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An Engineer in the Woods, Installment 33: Pets #13; Dog 9, West; Part 1, the Selection

Monday, August 3, 2020


Swing… and a Miss!

When we adopted Fern, she had been malnourished and recently treated for worms.  Consequently, she was emaciated.  For her first few weeks with us we fed her 4 cups a day of Science Diet dry puppy food.  She quickly returned to a normal weight and her coat became shinier, so we switched her to 3 cups a day of regular Science Diet dry dog food.   She continued to gain weight.
In the fall of 2018 Kristen asked me, “Is it just me, or is Fern starting to look a little chunkier?”
Always the comedian, I responded, “It’s not just you.  You are both chunkier.”  We will have been married 35 years this month, and I am still THAT stupid!  Let me be clear, my wife is beautiful.  Only the dog and I are fat.

We started taking the dog on longer walks and running around the yard more, but Fern was definitely porking-up and she seemed determined to stay that way.   Around Christmas, Kristen and I agreed that another dog might get Fern to exercise more.  Our regular diversion became checking PetFinder and the local rescue sites to evaluate new additions.  We told no-one that we were considering an additional pet, because anyone (especially our kids) would think we were nuts– not that we aren’t. With multiple checks daily over a couple of months, we had not located a good fit. 

Finally, around the middle of January we found a foster dog, Bubbly, that was sponsored by a rescue group based out of a vet clinic that was only about a mile from our house.  She was described as a medium size terrier mix that was deaf.  Fern might be a great companion for a slightly smaller, deaf sister.  We arranged a meeting.
When we first met her, both Kristen and I  tried to hide our disappointment.  She was much smaller than we expected, was slightly misshapen and ugly, and she could not have cared less that we were there to meet her.   If I were to guess, she was probably more Beagle than terrier, but whatever combination of dogs created her, it was not a recipe worth repeating. Regardless, we wanted to help the poor deaf dog, and we took her, the rescue coordinator and the foster dad to our house to meet Fern.

I went inside and put Fern on a lead.  She pranced ahead of me out the front door by a half step, blonde fluff waving in the cold night breeze.  Our two guests were taken aback by her beauty.  Bubbly, in contrast looked like a black turd and was only slightly larger than one of Fern’s prodigious poop productions.  She half-squatted on the front flagstone walk looking Jay Cutler bored with the entire proceeding.  I was thinking that Cutler might be a good name for a potentially unlikeable dog as Fern and I approached our guest pup.  Fern stopped.  I stopped.  Bubbly in one motion turned her head toward Fern and lunged for her neck pulling away a mouthful of fluff.  The Foster dad pulled tight on Bubbly’s lead and Fern and I retreated a few steps back toward the house.  Fern stopped, looked up at me with gigantic round eyes and appeared to say, “What the Hell, Dad!”

We walked both dogs together up the street and Bubbly yelped and attacked one more time, but Fern side-stepped easily.  She was too big and too fluffy to waste her time engaging this idiot pipsqueak. 
Relieved that Fern was showing no aggression, and over-confident in my ability to train dogs I said, “We’ll keep her for the night and see if she adjusts.”

We brought the  dogs in and gave them a small snack.  They ignored each other for about an hour.  I tried a few voice commands, and Fern showed off beautifully while Bubbly confirmed that she was a deaf Cutler.  Kristen and I decided to go to Petco to get a Bubbly-size harness, some chew toys and a dog whistle.  I thought there was a possibility that Bubbly might be able to hear a whistle and I could use it to train her.
I led Bubbly into the crate in the downstairs sunroom, met Kristen at the top of the stairs, set the house alarm and locked the front door.  We had only taken a few steps toward the car before we heard yelps and howls from the basement.  Undeterred, we hopped in the car and drove about two blocks before my cell phone rang over the hands-free.  The display on the dash read “D&I Security”  I pressed the answer button on my steering wheel.
“This is Howard Hamilton, -address-, -password-.”  I get alarm calls for our office, four tenants, church and home.  I know how to be efficient with the operator.  I also knew the purpose of this call and continued, “Downstairs glass breakage in the sunroom?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
“New dog.  Please cancel the Sheriff.”
“Okay, have a nice rest of your evening Howard.”
“Thank you, Lisa.” I get a lot of security calls, so I know the operators and they know me.  I also can’t remember my kids’ names, but I know 7 security passwords – from too much practice.

