By Elaine Marze
Don’t be afraid of shelter dogs. If you believe the dated adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks (ways)” then I beg to differ.
When I moved to Arkansas four years ago my new house came with several acres of land. I’d lost my three English Mastiffs from old age within months of each other, and it hurt. I’d decided I wasn’t going through that pain again, but it seemed selfish to have all this yard space without sharing it with a needy canine. I’d never owned a “mutt” before; instead I paid thousands of dollars on pure-bred canines. Various breeds are bred with particular traits as the goal unlike mixed-blood mongrels. And, since I was determined not to fall in love with another dog but I could afford to give a non-lovable mutt a home and food, I decided to go to the local pet shelter and select a charity case to adopt.
I was looking for a dog not too young or energetic or so big and rambunctious that it would knock my “older” body down. After I chose the canine I thought would be most suitable and filled out the paperwork and paid the fee I brought her home to a new dog house and feed bowl. She inspected her large yard and access to the deck and patio and SEEMED happy with her new home. Wrong! Hours later I saw her climb the chain link fence and run away. Of course I scoured the neighborhood looking for her for days until I got a call from the animal shelter that she was waiting at the door when they arrived that morning.
She may as well have just slapped me across the face with her paw. It doesn’t say a lot about the new home I’d provided when the dog had rather be in a shelter. Frankly, I was shocked she was able to find the shelter since it was miles away, and she rode in my car so there wasn’t a scent trail she could follow. It’s not like she walked to her new home … that obviously was a big disappointment to her. I explain this so the reader would realize why I told the animal shelter staff, “Look, just bring me whatever you have that needs a home” which is how I got Larry.
I didn’t even have to go pick the dog up. Probably because if I’d seen him I probably wouldn’t have taken him. The shelter lady brought him to me after warning me he wasn’t good with people or other animals. They didn’t tell me he was a biter.
I have a brother named Larry so I surely wouldn’t have given this dog the same name, but Larry was in such bad shape when they brought him to me that I figured he didn’t need a name change on top of everything else. He’d just had surgery to remove shotgun pellets from his thin, emaciated body. He had had most of his front teeth kicked out and just overall badly abused. Larry was one sad-looking dog, cowering and whimpering at the slightest attention or word. But if you turned your back on him, he’d bite. At the time I assumed the biting stemmed from the pain of the surgeries and wouldn’t last. Wrong.
As Larry got stronger and gained weight I hoped he would stop biting, cowering and whimpering like he’d been beaten which I’m sure had happened in his past, but not at my house. Because I travel frequently I get people to come feed him, but because of his biting that was a problem. He also bit me which I excused to his abuse issues, but when he bit the grandchildren I called the shelter and told them they would have to take Larry back. The lady I spoke to said, “We’re so full up would you just keep him till we find a new home for him?” Apparently it is hard to find a home for a biting dog because that was years ago, and Larry is still with me, BUT he HAS changed into a friendly, non-biting, healthy and happy dog.
Larry disputes the adage about old dogs because he has changed his ways. He likes people now and also gets along well with the neighborhood dogs. There is one respect his emotional issues are non-resolved. Larry must have been shut away in a small cage because even after four years he refuses to come inside the house, garage or even into the glassed-in porch. At first I tried dragging him into the house, but as soon as I let him go he nearly killed himself jumping through the glass door. He was determined to get back outside. One of my neighbors admonished me about not bringing Larry inside during a freeze. I told her she was welcome to try. I also dragged his now chubby body into the garage only to have him keep throwing himself at the door until I was afraid he would do bodily harm to himself. So Larry and I have come to an understanding. In the winter I keep him supplied with shavings, pine straw and hay in his two insulated doghouses, and he is happy and satisfied.
He really loves his yard. When I’m outside working or the grandkids are here we let him out of the fenced yard so he can run around and explore, but he watches me closely, and if I go in the house he is immediately on his way back to his yard. He’s secure enough to roam while I’m around, but he is not secure enough to stay out by himself. When my friends complain about having to chase their dogs around their neighborhood, I’m happy Larry is the way he is.
People have told me they would take a shelter dog but they worry about not knowing what they would be getting. All I can say is that old dogs can learn new ways!