Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bringing Baxter Home

Baxter with his dog-chew
In 2010 the Animal Care Center needed one of its  volunteers to foster a large, one-year old male mix while he recuperated from surgery. He had been picked up as a stray, and had apparently been hit by a car. His left hind leg had been damaged to the point where he needed an operation to remove the end of the femur and reattach tendons to hold it in place. The county's Animal Care Center believed he would be very adoptable and should be saved if possible. The wonderful, kind-hearted  people there saved him. Even though there may have been no money in the budget to pay for it, and their own veterinary clinic was not equipped for such surgery as this, they  somehow made the arrangements, and a veterinary hospital in another city performed the operation at a greatly reduced rate. Now it was time for his rehab. The Animal Care Center named him "Mack," and the email for a foster home went out.

I showed his picture to my wife, and she did not hesitate: we had to bring him home with us. And so we did.

The first thing we did was rename him "Baxter." Don't quite know why. But it seemed to fit.

Baxter was one of the sweetest dogs we had ever seen. Completely untrained, but a quick learner, easily housebroken within day or two. I worked with him on his leash training, so that he'd walk at my left knee. I like to speed up and slow down when leash training, so the dog learns to put his trust in me and match my pace. I also come to a full stop before crossing any street, and even at irregular times. Sometimes I zig and zag, or do a 180 and change direction completely. And so Baxter learned to always focus on what I'm doing.

He had an endearing habit of lying at our feet (or on top of them!), whether we were in the living room reading or watching TV or in the kitchen fixing a meal (so that we had to step over him between the sink and the stove). It was a big change from our more-aloof Shauna. Whereas Shauna was more wolfish in her behavior, always friendly with everybody but preferring to be alone in another room and not at all cuddly, Baxter was a real dog in every sense of the word. He loved to lie on his back in the grass, legs splayed and a grin on his face.  Whereas Shauna sipped her water carefully and never spilled a drop, Baxter was an enthusiastic drinker, splashing water around his bowl and then dripping it from his muzzle afterward, leaving a trail of water across the kitchen floor. Another endearing habit, to us.

We wanted to adopt Baxter, but with his being only a year old and we being in our sixties (Really? How did that happen?), we were concerned about his long-term care. Of course, everybody shares life's unpredictability, regardless of age. But one's own passing becomes more predictable with age. In the end, after being lucky enough to have had Baxter for three months, and with his recovery from his leg surgery, we reluctantly returned him to the Animal Care Center. But not without printing up an information paper about him: how to continue his training; his habits; his allergy to grains (requiring a limited ingredient dog food-- Natural Balance venison and sweet potato worked great); his exercise program; and other such details. This was made available to any potential adopting family. Two days later, I received an email from the shelter: Baxie had been adopted on the very first day! By a good family, who were serious enough about his care to request his medical records for their own vet.

As my wife put it, Baxter's absence left a hole in her heart. Happy at the storybook ending, but still missing him. It's almost like sending a son or daughter away to college, except that we'll never see Baxie again. Selfish? Selfishness is sometimes the Siamese twin of sadness.

Shauna and Baxter with toy rabbit
Hey, this is my towel!

Hey, this TV show is about dogs!

Ah, this is the life!

If nobody's using this sofa, I'll just stretch out a bit.

What kind of Dog is That?

For several years, we often were asked by pedestrians we passed by what breed of dog was Shauna. We always said she was part collie and part Siberian. She was large for a female Siberian, and had a longer coat. Also, her snout was longer. On the other hand, her snout was not as pointy as a collie's. Her head also wasn't as flat  as a collie's. She had a higher crown. All things considered, though, we thought her to be a Siberian-collie mix.

Often, cars  would stop, the driver would roll down his window, and ask if he could breed her with his Siberian. (They were disappointed when we told them since we had adopted her from the county Animal Care Center, she had been spayed,)

One day a couple of years ago, I was glancing through a magazine at a veterinary clinic and noticed an ad for dog DNA testing. The company was located in Seattle, and claimed to have the DNA profile of over one hundred breeds of dogs (though not the DNA of a wolf). I thought it was worth one hundred bucks to find out if we were right.

