So in NORMAN! Part 1 I wrote up an introduction that you can probably guess the punchline to but I’m still walking you through this the long way. In short, by sheer accident I had been in the clinic when we got a new puppy named NORMAN! with a messed up back leg. We all sort of fell in love with him and I was the first to walk him. I had been considering getting ALFIE! a playmate as it was and NORMAN! seemed like a good choice.
At this point, NORMAN! had been put on kennel rest. He was limited to the runs, no walking in the field, and basically would get 4 weeks of this until his leg healed and he got the follow-up X-rays to see if he’d need surgery or not. That meant he was limited to his cage, going out to potty and whatever time/energy volunteers could give him beyond that. The kennel is tough enough but sick or injured dogs have it worse because they are even more limited in what you can do with them.
In cases like this, and in many other cases, dog are often sent to foster homes, presumably temporary housing where someone will give them a bit more attention and loving than they would get otherwise. Sometimes it’s just to free up space in the kennel; folks will foster dogs to give them temporary homes until we have cages. When we took in the 179 dogs from the Bastrop hoarding situation, we had had an immense number of folks put them in foster to help us out.
So at this point NORMAN! was available for foster; and yes, BRATT’s do a lot of fostering since we know how to keep up with their training, etc. Often long-term fosters by BRATT’s turn into full fledged adoptions. After weeks of having the dog in your home, you’re in love with it so you just keep it. Eventually he’d be up for adoption and if I was going to consider fostering him at all it would be towards long-term adoption. I didn’t see any point in taking care of him for 4 weeks and then letting someone else have him in any case.
Three Obstacles to Overcome
I’ll be honest, despite my mentor’s concerns (which I did take into account) my mind was pretty much made up at this point. But there were three obstacles that had to be overcome before I could consider fostering NORMAN!. The first was that, simply I considered Mary in receiving to have first dibs on him.
When NORMAN! had first come in, I had only half-wanted to adopt him, she really wanted him and that gave her first right to refusal (basically) so far as I was concerned. I wasn’t going to poach her dog.
We’d communicate every time I was at the shelter and she did eventually take him on an overnight foster to see if adoption was possible. She actually has three dogs and a key to adding a dog to a household with any dogs is that they get along. She reported to me that her dogs had not liked NORMAN! so adoption for her was completely off the table. And that basically meant that I got next shot at him. And now there were two other issues.
The first was that, when I was looking at taking him home was right before the Chicagoland Inline Marathon. I’d only be gone for 48 hours (from about Friday afternoon to Sunday evening) and I had friends who could take care of ALFIE! food and potty wise. But I didn’t know at this point how much care NORMAN! would require and wasn’t sure if I could ask them to do any extra work that might be needed (as well, he’s a puppy which means he needs a bit more effort than an adult dog). But neither did I want to wait 2 weeks until after Chicago in case someone else decided to foster and adopt him.
But I checked and NORMAN! didn’t really need any extra work. He had one med that he’d be done with before Chicago, he needed to be fed and pottied just like at the shelter. He could stay in his crate the rest of the time. Effectively, all my friends would need to do is feed and potty him (more or less) when they watched ALFIE! Worst come to worst, I’d put NORMAN! back at the shelter for 2 days and then get him when I got back.
And with those two issues out of the way, there was the biggest one of all: would ALFIE! get along with him or not? Because while the other two obstacles were easily dealt with, this was far more important. Whenever someone with a dog wants to adopt another dog, a dog introduction is required; if they don’t get along, the adoption is off. And it would be no different here. If ALFIE! didn’t like NORMAN!, I couldn’t foster him much less adopt.
I wasn’t going to risk taking NORMAN! home without bringing ALFIE! in first to see if they’d get along. It would just be a day of stress for everyone. I talked to many higher level volunteers about how to approach this and got all the advice I could. Basically, NORMAN! was unlikely to be the issue, he loved everybody. But kind of like me, ALFIE! can be a bit persnickety towards people.
The Importance of First Impressions
So I scheduled the dog introduction for 2pm on a Thursday. That would allow me to skate and get ALFIE! two walks in to try and burn off some energy. Some volunteers felt that the initial meeting of the dogs can set the tone although that’s not only the case. If we could get them to get along off the bat, it might go ok.
So we brought the dogs into the auditorium and gave it a shot. And it didn’t go well. NORMAN! wanted to play, ALFIE! was getting aggro. Here I have to take some responsibility. I play rougher with ALFIE! at home than I should; I’ve taught him some bad habits with it. Some of what he was doing was his normal dog reactivity although it’s often hard to separate that from just doggie play.
So we broke them up and took them to the field. Sometimes walking the dogs about 6 feet apart (the dog’s critical distance, their personal ‘space’ if you will) lets them get used to one another while staying calm. This is actually one way to teach dogs not to react: you walk them close to another dog and click or yes/treat so long as they stay calm. Basically it’s just a way to reinforce that staying calm around other dogs (or people) brings good things. But it wasn’t a game I had learned yet (it’s part of the Yellow dog class at the shelter) or worked on with ALFIE! I had just kept him totally away from other dogs.
But, in contrast to ALFIE!’s normal behavior, he was actually pretty collected even if he was having to check the young interloper (older dogs often do this to puppies who don’t know any better). When we had tried to introduce him to the beautiful Lupe, he had sat back with an erection (a sign of agitation) whining and getting stressed. He wasn’t doing this with NORMAN!, he’d just get a bit rough when they played. This was workable.
We took them back to the auditorium and the same thing happened. Play time was rough but keep in mind that dogs, like many animals, play with fight type behavior. It’s practice for real fighting and how they establish dominance. But so long as the tails are a wagging and the ears are up, it’s just play. It’s when the tail stop and the ears go flat that shit is about to go down. Here’s a video of them playing at my house (clearly it all worked out) to give you an idea. You can see lots of teeth and aggression but it’s all just play. Tails are wagging, ears are up and it’s just dogs being dogs even if it is a touch on the aggressive side (they are both being a bit mouthy).
Quick note here: if you have two dogs who are getting aggressive for real the LAST thing you do is reach in to break them up. Because if a hand comes shooting in-between them they will decide on a common enemy: YOU. What you do in this case is use your leash like a lasso and pull them apart by the neck. If they are already on leashes, of course, you can just drag them apart. Don’t worry about hurting them, whatever you might do to them is far better than them biting the hell out of one another or killing each other. Because it will get ugly if you let it continue; they won’t magically settle down once it’s fight time.
Gradually they worked it out, they did keep trying to hump (another dominance behavior) but it was turning into playtime more than fight time. And, again, ALFIE! wasn’t doing his normal agitated boner/whining thing like he would do with dogs behind fences when we’d get them apart. He just doesn’t know good play habits because of me and his lack of time around other dogs. So long as he wasn’t attacking outright, I could work with this.
And after about an hour of this, the foster was approved by the staff member (if she had said ‘no’ that would have been the end of it). I was told that it would be best to get NORMAN! his own crate so that ALFIE! wouldn’t feel like his was being taken. So I ran ALFIE! home and ran up to Petsmart for supplies. A separate dog/water bowl to feed them apart, a crate, some toys, etc.
And then I went back to the shelter, got NORMAN’s meds (just anti-biotics) and signed some papers and took him home.
I had no idea what I was in for but I’ll pick that up in Part 3 next week. Read NORMAN! Part 3.