Death is terrible but life goes on anyway. When it comes to dogs there are at least two ways dog people cope with grief. Some need to spend time quietly mourning and eventually they heal enough to be able to open their hearts again. Others are like us. We enjoy not just the individual dogs but the things that go with having a dog around like going for walks and getting greeted with a happy wagging tail. So for us being without a companion dog is a double loss, the dog itself and the companionship of the dog. For us, moving quickly on to the next companion eases the profound sense of loss and grief after the passing of the last one.
Enter Misty. We were very aware how both our Fred and Trusty were aging and that was a source of stress and pain to us. In many ways it was wonderful to have two dogs the same age because they were companions to each other in addition to being companions to us. However this meant facing the loss of both dogs at the same time. We decided before we lost one of this pair would get a new puppy so that the new puppy would already be well integrated into our life. Also, we have noted in the past that the arrival of a new young dog tends to rejuvenate the older dog while the younger dog is learning. There is a few happy months and then a realization for the old dog that this youngster is ready to take over the duties that have become a burden due to aging. The old dog can let go and sleep longer, leave barking at passing dogs and strangers to the young one, and not push so hard. It seems to me it eases their passing. They leave knowing we are not left alone.
Our home (purchased two and a half years ago) was not suitable for a new puppy. We have a front area where the dogs went out to do their business or sun, but that was a pair of much older dogs who were accustomed to being on leads, leashes and tethers when not in the house with us. That is too hard for a young puppy. Puppies don’t understand being tied and it makes them miserable. They need a safe place to just be puppies and run and jump and roll unless the owner is ready to spend a lot of time going to safe dog parks. We knew we needed a fence. Our wonderful neighbours came through for us, a big sale was going on for lumber at the local co-op, and we soon had everything we needed to fence the front dog area. Puppies are also clumsy and silly so Dick added lots of extra boards to the front deck so the puppy couldn’t fall off and break something.
The choice of dog was tough. Fred was our first big dog. We didn’t plan on having a big dog. Fred came to us because Trusty brought him home one day and introduced him. Fred taught us there are some real advantages to a big dog. Primary among them is that being big, just their presence can act as a deterrent to those up to no good. During our many travels we have had humans try to attack us four times and each time Fred transformed from the sweetest gentlest doggy you could ever find to a snarling killer dog whose bad attitude drove off the attacker. A well socialized, properly trained dog who knows people also knows when they up to no good. I have to wonder how many other times having a big dog made some predatory human decide to go hunt elsewhere before we ever knew we were being assessed for vulnerability as prey. Also many years ago while we were at a riverside campground, a boy of four got in over his head. Fred noticed the child in distress well before any of us humans. He leaped into the water, wrenching the leash right out of my hand and swam straight to the little guy. Dad was just entering the water when Fred got there. The child (who had been floating just at the surface) pulled himself up onto Fred to lift his head up with a huge gasping sound. Fred swam back with the little guy clinging to him meeting the father halfway. A small dog would never have been able to do such a miraculous thing. So we knew this time we wanted another big dog.
We also knew we didn’t want an older rescue. All of our dogs but Trusty were older rescues. All of them had been mistreated and came with baggage from something awful in their past. Even our current dog Fred came with separation anxiety, roaming behaviour, some minor aggression issues and intense food anxiety that made him a real handful for the first three years we had him. It took him a long time to finally bond to us. All of these dogs adjusted to us and bonded but the process of untraining bad habits and establishing trust and making the bond with the older dog took a lot of time and, for some things, it was never fully accomplished. An older dog often comes already housebroken and spayed or neutered but, frankly, we were tired of dealing with all the other issues. Having already adopted so many older rescues over the years, we just didn’t want to do it again. We wanted a new puppy like Trusty had been, who would be ours from the beginning. Trusty was the most cheerful, happy, trusting little girl and I think that was in large part because she went from an experienced show dog breeder to an experienced dog home as a young pup. (I know some people think all breeders are evil. I personally do not accept the position that a responsible show dog kennel owner who is raising grand champion dogs, does not allow litter to happen unless she has a waiting list of adopters, and even then only has puppies about once in five years a part of carefully planned breeding program, is in the same class or deserving of the same scorn as a back yard breeder or a puppy mill.)
You would think finding a young rescue puppy would be easy. It was not. We came head long into the phenomena know as “retail rescue“. Naturally we wanted to avoid this. One rescue near us boasted of over 80 puppies needing rescue, puppies of all kinds of breeds and types, but they wanted an astonishing $850 for these pups. How does one have a constant stream of rescuable puppies if one is not in retail rescue? The other rescues acted in ways we found repugnant. One rescue took three weeks to answer us about a puppy they had available for adoption on their website only to say that puppy was gone. Even though their website showed nearly a dozen new babies desperately needing homes and they were pleading for donations of money and supplies, they would only offer us a totally different and entirely unsuitable older dog instead. And then there was the other dog they had who was in a doggy wheelchair because his back legs didn’t work but it wasn’t much extra trouble to care for him. He just had to have a wheel chair accessible ramp at the door or to be carried up and down the stairs each time. They gave us a “well if you just want a healthy puppy you don’t deserve a dog” attitude.
