Saturday, January 07, 2012

how king louie came to be (alternate title: adopting a puppy 101)

For months now, years even, our children have wanted a dog. Carolyn, especially, has been begging - pleading - praying - that a dog will come to our family.


Charlie and I have been very hesitant to get another dog. We know the work that is involved to be good dog owners and we didn't know if we were ready. But when we moved in to this awesome house, with the awesome yard, and my mother started whispering in my ear that our children really needed a pet ... and then, in the heat of the moment, she promised them that she'd get them a dog for the birthday (but, only if your MOTHER says it's OK {Thanks Mom!}) the stage was set.

We'd made the decision that we'd prefer to adopt our next dog from a shelter. So for the past few months, I've looked. And looked. And looked. And looked.

And although I believe that all dogs come in to this world with the potential to be loving and kind, the only dogs I was able to find in the shelters around our area were older dogs that were pit bull mixes. My Aunt Grace has a pit bull mix who is a wonderful dog. But, I'm not too keen on adopting one when I don't know for sure it's prior history.

So I'd made up my mind we were going to adopt a puppy. We've had puppies before and the long process of housebreaking a puppy and teaching it not to chew everything in sight had obviously turned to dust and blown from the crevices of my mind. But even if my subconscious tried to remind me, I'd already convinced myself that puppies are a blank slate and we can train them up right and most importantly - they are so stinking cute.

For reasons that elude me but I think may have something to do with a gradual increase in spay and neuter rates as you move north from the equator, there are a lot more puppies in South Carolina than northern Virginia. So when we drove down to South Carolina to visit my mother and Jim in late November, my mother suggested that she and I take the children to her local animal shelter. This animal shelter is wonderfully clean and bright and smells nice and is staffed with a team of people who adore animals. Add to that, it's a No-Kill shelter and they bring in animals from other shelters and will keep the animals there for as long as it takes for them to be adopted. Or forever. Whichever comes first.

We'd been there before because my children's grandmother finds immense pleasure bringing her young grandchildren in to a room full of adorable, cuddly animals that are available to take home immediately. Remarkably, our children have been very good about leaving the animal shelter without a fur ball in their arms.

Until this trip in November.

Because during this trip in November, for the first time ever, we removed puppies from their kennels and spent time with them in a visitation room. The only reason you'd do that is if you were "test driving" the puppy. Even four-year-olds know that.

When we first walked in to the puppy section of the shelter, I heard a little dog whimpering and crying. When I walked over to investigate, I saw the fuzziest little black dog I'd ever seen in my life. She was a border collie mix and looked like she'd been shocked because her hair was all standing on end. She had white on her chest and across her feet and she was quite possibly, the most adorable dog I'd ever seen in my life.


When I saw that her name was Virginia, I thought, "IT MUST BE A SIGN." So I opened her cage and scooped her in to my arms and she immediately stopped whimpering and snuggled her tiny black face in to my arms.

Once the children saw that I'd just taken a dog out, they went totally ballistic.



Virginia was a hit, especially with Carolyn and I would have adopted her right then and there, except:

1) Charlie wasn't with us and I wanted for my husband to provide his endorsement and

2) Virginia's litter mates had all been sick and there was concern she might get sick so would probably be going in to quarantine and unavailable to adopt for several more days. Which we didn't really have because we would be driving home.


So we put sweet little Virginia back in her kennel (while tears fell down my daughter's cheeks) and we looked at other puppies.

William was smitten with a black labrador named Shadow. Truth be told, I really liked Shadow, too, but we were interested in getting a smaller dog that we'd be able to take with us on our road trips. If we were to get (another) big labrador that could grow to 80 pounds or more, the chances would be slim that we'd just pack him up as we dart around the eastern seaboard.



Elizabeth was smitten with a yellow labrador named Chester. She loved this dog because it reminded her of Monty and so I opened his kennel and let him out. It only took four seconds in the visitation room with a totally WIRED Chester before Elizabeth realized that he might be a little too hyper for her. "But not really, Mom, because I love him even though he scares me because he jumps all over me and tries to eat my hair. ACK! Please hold me!!! CAN WE GET HIM?"


Sure thing kiddo, if they throw in a 40-pound bag of puppy ritalin.

