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adopting a rescue dog

adopting a rescue dog

Why the dog bed next to Mommy’s computer is now empty

This is Meriwether, come to tell you all the reason for the above title.

When we first went to pick up Sprocket from the shelter, I took him onto my lap for the duration of the ride home. He was clingy and wriggly and nervous-panting. He licked my face and rubbed his nasty scent all over me.

That night I gave him a bath. He acted no different from any of the other dogs when they got baths–cooperative, albeit unhappy. I have never met a dog that enjoys baths. When I got him out and toweled him off, he ran around the bathroom wagging his tail–something I have rarely seen a dog do after getting a bath. I reached down to pick him up and carry him out of the bathroom, and he snarled. Before I could touch him, he whipped around and started trying to kill his tail. A second later he was all happy again, sniffed my hand and licked it.

“All right,” I told him, “so you’re a tail chaser and you don’t like to be picked up. That’s fine.” And I let him make his own merry way out of the bathroom.

Sprocket proceeded to make Bramble extremely jealous over the next couple of days. He would hop up on the couch next to me and curl up exactly as Bramble usually did and wait for me to rub his belly. He sat down next to the table at dinner and waited for us to feed him scraps.

Then he went into what Mommy thought was the customary grieving stage. He retreated into himself, stopped begging, stopped jumping onto the couch. He came upstairs one night, to my room, where I was watching a movie with the two little kids. I reached down to pet him, and he growled. He started chasing his tail when he was stressed.

All Friday night he ignored my invitation to come on the bed, and he growled if one of us tried to pet him. In the end he left his place at my feet and lay down in the bedroom doorway. He would not let me touch him.

The next morning it had gone away, and I could pet him again. He ran around the yard, played with the other dogs, body-slammed Bramble. In the evening, when he came in, he lay down at Mommy’s feet and stayed there. I tried to pet him, and he snarled at me. I told Mommy that it was like this the other night. We all thought it was just a stage. When Mommy went to bed, he went with her and wouldn’t leave the bedroom. And wouldn’t let me pet him. And continued to hate his tail.

On Sunday I was sweeping the living room, and Honour was trying to pet Sprocket, giving him turkey and talking. He would not let her touch him. In the end, I stuck the broom between them and told Sprocket to stop. Honour went upstairs with the little kids, and I finished sweeping and sat down next to Sprocket. I stayed there for half an hour.

I went up to Mommy an hour later. “What do dogs look like when they have seizures?”

I told her how, while I sat next to him, Sprocket had curled in on himself and started shaking. When Mommy tried to pet Sprocket, he growled. She had to put a towel over him so he wouldn’t bite her and lifted him onto the couch. I went upstairs. I decided I had been silly thinking he was sick, and went upstairs.

I came down a while later. Mommy told me I was right. Sprocket had had a seizure. His rear end wouldn’t work anymore.

Mommy made him a dog bed and gave him food, which he wouldn’t eat. I went down to visit him when everyone was asleep and sat next to him reading until he relaxed and let me pet him. I put a leash on him, and he didn’t growl at me.

When I got up to go to bed he looked up at me, with those sad dog eyes. I started crying.

The next morning, Mommy told me that Sprocket had pooped a lot of blood. She scheduled a vet appointment. Everyone cried around Sprocket and called him a poor baby. He still wouldn’t let anyone pet him. He was too weak to hate his tail.

Mommy took him to the vet. The vet looked at Sprocket, looked at Mommy and said, “No.”

Mommy left Sprocket at the vet’s office. They were going to take care of him until he was put down. I was reading when she came home, and everyone went to talk to her on the porch except me. I looked at my book and listened to them talking. “No,” Mommy said, when everyone was asking her the same question. “They had to put him down. The vet thought it might be distemper, or maybe a whole bunch of things all at once, but definitely something with his brain.”

I keep on remembering how, that first night when we brought him home, Sprocket wouldn’t let any of us kids sleep. He was walking all over us, kissing us, annoying Ginny, and curling up right where I wanted to sleep. In the end, Ginny stopped growling at him.

I know that dog is in a special place in Heaven tonight. And I still can’t say anything to anyone without ending, “This stinks. It totally, totally stinks.” Mommy says to tell you that she’s not going to post for a while so we can all remember for a few days.

I’m so glad that we had the privilege of knowing this muppet dog.

(Small clarification from Joanna: He went downhill really hard last night after the seizure. I stayed with him but he was obviously in pain and miserable. No relaxation in his eyes anymore. He got his back end under him again by this morning but was tremoring and throwing up and had bloody diarrhea. He couldn’t be touched at all, under any conditions, without panicking. He spent a couple of hours hiding in the corner before we could get him to the vet; it was obvious by the time we got him to the office that things were dire. My vet, who is wonderful, immediately said “You know what you need to do.” She says there’s no way to tell what it is for sure unless we wanted to put him through days of testing, but agreed with me that neurological distemper was a strong possibility. Our other dogs are not in danger; I boostered the adults who had not been vaccinated in a few years as a precaution. And yes, this sucks.)

adopting a rescue dog

Sprocket day 4

I’m working all weekend so don’t have time for a long post but he’s doing well.

