, even retired, he had to be available should law enforcement need him.

She then loaded an enormous bag of imported German dog food into the trunk. He got that every morning and evening.  Dinner also included raw beef or, as Fero got older, a cooked chicken breast and a teaspoon of cod liver oil for his joints. Some days he had a better dinner than I did.

Fero was magnificent, massive and intelligent — he had a far better lineage than the kids and was certainly far better behaved. He was never on a lead and, being voice trained, would match me step for step unless told he didn’t have to heel.  It didn’t matter what or who ran in front of him; he stayed focus on matching our steps.

If he felt I needed protection, Fero could scare the Bejeezus out of both strangers and the soon-to-be ex, especially when he sometimes showed up in the middle of the night due to flight delays during our bi-coastal marriage cross county treks.

When we first got Fero, we lived on a couple acres in the country — no fences — and this was very new for a K9.  He had to learn how to be a normal dog after being kenneled all of his working life.  My neighbor, a family therapist, used to take her pooch out on walks every morning and all the neighborhood dogs would join in.  It was a motley group to say the least, but they all enjoyed the morning trek.

Fero wasn’t too sure, but she invited him so he trotted along.  She called me to say it was amazing to watch Fero — he observed the other dogs to see how he should behave.  He caught on very quickly. By that evening, when another neighbor and I took our evening walk, usually just with our two dogs, Fero had the routine down cold.

Almost too quickly, as it turned out.  Fero started disappearing for hours at a time.  Not good.  I went out looking for him and, almost a mile away, he found me.  He ran down a long driveway, barking excitedly for me to come and see what he had found.  There was a new canine friend, an old black Labrador, and the two old retirees were evidently spending hours lounging next to a pond, watching the swans and ducks.  Had they been old men, all that was needed were mugs of hot coffee, a shared newspaper and maybe a pipe or two to complete the Norman Rockwell painting.

It sadden me to tell Fero that he had to stay home, but he understood and never wandered again except for the approved morning and evening walks.

I occasionally wondered what life would have been like had our kids been so obedient.