Henry was smitten with all the kittens and was laughing hysterically going from one cage to the next. Of course our children didn't all agree on one pet.

That would have been much too easy.

We stayed at that shelter until an hour before closing time As I was walking out, with four crying children who had empty arms, I stopped at the front desk and very discreetly whispered that if Virginia was still there in the morning, please call me and I'd come back with my husband to complete the adoption.

The next morning, my mother took the girls ice skating and Charlie and I took the boys back to the animal shelter. The girls had been much more attached to the idea of getting a new puppy so if for some reason we came to the conclusion that we weren't ready for a dog - the boys would be far less devastated.

When we arrived at the shelter, five minutes after they opened, Virginia had already been adopted. My heart hurt a little until I saw that overnight, a litter of cocker spaniel mixes had arrived on the scene. They were so tiny and crawling all over each other and fellow Animal Shelter visitors were falling all over themselves trying to get in for a closer look.

I stopped by Shadow's kennel and had to fight the urge to bring him home. Those paws. Those adorable paws were so huge he'd be 80 pounds in less than a year.


I stopped by Chester's kennel and he was jumping up and down chewing the wall and .... I just kept on walking while saying a little prayer for Chester that he is adopted by someone who has an abundance of patience and will run him.


By the time I circled back, there was a clearing in the crowd around the new puppies and I reached in and scooped up a little female named Lilly. Charlie meanwhile reached in and scooped up a little male named Sebastian. We brought the two puppies in to the visitation room and put the puppies down where they ran around sniffing, climbing across our children's laps, and precipitating little puddles on the floor.


For a solid hour, we debated which puppy to adopt.

I loved Lilly.

Charlie loved Sebastian.

The boys loved both of them (and all the kittens in the entire shelter).


So for another solid hour, we debated adopting TWO puppies.

William had renamed the boy, Louie, and how sweet would it be to have a Louie and a Lilly?

So sweet! I could just see us out walking our two little black puppies around the yard and with two dogs, the children wouldn't fight over them and they'd keep each other company and .... imagine us coming to our senses like a needle dragging across a record player.


Charlie finally said something along the lines of: There is no way we're going to adopt two dogs. We're caught up in the moment, looking in to those sweet puppy eyes and rubbing those soft puppy ears, we were DRUNK on puppy love.


Thank goodness my husband sobered up or there would be two dogs that wake us up all hours of the night, yapping and precipitating little puddles every 30 minutes.

Although the shelter told us he was 10 weeks old, we estimate that Louie was no more than six weeks old when we adopted him. This was later confirmed by our vet. Although we'd completed the adoption on a Saturday, we weren't able to pick him up until Monday because Shelter policy is that all animals are spayed or neutered before the adoption is complete. YES, I KNOW. He was way too young to go through such a procedure, but he did and he's fine and it probably hurt me more than it hurt him.


He loves running around the yard and chasing squirrels. He also loves playing with the children and - for the most part - is gentle. What with bi-weekly Girl Scout and Boy Scout meetings and scores of neighborhood children filing through our house everyday, he's adapting well to all the little people. He's growled and nipped at them a few times, but in my opinion, children need to understand and respect an animal's quiet time and limits.

It's a learning process.

(This was before I mopped. But yes, our floor is that gross and needs to be replaced.)


Louie's adoption card read that he is a cocker spaniel and mountain cur mix. Our vet seems to think he's a cocker spaniel and lab mix.


We consider it a great mystery what, exactly, his genetic makeup is or how big he'll grow. On the day we brought him home, he was three pounds. He's since packed on ten more, in large thanks to our children who thrive on feeding him.


The two biggest challenges that we face are keeping him in his kennel when he is not immediately supervised (the kids will let him out, which finally prompted me to put a padlock on the door) and impressing upon the children how to properly feed him. A few weeks ago, after he'd had six HUGE poops in one day, we realized that the kids had given him five heaping cups of food and had slipped him at least a quarter of a box of dog cookies.

"But Mom! He was hungry and kept eating and eating!"



Dogs will do that.


We could do DNA testing, but to us, it really doesn't matter what his lineage is.

What matters is that he's part of the family and he's loved.


Although, I suspect I'll love him a little bit more once he is able to sleep all the way through the night and his bladder expands to a size larger than a lima bean.