Other rescues were what seemed to be outright neurotic, far more interested in passing judgement on us evil humans than actually rehoming puppies. One rescue wanted us to agree to take a dog that might have aggression issues and a biting history and promise we would not ever put the dog down for aggression. That is simply not happening because my sense of responsibility to my community is far more important than to my dog, so sorry. In my book the only good aggressive dog with bite/attack history is a dead one.
One rescue appeared to be run so the owner could have a constant supply of young puppies. No puppy could leave them until after the age of six months, fully housebroken and trained, and at substantially higher costs. When I said we wanted to train our puppy ourselves, I was told very firmly that should always be left to professionals and rehoming a puppy before such professional training was dog abuse. (Utter nonsense!)
Another one said they would not let us adopt because we were too old and the dog was likely to outlive us! (My husband is 73 and I am 57.) Another wanted to see five years worth of our income tax assessments to be sure we could really afford a dog. (Uh no. We’re not doing that.) Several demanded we agree to home assessments before and after placement and one wanted us to give them the legal right to swoop in and seize the dog back with no refund of the adoption fee for any reason they decided on, plus the right to bill us to recoup any and all costs associated with taking the dog back. In the event of any dispute we had to agree to pay all legal fees. That was not acceptable to us either. A pre-adoption home assessment was fine but not the other stuff. Speaking of home assessments, two rescues refused us because we lived too far from the city for them to send someone out to do a home assessment.
I was once accused of abusing Trusty Dog by a vet technician I met at a dog party. She thought Trusty Dog was too thin compared to her dog. In fact, Trusty was a perfect weight by our vet’s estimate at her regular check up a month before. Trusty Dog had also been assessed by an expert team raising awareness of dog obesity at the dog party we were attending. Yet this fruitcake asked me all kinds of questions in order to determine who to complain to and she called the owner of the kennel we got Trusty Dog from. She created such a fuss that the kennel owner reluctantly and apologetically contacted me to make sure Trusty Dog was not being starved. Trusty Dog simply had a more “rangy” terrier build. This was why she was sold to us as a pet quality animal in the first place! I also learned that the people running the obesity clinic was apparently fools because they had told the crazy person that her dog was overweight. (Surprise, surprise.) The kennel owner reported to me how this nut had already had her in small claims court over false dog abuse charges once and she warned me to be careful of her. After that experience, I was certainly not about to give up my legal rights to the dog, in advance, in a contract. I know for certain this woman would have seized Trusty Dog from us for our perceived abuse if she could have. I just knew from that experience that I would spend the rest of that dog’s life waiting for a neurotic nut to swoop in, accuse me of dog abuse, and seize the dog and break my heart. It would make bonding with the dog extremely difficult.
My story is not unique. Unresponsive, difficult, neurotic individuals in rescue organizations are common place. I felt all the rescues I contacted were either unethical “retail rescues” or they were making it so difficult to get a puppy that we despaired of ever finding one. Even the shelters that we knew were good ones reported that rescues swooped in and immediately adopted any puppies that they did get so that regular folks like us would never have a chance. We kept looking. Meanwhile, we kept working on the fence.
And then a small miracle happened as such things tend to. There was a small ad in a local paper. Golden Retriever mother and German Shepherd father (probably). I talked to the woman selling the puppies and it soon became obvious this was no puppy mill. Her 12 year old Golden Retriever (who had never had puppies before and was assumed to be incapable) had unexpectedly produced a later of eight puppies after an unauthorized visit from two full brothers who lived two farms over. The young woman was embarrassed, even apologetic, about the unplanned litter. Mom was an older but still fit and lovely girl who had spent many years as a farm dog/family pet and she had been used for hunting. She was a real working dog.
The young lady who owned the pups said they had to stay with their mother for a full 8 weeks and she would not release them until after they had their first puppy shot and vet check. Mom was fully vaccinated and healthy in spite of being skinny from nursing pups. She asked me a few appropriate questions that indicated she was making sure the puppy was going to a good home but she was not a neurotic fruitcake. She was asking far less than any formal rescue, basically enough to cover the vet costs and a bit extra for her trouble. She was also local to us and her family’s reputation was excellent. We decided to go see these puppies.
I read up on Golden Retrievers as a breed and on German Shepherds first. I also read about Golden Shepherds, a so called designer hybrid. All of this looked very promising except that we wanted a dog who would be reserved and protective and if the puppy took after the golden side too much, we would get a big happy goofball who would likely wag her tail and lick a stranger out to rob or injure us. Goldens are not exactly noted for their protectiveness. Both breeds are highly intelligent, attach firmly to their people, need lots of activity and long walks and a lot of time just being with their owners. These are all pluses for us as an older retired couple. It seemed a good match of breed to owner.