Two months later, we received the results: no collie. She was Siberian/malamute. Surprise! But I can see it in her build. Siberians are normally pretty lean-looking. Bred for sprinting. Malamutes have a broader, more muscular back. Bred to haul heavily-loaded dog sleds. And Shauna's build was more like a malamute's. Her ears were more mobile than a Siberian's, too. They always seem to have their ears fully erect and forward-facing.  Shauna's ears can be in any position. When focused on something, they're up and facing ahead. When relaxed, she turns them out to the side and they're not fully upright. When listening to me when I'm behind her, she swivels them around . When greeting someone, she lays them flat against her head. When feeling stress, they're really flat against her head. As with wolves, ears can be an aid in dog-communication.
One ear up, one down. What does this mean?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Sedative for Dogs

Just a day at the beach!
Within a few days after adopting Shauna at the county's Animal Care Center, I knew that this was going to be a challenge. She was like no other dog I had ever had.

The first challenge was leash training. Being a Siberian mix, she was born to pull. And so she did! Of course, all dogs pull until they are leash-trained. But even when I was able to walk her at my side, with the leather leash doubled up to make it short enough to keep her at my pace, it was obvious that a walk, no matter how brisk or how long, didn't begin to satisfy her urge to run. So I thought of my mountain bike, left unused for a long period of time. What would happen if I rode my bike with Shauna on a shortened leash at my side? I decided to give it a try, at first in a parking lot at slow speed. If I were killed, at least I wouldn't be left in the street!

I tentatively hooked her up and settled into the saddle. Riding slowly, we made a loop around the parking lot, several times. There seemed to be no problems. Shauna made the turns precisely, as if we were a unit. She was thinking, "Now this is more like it! Can't we go a little faster though?" Experimental stage over. Time for a road test.

The first couple of blocks were always harrowing. She didn't run, she flew! At top speed on a twenty-one speed bike. I could barely keep up, and I was in fact slowly losing ground until, after that two-block burst, she settled into an easy lope, much like a horse. We went on and on. She only tried to cut in front of me once, and as soon as the front wheel touched her, she corrected herself and never again tried it.

It was an exhilarating feeling for both of us. She was happy, with a relaxed face and jaw, the wind in her face and her nose pulling in the scent of what lay ahead, and with her bushy tail streaming out behind her. "A little more! I'm just getting started!"

Of course, with warm weather coming on, we had to wait until sundown to go out. No danger in  forgetting-- Shauna was always there to remind me: "Hey, it's starting to get dark! The air is cooling! Can't you hurry and finish whatever it is you're doing?" Eager anticipation. Sparkling eyes. Dancing feet. The message was clear. And so we went out every evening for the next eight years (and counting).

We would run on the streets until we left the industrial area of my business (where there was no traffic at night) and entered the busy commercial district. Then we took to the sidewalks. Shauna ran like a dog on a mission. She didn't glance from side to side, or pay any attention to pedestrians (who cautiously gave way when they saw a wolf-like canine rocketing toward them). She looked straight ahead, and never wavered. At street crossings, she waited patiently for the change of light, ignoring the crowd of people also waiting there. She even came to know when it was time to go, when the traffic had stopped, although, when reminded, she waited for me to move before she stepped into the crosswalk.

From there, we ran to the Santa Ana River, which begins many miles inland, in another county, and runs all the way to the Pacific. There is a paved bike trail curving along the river, and we ran north on the trail, often covering ten to twenty miles. By this time, she would settle into a ground-eating fast trot, her legs a blur, still looking straight ahead. She never stopped unless it was my idea, to take a drink of water, look at the wild ducks on the river, and roll in the grass (the dog; not me).

