It was time to get a new dog. Our last dog, a terrier mix, was with us for over 18 years. His passing devastated us, especially my wife Diane who would break out in tears months afterwards if his name was mentioned.
We were dogless for four years, which gave us more leeway in travelling and freedom from those endless queries at motels and lodges: “Do you take pets? ” This is why I resisted getting another dog. In the abstract a dog is not a “pet” until a specific dog is acquired, it has a name, and a bond is established. Then you have an animal with its own personality and is part of the family.
Two reasons changed my mind: One, my wife yearned for a dog. (Just look at the picture when she first held this trial dog in her arms). The second is the untold benefits to both parties of “rescuing” a creature that might otherwise be euthanized. Dogs have supported humans in untold ways for centuries. They are unwaveringly loyal to their human master and to the roles we give them, or to what they possess in their DNA, such as hunting or protecting. Helping a dog survive and having a good life with us seemed a good thing to do.
So, we began the search for our new family addition. As with our previous dogs, we would look for one available through an adoption agency. No purebred designer dog, selected as to breed, and then ordered from afar. We drew up our specs: smallish terrier mix, longish nose, female, non-shedding, friendly with people and other dogs, and physically capable of long walks. I personally resisted the cutish white dogs of varied kinds that I referred to as “wimpy.”
Basically we checked the listing of dogs in shelters and organizations like Pets without Partners, or Raining Cats “n” Dogs. Such groups perform a marvelous service by literally saving a dog and fostering it while pursuing adoption. They provide an opportunity for a prospective owner to “try out” an animal for one or more days before deciding whether to adopt it or not. We looked at several dogs, had one for an overnight trial, but nothing clicked.
One week we saw in the newspaper a picture and description of a dog that seemed to fit. It was a female, schnauzer/doxie/lhasa mix, 14 pounds, “happy, friendly, likes to play with other dogs.” We called the foster parent Susan from Raining Cats “n” Dogs and arranged for the dog, Gypsy, to visit us. Susan came with two dogs, a buddy system. Gypsy’s mixed breed appearance (more doxie face than terrier) and shyness didn’t captivate us at first glance. In fact we immediately liked the second dog more because of its spontaneous friendliness and terrier appearance. But it was a male and my wife definitely wanted a female this time (it did lift its leg and wet the carpet early in its visit, which sealed its fate).
We ended Gypsy’s visit not sure we would proceed any further with her. I more than Diane just didn’t see this dog as a keeper, and I didn’t want to waste time and emotions on another trial, only to give the animal back as we did before.
But in the days ahead I kept looking at the picture of Diane holding Gypsy and began warming up to the dog’s features. So, while Diane was on a snowshoeing trip, I called Susan and arranged for her to bring Gypsy for a trial visit, intending to surprise Diane when she returned.
Susan brought her here. She related more about Gypsy’s past. She was picked up as a “stray” running down a main street in Red Bluff and brought to Tehama County Animal Care Center. Her mammary glands were developed and it looked like she had nursed pups, but no one knew what happened to them. And she was only one year old! Susan saw a picture of her on the Animal Care Center’s website and went to check her out. The dog was housed at the shelter with another one. Susan took the two home for a trial visit and ended up fostering both. The dog she named Gypsy due to her wandering past had been unclaimed for 13 days in the shelter and seemed very happy to be leaving it with Susan.
Now Susan was hoping Gypsy would pass her trial with us and be adopted. But the minute Susan left, Gypsy stayed glued next to the door. When I approached her, she ran away in absolute terror of me. She cowered next to the patio door. If I moved toward her she would dash away in fear. She refused any food. I left her alone for a long while, expecting that she would eventually come to me. She never did.
When Diane got home two hours later, she was happily surprised to see Gypsy here. But when she approached her, the dog darted away and cringed next to a door, eyes filled with fright. I’m sure if she ever got outside, she would have run away and ended up in a shelter again, or worse. We managed to corner her and put her in her crate. But I was convinced this dog could never be the friendly pet we wanted. I called Susan and told her of Gypsy’s behavior. Her first reaction was, “oh the poor dog!” I requested that she pick her up the next day, which she disappointingly did.
After taking Gypsy from the shelter, it wasn’t until her first visit to meet an interested couple did I see signs of anxiety. They came from out of town expressly to see her. The gentleman was disappointed that he couldn’t get Gypsy to “come around and like me because I’ve always been a dog person.” I was also surprised at this because she hadn’t shown any fear or timidity with me or my husband. The couple rejected Gypsy for not being friendly enough.
The Madgic’s report on Gypsy’s behavior during her trail with them shocked me, and I was crushed to have to go and pick her up. Fortunately, another potential adopter was waiting in the wings. I was able to tell this couple more about Gypsy’s anxieties, so each experience was proving valuable as I continued to seek a new home for her. This visit went well. Gypsy seemed to be learning that when we went and met new people nothing bad would happen to her. The problem this time was another dog in the home. Gypsy seemed bothered about this right from the start. The couple loved her and wanted to slowly integrate the two dogs over a few days to see if it could work. It did not and I once more had to retrieve her.
