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My Dog Norman

So I’ve been sort of sitting on something for about the, oh, last 10 weeks or so.  Something that I had sort of wanted to write about but got distracted by the absurdity that was Why the US Sucks at Olympic Lifting and then I needed a break to just run short, non-serial types of articles.

But since we’re entering the holidays and nobody cares about diet or training advice anyhow (anybody but me notice that the Halloween candy was out 6 weeks ago and Christmas stuff is already out?) it’s time to run this.  Yes, you can probably guess what this is about by the title and topic but, well…I’ll just get to it.

Spending Time at the Shelter

As most sort of know, I’m generally of an obsessive mindset and it’s pretty clear that, due to the impact that Volunteering at the Austin Humane Shelter had on my life, I’m currently applying that obsession to my volunteering there.  I generally do a minimum of 2 dog walking shifts per week (usually the mid-day shifts from 2-5 which tend to be light on volunteers because most people have real jobs) and then another event or something on the weekends.

My job and training schedule allows me absurd flexibility and I figure better to be at the Austin Humane Shelter than at home dicking around on the Internet or trolling Facebook.  Or, as I told a staff member once “If I’m at home, I’ll feel obligated to do real work and I just can’t have that.”  I train mornings and evenings when I double up so I have all that juicy time mid-day that I might as well spend with the dogs.

And while I’ve focused on walking the adults dogs (as a BRATT, read the Volunteering at the Austin Humane Shelter for an explanation), I’ve wanted to do some other stuff.  For example, about 2 months ago I took the puppy socialization class. We get a lot of puppies at the shelter and without their mom or siblings to socialize them to proper dog behavior, they can grow up broken. Either they are scared all the time or don’t ever form a bond with humans or whatever.

Puppy socialization is about how to handle the puppies (you have to be very careful since they don’t have fully developed immune systems), how to teach them to deal with people, not bite (simple answer: if they mouth you you make a high pitched ‘ouch’ like their litter mates would, if they bite you give a growly ‘ouch’ like their mom would; this teaches them that biting is unacceptable) and you try to get them used to things that they will encounter in the real world so they don’t grow up sacred or mean.  You expose them to as many different real-world things as you can (noises, clothing, people) so that they consider them normal things to encounter.

Clinic Duty

But there was also the clinic.  The Austin Humane Shelter has a pretty full featured clinic and vets (and vets in training) are in there constantly doing all kinds of stuff.  We have a huge feral cat program that brings in feral cats and spays/neuters them before release to try and stem the overpopulation problem.  As well, no animal is up for adoptions until it’s been fixed (or “scootered” as one of the folks in receiving called it the other day).

But the upshot of this is that they need volunteers to do clinic recovery duty in the afternoons, to watch the animals for signs of distress/problems and to make sure that they are coming out from the anesthetic/surgery.  And as it turned out I was alerted to a shift where they needed folks since the normal volunteers couldn’t be there.  I’d wanted to get trained on this anyhow and it seemed like a perfect opportunity.

Mind you, it’s a pretty dull shift.  It entails watching a bunch of doped up animals coming out from surgery, not doing a heck of a lot.  Mainly we watch for problems, an animal that starts to wake up but then goes out again may have an internal bleed or other problem that the vets have to attend to immediately or the animal will die.

With the feral cats, you shake the cage to try to wake them up; you do NOT poke them unless you have had a rabies innoculation. Because if you get bit, well now you’re getting one.  With the dogs, as they come up and start moving around, you give them some reassurance so they don’t freak out, see if they’ll take a bit of food (which indicates they are coming out of it), clean up their kennels if they mess them, potty them if they are up to it.  Again, not exciting but it has to get done.

But all of this is just a lead in to the real story.


The Austin Humane Shelter gets animals constantly.  They may be given up by owners who can’t take care of them, transported from the Town Lake Animal Shelter or someone finds a stray and brings them in.  And the Tuesday I did my clinic shift was no different.  On this day, someone had found a puppy on the side of the road (up in Central Austin) and brought him to us.  And he just happened to be in the clinic room since that’s where new intakes usually go.

He was very silly, a bit mouthy and just a big goober. He actually had an injured back leg, nobody was sure what happened but he wouldn’t put any weight on it.  This actually explained why he was acting so docile and goofy: they had morphined him out of his damn mind.  He was high on pain killers.  Having had my own brief experience with morphine in college (burst appendix), I fully understood.  But I digress. In any case, this was NORMAN!  And yes, my arm is that furry.




Full name: Norman Bates.  No, I didn’t come up with it, the folks in receiving have to keep themselves occupied and naming is often a hoot.  You’ll get themed dogs (we had Skittles, Candy and Sweety who were three related puppies and Ballyhoo and Crumpets), topical dogs like Odin (a tiny pup who had one eye) or Homerun (who was dumped over the fence to our runs), you get the idea.  I still maintain that the best dog name EVER was Patrick Intergalactic.  But I’m getting off topic.