Shauna had an uncanny ability to know which way I was going to turn when running on a street or sidewalk. Still, I thought it best that she should know the relevant commands, and she understood at once that "haw" meant left, "gee" meant right, and "straight ahead" meant, well, straight ahead. I had remembered the commands from my boyhood, when a man with a team of mules came every spring to break the soil for our large vegetable garden, sometimes allowing me to plow a row or two myself. But usually, I didn't feel the need to tell Shauna which way to turn. Only once did she, or rather, we, make a mistake, and it was my fault. A row of trees lined one particular sidewalk, and sometimes we would pass them on the left, other times on the right. One day, for some reason, I just couldn't decide. My brain just locked up. At the last possible microsecond, I veered right. Shauna veered left. But before the leash wrapped around the tree, I dropped it while on the move. We both stopped after passing the first of the trees, I picked up the leash, and we went on our way.

One harmless accident that could have been serious: Shauna had a bad habit of playfully grabbing the leash in her jaws and shaking it as we ran at full tilt. I had read about using an aluminum can with pebbles or hardware in it, to toss at a dog's feet; the unexpected sound startles the dog, and acts as a correction for unwanted behavior. Or so the theory goes. So I decided to give it a try while riding. We were just getting started, and she did her thing with the leash, as a prelude to serious running; I did my thing with the can. Immediately, Shauna came to a full stop, and I flew head first over the handlebars. And, as always, I was not wearing a helmet. All was well, though. I instinctively did a tuck and roll, somersaulting over the handlebars and hitting the pavement, rolling. Not a scratch. Not even any road dirt on my shirt. Lucky. The can went into the recycle bin. And Shauna thought, "He won't do that again!" (She was right.)

Running was a sedative for this dog. Back at home base, she would settle into a sound sleep. Content at last. And so we had found the perfect dog sedative for her.
"This is deep enough. I''m not a lab!"

Our place in Oregon. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part 2: A Tragic Ending to a Good Dog's Life

Every year, from that first summer in 1957, Lassie developed an eczema that caused her immeasurable suffering, and she scratched and bit herself so badly that she lost hair on her back and her skin was scaly and sometimes bloody. In the fall, after cool weather set in, her hair grew back and she was happy. We, of course, didn't know what the problem was. I was only a boy, and my mom and dad had no experience in canine diseases. One neighborhood man (who raised beagles for field trials and was concerned that the condition might be contagious) declared that it was mange. Dogs with mange were routinely put down. We took her to a vet numerous times, but they had no clue and no cure. Finally, one vet suggested we leave her there to board for a few days, for observation (and tests, or so we thought), which we did. Every day I called the veterinary clinic to check on her, and each time the answer (from an office worker, not the vet) was that she was doing fine. When we picked her after a few days, I could see immediately that she hadn't eaten the entire time, and there was no life in her eyes, only a defeated look of resignation. She had given up the fight. At home, I couldn't interest her in any food, and had to spoon-feed her with broth and water to keep her alive. One day, she ate a small piece of baloney. That was the turning point, and from there she recovered her appetite and her will to live.

We had one more wonderful fall, winter and spring before summer hit us again, taking its annual toll on my dog (maybe this is why I still dislike summers). A decision had to be made: was her extreme suffering in the summers too high a price for her to pay, or for us to make her pay, for her enjoyment of the winters? Were we asking too much of her? The vet recommended euthanasia. In the end, we decided to follow his advice.

It may be hard to believe today, but veterinary science was quite primitive at that time. A vet primarily did spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and occasionally trauma treatment. Euthanasia was the ultimate answer to every serious problem. I still feel resentment toward veterinary science in those days. Today, even I know that she probably had a flea allergy. The only flea treatment available was flea powder, and it wasn't very effective. There may also have been flea shampoos, but since we had never even heard of flea allergies (apparently, neither had the vets), we didn't look in that direction. Maybe they just didn't exist. In any case, My dog had some kind of allergy, or possibly mites, because she ate the same kind of kibble in the winter as in the summer. And now, nearly sixty years later, there are not many days that go by without me thinking about her, and how she was cheated out of what should have been a full and happy life-- the best life a dog could have had, with the environment and the period in which she lived. The sadness for a loved one lost never diminishes. Time does not heal all wounds.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Part 1: My First Dog (1956)

The story of my first very own dog has a happy beginning but a sad ending.

