— LET INGA TELL YOU:
Recently I wrote about Olof and I starting to look at dogs. Olof was not enthusiastic about “foo-foo” dogs that needed professional grooming. Our vet, meanwhile, predicted we would fall in love with any dog that ended up in our house for more than two days. And lo and behold, she was right.
It was the Fourth of July, a weekend when shelters are filled to overflowing with dogs that freak out from fireworks and slip their collars. One of the small private shelters at which we’d applied asked if we’d do a seven-day foster for a matted scrawny Shih Tzu that had been picked up on the streets of Bonita a week earlier. No one seemed to be looking for him.
When we went down to the County Animal Shelter, the place looked like the fall of Saigon — dogs everywhere. The private shelter had rescued Percy from the County Shelter and the hand-off was not unlike a drug deal. We were presented with a diaper-wearing dog and a plastic bag containing six cans of food, some kibble, and a package of Maxi Pads. Zero info available on the dog, said the harried shelter person, other than that the county vet estimated he was three. Not sure about being house-trained, she added, hence the “belly band” (a Velcro strip lined with a Maxi Pad that went around his stomach). And then she was gone.
Testing the house-training situation when we got home, we took off the belly band only to have Percy leave a lake on our guest room floor. While I cleaned up, I asked Olof to reload a fresh Maxi Pad in the belly band and get it on the dog. Let me just say that Olof is not a Maxi Pad kind of guy. In fact, I won a first place Press Club award for a column I wrote about Olof’s world class aversion to feminine hygiene product commercials on TV. The look on Olof’s face suggested that even under the “for worse” category, this was not covered in the marital vows. But he bravely forged ahead.
It immediately became apparent that Percy was an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. Someone had obviously adored him. He was hugely affectionate, loved to be brushed and walked, and was fabulous with kids, grownups, other dogs — and even postmen. But his microchip had never been registered and he was not neutered (and mounted everything that moved). When I took him to our vet a few days later, she said he was closer to seven or eight than three, and his teeth were among the worst she’d ever seen. (His breath could drop a goat at 40 feet.) Piteous doggie nightmares attested to some terrifying time on the streets.
He knew no commands — in English anyway. Since the Castilian Spanish I studied in college extended more to Don Quixote than dog commands, I looked some up on the Internet.
“Sientate!” I ordered. “Arriba! Abajo! Ven! Quedate!” Nada.
One thing that was quickly apparent: his mouth was killing him. We told the shelter that we would pay the $500 for his neutering and his dental work, which I admit was partly self-defense. (As I drove him to the vet, Percy jumped into my lap and assaulted my arm the whole way.)
Even though our beloved previous dog was a non-swimming English bulldog, we never worried about him going into our pool. But the very first time we had Percy out in our backyard, he proceeded to walk directly into the pool — and go straight to the bottom. No instincts to dog paddle at all. Did it again two more times. The pool safety trainer later observed, “This dog’s Indian name should be ‘Sinks Like Stone.’ ”
I don’t have space to write another 50 pages on this topic, or on the fact that he could squeeze his little body between the bars of the pool fence and nearly drowned a fourth time before we hastily strung up netting. But it was the assessment of several experts that this dog could not be made reliably pool safe. And hence he could not be our Forever Dog. The gate to our backyard just gets left unsecured too often by gardening guys, pool cleaners, irrigation people, etc.
But this did not keep us from falling madly in love with Percy during the month we fostered him. We made it our goal to make him the most adoptable dog he could possibly be. He was house- trained, professionally groomed, eating enthusiastically with his remaining teeth, lost the doggie breath, knew some commands, and wasn’t mounting anybody. Tuned up and good for another 40,000 miles.
An apartment-dwelling widow looking for a companion dog adopted him — a perfect placement. It was absolutely the right decision. Yet, mushballs that our vet knows us to be, we’re #heartbroken.
— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org