Friday, August 22, 2008

The Dogs in My Life

Because of extensive overtime at my job (7am-8pm all this week and a full 8 hours more on Saturday) my crate training and housebreaking activities have had to take a back burner. With no updates to share with you as of late I think this would be a good time to tell you more about the dogs themselves as individuals.

Zoe is our first dog. Karen and I adopted her from the Dublin SPCA in February on Super Bowl Sunday. They tell us that she had been picked up as a stray wandering the streets in Martinez. She spent some ti
me at the County Animal Shelter in Martinez then was transferred to the Dublin SPCA. We kind of lucked out with her. She had just been put up for adoption that day. She had just gotten over a case of kennel cough and had been in quarantine for a few weeks.

As far as anyone can tell she's a purebreed Chihuahua. Her vet estimated that she was about 10 months old at the time which would mean she was born sometime in April 2007.
The SPCA had all of her vet needs squared away. She had all her shots and vaccinations, and she had just been spayed.

Although t
here have been other dogs in my life Zoe was the first one that I could ever consider "my dog". The first dog I ever shared a bond with was my stepfather's little black Teacup Poodle, Spike. Whenever I'd come over my mom's to visit Spike was happy to see me. Whenever I'd sleep over she'd usually crawl into my sleeping bag with me. Although she would have occasional accidents in the house she was usually pretty good at signalling me when she needed to relieve herself.

Her time with us was long before good flea-killing medications like Advantage were available, and the most anyone could do to keep the fleas off of her was to rely on those horrible flea collars. On occasions when I would bathe her the number of fleas that came out in her rinse water never ceased to amaze me.

As she got on in years her body became arthritic. She could no longer jump up on the sofa without assistance. Eventually, she reached a point where she couldn't even step up or down from the porch whe
n she had to go outside. She also developed some pretty severe cataracts in both eyes. She was probably pretty much blind when she passed away.

After a few dogless years, save for one false start with the Miniature Schnauzer puppy I mentioned a previous blog, my mom and Bob adopted a Miniature Poodle named Misty from an elderly lady that could no longer care for her. She was a very sweet dog that was always following Bob around the house wherever he went. She exhibited some territorial behavior. Whenever I would first enter the house for a visit she run up to me and bark at me like I was an intruder, but as soon as I say, "Hi, Misty!" to her she immediately rolled over for a belly rub. She apparently had a congential heart defect that took her life very suddenly. It was very sad when she died.

They now have another Miniature Poodle named Ginger. I mentioned her a week or so ago. She was a little shy when they first got her, but she's warmed up quite a bit since then.

For about a year my brother Bryan and I shared a place on Treasure Island. He alre
ady owned a cat named Bailey. I had never really cared for cats. I felt that cats were generally snooty and standoffish. But Bailey has changed my attitude. Bryan found her in the Mission District in San Francisco while he was working on a job there. She was just a kitten and when he ran across her she was playing by herself in the mud. She is what's known as a Flame Point, a mixed Siamese breed. She was and still is a runt. As a young little kitty her coat was almost all white. As cats go she's a pretty cute little feline.

What changed my attitude about cats was Bailey's demeanor. She's a people
cat. Not aloof or standoffish in the least. Often times when I was alone in the house with her she'd scratch on my door until I let her in. It would never be because she was hungry or even necessarily be shown any attention. She'd be satisfied just to curl up at the foot of the bed. She just wanted to be in my presence.

A month or so after moving to The Island he found a dog on Craig's List that needed a new home. Kalli was a Rhodesian Ridgeback. They look a
lot like Labradors, just leaner. If I remember correctly she was owned by a lesbian couple that had just broken up, were moving out of the place they had together and neither one of them were moving to a place that accepted dogs. The couple also had a cat so Kalli never had a problem with Bailey.

Bailey, of course, had never lived with a dog so she was quite frightened of Kalli at first. Fortunately, it didn't take long for Bailey to figure out that Kalli didn't pose a threat to her so they got along quite well.

