or How To Keep Your Dog, An Adoption Story
by Heather Fox
It had been a rough six months. All 3 of our senior dogs, ages 16, 16, and 14, passed away within a few months of each other due to cancer and other old age ailments. My normally dog-filled home had become a very lonely place. Even pet sitting was at a lull. It was still early, but it was just too hard. I needed to adopt a dog.
I started checking Petfinder, as well as Lollypop Farm, and Rochester Animal Services on Verona Street. I was looking for an older black shepherd mix only because that was what two of my last best friend dogs were. Their personalities were nothing alike, so I wasn’t looking to replace my actual dog or anything crazy. I just missed them and I thought it might be a little easier to have a similar looking dog around.
The closest I found to that description was a medium-haired black lab mix, but he was gone the very next day. My second choice was an Akita mix, but it turned out he was people aggressive out of his cage, which is not a great personality trait for a 90-pound dog. Then a Bull Terrier named Chunk caught my eye.
Chunk’s paperwork said he was 2 years old, and I only adopt senior mutts… but he sat so nicely in his cage. He showed zero of the anxiety or aggression I have seen in the few other Bull Terriers I have come across in my life. He only came forward from his cot when we called him over from a crouched position and he seemed to have the sweetest, goofiest personality, but without being out of control. The shelter employees said he did great with other dogs on his behavior evaluation, which was my number one priority, being a pet sitter and all.
Once my boyfriend met him the decision was made. I should mention that Bryan did not want another dog yet at all, and was against my even looking, but nobody could stay strong after meeting Chunk. The shelter staff loved him. They said he got more walks than anyone. Since I have a ton of dog experience through work and rescue and run my own pet sitting business, everyone was excited that he was getting adopted by such a great owner. I had a lot to live up to!
On August 12th, as soon as his stray hold was up, I went to Rochester Animal Services and adopted Chunk. We renamed him “August.” He had an exciting departure. Everybody there was super excited to watch him go.
But, as soon as we got out the door He. Was. Awful.
He had no clue how to act on a leash. He pulled hard as I tried to lead him to the car. I somehow managed to get the back door opened to my Prius as he yanked his half-ton body in every other direction. They didn’t name him Chunk for nothing. He was a big boy and he was not getting in the car.
I tried all the key words… “Up, Up!” “Let’s go!” “Do you wanna go for a car ride?” I was speaking Greek. He had no idea what I was saying and had no desire to get into the car. He wouldn’t so much as look at the treat I brought to bribe him. He was too distracted by the outside world and it was too hot to walk him long enough to calm him down. I grabbed ahold of him and tried thrusting him up into the car, but between his weight, round girth, and stubbornness, he just slid back out, panting and excited, still not knowing who the heck I was or what was going on.
As he backed away I could see the harness begin to edge up his neck and I knew I had to act fast or he was going to pull out of it. I cursed myself for not taking the time to properly adjust the new harness to his body. He was moving too frantically. There was no way to loosen the leash or get behind him in time, and I watched in panic as the harness slipped over his head and he went free.
My heart sank. I had him 3 minutes and I already lost him. ‘Good thing he found such an amazing owner! Wow, do I suck,’ I thought. I have never felt less competent than in that moment.
Luckily the parking lot was full and a car parked sideways slowed him down. I ran to him and threw my arms around his neck. I managed to straddle him between my legs long enough to wrap the leash around his neck and secure it to itself with the clasp. Ready for his stubbornness this time, and with the added security of the “slip lead,” I was able to clumsily heave him onto the floorboards of the backseat and close the door.
He was in the front before I was… on the front seat, on the floor, and back in the back. I was prepared for the sweet, calm, well-adjusted dog I had met inside the shelter. I had not thought to bring a crate for him, or a leash that could be tied to the handles in the car. I just had a harness and a flexi. Useless. I tried using my arm as a wall to keep him in the back, but he was a 60-pound bulldozer. “What arm?” said he, as he plowed through, nervously panting and shedding everywhere.
Every time it seemed he found a spot to relax, he would get right back up and move again. It was all I could do to keep him off my lap and from getting onto the floor of the drivers’ side. I knew it was going to be a long ride home, but it had to be done.