This is NORMAN! and yes his eyes are a different color.  And, no, I’m not sure what he is except 4 months old.  They tell me American Bulldog, I think I see pitbull to some degree; not that I know much about breeds (there is often a bit of guessing going on with breed when dogs come in, not to mention that the dog’s head may change as they grow up).

Regardless he’s in that bully breed category no matter what he is specifically.  More importantly he was the kind of dopey muscular dog that I always seem to like the most.  And, yes, he is really that cute.  Photoshop doesn’t have a cute filter so far as I can tell.

And everybody just had an insta-crush on him.  This happens sometimes, a dog comes in with that certain dog je ne sais quoi and everybody falls for him.  Mary in receiving was in love with him and was already talking about taking him home.  I ‘joked’ with her that she’d have to fight me for him; she said she had a black belt.  I was willing to take my chances.  I just had a huge crush on him, whether it was because he was so damn cute or drugged up and goofy as hell, he just grabbed me.

It didn’t help that I was the first one to walk him.  He was making that kind of whining noise that told me he had to potty and I wanted to take him out.  Volunteers can’t actually walk sick dogs, that’s staff only for liability reasons.  But they rapidly reclassified him as a BB dog so I could get him out. I carried him to the runs so he could do his business.  Between his back leg and the drugs, walking was out of the question.  We cuddled a bit and I might have taken him to the lounge for some loving before taking him back.  And we bonded.

Oww, My Leg

Over the next couple of weeks, he would be moved to the pre-adopt kennel, this is where dogs that aren’t ready for adoption to go.  I tried to walk him every time I came in.  I also checked routinely with the clinic about his leg.  When he came in he had no indication of muscular atrophy, my guess was that whatever had happened was very recent.  Maybe a break but he didn’t seem to be in pain.  Then again, morphine will fix that.

Eventually they got him X-rayed and found that he had a hairline fracture in his leg.  Depending on how the bones set, he might or might not need surgery.  But he wouldn’t lose the leg.  Every time I saw him, it was clear that not only had he adapted to being a tripod dog but he was gradually putting more weight on the leg and using it which meant he was healing.

He was limited to the runs only, he couldn’t be taken to the field to walk with his leg.  I’d always walk him and then try to spend some extra time in the volunteer lounge or runs loving on him.  Inasmuch as dogs recognize anybody, I felt that he knew me whenever I entered the pre-adopt kennel.

I was half serious about adopting him although, so far as I was concerned, Mary had first dibs since I already had a handful in my current dog.


For a while, I’d been considering getting ALFIE! a playmate. He’s pretty high-energy and while I walk him regularly I felt that he could use a playmate.  Why not just take him to a dog park, you ask?  Two reasons.  The first is that ALFIE!! is selectively dog reactive (we use this term instead of aggressive).  He might like a dog, he might not.  There’s no way to tell until the teeth come out.  We had tried to introduce him to the beautiful Lupe and he had just lost his shit with her.  That’s reason one.

The second reason is related: all of the dog parks in Austin are leash optional.  Which means you have a lot of random dogs running around.  Which is fine so long as they get along with each other (and make no mistake, dogs can switch from nice to violent in a heartbeat.

People forget that no matter how well trained they are still wild animals and shit goes nuts sometimes).  And not so much with a selectively dog reactive dog like ALFIE!.  Add to that that the average dipshit will somehow manage to hold me responsible when their dog runs up on mine and gets attacked.

I couldn’t risk taking ALFIE! into such a situation; the risk was just too high.  Which meant that ALFIE!! was stuck.  And I couldn’t even work on the dog aggression problem (there is behavioral training to teach dogs to be less or not aggressive) because I couldn’t put him in a controlled situation around other dogs.  Basically I couldn’t work on the problem because I couldn’t work on the problem.

It put me in a bit of a bind because I didn’t think it was fair to ALFIE!.  The best option seemed to be becoming a two-dog household.  The question was one of when.  There had been other dogs I’d considered, a pit puppy months ago for example.  But I knew ALFIE! wasn’t ready yet.  Now, with 9 months of being with me, I was on the fence.  My mentor was of the opinion that ALFIE! wasn’t well trained enough for either he or I to be ready for a second dog.

It would also mean having to train two dogs which is just that much work; they’d need individual work on top of work to train them to be in the same house.  He pointed out that, yes, NORMAN! was awesome but that there’d be more awesome dogs.  He wasn’t wrong but, c’mon, do you see that face?  That’s pretty damn hard to resist.

I had a decision to make and that’s where I’ll pick up in NORMAN! Part 2.

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