We returned from Petco to a quiet house.  Fern greeted us happily at the door.  As soon as I stepped into the front foyer, Bubbly started yelping again.  Kristen asked, “How did she know we are here?”  I shrugged in reply.  With Fern outside I brought Bubbly upstairs and tried to work with her on “Sit” with hand gestures, the whistle and dog treats.  She liked the treats, but would do nothing to earn them.  After about 15 minutes of futility, we both gave-up.  I put the treat bag on the kitchen counter, and let Fern back in.

Fern sprinted into the Master bedroom where Kristen was reading a book while Bubbly moseyed to the Living Room to consider a Nylabone that was on the floor next to our “Big Comfy” leather armchair.   I went downstairs, poured myself a wee dram of Oban scotch from the bar, and returned to the Kitchen where I was reminded of the dog treat bag open on the counter, a big no-no with Fern the counter surfer (see last month).  I set my tumbler on the counter and began to fold the treat bag closed.  As I rustled the bag I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Bubbly raise her ears, then her body and begin to trot toward me.  She arrived at my side and looked at me expectantly.  “Sit”.  Nothing, just a stare.
“Sit” as I tried to pull up her chest and push her butt down.  Stiff legged stare.
I stared.  She stared.  I sighed, gave her a treat and put the bag away in the cabinet.  She turned and went to explore the Master bedroom as she munched.

I settled into “Big Comfy” and sipped on my scotch while I caught-up on some work emails.  After about 20 minutes I looked at my watch and realized it was after 10:00 and I was getting a little snoozey.  I plugged my phone into the charger, went to the kitchen and put my empty tumbler in the dishwasher.  I turned to head to the bedroom and saw our cat Dusty crouched expectantly next to her empty food bowl.  I collected a scoop of dry kibble from the cat food bin.  The nuggets made a jingling sound as I sprinkled half into each of the cats’ dishes.  With the dishes full, I turned and tripped over Bubbly who was looking at me with an absent look, “I really don’t care, but it would be appropriate if you fed me as well.”  Such a Cutler.  It took the Bears eight seasons of rewarding their Cutler hoping he would improve; I was pretty sure that I had this dog figured-out in a single evening.  “No more treats.  Time for a walk.  Yes, I’m talking to you.  You’re not deaf, you’re a Beagle,” (I’ll explain that insult next month).

I dragged Bubbly around the yard for a few minutes before placing her into her in the crate.  I turned out the lights and the howling started (Beagle).  “Howard, you did this to yourself,” I muttered as I ascended the stairs.

After a sleepless night of dog serenades, Fern accompanied me pre-dawn to let Bubbly out of the downstairs crate.  Bubbly looked exhausted and bored, but once I opened the crate door she sprang to life and latched onto Fern’s neck.  I knocked her off, snapped a leash onto her collar and the three of us stepped through the patio door and into the backyard.  Bubbly made three more lunges toward my feathery fawn friend before Fern decided that she preferred the front  yard, away from the little black lump of violence.  Bubbly and I completed a successful walk before I led her through the front door and into the kitchen where I gave her a cup of kibble.  As she was munching, I let Fern in through the patio door and fed her, about 30 feet from Bubbly’s bowl (yes, we have a big kitchen).  Bubbly finished her breakfast first and charged Fern.  I knocked them apart, restored Bubbly’s leash and returned her to the crate.

When the vet opened a couple hours later Bubbly and I were already in the parking lot.  I apologized as I returned her and left a brief note:
1. Does not like other dogs
2. Is probably mostly Beagle
3. Is not deaf, just stubborn (see #2).

A Powerful Swing – Will it be Strike Two, or a Homerun?
I think it was a Friday in early February.  Kristen and I had survived another week, so we decided to sneak-out early and arrived home at about 3:45.  The refrigerator was empty, so we went grocery shopping with the idea that we could get Jewel fried chicken along with filling our list of necessities.  Fern had not had her dinner yet, so we brought her along (no more full-belly car rides; see last month).  As we pulled into the Shorewood Jewel Foods parking lot at 52 & 59 I noticed that the former Italian beef restaurant east of the Jewel had become a veterinarian clinic that was associated with Plainfield Animal Care Clinic (PACC) from which we had adopted out German Shorthair Birch many years ago.  I mentioned my observation to Kristen and was notified that the restaurant had been vacant for some time. 
Then I mentioned that the clinic appeared to be associated with PACC.  She knew that also. 
Then I remarked that there was a sign that said, “Adoptions” on the building.  She responded while looking at her phone, “I have a couple of work emails to answer.  Why don’t you go in and ask if they have any dogs?”

