Acquired: Other (stray, given dog by friend etc.)
Training: Attended conferences / shows
Trufant, Michigan, United States
Posted August 30, 2014
One of the best dogs I've ever had was a mixed breed mutt who was pretty much the perfect example of a junk yard dog. Our vet guessed based on characteristics that there was some Cocker Spaniel, or American Water Spaniel some retriever, and possibly some sort of shepherd. Pal was our first experience with rescue dogs, but quickly became our reason for looking to adopt shelter dogs rather than go to breeders, with the exception of my current Cocker Spaniel.
I had just completed kindergarten when Pal came into our lives. My dad was working at a gypsum mine and Pal had become their mascot of sorts. He was skilled at stealing workers food right from under their noses without being detected and was always a happy fellow as dad says. However, one day he almost got hit by a hi/lo and the boss said it was time to take Pal to the pound for his own good. Dad knew because he was older, and a "street" dog he'd likely not find a home and would be put down after the mandatory quarantine period. My soft hearted dad offered to bring him home so he could find a proper home for the dog.
The proper home was obviously going to be ours. I was swimming in my new pool which I had just gotten for my birthday when I saw dad come up the driveway with Pal after the car pool had dropped them off. I squealed, "PUPPY!!!" and before I could get out of the pool and run to him, he had broken his leash and ran for me, jumping into the pool knocking me on my butt. At first dad was worried he was attacking me, but quickly realized I was in no danger unless a kid could get licked to death. It was readily apparent that Pal was a kid loving dog. Since I had gotten to name the King Charles Caviler Spaniel my grandparents had given us for Christmas mom got to choose the name of our newest family addition. Pal just came to her and he responded to it immediately so the name stuck.
Pal was my dog from the start. He spent the summer trailing after me everywhere I went. I was responsible for baby-sitting my kindergarten class pet, a guinea pig named Pepsi, and I worried Pal would hurt the poor creature. However once when I accidentally let Pepsi get loose in Pal's presence the dog simply cornered the terrified critter until I could pick her up and put her in her pen.
Even though he had so many good qualities, especially as my protector, we did have issues that at one point became too much for my dad to stomach. Pal and our King Charles, Copper, had a complicated relationship. If Copper came to me Pal would growl and chase him off. He was convinced I was his kid and no other dog could approach me. We endured many fights between the two dogs that summer and just after I went back to school in the fall one fight resulted in my dad getting bit and needing stitches when he tried to separate the dogs. Against my tears and my mothers pleas for Pal dad loaded him up and took him to the pound. I refused to talk to dad for days. I stopped eating and refused to be in the same room with him. One night I said if he could abandon Pal for being protective of me, I could hate and abandon dad for being a jerk.
The next day I trudged home from school, sad as I had been since Pal had been ripped away from me. I didn't know that my teacher had called home and asked if something had happened to me because my normal cheerful disposition and good behavior in school had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Mom told dad to go get Pal or she would file for divorce. Dad went to the pound and got there just in time as Pal was scheduled to be put down that day. I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw him waiting at the front door for me wagging his tail, ears perked up and ready to rain kisses on me.
We still had behavior problems, and he was still a skilled thief once taking three prime cut porter house steaks off the kitchen counter and eating them raw. But, we learned how to navigate around his personality defects. I learned about giving tough love from Pal because I was told to separate myself from him when he would start to act aggressive toward Copper. Pal did not like a closed door between him and I, and he began to mellow.
After a few years we moved from our home closer to my dad's family. We never had another fight between the two dogs, and both were quite attached to me. When we noticed this phenomenon we asked our new vet about it. His assumption was that the other home had been Copper's territory and as such Copper felt the need to protect it from newcomers. Pal attached himself to me and feared separation from me so the two came to blows. In a new home they were both on equal footing because it was a new home for both of them. That and both dogs were considerably older and it just wasn't worth it anymore.
While there are pitfalls of rescuing a shelter dog, I would never hesitate to do so again if the right dog was presented. I find shelter dogs are more protective of their families which has it's advantages, but as we discovered with Pal there were many disadvantages as well. Pal learned to trust us, to trust that he would always have a full belly and a kids feet to sleep at in the night. We learned to pay attention to triggers of aggression and eliminate them from the house as much as possible. This prepared us well when we rescued our next shelter dog a Cocker Spaniel I named Rhett.
Common Problems of Any Shelter Dog:
Hip dysplasia and other related arthritic conditions can sometimes go unnoticed, especially in early or mild conditions. Often these dogs exhibit a pronounced pain response if touched or pushed on the spine or rump. Unknowingly, a small child could push or fall on one of these dogs and get bitten.
Malnutrition of very young dogs can lead to stunted development, both mentally and physically. Many of these dogs become so food-motivated that they become overly protective of their food bowl, chew toys, and treats. If they are rescued and then adopted by people who don't know how to interpret a dog's body language, there can be disastrous results.
Tips for success when choosing a shelter dog:
Choose a dog with an energy level equal to or lower than your own. Never adopt a dog with higher energy. Consider their age and your own. Make sure you evaluate the dog when he’s been out of the cage for some time and has had a walk. Take him out and see how he behaves. A dog in a cage is not going to give you the reality of their natural energy.
Don’t make an emotional decision when choosing a dog. When you decide the time is right, leave your emotions at the door. Going into a shelter is devastating and sad. But if you let your weaker emotions control your brain and feel sorry for the dog, you may end up adopting a dog that isn’t right for you, your family, or your environment. Save yourself the heartache and struggles later by being methodical and aware now.
Most importantly know how to establish yourself as the "pack leader" before you pick your rescue pooch. Many rescued dogs are there because they learned to survive on the street and will naturally want to take over the house.