Tag Archives: choosing a dog

Mean Dog, Finale

Safe and Loved

by Terri Florentino

I must admit I felt a connection with Wyatt. He’d look at me with those big, round, dark brown eyes as if he saw and loved my very soul. I had tried not to give him too much of myself, knowing he couldn’t stay. After all, now that Tulley had joined our family, I knew too well that six dogs were our limit.

Morgan at Six Years Old

Wyatt with Karen and Morgan

At this juncture neither Karen nor I were convinced that Wyatt would make a suitable companion for their family. We all went back inside together and discuss Wyatt’s training and feeding and sleeping schedule. While we decided his fate, he trotted through the house, following Morgan and inspecting her every move. Morgan talked to him, “C’mon, Wyatt. This is a stuffed-animal tea party, and you can be our guest.” Wyatt hung on her every word, which pleased the little girl mightily.

As we talked, occasionally Jim knelt and called to him. Wyatt dashed over and wiggled as Jim ruffled his fur all over. Finally, Jim turned to Karen, “I say let’s give him a try.”

Lost in her play-pretend, Morgan had seemed oblivious to the adult conversation, but right on cue she piped up, “Oh! Can we keep him, Daddy?”

Jim and Karen blurted, “Yes!” Then Karen added, “If Wyatt is happy, we would love for him to stay.”

“Wonderful!” I said, but my enthusiasm sounded a bit forced. Puzzled, I looked at Wyatt anew—could it be this was good-bye? What in the world had I expected?

Knowing how intuitive he was, I tried to conceal my sorrow. “Do you have that crate we talked about?”

“Yes,” Karen said.

“Put him in the crate and don’t let him out until after I’m gone.” I managed to hold back my tears. “I don’t want him to see me leave.” Just then, Wyatt walked over and slid his head onto my lap. I cupped his face. “You’re a good boy. . . . I’ll always be with you.” Everyone began to sniffle.

Ed stood up. “Okay, let’s go, honey.” I let him guide me to my feet and put his arm around me.

Karen escorted Wyatt to another room and the crate. At the door, Karen embraced me—no words, just strength, trust, and love.

Merry Christmas, Wyatt

Merry Christmas, Wyatt

Karen emailed me often. Morgan loved Wyatt from the start. He joined in many a tea party, fashion show, and Disney-movie reenactment. At first, he didn’t know what to do with himself, which was saying a lot, because Wyatt had a big personality. With so much attention from a family so happy to have him, he acted like a kid in a candy store. Overcome with glee, he’d race through the house and leap from couch to chair to chair. They realized quickly how right I was about his need for training, and they diligently obliged.

Wyatt was a counter-surfer, and for this, Karen asked my advice. I replied, “Don’t leave things on the counter to tempt him, and he may forget to surf.” That cured it, but one St. Patrick’s Day, Wyatt had a little lapse. Karen had made corned beef and cabbage and left it to cool on the counter. A half hour later she returned to find the entire meal had vanished. Wyatt had sprawled himself out on the kitchen floor, lounging with a look of self-satisfaction. He practically shrugged at her, as if to say, “Hey, you obviously didn’t want it. What’s the problem?”

Morgan and Wyatt

Morgan and Wyatt

At first, Wyatt was haunted by old fears and anxieties. Whenever he rode in the car with Karen and she stopped at the supermarket or strip mall, he’d panic and try to keep her from getting out, as if remembering the day his first owner gave him up in a parking lot. Eventually, he learned to love car rides, but it took time and a lot of reassurance. Summer storms frightened him; sometimes they’d find him hiding in the clothes dryer. When left alone for long periods, Wyatt scratched up the furniture, the floor, the doors. Karen used Rescue Remedy or Anxiety Relief drops, and Wyatt learned when he felt his fears coming on to go to her and sit obediently, as if to say, “Please, please, please may I have a few drops of the stuff?” He’d lift his lip and wait for her to squeeze the medicine into his mouth. Over time, he learned he was well-cared-for, and his fears subsided.