The beginning: One Saturday a few weeks before Christmas and a few weeks after my eleventh or twelfth birthday, my mom and dad returned home from their monthly trip to the  supermarket. As usual, my sister and I came down to the garage to help carry up the many bags of groceries. This time, they asked me to carry up a cardboard box from the rear seat, and as I was carrying it up the stairs a puppy popped its little head out! They had visited the local animal shelter and picked out a collie mix for me (I was a big fan of Lassie, on TV Sunday nights). It was the best Christmas present I could have gotten! I was beside myself.

Of course, I had to name her Lassie, although she was a mix and never quite grew to a collie's full size. She was about three months old, and fluffy with baby collie fur.

Lassie followed along with me everywhere. We were fortunate enough to live in a largely rural area, just a mile from the town limits, and in a largely rural state. Our house and the others that had been built later than ours on a family-owned farm were surrounded by hills, woods, creeks, and cow pastures. This was my domain, growing up. And Lassie became my constant companion in my exploration of those hills and creek bottoms where the cows' hooves had sunk so far into the mud that they left holes. She was with me when I felt around on the creek bottom for crawdads, which would shoot backward with surprising speed when groped by a boy's hand. She followed me on my newspaper route before school in the mornings, in the cold and snow of winter before daybreak and in the coolness of the in-between hour in spring when the sun has  risen but has not yet made an impression and the spring peepers are still croaking.

In this small neighborhood, there were no walls or fences delineating property lines, and leashes were unknown to the dogs. They were free to come and go as they pleased, and everyone knew where each dog lived. And in all those years, I do not believe I ever saw a dog fight.

As Lassie and I went from house to house delivering the newspapers, other dogs joined in along the way, until we had five or more dogs trooping along with us. They knew the route as well as I, and towards the end as I was working my way back home, they would drop off one by one until it was once again just Lassie and me. The only time the routine varied was when the temperature dipped to zero or below for awhile in January. Then it was mostly just the two of us. And so my memories of my first dog are intertwined with memories of  cold winter mornings when a full moon reflecting off the snow brought a brightness that was burned forever into my memory.

The problems came with summer. (To be continued in my next post.)

happy times

What do dogs know?

Shauna with her Squeaky Ball

My favorite dog books ever: The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein; Good Dog, Stay, by Anna Quindlen; and Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, by Ted Kerasote.

I like Kerasote's non-fiction book because he freely interprets what his dog Merle is thinking and would say if only he could talk; he even expresses those thoughts on behalf of Merle. And he describes the wonderful life they have lived together in a log home with a dog door (hence, Merle's door) in rural Wyoming. I like Quindlen's book for different reasons: her family's life with Beau, a black lab getting up in years, and Bea, a younger yellow lab,  is memorialized with a wonderful combination of happiness and sadness (the twins familiar to all dog owners), wonderfully interwoven with humor. (If only I could write like Quindlen!) And in Garth Stein's book a fictional story is told completely from the point of view of a dog who has come to understand that in life as in racing, it isn't about speed alone. He believes that he will be resurrected as a human, as dogs are said to be in Mongolia when they are ready, and that the wisdom he has developed from his observations of the challenges and final success of his owner's life has prepared him for that transformation.

I am not the kind of person who thinks dogs are really just little people. My dog is a dog, not a daughter. I talk to my dog, but I do not confide in her. The talk is meaningful to the dog only because it expresses my state of mind to her and lets her know how she's doing. So she knows, with only quiet talk and a look, that I know she's taking advantage and not doing as she knows she must do, or that she's doing great and I'm happy. It all registers with her.

