Monday, December 06, 2004

A new dog?

So, I hesitate to say it, but we are on the trail of another "new" dog. I haven't blogged at all about our adventures in canine companionship, and we've got to head out to a meeting of the ALS fundraising group in a little bit, so I'll try to make this quick (ha!):

We have one dog, Rocky, a four-and-a-half year old shih tzu princess who we got as a puppy from a breeder here in Maine. When she was nearly two, we started looking for another dog, preferably a shih tzu, who could be her pal. We didn't put much effort into a search, but one day my mom called with info about a shih tzu mix near her place in NJ who needed a home. And that's how we ended up with Sparky, an amazing, happy little dog who we loved completely, despite the fact that he was only about 85% housetrained.

He was my dog -- he loved Darren, but when we sat down, he'd jump in my lap. And when we came home, he'd run to get his beloved fleece starfish and bring it to me. He'd come to work with me and snooze on my lap during meetings. And in the car on the way there, he'd stand in the back seat, with his back legs on the seat and his front legs on the driver's side armrest, so his gray furry head was visible out the corner of my eye. At stop lights, I'd turn to look at him and he'd lick my nose. I absolutely loved that little guy.

And then last fall he got sick. It was a long, drawn out affair that showed no signs of being terminal at the beginning. But eventually it was. He lost his desire to eat -- this was a dog who my mother once found under a bed, only his back legs sticking out, as the entire top half of his body was stuffed into a bag of dog treats so he could chow down more efficiently -- and he eventually grew very weak. (The diagnosis was a murky combination of kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease and Lyme's.) We finally put him down last December, a week or so before Christmas.

Needless to say, it was miserable. I still think about him a lot (I'll post a picture later on), especially the quirky, funny stuff, like how the only thing that would calm him down in a thunderstorm at night would be to lay on my pillow, on top of my head. Or how he'd grin and wag the entire back half of his body when I came home from work.

Eventually, we started talking about getting another dog -- for Rocky, and for us. Last spring we made a few forays into dog searching, until I realized that what I was looking for was Sparky in another body. So we waited a while more, and in June adopted a dog named Watson from a shelter on the Massachusetts/Rhode Island line. We found him on Petfinder; he was advertised as a shih tzu mix, but clearly was a terrier mix who maybe once looked crosseyed at a shih tzu. But we adopted him anyway.

That experience ended very badly; he turned out to be a very aggressive dog who had never been taught anything -- not sit, not come, not "you are a dog; people are the boss." Two weeks after we brought him home, he viciously attacked our favorite vet tech -- the one who cried when Sparky died.

We reluctantly gave Watson up to the local shelter, which is very good at assessing dogs and placing them appropriately -- resources the other shelter obviously didn't have. After several weeks of evaluation, following the shelter's decision to place him with an experienced dog owner, Watson again viciously and out of the blue attacked someone, this time a shelter worker. He was put down in August.

After that experience, we pretty much gave up on the dog hunt. I didn't want to deal with the prospect of another Watson -- a kind dog that had been ruined by jackass people -- and I couldn't justify having two purebred dogs when there are so many that need homes. So we stopped really looking, though I'd occasionally check the shelter website and a few others I bookmarked. That's how we found Jillian.

We decided to fill out an application for her in early November, and agreed that we'd be honest about the experience with Watson, knowing that it might disqualify us from being considered, since many people who run dog rescues are very militant in their beliefs about animal (and human!) behavior. Weeks went by, and we never heard anything. So I figured the fact that we gave Watson up had indeed made us undesirable and didn't think much of it.

Then, this afternoon when we got back from Baltimore and D.C., we had a message from the woman who is fostering little Jillian. I had a long talk with her this evening, peppered her with questions about aggression and behavior around food and kids and every other potentially upsetting scenario I could think of. And it all sounds good.

Tomorrow, I'm calling our vet to talk to Robin, the vet tech who cried at Sparky's death and was bitten by Watson. She's an amazing person, who is compassionate for people and animals; I'm going to ask her a bunch of questions about Jillian's history, too. And then, if all goes well, I'm going to call the rescue group back and tell them to go ahead and call our references. Assuming they vouch for us, the final step would be a home visit. So cross your fingers for us...