Normally when I bring home a new foster dog there is an extended shut-down period – a time when the new foster is kept away from the other dogs, spends a lot of time in her crate, is kept on a leash all the time even when out of the crate (and confined to the kitchen). This generally lasts one to two weeks.
We started down that path with Fanny Wiggles, but she came from a foster situation where she’d already had plenty of crate time. But even when she was out of the crate, she found a corner to fold herself into or hid behind a chair, often beneath my feet. She was shy with everyone in the house, ducking from any touches, watching but wary.
She lit up when she caught a glimpse of Flannery and Gracie, but knowing that both of those girls start every introduction with a snarl (which is completely a bluff), I wasn’t ready to introduce them. Still, I was pretty sure the key to her relaxing and settling in would be a doggie friend. So, I contacted Nancy Slattery and the best dogfriend I know, my 50th foster dog, Edith Wharton.
We met at a dog park nearby and sure enough it only took a minute or two before Fanny was racing and playing with Edith, a huge smile plastered on her face.
I’d brought Flannery with me too because I thought a big space and a good example (Edith) might make the introduction to Fanny go better. Flannery puffed herself up like a blowfish and growled a few times, but she couldn’t resist the happy playing of Edith and Fanny. Even when a new dog (an unneutered male) showed up, the happy pack continued their play, inviting him to join. Flannery gave him a bit of shout down, and he smartly avoided her after that.
Fanny and Flannery (I know that’s quite a mouthful) continued to bond throughout the weekend, wrestling and playing and hiking together. Everything seemed new to Fanny, but with Flannery along she was brave, even greeting strangers at the dog park.
It will take some time for Fanny to feel safe, but slowly we are seeing a funny, playful, happy girl emerge. She loves to play with toys – flinging and pouncing on and shaking them. After watching Flannery chase ball after ball, she tentatively pounced after one and quickly learned to bring it back. She is a smart girl and already communicating well.
I may be biased, but Fanny is simply gorgeous. Her super short coat is caramel-colored that shimmers gold and red in the sunshine. Her nose is a perfectly shaped pink heart, and the end of her tail has a distinct hook-shape. We visited two dog parks this week and both times a stranger admired her and asked, “What kind of dog is she?”
“She could be anything,” I told them.
OPH labeled her a pitbull terrier mix, but the vet in Tennessee listed her as a Vizsla. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what’s inside her DNA, what matters most is what is inside her heart and that is clearly a loving, silly, smart dog who has seen enough of life to be cautious but is young enough to be curious.
I read a recent post from How I Met My Dog, a newish dog-placement site about how much breed matters (not much). HIMMD matches up adopters and dogs based on personalities, lifestyle, and training experience/desires. Not once do they ask, “What breed are you looking for?”
When we rescue a dog we never know what breed it is—without a DNA test and no knowledge of mom or dad’s breeding (and most times no knowledge of mom or dad), everything is a guess. Research shows that most of the time even shelter staff who work with dogs every day are wrong on their breed guess.
Every shelter we visited on our recent trip, was full of big, beautiful dogs with fat heads, tiny ears, and wide smiles.
Over and over again we heard that it was hard to find adopters and rescue for the pitbull-type dogs. The shelter staff would explain how these were some of the sweetest, mellowest, best dogs with outsize personalities, and yet people did not want to take a chance.
I believe we have to put away the breed labels and treat each dog as an individual. Isn’t that the same thing happening with the human race? None of us want to be labeled or judged by that label. Maybe if we started by not labeling the dogs, we might be able to stop labeling the people.
I just finished reading a book that came out today from Penguin Random-House called Rescue Dogs.
It is written by a man who uses the alias Pete Paxton with the help of best-selling writer, Gene Stone. ‘Pete’ is an undercover investigator who has helped to bring charges against puppy mill and commercial breeders. His experiences have made him a big proponent of choosing rescue dogs. The first half of his book is about his experiences working undercover and the crimes he shares are hard to read, but the second part of the book is about bringing home a rescue dog and why it’s the best choice.
Here are a few excerpts:
“…to understand dog behavior correctly, we have to see dogs for exactly who they are and not who we want them to be. Too often, we view animals through a lens blurred by the belief that other creatures exist for our purposes rather than for their own.”
“We need to appreciate them as beings that exist for their own reasons and are not only capable of happiness, love, loyalty, and respect, but also worthy of those things themselves.”
“Any past benefits we may have gained from breeding dogs have been overshadowed by the harms of overbreeding: stray dogs and overcrowded shelters. Moreover, breeding dogs solely for their physical appearance has created animals almost guaranteed to suffer from breed-specific health problems.”
I also really appreciated a few of his training thoughts. They underlined his belief that every dog is an individual and (hopefully) a member of a family and should be treated as such and the dog’s training should reflect that.
“It is not in a dog’s nature to have a dominant alpha lording it over her while she acts submissive. Instead, her instinct is to be part of a family.”
“If you don’t care if your dog sleeps on the couch, hangs out around the dinner table, or lies on people’s laps while they’re watching TV, then don’t alter those behaviors. Behavior only has to be altered if it’s dangerous to you, a family member, or another animal in your household.”
The beauty of fostering is that we have a chance to invite a dog into our family, our pack, even temporarily, and offer it love and safety and acceptance.
The beauty of adopting through a foster home is that instead of telling you what breed this dog is, we can tell you who this dog is and help you figure out if it’s the right dog for your family.
Thanks for reading!
If you’d like to know more about my blogs and books, visit CaraWrites.com or subscribe to my occasional e-newsletter. If you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog Facebook group.
If you want to know where all these dogs are coming from and how you can help, visit Who Will Let the Dogs Out.
Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available now