Kalli was generally a happy, friendly dog, but had some territorial issues herself. There was a walkin
g path that ran behind our back fence and Kalli did a lot of barking at those that walked by. At about 70 lbs. she was a fairly big dog was from a working breed to boot. She absolutely loved the water and never hesitated to leap into the freezing cold San Francisco Bay to chase after a tennis ball. She was housetrained well, too. As far as I can remember I can only recall her ever having one accident in the house.

One thi
ng that impressed me about her was that when she was play-biting you could tell that she understood the concept of play and that she needed to bite lightly. In contrast, Bailey was also quite mouthy when played, but she never quite got the idea that she needed to hold back. I think that's a great example of how dogs are smarter than cats.

As a working breed of dog she needed lots of exercise and unfortunately Bryan would often be working on a job that required long hours of him, I'd be too lazy to walk her when I woud get home from work, so she never got the amount of exercise she truly needed. And although I did like her I never had shared the kind of bond that my brother had with her. After all, she was his dog and not mine.

I had never really cared for Chihuahuas in general. My perception of them was that Chihuahuas were high-strung, nervously shaking all the time, and given their small size just not very masculine. That perception changed when we started hanging out with our friend, Cricket. She has a Chihuahua named
Buddy. Once I got to know him I began seeing Chihuahuas in a different light. He's a very smart little guy. He occasionally does the nervous shake thing, but not very often.

When Karen and I began visiting different animal shelters looking for a dog to adopt we weren't specifically looking for a Chihuahua but it had to be a small breed. As muc
h as we all would like to have a big dog it was simply out of the question given our living situation. We knew from having Buddy around that it would have to be a small dog or no dog at all.

We came very close to adopting a female Chihuahua from the Martinez Animal Shelter. She looked a lot like Buddy. We had begun the adoption process but we had to leave to get some paperwork. By the time we returned later that day the dog was already gone. Someone else had beaten us to her.

Over the next few days we hit animal shelters all over the E
ast Bay, the Pinole Animal Shelter, the Oakland SPCA, the Humane Society in Berkeley, A.R.F. in Walnut Creek, the Alameda County Shelters in San Leandro and Dublin. I was struck how many Pit Bulls were at each shelter.

Pit Bulls are probably the least adoptable of all breeds. They suffer from such a poor public image. They have such undeserved bad reputations. Most renters will almost never find a landlord that would allow them to have one. Homeowners usually don't have it any easier. It's a common provision in homeowner insurance policies that the presence of a Pit Bull in the household is cause for having either the policy cancelled or the insurance rates significantly increased.

It's really too bad, too. Pit Bulls have just as much potential for being a great fam
ily pet as any other breed. Yes, they are a fighting breed by nature, but only fighting other dogs, not people. In fact, by nature Pits like people. They generally make poor watchdogs because they like people too much.

At the Dublin SPCA we spotted a little tan Chihuahua that was getting it's picture taken presumably to put on the SPCA website. She seemed to be a very happy dog. Her name was Clover. We asked a volunteer if we could see her outside of her pen. Once in the visiting area with he we found her quite likeable.

Karen would have preferred to adopt a puppy but I felt the exact opposite way. My preference was to adopt a fully grown adult. Clover was estimated to be about ten months old. This seemed like just the right compromise between our preferences. She was older than a puppy but not yet an adult. We felt pretty good about her but we wanted to check out another couple of
places first.

Across the street from the Dublin SPCA is the Alameda County Animal Shelter. We went in to check out the dogs there and immediately discovered a tiny long-haired Chihuahua pup. He was little more than a baby, really. We had him taken out of his kennel so we could meet him and found him almost completely irresistable. He was all tail wags and kisses. We were told that he wasn't yet ready for adoption but would be in a few days. They informed us that they don't hold animals for anyone. He would go to the first person that wanted him once he was declared adoptable. We'd have to be there when the doors open on that day, and given our schedules we figured that'd be nearly impossible.