He’s doing all the things I expect a new rescue to do, and encouraging me with his willingness to listen and snap out of it.

Almost invariably, when they first arrive they’re so thrilled to be out of a kennel and in someone’s arms that they’re stare-y and clingy and manic. I think a lot of people get that response and think they adopted a really, really happy and affectionate dog, when it’s just relief and stress.

A couple days later I always get two things – hideous diarrhea and the first time they growl at somebody. The stool is from the food and water change and the stress of moving. I never worry that they’re sick as long as they have normal timing and urgency – in other words, they can consistently make it outside and they basically act normal otherwise.

The growling is their attempt to set up some order or structure in their lives. They will generally over-react and get possessive about food, mad about beds, react to loud noises, try to “own” a person, etc. I am very forgiving of this kind of stuff and generally try to coddle it rather than discipline it – it’s a totally different approach than I take if one of my established dogs decides to get all full of herself. A new dog is allowed to say “I am very worried that you will take my food” and I’ll tell the kids to stay out of the room where the dog is eating. I usually see a big storm of it and then as long as things are consistent it goes away on its own.

Sprocket is so wired into his tail that he’s showing that possession stress by tail-chasing. I sat and massaged him for a long time tonight, trying to figure out where the body tension was, and he would get tenser and tenser and growl and snarl and roar and then – if I pushed it too long – would break away from me and go after his tail. If I lifted my hands right before he got to that point he’d jump back and then just snort and shake and come rushing back over asking for more attention. He tail-chases more when he’s worried about other stuff, like if one of the kids is jumping on the couch and making noise.

Over the next few days my goals for him are as follows:

Eat a chicken back. So far he’s insisting that they’re not real food, in fact that anything raw is not food. Cooked chicken he goes bananas for. So we’ll sear some and make it progressively more raw until he’s eagerly eating it.

Continue to work on not marking. He’s already much, much better but he needs to be reminded a few times a day.

Start to let me know what triggers his tail OCD. He’s just not telling me that story yet, and I need to help him trust me enough to do so. Right now the answer is “everything” and I need him to relax enough to indicate more specifically what’s going on.


He’s becoming more and more physically relaxed – he is playing more and running less. He’s sleeping on my feet instead of beside them. He’s paying attention to what feels good and showing preferences (like jumping on the couch instead of just lying in a corner).

He’s starting to involve his brain a bit. He’s getting interested in following a ball though he’s not fetching it back yet. He’s becoming better at playing with the corgis. He’s smelling more and staring less.

All in all I am very pleased, and glad that my timetable is not urgent for him. I think he’s going to make a really, really great dog for somebody and I am so happy that I have the luxury of really getting to know him so we can place him the very best we possibly can.

adopting a rescue dog

The tail of the issue

Cutie dog, now tentatively named Sprocket because he answered to it immediately but just stared at us when we tried Henson, has been doing great. He’s worn out and tired from a day of playing and is beginning to show a bit of grief – sad, but good. They all seem to come in and act like cracked-out relieved idiots for a few hours or days and then they crash and start to want to tell their story. He’s more clingy tonight and his eyes are less glassy and more relaxed and sad.

One of the things I try to figure out with these guys is what happened – Hartford doesn’t take any owner surrenders so they’re always either dumped or stray. Sparky was left in a yard after people moved out. Wilson was stray, probably dumped because he was older and had temperament issues (now totally gone). Ginny was obviously an owned dog; we suspect that she bolted out a door and whoever owned her didn’t dare to reclaim her (Hartford has a large population of undocumented workers and – though the animal control officer would be very glad to have the dog go home and has no desire to get anyone else involved – that community is understandably very cautious about approaching anything perceived as governmental). This dude was dumped in the corner of a public park. He’s young, obviously cost somebody some money at some point, and is as sweet as can be, which makes me start to look for some issue that led people to not bring them with him when they moved or dump him proactively.

I think – strongly suspect – it’s his tail. He has tail problems, from who knows where (we’ll get him in soon and have the vet check to make sure there’s no pain, but it feels to me more like an obsession than a pain problem), but however it happened he has ended up with a tail-hating issue. If he realizes it’s there – if he brushes it against the couch or if he sits on it accidentally – he begins to growl. If it continues to give him any sensation, he’ll attack it. It’s hilarious, honestly, in a way; you’ll be scratching him and he’ll be loving it and then he’ll start darting his eyes at his tail and making horrible noises. Eventually he can’t take it and he whirls around snarling and trying to bite it. Talk to him and he instantly stops and comes back for more love. He just did it now, as I was typing, because he laid down and his tail brushed the floor. It’s not directed at anyone – I petted him all over and then tugged his tail and he ran AWAY from me to get the tail. But if someone was in the way and he couldn’t get out of a corner or something, I can very easily see him getting them by accident.