After that I took Gypsy with me where ever I could because with every positive interaction she progressed and developed confidence. I took her with the other rescue dog for a home visit. This seemed to help the second dog feel less anxious. He got adopted. I then took Gypsy to a rescue group activity and she behaved like a pro. She walked right in, met all the people and the other three dogs there, and was a calm, confident dog. Her true self was emerging. One reason I think rescuing and fostering dogs in homes is so important is that a dog might show its insecurities and other atypical personality traits in a new situation. When one is fostered in a caring home environment these issues can be worked out, as was happening with Gypsy.
At this point I was thinking, “I wish the Madgic’s could see her now!” I couldn’t get them out of my head as they seemed a perfect match with Gypsy. Finally one day I thought, why not give them a call and tell them of her progress. They could decide if they wanted to give her another trial.
After three weeks had passed Susan called and very gently wondered if we wanted to give Gypsy another chance, saying that “she seems much friendlier.” With some reluctance I agreed. When Susan brought Gypsy, our granddaughters were here with their dog, and the two immediately started playing and getting in a hilarious tug of war over a sock. We liked Gypsy’s spirit. Our granddaughters loved her. When Diane later took her for a walk, the two connected. We found our dog.
We officially named her “Ebbetts Pass” (we always gave our pets names related to the central Sierra Nevada, plus Diane wanted her to be the only dog so named) or “Ebby” for short. Quite amazingly Ebby not once showed her previous fears. And in fact she quickly settled down to be the best dog imaginable—smart, affectionate, loveable. If someone goes to pet her, she rolls onto her back and exposes her belly in total submission. She has no typical dog hang ups. Whatever we ask of her or do to her, e.g. wipe her toes and feet, bathe her, she accepts without any complaint. She loves her crate; she’ll travel contentedly for long hours.
One of her embedded behaviors did surface at the outset of our taking her. When we first undid her leash in a large enclosed area, she immediately darted off for the distant exit, not in fright but just because she could. This was troublesome to us. And soon afterwards, she jumped out of the back of our SUV while I was putting in groceries, and ran across the parking lot, stopping only when a building interrupted her flight and I was able to run her down. She was indeed exhibiting her “gypsy” tendencies, demonstrating that she was a carefree and footloose creature.
Thankfully these tendencies quickly disappeared as she settled into the family. In fact it seemed that a new dog, Ebby, had emerged, one that never departed very far from either Diane or me. In short order, she was keeping a close eye on our location and staying always close. This swift transformation from a dog with a wanderlust spirit to one that sought close companionship was striking.
Ebby has enriched our daily lives immeasurably. Although we are both very active seniors, Diane and I find ourselves walking more because of her. We take her for walks multiple times a day. One of our favorite activities is to go to the Sundial Bridge in nearby Redding and have Ebby meet other dogs and people. She keeps us moving! I like nothing better than to take her to a local nature preserve and let her off leash. She stays close but acts like a dog should: sniffing, exploring, burying her nose in animal holes, running to catch up. She is just a marvelous and fun companion. Further, Ebby is always making Diane and me laugh with her antics, her enthusiastic behaviors over being fed, and just being a loving, sweet dog to have around. She jumps up (when invited) to join us on the sofa in the evening and provides us with added comfort. It’s been shown that dogs add years to a person’s life, and we think Ebby is doing that for us. At least our lives are eminently more stimulating because of her.
Diane, who had recently retired, trained Ebby for the “Canine Good Citizen” test. She passed with flying colors. Diane then worked with Ebby to have her be designated a “therapy dog.” This she achieved, both by the Delta Society and the American Kennel Club. The latter required no fewer than 50 therapy visits to rehab and nursing homes. Ebby loves all the residents, and is a huge hit wherever she goes. Being very physically adept and extremely food motivated, she quickly learned a series of tricks – she sneezes on command! – that entertains any and all observers. Diane enrolled her in agility training and Ebby is on her way to being quite expert in performing the varied exercises. What a wonderful, wonderful dog! And she hasn’t been with us for a full year yet!
Ebby’s one behavior issue arises sporadically with other dogs, as seen in her failed trial with the couple and their dog (to our benefit I might add). Ebby seems comfortable only in a one-dog family; she will sometimes react aggressively if a second dog interferes with her food or alpha status. She objects to a dog sniffing her private parts (perhaps because of her early mating experience?). And if a dog shows the slightest aggression toward her, she will immediately launch a counter attack, even if the dog is much larger. Ebby is definitely not a wimp! We are working with her to discourage these occasional outbursts by having her first sit in the presence of a potential nemesis; keeping her on a short leash in such a case; and giving her an immediate correction, or better yet, a preventative one.
My conclusions from this overall experience are several: First, one should never hastily judge a dog as I did with Gypsy. There is no doubt her true spirit and character would have surfaced in due time, once she became comfortable and knew she could trust us. Her first behaviors in our home were truly aberrant. Because of my initial rejection of her, I now feel especially devoted to her.
The second conclusion is, a dog can be trained and have its behaviors shaped. Dogs adapt, that’s what they do. To have them do so is the owner’s responsibility, not the dog’s. Ebby dutifully does what she is asked, or if necessary, commanded. She is easy to train with rewards.
And the third is less a conclusion than a statement. We could not be more grateful to Susan for her efforts here. She trusted her instincts and personal commitment to this lovable animal and persisted, however lightly, so we could get to know the real dog that has since become a treasured part of our family. She witnessed Gypsy become Ebby. Her comments say it all: “I am so proud of her! She is an inspiration to me!”