Archive for the ‘Hazel’s Story’ Category

Sunshine on a Rainy Day (Hazel’s Story Part 3)

April 17, 2010

It’s dawn.  I hear the sweet sound of a Cardinal singing outside our window.  My heart leaps before my eyes even open.  A smile crosses my face as I remember.  For a few seconds I work on going back to sleep – slow, deep breaths – I want the sleeeeep, neeeed the sleeeep.  But I’m not going back to sleep.  I’m way too excited.  Every day is a gift but today is one of the special ones.  That way-too-cool-to-be-true-pointer-mix I’ve been telling you about, she’s gonna become a member of our family today.  The one who takes a treat from my child’s fingers as gently as a butterfly lands on a flower.  Her name is Hazel.

Somehow the man who had her on hold, who had the first option to take her before me – his wife opted out when the decision was on the line.  She brought the grandkids and everyone to meet the dog.  And they liked her a lot, saw how sweet she was and were keen on her smallish size.

Then the resident cat came out from behind a desk.  They saw our little pointer get a little too perky then.  I’ll tell you what they saw.  They saw a wild child kick in.  They saw her chase that kitty around the room in sporting-dog style, zig-zagging with moves like Michael Jordan gliding through an entire defense.  They must’ve imagined their own cats trying to stop Jordan.  They could hear Marv Albert calling the game in their heads, “Oh!  Slam dunk!  Michael Jordan is on FIRE!  OH!  Look at the moves, slicing through defenders with ease!  Oh!  MJ’s TOO-TOUGH-to-STOP!”

The wife started to look worried, nibbled her fingers, talked about her cats, voiced doubts, looked at the pointer pouncing around the room, and then back at her husband, “So you definitely haven’t found anyone with a Shih Tzu?”

That’s when the shelter manager dropped the guillotine, “I don’t think this is the dog for you,” she said, and sent them on their way.  I love that cat.

Let me tell you what I saw when I later watched Hazel interact with the cat.  I saw a super-playful adolescent with a lot of self control.  First she invited the cat to play, with lovely play-bows (butt in the air, front end down), with adorable side-shimmies, and with an excited bark that was low-pitched and not too loud (oh, so acceptable).  When she did chase the cat she always stopped a foot or two away from it, she never touched it.  I let Hazel keep going, wanted to see her get worked up.  Then came the best part.   As she was dancing around the cat, percolating in the predator game, I made myself heard.  “Hazel STOP.  Get over here.” I said firmly but not loud.  She ran right over to me and sat at my side.  Too good to be true.  I tested it again.  “Ok, go play with the cat,” I said.  She got back into it quickly.  Ran right to the spot she left off and started her predator play dance again.  Then I called her.  And again she came right away.  Just lovely.

Here is a video of how I began bonding with Hazel when we got home.  Play is the name of the game.  Look at how respectful she is of my space.

The people who had the first shot at this dog saw a feisty hunter getting wild over a cat.  I saw a playful 8-month-old with a lot of impulse control.  To each their own.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And we all see differently.  It’s what makes life interesting.  I’m so grateful this dog lasted two weeks without anyone seeing what the shelter manager and I saw in her.

Now it seems kind of crazy for me to put it out there, to say I found a wonderful dog, a great fit,  just by spending a couple of half-hour sessions with her over two days.  Especially crazy to put it in writing here.  I mean, I could be wrong.  I could be eating my words right here on this blog in a few months if this dog turns out to reveal traits I’ve overlooked, or couldn’t see.  It’s quite possible, I assure you.  She’s certainly not going to be perfect.  There will be issues, of course.  For example she pulls on leash like a bat out of hell.  And she’s REALLY distracted outside.

But I feel as good as you can feel about our decision to adopt Hazel because I defined exactly what I wanted before going into this.  Then I did a thorough behavior evaluation.  Comp – re – hensive.  That’s how I roll (most of the time, anyway).  Is it dorky or cool to show up at the shelter with a clipboard and a checklist?  I say cool.  There is no place for self-consciousness in big life decisions.  I followed my behavior eval checklist with pride.  In the next post I’ll tell you exactly what I did to evaluate Hazel.  I know it will help you and many others to find a great match next time you are looking for a dog.

