According to Ian, he’s never really liked dogs. He finds them big and slobbery and dog poop almost makes him gag. Even when he practically lived at my house this past summer he all but ignored my family’s elkhound mutt, Meikah. So the last thing I expected was for him to suggest that we adopt a puppy. Just when you think you know someone, they challenge everything by wanting to adopt a dog. However, a failed attempt by Ian to adopt a “stray” puppy that had a loving home caused us to reconsider, so we tabled the idea for a while (a week) and tried to talk about other things.
But the internet and free time are a dangerous thing. I spent a large chunk of my day on Thursday mentally checked out from the high school agriculture class I was aiding. In my defense I was struggling through an intense head cold that was going to keep me in a heavy fog no matter what I did. So the day was spent on Craigslist and Petfinder. Sadly, considering how many stray dogs roam the mountain roads around here, there weren’t many dog postings closer than 3 hours away. But that didn’t take the fun away from searching. Every time I found an interesting dog I emailed the link to Ian, with a subject line like “!!!!”. In his typically fashion, he ignored every one of my emails except the very last one, the one titled “I think I’m in love”.
This last dog was a little different. Named after one of Santa’s reindeer for his holiday arrival last year, Donner wasn’t a puppy and he wasn’t from Craigslist. He was a long time resident of an animal shelter in Louisa, KY, and he had just about the sweetest face I had ever seen. One look at that speckled muzzle was enough to activate my imaginings about what kind of amazing farm dog this Australian Shepherd/Cattle dog mutt could be. I imagined us romping through the woods together (him perfectly trained), running together, and being guard dog to our home and soon to be resident chickens while we were at school. And he had a sob story. Poor guy had a genetic skin condition that took a year of treatment and had caused him to spend almost his whole life at the pound. It was love at first profile read, and I guess Ian felt the same way because his simple response to my gushing email was “let’s go get him!”
And so we did. At our earliest convenience on Friday we hopped in the car and drove an hour to Lousia, Kentucky. I was a nervous mess. Here we were, falling in love with an online profile of a dog we’d never met. Sure Donner sounded great, but what if we were actually incompatible? What if our real life meeting went as badly as many a Tinder date!? I might not recover from the disappointment.
We made it to the shelter and wandered around the outside cages waiting for a staff person to arrive. The noise was deafening. Dog after dog jumped on their fences and almost on top of us in either a desperate bid for our attention or as a warning in case we came too close. Even though we were there only to meet Donner, it took two full walks around the cages to even find him. He was easy to miss, being the only dog in the whole pound that cowered in a corner of his cage and visibly shook as we got closer.
We had read he was timid, but we didn’t know he was THAT timid. In one fell swoop, all my dreams of a boisterous farm dog came crashing down. When we took him for a walk up the pound driveway he was so nervous that the staff woman had to carry him outside his crate and he flinched at every attempt from us to get closer. Even the leaves and shadows terrified him. It was a short, unsuccessful attempt at walking and bonding. The staff lady seemed pleased at his response though, telling us “he’s never been on a walk out there before!” One full year in the pound and he had never gone the fifty feet to his own driveway. That’s the sad reality about how overcrowded and understaffed many rural shelters are. But the walk did accomplish one thing. It triggered Ian’s compassion and desire to fix pain and brokenness. One look at him and I knew there wasn’t a chance that Donner was going to spend another night in the shelter. The staff woman’s obvious affection for him and her promise that he would be a different dog once he adjusted to us and left the stress of the shelter solidified Ian’s resolve. Leaving him there wasn’t going to be an option. Since Donner had been at the shelter longer than any dog, he was going to be moved on the next day to a rescue group. If we wanted him, this was our only chance. Good thing the two of us are good at making quick decisions. Within minutes the adoption process had begun, and faster than I expected we were driving away with our new dog, filled with the gleeful recklessness that comes from making a major life decision without nearly enough thought.
The timing was unfortunate. The weekend we adopted him was also the weekend that we were hosting 11 Americorps team members from Cincinnati. We were moving the poor guy from a kennel of dogs to one of humans. But it couldn’t be helped. He definitely suffered. For the first 12 hours or so he was hunched in a corner, too paralyzed even to fully lay down or go into his crate. After he finally went in, he flinched at every noise and cowered from every set of eyes. Nothing but endless patience and a few sauce covered meatballs could convince him to come out in the morning, but soon after a short walk he returned to his cowering posture near his crate. The poor guy is a year old, but he has the life experience of a two month old puppy. Every smell and sight up here is a new experience for him, and his default response is a trembling fear. Even wood floors are a challenge to be conquered. The only thing that doesn’t seem to scare him are the cats; no matter how much they hiss and spit and run away he always looks at them with wide-eyed interest.
But we think our neurotic puppy is going to do just fine. We’ve named him Wendell, after Wendell Berry. He’s warmed up to me surprisingly fast. I think it’s because only females worked at the shelter, so he finds me more familiar than Ian. Walks are going great, and we learned today that he’s a chewer. Since we didn’t think to buy him any bones he has to entertain himself with pieces of kindling. His shepherd lineage should make him relatively easy to train, and I doubt he will be violent towards chickens. With a little luck, lots of patience and probably a few chewed up shoes, we might just turn little Wendell into a farm dog after all.