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The Rant

The pleasures and perils of adopting a shelter dog.


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This bitch over here is about to drive me nuts. Hang on, ladies, I would never refer to my loving wife, Melody, in so coarse a manner. I'm talking about the seven-month-old pup named Nancy that we adopted from the animal shelter last July.

When she arrived, Nancy weighed eight pounds and was wobbly on her feet, but as soon as we started feeding her pet-store food, she hit a growth spurt and morphed into the Giant Puppy. It was like watching a wolf getting its first taste of red meat, then becoming ravenous and eating everything in sight. If there is no food in her bowl, she'll gnaw on the couch or go outside and chew on tree limbs. Now she weighs 50 pounds and shows no sign of stopping.

We thought we had given a home to a baby speckled pup. Now we're wondering if we aren't raising a leopard, like in that old Cary Grant movie. Since the Giant Pup is in her teething phase, we bought her $50 worth of chew toys and Nylabones, but she destroyed them all in 20 minutes. And I'm not talking about little furry playthings. I mean rugged, well-stitched rope toys with big knots in them. So now, as I write this, with mutilated hands and bloody fingers, I have come to the realization that I am her chew toy, and Nancy badly needs an attitude adjustment. I have raised puppies before, but it's been awhile and I had forgotten about the mania. I've taken the program offered by the Shelby County Obedience Club (the dog passed; I failed), but it looks like I'm fixin' to take a refresher course. Melody and I have watched a lot of Dog Whisperer, so we're constantly saying chhhh to the dog, until it sounds like a biblical plague of crickets invading our home. A stern no! seems to be more effective. Consequently, someone is always screaming at the dog, and I have a fragile disposition, as you know. Nancy responds to her name, but she thinks her surname is "goddammit."

We're not even certain if the pup speaks English. And since she's still a baby, she doesn't realize how strong she is or the power of her canine jaws — but I do. After five months of living with Nancy, I have arms that look like a junkie's and the hands of a cage fighter. She has eaten a pair of my favorite socks and a couple of T-shirts, and I have to keep my house shoes off of the floor. Anything that doesn't squeak or rattle is still fair game. She'll chew on your shoe with your foot still in it. She has a tendency to leap on me and nip at my extremities, so when I first get out of the shower, I have to make certain that she's not in the room. Nancy has learned to eat ice cubes and will attempt to climb up on the coffee table and pick them out of your glass if you are at all inattentive. I know that these bad behaviors can be corrected by proper training and obedience classes, but we've noticed that since she's been leaping on our friends, we have fewer guests that just pop in. So we're rethinking the whole obedience thing.

The problem is, the damn dog is so freaking adorable I can't bring myself to discipline her. Melody has no problem taking her by the collar and putting her outdoors, but I don't want to hurt the dog's feelings. I tried the old rolled-up newspaper routine a couple of times, but Nancy only thought I was playing and came at me more fiercely. After she's exhausted herself, however, she loves belly rubs and neck scratches and will curl up at my feet like a loyal companion.

Cesar Millan might suggest that the problem is me. I have detected small signs of her beginning to mellow lately and after a few lessons, I am sure that Nancy is going to be a wonderful pet. She is whip-smart and spunky. I'd say she was "mischeevious," but there is no such word, so please stop saying it. The word is "mischievous" — three syllables, not four, and she is certainly the scamp. Since there are two older dogs here, there should be territorial issues, but like other females I could name, Nancy rules the roost. She also has floppy ears that feel like velvet and the longest tail that wags in sections when you appear. Her cheerful greeting at the doorway is uplifting every time, and if I'm only away for 15 minutes, she's so happy when I return, you would think I'd been gone forever. What I'm getting at here is that shelter dogs are often smarter and more clever than purebreds. I have had both, and I know that the dangers of over-breeding include reduced mental capacity and illnesses in certain breeds. This pup has the strongest set of mixed genes that natural selection has to offer. We don't know where they came from, but they're strong all right.

Nancy is also an endless source of amusement. Since we don't know her lineage, her behavioral traits are always a surprise, like her ability to speak in low tones. She'll prostrate herself before one of her siblings and start chattering like a monkey. What's strange is that they seem to understand her. The bark is another matter. You want your dog to have a substantial bark to discourage strangers from lingering around the yard. A healthy bark likewise gives a start to any solicitors who have the bad sense to ring the doorbell. But a piercingly loud puppy bark can be disconcerting when it's directed at you in an unceasing manner. I suggest to Nancy that she should use her "indoor voice," but Melody just tells her to shut up.

I'll admit to being at wit's end on occasion. We concluded that maybe older people need to get older dogs, after all that frenzy has subsided. (I'm speaking of the dog's, not mine.) But just when I think I can't take another minute of barking or the puppy demanding my total attention when I'm trying to watch the Grizzlies, she will wriggle her way up into my lap and fall asleep. I tried to take a picture of it last night, but she weighed so much I couldn't reach the cell phone. Just like The Princess and the Pea, I wouldn't dream of disturbing her — especially when my legs are pinned.

I defy you to visit the animal shelter and not be moved. A shelter dog knows when it's been rescued. It's obvious by the many photos of "happy endings" posted by the shelter staff when a dog has been adopted. Check it out. The dogs are smiling. Any love offered a shelter dog will be returned tenfold, as we are happily experiencing with our new pet. It will be even more joyous when Nancy removes her teeth from my arm. She needs some training, and soon, because this puppyhood is a bitch. 

Randy Haspel writes the blog "Born-Again Hippies," where a version of this column first appeared.

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