Morgan, Jim, and Wyatt

Morgan, Jim, and Wyatt

Last fall, while Morgan was asleep in bed and Jim was outside spotting deer, Karen decided to make a cup of tea before bed. Her heel slipped off the top step, and she went skidding down the wooden stairs on her tailbone. There she sat at the bottom with a dislocated shoulder, a concussion, and a likely broken coccyx, so painful that Karen heard herself wailing in a way she never had before. Wyatt dashed over and ran his eyes and nose all over her. Then he rocketed up on the couch in front of the picture window and barked and barked and barked. Jim was was spotting deer about thirty yards away and heard Wyatt’s bark. Afraid Wyatt would wake up Morgan, he came running to scold him, but instead found Karen injured and badly dazed.

You're safe, and you're loved.

You’re safe, and you’re loved.

Wyatt and Karen had grown very close, in part thanks to the three-and-a-half-mile runs. At one particular point halfway up a hill, Wyatt would stop dead in his tracks and sit right in front of the “SPEED LIMIT 25 When Horse Rider Is Present” sign. He refused to budge. Karen spoke firmly and tired to get him to heel, but nothing worked. Karen stood there thinking, “Seriously? Just move your tush up the hill. This is not hard!” She usually had to get back home to get Morgan on the bus and Jim off to work. Finally one day, as Wyatt sat by the sign like a cement statue, she leaned down, patted his head, and said in his ear, “Everything’s okay. It’s all fine. You’re safe, and you’re loved.” He relaxed, he wriggled all over, and then zipped up that hill like an Olympic athlete.

Wyatt still oversees all the movement in the house, off to work and school, over to the barn, out to bound in fresh snow, and up to bed, when he listens attentively to bedtime stories and often stays to sleep in Morgan’s room. Whatever’s going on, Wyatt is happiest when the family is all together.

Karen works from from home, and every afternoon like clockwork, Wyatt comes to her and whines. Engrossed in her work, she tells him to hush and lie down. He settles for a moment before fussing again—right around the time Karen looks up to see the school bus coming down the road. The house sits almost 800 feet from the road, and he starts to whine and pace about five minutes before she even sees the bus. Karen still can’t figure out how he knows Morgan is on the bus and it’s time to go get her.

Morgan and Wyatt in the snow

Morgan and Wyatt in the snow

Karen emailed me the other day, “I just said to Jim tonight that we’ve had Wyatt longer than we’ve had any dog. Hard to believe he’ll be ten years old in a few months.”

So many things had happened since their dear Raine had died. The whole world had changed for the mean dog who had become our own dear, old Tulley.

Karen wondered, “Where does the time go?”

I believe that there is an explanation for everything, so, yes, I believe in miracles. ~Robert Brault

Mean Dog, Part 8

Why Not Wyatt?

by Terri Florentino

For the first few days, Whiskey seemed depressed. He never left my side and barely ate a thing. Time passed, he started eating again, explored a little, and romped around with Tulley. When people came to visit, he greeted them with his whole body, wiggling with delight. It turned out that Whiskey was a delightful character, full of adorable antics.

I decided that a new name might help him progress. Because he was such a clown, I’d nicknamed him “Cowboy,” but thought the new name should resemble the old. Wyatt Earp was a cowboy, so why not “Wyatt?” It didn’t take that cowboy long to learn his name, and after a trip to the vet for blood work, vaccinations, and neutering, he got a clean bill of health. I started training right away.

The worst thing about Wyatt was serious: he lifted his leg on everything in sight. My biggest fear was that neutering wouldn’t change it. If he couldn’t be housebroken, I probably couldn’t find him a loving family of his own.

I kept him on a leash indoors and gave him a firm “No!” each time I saw him sniff and lift. Fortunately, he was easily shamed. Basic obedience moved swiftly; he wanted very much to please me. He learned so fast that I soon looked for a permanent home for him. The longer it takes to find a home, the harder the transfer is for the dog—and for me. Sometimes, after I’d placed a rescue dog I’d had for a long time, my husband, Ed, caught me crying. “Self-induced misery,” he’d tease.