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Heart Strings (Hazel’s Story Part 2)

April 16, 2010

So you know I sped off to the shelter yesterday and was greeted at the office door by the wonderful, slow-wagging pointer mix that the rescue manager had told me was ideal for my family.  I immediately adored her.  She was confident and friendly but totally under control in her approach.  She was MUCH prettier than the picture on Petfinder.  White with adorable brown spots flecked all over her sweet pointy muzzle and down her back.  A perfect 35 pounds, in great shape.  Her eyes were a golden green.  Really.  I liked her vibe.  A lot.  I sat on the floor, picked up a toy, and started playing with her.  Then I asked lots of questions to the staff.

“Does she bark?” I asked.

“Nope,” said the shelter manager.

I grabbed her muzzle gently and lifted her lips to see how she’d respond to me checking her teeth.  No pushback whatsoever.

“Does she guard anything – food, toys?” I asked.

“Nooooo.” the manager said (with an implied “of course not – don’t insult her.”)

I tugged on the toy in the dog’s mouth, we were both having fun with the game.  Then she let me take it from between her teeth with ease.  When I held up the toy in my hand she quickly sat and waited as if asking me “would you please throw that again?”

“Does she have any separation issues when you guys leave?” I asked the manager.

“She whines at the door when one of us leaves the room.”

“How long is the whining for?”

“Two minutes,” the manager answered nonchalantly, daring me to try and find something wrong with this beautiful dog.

“If you had to name any complaints about her, what would you say?” I asked with raised eyebrows.

“Complaints?”  There were a few seconds of silence as all three of the office workers looked at each other, thinking I was a nut.  “We don’t have a single bad thing to say about her,” the manager said, with a hint of disappointment that I didn’t already trust what she told me on the phone – that this dog was “phenomenal.”

Now I was sitting on the floor petting the sweet dog, really starting to fall in love with the idea of her joining my family.

Then I asked, “What is your policy on holding a dog?  I need to talk to my wife about when she can come over and meet her.”

“Someone already has a hold on her,” the manager replied.

My heart sunk in my chest.

“Oh…  … why didn’t you tell me that before I fell in love with her?” I sighed.

“Sorry, a guy came in this morning and he asked me to hold her so HIS wife can come meet her.  You’re second if they don’t want her.”

I didn’t hide my disappointment.  I took a few deep breaths as I continued playing with the dog.  I quickly began the process of reeling back the invisible tendrils of attachment that had already started to reach out from my heart and hug this dog into my life.  Sitting on the floor, I had my face right in front of her nose, eye-to-eye.

“She’ll give you a kiss if you ask for it,” the manager said.

“No, I can’t handle a kiss right now, that’ll only make me fall deeper in love with her.”

I stood up and half-jokingly told the manager to talk the other guy and his wife out of adopting this precious dog.  Then I gave her all my info and said to update me as soon as she knows.

I’ve checked back twice since then.  No definitive answer yet.  I’m still waiting…

Read Hazel’s Story, Part 3

Dogs Cast a Spell on Us (Hazel’s Story Part 1)

April 15, 2010

There is real evidence to support that dogs truly do have a natural power to connect with humans, draw them in, create a bond. But the science of that is for another day. I’m running out the door to visit a shelter. I just hung up with a woman there who told me she has a dog that could be a great fit for my family. A medium-small yellow lab-pointer mix with a super sweet disposition.  A persona that might fit right in with my 20-month old son.  The description SOUNDS great but I have to see her and do my own eval.  Which I will right after I speed over there in my car.  This is one of the very first rescue dogs I am looking at.  I should be very practical and calm right now, but I’m not.  I’m excited, wide-eyed, and hopeful.  A pro trainer shouldn’t be this vulnerable.  But I’m human.

Read Hazel’s Story, Part 2