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James Wanless

this is where I write

Brody the rescue dog

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After Darby left us in the fall of 2013, it was really hard thinking of adopting another dog for some time. We felt robbed of time we expected to have with her, and given that we confer people-like status to furry friends in our house, the thought of another dog almost felt like we were replacing her. Whether people or animals, one really isn’t replaceable by another.

However, as we hit 2014, I’m not sure whether it was just that enough time had passed or the sense of renewal that comes with a new year, but both Connie and I began looking at adoptable dogs online. We both felt conflicted; that perhaps we weren’t ready for another animal or some level of guilt. However, we both also knew that we just missed having an animal around. It just feels right to us to have a dog. And, if you’re anything like us, when you begin looking at dog photos, you’re pretty much done for. Resistance is futile.

Finding Brody

We found the fellow pictured in the first paragraph via Petfinder, adoptable via a local rescue society. I have a few thoughts on them, but I’ll leave those until my closing paragraphs on this post. One of his favourite things is to offer you his paw, while he always has a kind of mopey countenance.

Our best guess is that Brody is a Boxer-Pit Bull cross, now weighing in the mid-60’s. He was a rescue dog nabbed from a kill shelter last October/November in a somewhat impoverished area of Los Angeles (San Bernardino). I’d say the best way to describe his personality at the time was “skittish,” as he mostly slumped around with his tail a little between his legs. I don’t think he had a name with him when he was brought up from the US, as he didn’t even respond in the slightest to his uninspiring moniker, Clay. However, barring his skittishness, he’s probably one of the most affectionate animals I’ve ever seen, craving contact and snuggling at all times. He rolls around playfully on the ground at the drop of a hat, particularly when greeting us upon returning home.

It was also clear that he wasn’t a stray. He has never been a problem left alone at home, always walked well on a leash and teaching commands has seemed more an exercise in reminders than net-new training. Whatever the case, most of his training has been quick and easy, and he’s so food motivated, that he tends to catch on quickly. Aside from slowly building back his confidence, or possibly in part because of his insecure/skittish personality, we have encountered a few fear aggression traits that are a bit slower to overcome. We’re not sure why, but his reactions also manifest themselves with smaller dogs.

In short, he really reacted poorly to any kind of surprises. In particular, with me, if I approached him directly or moved suddenly he would occasionally take it as an affront. Hugging him from behind if he didn’t know I was there elicited a similar reaction. He has never bitten, but displayed some moderate growling and, on a couple of occasions a small snap. Finally, the stickiest of behaviours shows a small protective instinct with my wife. If he’s on her lap and I engage, he doesn’t react harshly but does tend to do a low growl under his breath. It’s hard not to wonder if he experienced an abusive male in his past – where both women and himself were concerned.

eeyore1.gif from http://www.disneyclips.com

Brody’s our little Eeyore.

We got in touch with Sarah Dykes of Bad Dogs Gone Good and had an evaluation/training session. It’s made quite a difference. Sarah performed a brief analysis (providing a written report after the fact), after which we worked on some tactics for mitigating his reactions to surprise and his protective behaviours with me, and finally we all went on a walk and worked on some redirection when encountering other dogs to which he reacts. Aside from the behaviours we want to correct, Brody generally has a little mopeyness about him. Sarah nailed it when she called him a “sweet little Eeyore.”

I can’t say enough about Sarah’s approach. While we still very rarely get a low protective grumble, through the approaches we now use we are able to virtually eliminate reactions with other dogs, and by approaching Brody a little differently ourselves, he’s had pretty much no surprise-triggered aggression since our session with her. With Brody now behaving more appropriately, it appears we’ll have our little Eeyore for years to come.

Adopter beware

When I first contacted the rescue, I got an immediate response, almost overly enthusiastic. However, we had a very good phone conversation and, claiming she wanted to see where she was considering adopting ‘Clay’ to, the head of the rescue was to bring him out to meet us the next day for 1pm. As she ended up running very late the next day (and would be at least 3 hours late) and I had to work, I said I’d have to look at a later option. She then offered to drop him off overnight “to see if we wanted him.” We thought this a little odd, but were very interested in him, and we agreed to have her bring him out the following day instead.

brody imgEverything seemed fine with meeting this sweet and gentle dog, though as you can see by the picture above (taken within a day or so of adopting him), he was significantly underweight. He also arrived very dirty and with overgrown nails. To our way of thinking, though, we liked the dog in general and have a very soft spot for helping a rescue. While he came with proof of neutering and rabies from the California kill shelter, she had no other vaccination information. Getting this information is particularly important, as you don’t want to be double-vaccinating dogs unless you have no choice. We would ultimately have to take this risk.

I was assured by her that he had all his vaccines, but that she was just unsure of which of her vets the volunteer had taken him to. In retrospect this also seemed odd to us, since as of that time in January, she’d had the dog for at least a month. However, we agreed to adopt him provided she sent all remaining vaccine information after she got home. She was happy to do so, and we paid her $450 in adoption fees. I also note that, at this stage, no behaviour or dental problems were identified by her.

The promised papers never materialized. The first time I called her a few days later to enquire, I reached her and she claimed again that she had the documentation but didn’t know how to get it to me. As she had my email address and my home address, this simply didn’t wash. I told her as much and she promised again to send it. I never did receive this documentation, and all further attempts to reach her were met with unanswered emails or the inability to leave a voice message in her permanently full voicemail inbox.

Upon taking him to the vet a few days post-adoption, and taking a good look ourselves, Brody’s significant dental damage became apparent and we found his neuter stitches still in place, four months post-surgery. He had broken lower canines on both sides and most upper/lower middle teeth were down to the gum nub, while all other teeth are good. The vet’s guess is that this was due to cage stress from his time in California, when he probably broke them chewing on the bars of his crate. At this time, he’s not in any discomfort nor does he experience any eating problems. As such, until the teeth pose a problem, we’ll just have to accept his gummy smile as part of the uniqueness that is Brody.

As I wanted to at least alert others to some of these issues, I posted a review of the rescue on Yelp. Oddly enough, I heard back from her within a few days. A very nasty berating from her ensued, suggesting I should have been “man enough” to contact her directly with the concerns I’ve outlined above. The fact that I tried repeatedly to do just that, and that repeated promises of documentation were broken meant nothing to her. The conversation was mostly her yelling at me, stating “my lawyer says” liberally throughout her tirade. I got her to commit, once more, to providing documentation and in exchange, I would remove the Yelp review.

As you might guess, I lived up to my end of the bargain, but have no documentation. We’ve had to get him vaccinated to be safe, and I don’t see it as much of a risk since her claim of his being vaccinated was apparently complete bullshit. At the end of the day, while I hope to never talk to this woman again, we’ve got what is turning into a great companion and that’s the main thing. I did a little research, and our experience with this rescue society is not unique.

In closing

Since I have no desire to interact with this person again, I’ve purposely avoided publishing links or personal information about the rescue society. If you are looking to adopt a rescue and this raises concerns, please contact me (look at my site URL, it’s exactly what you’d think) and I can email you information. If you keep nothing else in mind, any reputable rescue society should have a solid handle on all behaviour and health issues, and will never try to adopt out underweight animals.

As for Brody, we’ve loved not only the personality transformation we’ve seen, but he’s become extremely attached to all of us. With the exception of some very minor remaining issues, we’ve got a great dog now. We’re looking forward to the summer months and expanding his interactions with other people and dogs via hikes and maybe some trail runs.

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