Wyatt was a lively, loving dog and needed a home where he could get plenty of exercise, perhaps with children and other animals for company and fun. He’d also need someone willing to keep training him. That got me considering Karen, Jim, and Morgan. Karen was a runner and wanted a running partner. Jim was an avid outdoorsman. They would train him. What cinched it, though, was seeing how Wyatt loved children. He was sure to put a smile back on little Morgan’s face.

I wrote them an email: “How are you since losing Raine? I know it must be hard. I’m writing to tell you about Wyatt.”

“We’re still grieving,” Karen wrote back. “Thank you for letting me know about Wyatt. I need to talk to Jim. I’ll be in touch.” The very next day she wrote to ask a few questions about Wyatt. I answered her and offered to bring him to meet her family. “We’d love that!” she dashed back.

Tulleygoingride (1)The following weekend Ed and I packed up the truck with our two black-and-white buddies, Tulley and Wyatt. We headed out for the two-hour ride to New Jersey. Both dogs got along well, but liked to have their own space. Wyatt jumped all the way into the third seat, and Tulley camped out in the middle. After a long, companionable ride, we passed a large farm that brought the scent of manure rolling through the windows, and Tulley began to whine and pace from window to window.

“We must be getting close,” Ed said. “He remembers.”

“It’s been four years,” I said. “He can’t possibly know where we are!” How could Tulley remember a place he’d only seen flash by a car window at fifty-five miles an hour?

Sure enough, Ed was right. A few minutes later, as we pulled into their driveway, Tulley wailed with joy. He flung himself from window to window scrabbling to get out of the truck. Karen, Jim, and Morgan heard us arrive and came out to meet us. When we opened the door for Tulley, he rocketed straight at Jim and Karen in glee, almost knocking them over. They threw their arms around him. The worst had been forgiven and forgotten, and all they remembered was love. As for Morgan, who had transformed from a baby to a four-year-old girl in his absence, she kept her distance. Tulley paid her no attention.

When it was time, Ed kept Tulley busy with a tennis ball while I got Wyatt out of the truck. Wyatt met them eagerly, all wiggles. Morgan giggled and patted her new friend. So far, so good. Greetings over, we put Tulley back into the truck and brought Wyatt into the house. I kept him on lead and walked him through the main area of the house, room to room. He sniffed everything and never even considered lifting his leg. Then, we let him run off-lead in the fenced yard while Morgan sat nearby on her swing set. He zigzagged every inch of the yard, nose down, and thankfully did his marking there. Every few moments, to Morgan’s delight, he’d check in with her for another wiggle and kiss. She began to swing on her swing and sing to herself, improvising a song about wiggly Wyatt. Karen and I exchanged glances and smiled. So charming, so peaceful, so perfect.

She and I stepped back into the house to speak privately, leaving the men to watch over Morgan and Wyatt. No sooner had the door closed behind me than Wyatt was jumping and yelping against it. When we returned to the yard, he leapt on me in joyful relief and planted himself beside me. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight.

Apparently, Wyatt had grown very happy to consider himself mine. Now Karen and I exchanged worried looks.

How could we help Wyatt feel happy to belong to them?

Mean Dog, Part 7

Whiskey

By Terri Florentino

“Will you rescue my dog?”

Through the phone, I could hear his voice crack.

“He’s a Border Collie mixed with English Shepherd,” Bill said. The dog was living outside part time and in a basement of a building he was helping renovate. “This is no life for my best pal,” he said, “but right now I don’t even have a home for myself. It would destroy both of us if I had to leave him at a shelter.” The dog would need basic training, neutering, and vaccines. He choked up again as he said, “But he’s absolutely wonderful.”

WyattAs I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a man who looked like Grizzly Adams standing with a handsome, densely coated, tri-colored dog calmly sniffing around the end of a leash. As Bill and I shook hands, the dog walked right up to me, tail wagging. I put out my hand to let him sniff, and he nudged it, inviting me to pet him. I chuckled at his forwardness. I massaged my fingers through the thick fur on his neck then behind his ears, gradually moving down his back, under his belly, and toward his paws and ears, making sure he was safe to handle. He didn’t care what I did—he loved the attention.