Assuming the tail is the worst thing we find, hallelujah. That’s very fixable with desensitizing. Meanwhile we’re just helping him feel good and normal and cueing him as much as possible. Lots of “great decision there, buddy” and “no, please don’t do that.” He’s already starting to look at me before he makes decisions – sniff at a chair leg (he’s a bit of a Marky McHumperton and is pretty sure chairs need to be watered regularly) and then, instead of pee on it, look at me. I say “Uh-uh” and he is now turning away and walking toward me instead, which gets a “Perfect! Thank you so much for that good decision!” and he gets all waggy (and then attacks his tail, sigh).

Somebody asked in comments how I do the first few days with a rescue – this is it. Consistency, tons of cueing, no overreaction, as much exercise as possible. A bath, always. Good food, always. Lots of watching and trying to see what stuff stresses them, and removing that stress as much as possible. I’ve had dogs throw a fit and then look at me, plainly expecting me to throw one right back. When I instead say “Well, what did you do that for?” they begin the process of redefining their own behavior. I won’t push the “training” aspect until I feel that they are back to being whole, until they’re no longer grieving and have all the tools they need to learn. The first step is when they begin to seek out human contact – not petting, which they will accept even when frantic, but when they wander into the room and plop down on my feet, or when they jump on a bed and stretch out next to a kid. That’s when I know they’re beginning to open up and heal.

adopting a rescue dog

Hello, I like you, won’t you tell me your name?

I don’t have any really good pictures yet, just some snaps in the yard in the bad light, but he’s cute.

In a sort of “Previously on The Dark Crystal” kind of way.

He is a very sweet boy. Not at all shy, happy and confident, gets along with everybody. Quite endearing, honestly. He’s out playing with the ones who are not in (or going out of) heat – just in case I am reading them wrong. I have less than no desire to end up with Cardigan-mystery mix puppies.

The light isn’t good enough to show his coat well, but in addition to the little beard he’s got a strip of long curly hair along his topline but short and smooth coat on his sides. (Lesson 1 about why you don’t breed a smooth-coated dog to a curly-coated dog.) All over he’s rather sparse and it strips out into my hand if I tug. He’s greying all over – he’s for sure got something that greys, like poodle or similar, and will probably grow more and more silver as he ages. I suspect that he’ll be happiest clipped almost completely down into a Boston-Terrier-With-A-Mustache look, but we’ll see. He was fine being bathed, doesn’t really object to anything. I’ll try nails later today.

I still don’t know what he is – he’s bigger than a Boston-Poodle but that’s probably the closest guess, though I rather think there’s more than that in there.

Health-wise he’s perfect. Good heart, eyes (the cherry eye is minor and the tissue is healthy and will be an easy fix), ears, etc. He’s between nine and 18 months old – he has a decent-sized underbite so teeth are less helpful in dating him but I would guess about a year. He’s 21 lb and should be closer to 23; he’s a bit underweight and of course needs a lot of muscle mass. He adores – ADORES – kids.

We’ll keep him a month or two, get him neutered, get the cherry eye fixed, get some muscle on him and some training in him (he’ll offer a sit but on leash he’s horrid – switches between panicking and pulling – probably almost never been on a leash before), get to know him a bit better, and hope by then one of you has fallen in love with him! But my heavens, right now he’s as easy as pie and unless something changes he should be VERY adoptable.

And no, no name yet – anybody see a name there? He is a lot less terrier-y than I thought he’d be; he doesn’t feel like an Angus or Wallace or Lewis. He’s got more of a Fraggle Rock vibe.

adopting a rescue dog

Coming home with us on Wednesday!

Look at this sweet boy!

He’s just a year old or even younger; he was dumped in a park in Hartford. The ACO chased him for days and he just laughed at her, and then came running up to kiss a little girl, who caught him and handed him over. Sounds like our kind of guy.

We’ll vet him in CT, get his rabies shot and a health cert before we bring him home. Once I know what kind of dog he is, make sure he’s healthy and happy, and he’s neutered and his cherry eye fixed, he’ll be available.

After I take approximately 150,000 photos of him.

This is ALL because of you wonderful people. I got $180 in donations, which is enough to get us there and get him vetted and home, and even a chunk toward his eventual neuter.

The ACO says he’s a real mystery mix, but a big chunk of terrier is obvious. He’s maybe 18 pounds, she thought. We’re very excited!

adopting a rescue dog, General, Responsible Ownership

It’s working! $8.48 for Hartford!

I can’t believe it’s actually happening! And please do not think that I am kidding about being this happy – sure it’s a small amount, but it WILL add up and we WILL make a difference for dogs. I can hardly wait until it’s enough for me to call the ACO and go down there and spring somebody who really needs it.

If nobody’s offended I’ll continue to update you about the amount coming in – I hope we can all get excited about it. My affiliate window doesn’t give me any access to personal information or names, so even if you buy Georgia Grumholt’s Guide to Sensual Spanking I’ll just celebrate the forty cents in happy ignorance :).