On our way to see these puppies we stopped and saw the pair of big males of which one was the presumed father. They were also assumed to be purebred German Shepherd. These were working farm dogs, in glowing good health. Being from a working dog line I was pleased to note they did not have the long sloping back so prized among German Shepherd show types but associated with hip dysplasia. I watched the owner of these two boys interacting with them. He was using hand signals and the dogs were immediately and correctly responding. We met the mother and she was a delightful and typical Golden Retriever. So both parents of these puppies were real working farm dogs, intelligent, healthy and of excellent temperament. We decided to take one puppy. We wanted a female since we felt that a female puppy would be more likely to integrate into our existing family. We also had a family wedding to attend and we wanted her to stay one extra week with her Mom after her shots. I also wanted the shot to have some time to work before taking her home. I am crazy afraid of parvo. The nice woman immediately agreed to the extra week.
All this settled, we finally went to see the puppies. They were happily running about in a box stall, healthy, fat and sweet tempered. Young children were present so the pups were already well accustomed to children which was a plus. There were also horses, cats and goats nearby and the pups were therefore likely to be tolerant of all kinds of animals. This was no puppy mill litter. If anything it was an accidental litter from responsible pet owners (aside from the lack of spaying and neutering something very common in farm dogs) who were now trying to do the right thing by these puppies. The next task was simply picking the right puppy for us out of the five females in the litter.
When the woman opened the door to the stall the puppies came tumbling out, joyous happy tail wagging bundles. One puppy started with the crowd and then spotted us and immediately paused. She held back. Her little sweet puppy face was hesitant. I read “Wait a minute, do I know you? Are you safe?” After a proper introduction she immediately became a happy friendly pup but that moment of hesitation was critical in my assessment. She was a reserved dog, not fearful, just reserved. And when I picked her up and gently flipped her over to check she submitted gracefully and, yes she was a female. The pause she exhibited was more German Shepherd than Golden. She was our pup.
We had left Trusty at home because traveling upset her too much but Fred was with us. We took her over to introduce her to Fred. He immediately did a full body joyous melt as if she was the cutest thing in the entire universe. She did her reserved hesitation thing again. After assessing Fred and deciding he was okay, she wagged her tail and gave him a puppy kiss and I thought Fred would pass out from his joy. Fred approved of her. Now we had nearly four long weeks to wait until she could come home.
We have had her for a week now. It has been almost pure pleasure. She is intelligent and adaptable. In one week she has already learned her call name and the commands “off” (as in put it down and/or don’t touch it), “come”, “out” (as in we are going out to the yard now), and “down”. The crate was a strain at first but she went in at bed time and slept in it all night last night without a whimper. Being a puppy, she hasn’t much attention span but she’s listening and responding to the commands for at least a few minutes. She is testing us to see what we are consistent about. She is walking well on the leash although we aren’t yet doing more than pleasure walking. Heel, sit, and stay, lie down and the formal stuff will all come later when she is a bit bigger. She has enough to learn right now. A friend of ours came to see her and she reacted by barking at him and backing off until she had a chance to look him over. Now that she knows him, he gets a joyous greeting. I like a dog that is a bit suspicious and reserved but soon learns who she can trust. We took her to the beach and she is a natural water dog. She followed Fred right in and swam eagerly with him. And she chases and fetches a ball already.
Fred adores her though she gets disciplined by him. She worships Fred and happily does anything she sees him doing which is making housebreaking really easy. As long as we get her out of the house we have no accidents. She hasn’t figured out how to let us know she needs to go out yet, so we still have a puddle or two each day, which is to be expected. I no longer get to sleep in because she has these spells of being frenetically active and the only cure is a walk around town until she is tired out and that begins when she gets up at about 7:00am. This is actually good for me. (I keep telling myself this.)
We named her Misty for two reasons. We wanted to memorialize Trusty Dog and another dog from my husband’s past named Rusty. She is mostly black but she has a few hairs that just make a mist patch of white on her chest. Plus she has gold brindling highlights. Trusty Dog was a brindle and I love that on Misty. People who see her assume she is a lab because she has the golden/lab shaped face. For campgrounds that don’t allow German Shepherds she will be a lab cross.
Best of all she has firmly and absolutely bonded to us. We are her people. She is our dog. And we have a joyous house full of puppy kisses and happy exploration and just plain fun. Right now as I write she is lying at my feet sleeping. She is happiest beside one of us and she often sleeps in a place halfway between us both. Trusty Dog, I miss you still and thinking of you still makes me eyes tear up but don’t worry about me. Fred, we know your time is coming sooner rather than later. Your hips hurt so long walks are no longer possible and your lumps and bumps keep getting lumpier and bumpier. You’ll be able to go in peace when it is time, knowing we are well taken care of. With Misty, we are fine.
At this point there is only one family member who isn’t happy. The cat is not a big fan of puppy kisses and being bowled over with exuberant puppy greetings. Klinger has had to be very stern and unforgiving in teaching her that cats are not fellow puppies and must not be treated as such. Klinger was horrified when she arrived and he is still not a bit happy with us for bringing this canine nuisance into his otherwise well ordered life. As of yesterday, he has stopped growling, hissing, spitting and threatening to take her eyes out, mostly because she has learned about his sharp claws on her tender nose and she has begun keeping a properly respectful distance. Life goes on. Praise G-d.