Finding the Right Dog – Dr. Enid Stiles
Dr. Stiles helps her retired parents navigate the world of pet adoption, and finds the perfect older dog!
When I was growing up, my parents always had puppies. Sometimes from breeders, sometimes from someone we knew (neighbour, friend of a friend, etc). Once we had a dog simply show up at our house, a stray, and well, he decided to stay!
At the time, it wasn’t the norm to have dogs sterilized, especially males, so we also had an “oops” breeding with our dogs. I try not to let this be known to my friends in rescue – they would be horrified.
When my parents moved back from Africa a few years ago, they moved from a big house with enclosed yards to a condo. NOT what they were used to. When they finally decided it was time for a dog, they were looking at an entirely different scenario than what they were used to. There would no longer be the ease of letting the dog out into the backyard to do its business. If it was too cold or too hot or they were simply too tired, there would be no easy way out. The dog would still need to go down the elevator and out the building for a walk. And then there was the extreme stress they felt with difficult neighbours who had already complained about dogs barking in the condominium unit.
I, of course, was SUPER excited about helping them find a dog. My husband likes to call me the AMWAY of dogs and cats…”What – you want to adopt a dog or cat??? Whoohoo, you have come to the right person”!! This particular job was a challenge for me though. Had it been a friend or client, it would have been easier. But with my parents, there were all sorts of issues I had to consider and I especially needed to make sure I did not push my own ideas of what the perfect dog would be and respect their preferences and needs.
They have grandkids, most of whom are older now. They are still very active, don’t have allergies, have a daughter to help them with medical expenses if needed, and live directly across from a lovely river and miles of walking paths. The city they live in is VERY dog friendly.
So, you ask, why oh why did it take us months to finally find the right dog for them? Simple – it’s not something you rush into. It needs to be “a good fit”. They thought long and hard about a puppy. We even went to visit some puppies at a local shelter. Sure, they were cute and I could see my mom get all gushy when holding them and smelling their yummy puppy breath and soft fur. It’s true, who could say no to a puppy? I did my best to gently discourage them…. WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DEAL WITH A PUPPY? Housetraining in a condo, play biting on fragile skin, puppy class, crate training, excitable puppy behaviours and the list goes on. Sure, you get to start fresh with their behaviours, but there are never any guarantees. I could just envision a young puppy running circles in their 2 bedroom condo!! Haha.
So when the perfect dog, in my humble opinion, came along, I worked hard, I mean really hard to “gently” convince them. Not easy. He was a little older, had been dumped by his previous family for who knows why and had a serious medical condition, which thankfully was well controlled. He had been in foster for 4 months and it was simply his time. The first time I met him at the clinic, he swiftly jumped up to give me a lick and then started focusing on the treat bowl (he was well conditioned that the clinic means TREATS). He wasn’t the ‘breed’ my parents were necessarily interested in but he had character. They had always had terriers, so like a little spunk. Because he had a fantastic foster family, we knew most of his behaviours and tendencies. A few weird ones, like barking at the TV if there are cows on it!
Even after my parents met him the first time, they took another few weeks to decide. I was heartbroken because I didn’t understand how they could not simply fall in love. He did everything right at the meeting: brought them toys to play tug with, came over for a pet, did a little head tilt with his big ears standing up and his gorgeous copper-toned eyes. Blubber blubber… But they took their time because they wanted to be sure they were committed. They were scared of the medical issues he has and the issues that could surface behaviourally. Adopting an adult dog with little known history is risky. No one can deny that. But when you are retired, have no young children, are home much of the day, have the energy to give and ALL THE LOVE in the world, it seems a shoe-in to adopt an older dog – no?
So a few weeks later, Fergus, our little bundle of joy – my new doggie-bro as I like to call him, was adopted. His foster family was pretty sad to see him go but they knew this was what they had prepared him for: his GOTCHA-DAY!
I have seen a lot of adoption dogs in my office, some take their time to transition, others fit right in immediately. Well, Fergus took it all in stride. He immediately walked out of the foster home with my daughter, jumped into my parents’ car and drove 2 hours to their home. He never looked back – as if he knew it was “right”. He slept through the night and has not had one accident in the house. He loves to play tug, likes to have an occasional snuggle on the couch, goes for long walks along theriver and we just found out he likes to SWIM!! He obviously grew up with kids because he seems to really like them and is at ease even with my youngest of 2.5yrs. He barks sometimes, but what dog doesn’t. He is a Labrador retriever in a Westie body – wants to save the kids when they swim in the lake! He finds that one spot on the balcony where the sun shines and spreads himself out to soak it up. He doesn’t pull on his leash, he doesn’t bark at people or other dogs when on leash. In fact I’m not sure what isn’t amazing about him…. How could someone have ever let him go? I will never understand.…
So other than trying to figure out why he barks at cows (and we recently discovered it could be any 4-legged cow-like animal – even DONKEY from Shrek), or how to keep his white coat white after he goes and rolls in the mud, he is simply perfect. No one wanted to adopt him because he has a disease that requires medications his whole life. Well, we got that one covered!
My message is this: If you are thinking you want to bring a dog into your life, take your time. Think about it. Don’t go and purchase a dog from a pet shop or breeder on a whim. Be ready to commit because they don’t all work out to be as smooth a dog as Fergus. But please, please, give them a chance. Consider adopting. Puppies find homes immediately in shelters and rescues and even in pet stores (not that I advocate this). Adult dogs don’t. They can be stuck in shelters and rescues for months and even years. Fergus is definitely the lucky one, having been taken in by a rescue that would not give up. Most dogs are not so lucky.
For more information on the where we adopted Fergus, please go to Westies in Need Canada .
Don’t miss Dr. Stiles on CTV next Tuesday July 28th, talking about pet adoption.