We went back to the Dublin SPCA later that afternoon and adopted Clover. They let us take her home the same day. After stopping off at Pet Food Express for some necessary
supplies we headed over to Cricket's to show her our new dog and to have her meet Buddy.

We got there just in time to see the Giants pull off that thrilling victory in the Super Bowl. We discussed names and found the name "Zoe" to be the most agreeable.

We found that self-confidence was not a problem with her. She loved playing with Buddy but it was clear that she was doing more than just playing. Even when she's playing she also clearly trying to establish herself as the dominant dog.

She carries herself with a measure of dignity. She has a walk that looks more like a prance. When she’s given the “down” command she goes prone very daintily. Her body language definitely speaks confidence.

Karen and I bonded with her very quickly. By Wednesday she had already begun giving me excited greetings at the door when I'd arrive home from work.

She also exhibits territorial behavior. We let her sleep in the bed with us and within a very short amount of time had pretty much claimed the bed as hers. Whenever anyone other than Karen or myself approaches the bed while Zoe's laying on it she jumps up and defends it very aggresively and will sometimes even nip the person, even the kids. I’ve noticed that females seem to be more territorial than males.

At the same time she can also be very sweet. She is quick to give kisses and frequently rolls over onto her back for belly rubs.

Our other dog, Charlie, is definitely a contrast to Zoe. He was born on April 16 of this year, almost exactly one year after Zoe, which makes him just a little over four months old now. Zoe wasn't exactly thrilled when we first brought Charlie home but I think she's adjusted fairly well.

Charlie's ears flop down slightly and has little tufts of hair around the ears. He looks like a mischievous little boy. And that’s what he actually is.

Like most little puppies he’s very active. He likes to chew, often things he shouldn’t. If Zoe has a treat he will run up to her, snatch it from her, and run off, even if he already has one of his own. Usually the only time you’ll hear him bark is when he’s barking at Zoe when he wants to play and she doesn’t. They play pretty rough. Often times Zoe will be physically dominating him and just when you think it’s over, that Zoe’s gotten the best of him, he’ll go right back at her. Their relationship is very much that of the older sister that very much feels she’s in charge and the annoying little brother that will take advantage of any opportunity to get under big sister's skin.

Zoe works hard to make sure Charlie knows that she's number one around here. Whenever Charlie is singled out for some affection Zoe will run over and push him out of the way to make sure she gets some first. When we get home from work she always tries to make sure that she's the one to get her kisses in first. Often times when she's laying down on the bed and Charlie approaches her she'll bark at him in a way that's quite hostile. But to Charlie's credit he never reacts. He doesn't cower from her. He doesn't answer with any hostility back towards her. He just keeps going about his business.

Charlie's also a pretty smart little guy. So far he has taken very well to the handful of commands we've taught him. He was also very quick to pick up things from Zoe, as well. For example, one of Zoe's moves when she would wrestle with Buddy was grabbing him by the collar to gain an advantage. Within a week Charlie had figured out that he could do it, too, and soon Zoe would find herself victim to her own tactics.

One thing in particular that he doesn't have in common Zoe is her grace. He's a rather clumsy little guy. He kind of lumbers when he walks. Recently I've noticed that his legs have gotten a little longer which makes him look even more awkward. And unlike Zoe's careful positioning when she follows the "down" command Charlie just kind of throw himself to the ground. Of course, this only makes him all that much cuter.

The only real bummer is that until all his vaccinations are complete he's not really safe to be outside of the house. Right now he be extremely susceptible to canine parvovirus, a potentially fatal disease. Not only can it be picked up from unknown dogs by direct contact, it can be picked up from simply walking where an infected dog had walked. His final vaccinations are in about three weeks. He'll be neutered at that time as well. I'm looking forward to taking him and Zoe on walks together.

It appears that our overtime at work will be over soon. Hopefully, I'll be able to pick up the crate training as well.

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