Just as we were entering the ramp onto 490, August finally decided to rest… on top of my gear shifter… pushing it
into neutral with his tank of a body. There was no moving him. My face pounded with embarrassment at the line of cars stuck behind me on the ramp. I turned on my hazards as I guided my car at a top speed of 15 into the stream of cars going 45 mph. Of course, the lane merged into the “fast” far left lane of traffic. I tried a few more times in vain to move the rock off of my gear shifter. When that didn’t work and I was safely in the lane, I turned off my hazards, flipped on my right indicator, and maneuvered my way through 3 lanes and into the right lane to exit at my next opportunity. Surprisingly, not a single car honked at us.
As I was finally exiting, the rock of a dog moved off the shifter and into the front seat. I pulled over into a restaurant parking lot to
breathe and text my boyfriend at work to let him know how awful his choice of dog was. Of course, Bryan found the whole thing
hilarious. I looked over at the little punk next to me who, still panting heavily, was giving me some serious side eye. My car’s seatbelt alert was beeping away. I reached over, pulled the seatbelt over August and clicked it into place. Shaking my head, I took a picture of our adorable new dog.
The next week was pretty much a nightmare. He peed in the house, destroyed dog beds, and chewed on our shoes. He thought the recycling bin was a toy box, and our limbs and hair were his preferred chew toys, much better than the plethora of real toys we had purchased just for him. A few times as I bent over to look for a ball or something under the couch, he took the opportunity to swiftly grab my entire ponytail with his mouth to play of tug-o-war.
On leash, he was out of control. Everything was so new he couldn’t decide which direction to go, so he would go in every direction at once, often taking out my legs in the process. He loved walking through 5 ft weeds, causing a tangled mess of grasses and leash. And, he was so out of shape he would decide to stop walking halfway home.
We had gotten ourselves into more than we bargained for. We needed a plan and a whole lot of patience.
First and foremost, we put Auggie on a healthy diet and made it a point to tire him out with daily hikes. When he didn’t get walked, he had a lot of pent up energy. Being stuck at home with all that energy, he got bored. When he got bored, he got destructive.
“We weren’t re-inventing the wheel.”
Dogs need walks. Besides bonding time, they need the focused exercise, and it gives them a chance to smell new smells and see new things. Auggie quickly calmed down and got used to walking on a leash. After two weeks of getting to know one another, we got his town dog license and registered for Monroe County Dog Parks. Now we socialize and exercise him Every. Single. Day.
We got a dog seatbelt to train him to stay in the backseat. We started working on simple commands, like “off,” “no,” “sit,” and “down,” and redirecting unwanted behaviors. Auggie is one of the most stubborn dogs I have ever met, but he likes food, so we were able to slowly learn to speak the same language. We watched his signals showing us when he had to go outside in order to start him on a feeding/potty schedule. We watched his signals when he was bored and getting into things, and used the opportunity to play with him and to figure out how much exercise he needs to be happy. We give him TONS of positive reinforcement whenever he is being good. We try our best to be thoroughly consistent so there is never any question whether we will give in if he just tries harder. We won’t.
It only took a couple of weeks from adoption for our household to adjust. He has completely stopped having accidents in the house. He rarely gets into anything anymore, but when he occasionally does grab a shoe he will listen when we tell him “no”. We don’t even need to crate him anymore and he is close to not needing the seatbelt anymore.
He’s definitely not perfect. He has his naughty days, but overall he’s pretty great. All it took was regular exercise and a whole lot of consistency so we could learn the same language without confusion or frustration. I am a strong believer that exercise and consistency will solve the vast majority of dog behavior problems, and Auggie has proven it to me even more. Dog owners have to put in the work if they want a well-behaved dog. We can’t blame the dog being brought into the foreign world.
We adopted August just 6 weeks ago and I can barely remember that dog I brought home with me from Verona Street.
Doing rescue I always told people to throw away any expectations and to be ready for an adjustment period. Dogs are not robots. They are not toys that can be thrown away if they don’t act the way we want them to. They each have their own personalities and idiosyncrasies, and to put our expectations on them based on our old dogs and other dogs we have known is completely unfair. It is just setting up, you and the dog, for failure.That is true no matter where you get your dog from.
August is unlike any dog I have ever met before and I have met a lot of dogs. He is not what I imagined my next dog would be, but I decided to love him from Day 1 and I am so glad I did. Having to work for it was so worth it.