I entered the clean and bright waiting room.  Speaking with the cashier was a chubby, flustered woman in a pink and black flowered coat.  She was holding a miniature brown dachshund under one arm and was fumbling with her free hand in her purse for her credit card.  The dog was not helping, and the woman was rambling about the condition of her purse and the squirming of the dog.  I considered ways that I could assist; hold the dog, hold the purse; and quickly assessed that any such offer would probably get me maced.   I turned to my right and approached a wall of dogquariums (glass fronted kennels).  In the largest enclosure at the bottom right was a two-month-old Bernese mountain dog puppy.  He had a smiley face and was just a big bundle of brown and black fluff.  I was struck with dog-love at first sight!  As I took a step toward the fluffy puppy a young woman in a blue lab coat and sporting a brunette ponytail crossed in front of me and taped a sign on the glass, “ADOPTED!”

She addressed me, “The family in the corner just adopted him.  Isn’t he gorgeous?!”
I turned toward the 30-something husband and wife, their four-year-old son  and six-year-old daughter, “Great looking dog!”  I offered a thumbs-up to hide my disappointment but thought more about it.  Young families should have young dogs, they can grow-up together.

“Do you have any other dogs?” I asked.
“Several.  What are you looking for?” was the reply.
I honestly do not remember what we were “looking for” at that point.  All I can recall is that she was going to get a dog while I retrieved Kristen from the car and the other family completed paperwork and met with a vet.
When we returned from the parking lot, Kristen and I were led to a peoplequarium through a glass door at the west end of the dogquariums.  We sat on a bench seat and waited.

Within a few moments, Miss Ponytail returned with a shorthaired dog that I cannot remember.  What I do recall is that he ignored all three humans and lifted his leg on the door frame.  We were feeling no connection with this animal, nor he with us, and it was obvious.  Our assistant spoke up, “I’m not so sure about this one.  We just got a 7-month old hound named Wade, and EVERYONE loves him!  Would you like to meet Wade?”
“Sure,” Kristen and I replied in chorus.

Wade entered the room, approached Kristen and licked her hand.  Then he came to me and did the same.  He sat between the two of us and stared at Kristen, then me with soulful eyes.  I scratched him behind the ears, and he smiled. He was relaxed, but attentive.  I think the word was used was “Chill.”
A grin spread across the face of the Ponytail, “Everyone loves him.”
“What kind of dog is he?” I asked.
“All we know is that he is a ‘hound’, he’s about 7 months old and he came from ‘down-south’.  But he loves everyone, and everyone loves him.”
“Can we introduce him to our other dog?” Kristen asked.
“Sure, we’re open until 7 tonight.”
Kristen added, “She’s in the car.”
“Then bring her in!”

A few moments later, Fern, Kristen and I were led by the blue-coated Miss Ponytail into a “back” room with a concrete floor and a few cubic cardboard boxes which were empty and about 42 inches per side. We could hear a dog barking in the kennels on the other side of the wall, and Fern seemed very distracted.  I commented, “She probably thinks that we are going to leave her.” 
Miss P replied, “We store dog food in here sometimes, she probably smells it.”  That would explain the empty boxes.  Fern cautiously approached one of the boxes and began to sniff it frantically.  No matter how “human” and behaved a dog is, a dog is always a dog.  A dog ALWAYS wants food.

Our blue coated attendant left briefly and returned with Wade.

The two dogs locked eyes.

After a pause they jumped at each other and started chewing each other’s ears, tails wagging frantically.  Following a few moments of play and a few mutual sniffs (Why do dogs have to do that?  So gross…) they ran shoulder-to-shoulder toward one of the boxes and started sniffing it.  Then the next box.  And the next.  They had formed a team!  This was going to be a great partnership!!

I looked at Kristen. Kristen looked at me and we spoke in unison, “Let’s get the paperwork!”  Ponytail smiled.

After several hours of  completing the mutli-volume questionnaire including the social security numbers, height, weight, hair color, eye color and a description of the general disposition of ALL household and extended family members; a listing of a minimum of 28 references; and a 2,000 word essay on the topic “Why I Would Never Eat a Pet” (plus bibliography and footnotes), we thought we were ready to adopt Wade.  Both Fern and Wade were curled-up into a single snoring ball of fur next to one of the boxes…

The story goes on, and on…  We had to jump through several hurdles in the effort to try to adopt West,  and I’m out of time this week.  We have some big proposals due, and I have some reports to complete.  The blog is fun, but the reports pay the bills, and we need to win some of these proposals to keep paying the bills-  See you next month!