By: Katie Walsh
Dec. 17 was a delightful day in our house – we celebrated our little Ren’s birthday. Well, technically, we don’t really know her birthday, but at her first checkup the vet said that she was right around a year old, so the day we adopted her – her “Gotcha Day” – was good enough for us to call it her birthday.
Naturally, she got a present…
(The little Santa toy that she’s currently ignoring)
And a cake…
(That one she did NOT ignore.)
So suffice it to say, it’s been a wild ride, this year of dog ownership. We’ve had some successes and some failures, and I think I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the things I’ve learned throughout this year:
1. And this is most important: Don’t expect your dog to love you right out of the gate.
If it happens, that’s GREAT. It’s what I was hoping for, obviously. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen with Ren. The first night we brought Ren home, she ran around our house enthusiastically, getting to know her new surroundings. But soon after that, a general malaise overtook her for a few weeks. More than that, she did a few of what I call “protest pees” – she didn’t have to go out; she just wanted to let me know what was on her mind. Since she can’t form words to show she’s miffed, my carpet took the brunt of her feelings. It took several months of getting to know her – and letting her get to know us – to realize that’s her behavior when she’s sad. When my husband and I go out of town and get a friend or relative to watch her, she does the same bit of laying about and lacks her usual playfulness. It’s her way of saying she misses us – and when we first brought her home, it was her foster mom that she missed.
Fast-forward to today, and everything is wonderful. Ren has learned that we’re her people, and that we will always play with her toys, take her for long hikes and give her as many treats as she wants (well, within reason). In return, she gives us puppy kisses and snuggles under a blanket with me at night. It was a rocky beginning, but I’m really glad we stuck it out with her. And it all absolutely makes sense to me – it takes time to make friends with humans, so why wouldn’t it take at least a little time to make friends with a dog?
2. Fostering is a slippery slope that leads to owning more dogs.
Because Rural Dog Rescue relies on fosters to help rescue as many dogs as they can and because Ren had been given that opportunity due to a selfless foster, I wanted to pay-it-forward and become a dog foster myself. So on a hot day in July, we brought home Ginger (fka Miss Kay), a beagle mix rescued from North Carolina.
My husband had taken Ren out to the dog park so I could get Ginger settled in to her temporary new surroundings. I let her in the house, took her off leash and sat down on the couch to give her a little bit of space to get used to things. She meandered about for a minute, then trotted over to the couch, climbed up and immediately snuggled onto my lap, giving me this look:
Oh man, that face. I was a sucker and she knew it. In that instant, I decided I could never give her up. My husband, however, had made me PROMISE that fostering wouldn’t lead to us adopting another dog. I cried my way through a few adoption events with her before he finally relented and let us make her an official member of our family.
So, unfortunately, I’m not allowed to foster anymore because we literally can’t fit another dog comfortably in our bed. Oops.
3. Training is harder than you think it will be after you’ve watched an episode of “The Dog Whisperer.”
This is one thing we’ve dropped the ball on as of now. Ren’s terrier nature means that she has exactly zero attention span, and Ginger’s incredible beagle sniffing abilities mean she goes absolutely nuts on walks.
We did sign up Ren for a training class when we first got her, but she was still in her “malaise” phase and it failed spectacularly. I think it would have gone better if we had waited a little bit for her to get to know us/like us more. Then when we got Ginger, we were just scrambling to figure out a new routine with an additional canine family member, and training just went by the wayside.
I’ve now hired someone to come to our house to give us private pup lessons. The girls are 80 percent good girls in the house, 35 percent good girls on walks… so I’m really hoping those numbers improve with our trainer.
4. If there is an opening, they will go for it.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but we’ve had a couple of close – too close – calls with the girls escaping. The first week we got Ren, we let her run around in my mother-in-law’s backyard, where she easily slipped under a portion of the fence that had become dislodged from the ground. A few weeks ago, I opened the door to shoo a wayward stray cat off our flower bed when BOTH the girls burst through the door behind me to chase the feline down the street. There have been a few other instances of this (mostly with Ginger, who previously was a country dog and used to roaming wherever she pleased), and I’ve been lucky enough every time to get them back without incident. But I know I’m on borrowed time with that. If there’s one thing I cannot emphasize enough, it’s caution around open doors.
And pay attention to your fences, too. Periodically, they may need maintenance to keep your puppers safe. It’s actually on our agenda this weekend to make a Home Depot trip for more soil and fence-reinforcement supplies. I’d lose my mind if I lost my girls.
5. It’s absolutely worth it.
I’ve cleaned up more poop, puke and pee than I ever imagined. I’ve pulled countless gross chicken bones out of their mouths. I’ve choked down an $800 vet bill (side note: !!!!!!!!!!). But the joy I get from playing with my dogs every day outweighs anything else they may throw at me. My favorite part of any day is the moment I walk in the house and the pups greet me with exuberant tail wags and slobbery kisses. That actually might be tied with the moment where they get tired and snuggle up next to me on the couch.
They are a lot of work, but I wouldn’t trade my year with these dogs for anything in the world!