As promised, I've moved from Texas to North Carolina, and the first order of business was adding a dog to our two-person pack. I've had several gently-used dogs in the past. One was adopted full-grown from a shelter in Massachusetts and went on to live another 17 years. The sainted "Shadow" would be a hard act to follow.
Given our corporate and personal travel regimens, Mr. Carolina and I knew that having a dog wouldn't really be feasible until we moved to North Carolina where - retired - we could devote ourselves to welcoming, training, and providing a good home for a dog. In the mean time, we contented ourselves with a faux-canid, the lovely Molly. Here she is inspecting the surroundings of our construction site near the Intracoastal Waterway:
Molly was a bundle of plush obedience, but unable to carry out basic dog responsibilities, so we waited for the time that we moved in full time to begin scouring newspapers, websites, and listings for shelter dogs near our North Carolina home.
One thing we noticed right away: we were in the land of hounds. Every dog seemed to be at least part hound. There was a palpable dearth of shepherds, collies, retrievers, setters, and other mixed breeds that were the object of our search. The reason? Many of these "desirable" breeds are caught up in a vast canine underground railroad, making their way to shelters in northern states that have bigger budgets and larger pools of potential adopters. I've heard this here, and from shelter operators "up north". What's left are plenty of hound and pit-bull mixes and miscellaneous small dogs.
Mr. Carolina narrowed down our 75-mile-radius quest to two dogs: one was a chocolate lab mix; the other a nearly white "lab mix" with a tail curled up over his back.
The picture of the chocolate lab reminded me of my ex-brother-in-law's ex-girlfriend's ex-chocolate lab. Surely this sad, weary dog has met her just reward in the great green pastures of doggie afterlife, having been bred repeatedly - too repeatedly, in my opinion - to supplement her captor's cash flow. This was the brother-in-law who - while living unemployed in his mom's house and totaling her car - was reading and channeling Ayn Rand in his contempt of the poor and homeless who simply wanted to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. But... I digress.
The white dog with the curled tail looked like a definite prospect. His on-line photos showed a grinning countenance, bright eyes, and a clean coat. This was no lab, though. His long legs and stance and that Spitz-breed-like tail suggested a more intriguing genetic provenance. We contacted the shelter in rural South Carolina and learned that, yes, he was still available, and we could see him that weekend.
Coming from New England, my concept of an animal shelter involved a fixed location with a building housing cats and dogs in well-maintained cages or pens, with volunteers and paid staff caring for them, walking them, feeding them, and handling administrative tasks. Some shelters handled farm animals or small pets, but most shelters I had dealt with were in the dog-and-cat adoption business. They organized events, advertised on local television, and maintained relationships with sympathetic veterinarians who would provide low-cost or pro-bono services.
This place, by contrast, was a rambling rural property in farm country, with chickens and ducks wandering in the road, dusty dogs laying in the afternoon sun, an assortment of interesting humans, alpacas, goats, cats, dogs, and probably other unseen life-forms. For the most part, the dogs lived outdoors in fenced-off areas with dog houses up on wooden pallets. One would be mistaken to assume that this somewhat haphazard arrangement suggested a lack of care by the proprietors.
The people running this shelter devoted their lives to the care and placement of animals, many of whom came into their cares as a result of abandonment, abuse, or the inability of their owners to maintain their care. As a no-kill (except in truly necessary cases) shelter, they keep the animals as long as necessary. In the case of this particular dog, most of his two-year life was spent at this shelter after being found at a nearby river as a stray. He was neutered, microchipped, and up-to-date on immunizations.
They brought out the dog on a leash, and he trotted right along with us as if to say: "Cool. New volunteers to break in!" He wasn't nervous or jumpy, and seemed to tolerate the many other animals barking, squawking, and clucking in his immediate vicinity. After a leash-walk, he flopped down at our feet while we filled out the paperwork and discussed our personal situation, plans for the dog's care and housing, and agreed to their obligatory home visit.
I resisted the temptation to suggest that our air-conditioned home on a nicely wooded half-acre lot within the reach of a cool sea breeze would be an upgrade from this place, where it looked like an animal bomb had exploded on two sides of a dusty rural road. Come on up. We are happy to show you where we live, and how this dog will live. We are all about transparency.
One truly depressing fact here in the Carolina low country: many dogs are "adopted" for sinister purposes, including use as "bait" in dog fighting, if they are not "fighting" breeds. The home visits are done in part to confirm that these dogs - so well loved at the shelter - do not fall into such a fate. Other than that, larger breeds (at 43 pounds, Logan is "medium-sized" to me) don't get too many takers. It's hard to think about dogs being transported half a country away to find good homes.
Thus it was that we came to adopt "Logan", who has been with us for a week and a half. Curiously, within this short time, his coat has begun to turn a richer, variegated golden color, perhaps a function of improved diet.
From the first night, he has slept on our bedroom floor, sleeping through the night. He was trained to a crate - something new to us, but not to him - and will flop in there from time to time when he's tired. He took well to chew toys, destroying the ones meant to be destroyed, while gently "nomming" on a treasured squeaky plush gator.
Clearly a good sport willing to participate in stupid pet tricks, Logan allowed me to dress him in a Patriots jersey for game day.
The Pats won, so we will have to stick with this moronic ritual for the remainder of the season. Victory becomes him, and he was able to show his joy with this excessive celebration:
Yesterday, he had his complete check-up at the vet, where he was as well behaved as any dog in the history of vet visits, enduring every veterinary poke, prod, needle stick, and intrusion into his private areas with good humor. Clearly the women at the shelter took good care of him, socialized him, and prepared him well for a life after their ministrations. They also kept him in very good health, as confirmed by a battery of blood tests and full examination.
Initially, Logan lavished his attention on me while keeping Mr. Carolina at arms' length. I think that some shelter dogs remember their abusers, those who let them down, those who treated them cruelly or disdainfully, and keep others of that gender on their "suspicious characters" list. When Mr. Carolina took Logan on a walk down to our local marina, Logan became very skittish around the boats, the water, or both. Not exactly what we had hoped for given our plans to involve him in The Life Aquatic.
The next day, I took Logan on the leash to the marina, and he was fine. We took him together and he was fine. Clearly it was being with Mr. Carolina that was the variable governing his reaction.
Remember, though: Logan was found by a river as a stray. It wouldn't be unheard of in this neck of the woods for someone to dump a dog by the side of the road, or out of a boat. If that's what happened, and if I ever found the person who did such a thing to Logan, my 60-year life of thoughtful nonviolence would come to an abrupt end, probably without a moment's remorse.
Nothing's insurmountable, as I've learned with my other gently used dogs. They all endured something bad; they revealed their stories to me in their own ways, in their own time. They all learned to trust again, and to make themselves vulnerable to the strange goings on and the loves and losses of a new home. So far, Logan has given every indication that he will be in contention for Earth's Best Dog consideration. We'll keep you posted.