“Like I told you, he’s friendly,” Bill said, smiling proudly through his beard.

“He sure is!” I ruffled his neck and ears. “What’s his name?”

“Whiskey’s what I call him.” Bill got him as a puppy from a friend. “We’ve been inseparable ever since. Four years.” Bill warmed to the subject and reminisced about Whiskey’s mischievous puppy days, his awkward adolescence, his good-natured adulthood, and many happy adventures up until now. “Four of the best years with my best pal.” He reached down and scratched Whiskey on the chest, and Whiskey looked up with adoration.

“How does he do with other dogs?”

“I don’t know,” Bill said. “We don’t really run into them.”

“We’re in luck—I brought one of mine.” I’d brought Tulley—he’d always been good with other dogs. I got him out of my truck, and we walk around together, keeping a a distance. Tulley wiggled and lowered his head, and Whiskey barked and pulled on the leash as if he wanted to bound over and say hello. I was pleased to see no sign of aggression. I let Tulley lead me over for a three-second meet-and-greet–more wiggles, wags, and noses. If anything, Whiskey was almost too friendly; he bounced in the air and tried to wrap his front legs around Tulley’s neck. Tulley welcomed the play, but Bill and I had business.

“You were right,” I said after returning Tulley to my truck. “Whiskey’s a great dog. I can find him a forever home.”

“Thank you,” Bill said, and his whole body seemed to slump. “Thank you, so much,” he said, his voice now quivering with emotion. He knelt and pressed his face to Whiskey’s muzzle. “Be sure to let me know if there is anything he needs.” He squeezed his eyes closed, and I thought I saw tears on his lashes. “Let me know how he’s doing.”

“I will. And you can visit any time.”

While Bill loaded up my truck with the dog’s crate, food and favorite belongings, Tulley watched intently from his crate, and Whiskey became uneasy—pacing, panting, and jumping onto Bill, sensing his anxiety. Bill’s tears were falling frankly. Once all of Whiskey’s belongings were loaded into my vehicle, Bill bent down to say his final goodbye. He buried his face into the dog’s neck, no longer able to contain his emotion. He sobbed, inconsolable. “You’re my best pal, okay? My best pal ever. This is what’s best for my best pal.”

Mean Dog, Part 1

Nap time

Nap Time

by Terri Johnson Florentino

I received a call one day from a trainer in a neighboring state. He said he had a three-year-old Border Collie that needed to be rescued. “Can you help? Over the last year, he’s gotten aggressive with his owners, their children, and other animals. He’s bitten a few times.” The owners were wonderful people, he said. “They’re heartbroken.” They felt that they had done all they could for the dog. “They’re afraid euthanasia’s the only option left.”

When I rescue, I bring the dog to live in my home with my family and other dogs. I spend a few months getting to know and training the dog. I aim to place the right dog with the right family. Everybody wins.

This trainer and I talked for a long time, and then, with a heavy heart, I declined to help this dog. How could I possibly put my family and other dogs through the stress of living with such an aggressive dog? I feared for his fate.

About a week later I took my Border Collies to my friend’s farm to work our dogs on her sheep together. After we were done, she asked me to spend some time with a dog that she’d recently taken in. “His name’s Buddy,” she said. “He came from an excellent home but he’s got some behavioral problems.”

She came out of the kennel with a beautiful, traditional black-and-white Border Collie. He followed reluctantly on the lead with a deer-in-the-headlight look. As I slowly approached, not saying a word, Buddy got increasingly uncomfortable. He averted his eyes, and his body stiffened. I bent down next to him. He took a deep breath and let out a very long growl. His beautiful coat stood completely on end, and his lips curled so tightly, he was bearing every one of his teeth.

And yet, I didn’t feel threatened. He never made eye contact, nor lunged to bite.  I felt sympathy for the dog. His display seemed to come from fear and pain. I turned to my friend. “Where did you get him?”

Sure enough—Buddy was the same dog the trainer had called me about earlier that week.

Why did this dog keep coming to me? What would I do? What would you have done?

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