Shelter Pup: A Love Story

Today is a puppyversary of sorts. I can’t say for sure what day we brought Arlo home from the rescue group last year (well, I could, but it would involve finding his adoption papers in the file cabinet, and who has time for that?) but it was just before Thanksgiving. I remember because after I brought him home, I scrambled to find a dogsitter for Thanksgiving day so that we could go to the beach with J’s family, a trip planned well in advance of finding Arlo. My friend Adrienne was gracious enough to drive over and care for him. Adrienne has been my sanity all through graduate school. This Thanksgiving, my wonderful classmates from both cohorts are high on my thankful list. Also high on that list this year is Arlo.

I am thankful that I found a pup, and that he found a home. I am thankful that he in particular – out of all the pups I could have brought home – is ours, because we belong together. I am thankful for the rescue group who pulled him from the shelter, trained him and loved him and helped him find us.

I decided to adopt an adult shelter dog for several reasons. First, I wanted to do some good in the world, and I firmly believe that taking in a scared, sweet pup is a good deed. I spoil him beyond what’s reasonable, and I feel okay about that, in light of what he went through before he was with us. Second, I wanted a dog who was already housetrained and knew some basic obedience. With our grad student schedules, I think that was a really good choice. I think I’d have to take a month’s vacation to train a puppy right. Third, I felt more comfortable bringing home a dog whose personality was already established. With puppies, like children, you never know who they’re going to grow up to be. With adults, it’s easier to know who you’re bringing home, and whether they’ll make a good addition to the family.

It took a long time to start looking for Arlo, and no time to find him once I started. After our beloved old Rusty died, J and I mourned for about six months. I was terribly sad. Our house felt wrong and empty without Rusty. I had him for fifteen years, and I couldn’t adjust to life without him. After mourning for a long while, I realized that I wasn’t going to let go until we got another dog. I needed someone to dote on and come home to in the evening (J works late sometimes) and go for walks with in the sun. J felt like it was disloyal to replace Rusty in our lives. I begged and wheedled and coerced. J finally came around. On the day that he agreed that we could start looking for a dog, I googled adoption events in my area. There happened to be one at the fancypants pet store down the street from our house. So I drove over there and was totally disappointed to realize that they only had two dogs from the rescue group. One was named Morticia (I am not making this up). She wasn’t enjoying the event. She was, in fact, a bit deranged. I got the sense that she wasn’t a fan of other dogs. I base this on my astute powers of observation, which were attuned to the subtle cues she gave, such as loud barking and intense growling, and much gnashing of teeth.

The other pup, Aristotle, was kind of funny looking, but he seemed like the nicest dog on earth in contrast to his friend. I petted him mostly to be polite. He didn’t really strike me as the pup for me. But he loved the attention, so I sat with him for a while. The next thing I knew, he was in my lap, curled in a ball, wagging his tail so hard his whole body moved. “I might come by the shelter later and meet the other dogs,” I told the adoptions person. She just grinned at me. “I think that one’s already chosen you,” she told me. “He never does that with anyone.” (This, I have since realized, was a line. ‘Aristotle’ is an indiscriminate love hound. He’ll sit on anyone’s lap and let them pet him). In addition to the cuddling, his backstory tugged at my heart strings. He was abandoned at the county shelter, the adoptions woman told me. In the night time drop box. This was the first I had heard of a night time drop box for pets. A dog is not a library book, after all. I was amazed that someone would dump such a sweet pup, and that it was legal to just dump him there alone in the night. Perhaps they were in dire straits, though. Many families have been evicted from their homes in the last few years, and can’t take their pets with them to stay with family or in shelters. The problem with anonymous nighttime puppy abandonment is that the shelter had no way of knowing how old he was (about a year, we later guessed), what sort of dog he was (a lab/hound mix, we think), or what his name was (the shelter called him Solo, and the rescue called him Aristotle. In amending it to Arlo, I combined the two). The rescue group pulled him from the shelter and kept him for months until he was adopted. By the time I met him, he’d been homeless for four months.

So. I had to pick J up from his office, and I was running late because I was having a hard time saying goodbye to Aristotle. I told the folks at the pet store that I might be back later with my husband, ran off to get J, and as he jumped in the car, I told him I wanted him to meet a dog. Just meet him. See what he thought. He was far more amenable than I expected, so I drove back to the fancypants pet store. There was Aristotle, still wearing a silly t-shirt that said “Canine Ambassador,” still wagging fiercely. He climbed onto J’s lap and promptly fell asleep. They sat there for a while, on the floor of the pet store. I asked the lady from the rescue group about their adoptions process. After several drives to the shelter to get to know Aristotle better, and much perusing of dog training books and websites on how to introduce an adult dog into a new home (with cats), I took Aristotle home.

One of our first nights with Arlo. His eyes are glowing and he’s trying to chew on Josh because we fed him after midnight. Whoops! (He’s really just playing. He has never been an aggressive fellow – but this is a fitting emblem of those first few days of chaos).

He was insane. The sweet pup from the pet store disappeared. For our entire 40 minute drive home from the adoptions facility, he barked every time he saw headlights. We were driving on the interstate at night. There were a lot of headlights. When we got home, he commenced barking at the cats, and harassing our friend Tom, who was just visiting, and looked a bit alarmed at Arlo’s overly affectionate attentions. To this day Arlo becomes gleeful the moment Tom comes over to visit. It’s as if he imprinted on Tom, like a baby duck, and still firmly believes that he’s family. We’re sorry, Tom, and we’re glad you still like us. Someday our dog will calm down.

For the first week, Arlo was afraid of everything that made a noise or moved. He ran from the vacuum, barked at the heat vents, jumped every time a toilet flushed. The coffee grinder almost gave him a seizure. We had moments of hysterical laughter at his over-reactions (the first time we ran the blender, he made this genuinely appalled face that I will remember for the rest of my life) but we were also sad to realize that his first family must never have welcomed him into their home at all. It was an adjustment period. Eventually, he stopped fearing the electronics (although he does climb onto the couch and stare balefully in my direction any time I run the vacuum).

He mellowed over the next few months, and it quickly became clear that he was a wonderful, trainable dog, eager to learn and highly motivated by treats. We crated him for a month before we realized that he didn’t need it. When we’re not home, he doesn’t have the sort of raucous, property damaging fraternity parties that our last dog had as a pup. Arlo just naps on the couch. True, he ate my favorite shoes (red wool clogs. I loved those things). They were his one real moment of destruction, and I’m almost certain that it was a case of mistaken identity, in which he confused them for a toy because they so closely resembled his lobster plush toy. Usually his enemies are receipts, tissues, and paper towels, and he confines his destruction to their provenance. He ate the postcard the vet sent us to remind us that his shots were due, which I found clever. He also considers socks and underwear fair game, although he refrains from eating the more expensive items in the laundry pile. And so he is free to roam the house at night and in our absence. It is his castle, and he is its neurotic protector. Although I’m dubious about whether he would protect our home from actual human invaders, it’s clear that no bunny or deer will ever get past him,as he barks the house down when he sees them in our back yard, and growls fiercely. He fears no Thumper, nor shall Bambi terrify him. Squirrels elicit his inner Dug the Dog, and he does his best impression each time he sees one.

It’s a good life Arlo leads. He gets treats each day, regular walks on the trail and occasionally a jog. If we watch a movie, he sits between us on the couch and eats half our popcorn. If we take a road trip, he rides in the back seat on his very own pillow. He has been to the mountains, and to the beach.

We took him on vacation with us, and stayed in a dog friendly hotel, and he was shockingly well behaved. He gets to sit on the patio at restaurants sometimes, right under our feet, and passionately hope that one of us will drop something. His best friend is a pup down the block named Dash. They play together most evenings. Those play sessions have replaced our former trips to the dog park, as Arlo has a strong preference for Dash over all other dogs. He gets pupsicles from the Popsicle shop (chicken broth on a rawhide stick), has more toys than I have shoes, and occasionally I bake him dog cookies from scratch. Sometimes I remind him that he did alright for himself, in choosing us. He’s lucky to have us.

We’re just as lucky to have him. It’s love.

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