Most people don't (or would not) believe me when I say that a dog can understand a whole lot more than you might think. I tell of a time shortly after I adopted her.  At my small manufacturing business, I always left the heavy glass door to the anteroom open and closed the accordion-like security gate, to keep Shauna in and at the same time allow a local feral cat that I had befriended and socialized to slip through to eat and drink. The first day at work after adopting Shauna, she discovered the cat's food bowl, and started to gobble it down. Yum! What dog wouldn't like cat food? High in protein, but too much for a dog. So I just spoke to her and told her "No Shauna, you cannot eat the cat's food." She looked at me, and never again took a bite of the cat's food. I could trust her even when I was out of the office for hours. But when she licked up the crumbs left on the floor by the cat, I didn't say a word. From then on, she understood that crumbs on the floor were ok, but the bowl was off-limits. I think that nobody except my wife believes me.

My wife believes me because we had a similar experience at home. Since our own cat (Pumpkin) was very afraid of Shauna (despite never having been chased or threatened by her), she (cat) slept all day in her bed in our bedroom. The first time Shauna started to enter our bedroom, we told her, "No Shauna-- you can't come in here." After that, she never had to be told again. We can trust her even when we are gone. We never close the bedroom door. At night, after we go to bed, Shauna always lies down to snooze for a few hours just outside the bedroom doorway, in plain sight of Pumpkin (who now loves to watch Shauna from her protected enclave) before moving to "her" living room chair or the sunroom. She will never do anything behind our backs that she would not do in our presence. (In the human realm, we would call this "character.") We can also trust her with a plate of chicken left for a few minutes on the coffee table while we are busy in the kitchen. She will stay at least two feet away, and never make a move to steal our food, though I'm sure she would like to. We didn't even have to tell her this. She knew that food on a table was not hers.  

But like people, every dog is unique, and the trick is to come to understand the dog. Many years ago, someone asked me how you train a dog. I was not and am not an expert, but I said that first you have to know the dog as an individual, and then adapt your training techniques to that individual. With some dogs, a look is all that is necessary for a correction. Others are more hard-headed.

How do I suppose that a dog can understand at least some of what we say? I've come to think it's like when  you have some understanding of a foreign language, without being really fluent. From the context of a situation, together with what words you can understand, a lightbulb suddenly lights up, and you know exactly what has just been said. It's a Gestalt experience, not an analysis of syntax or idiomatic phrases.

Nighttime in the sunroom

Dozing during a backpacking trip to the mountains

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Dog that Found a Home and Love Before Death

I was inspired to write this by a touching post by Ashley Owen Hill, Before You Go to Heaven, reposted by Maria Goodavage on her website. Hill tells of fostering a fatally ill dog (Annie) from a shelter for a short period, to give her a home and the love that she had never gotten before, and only after giving her as much as possible taking her for the inevitable final trip to the vet, and seeing how happy and unafraid Annie was. What a kind heart.

Reading Hill's reposted entry reminded me of an event that took place years ago, about one year after I had adopted Shauna. We were out for our evening run (Shauna running, me riding my mountain bike) in the industrial area around my biz. Shauna slowed down and alerted on something across the busy street. Ears up, looking, sniffing the breeze. I tried to see what she saw or heard or scented, but at first I could see nothing (it was a four lane street-- wide). Then I heard what sounded like a dog wailing. We crossed the street, and found a dog lying in the gutter on the other side. She was trying to get to her feet, but couldn't move her hind legs to get them under her. She sank back down, but looked very frightened and panicky. I was in a bind, because I didn't want to leave her to go get my car, but I couldn't carry her, handle Shauna's leash, and push my bike at the same time. So I attempted to flag down a car, waving my reflective orange vest and pointing to the dog. Cars slowed down, then sped up. No doubt they thought I was a lunatic. I even walked out into the center of the street; but it was useless. So I returned to the dog. I could see that her back was broken. Also, she was bleeding from the mouth and nose, probably from internal injuries. My decision was to give up trying to get her to a pet emergency hospital, and just be there with her, to calm her and at least let her know that she was not alone. I cradled her head and stroked her face and neck, and she sighed and relaxed. I talked to her (I know, I know-- dogs don't understand a word you're saying, according to some; I disagree, but more on this in a later post). I want to think that her last moments were moments of peacefulness, dulling the pain.

As an aside, I believe that dogs easily pick up on a tone of voice, and a soft and reassuring tone can calm them. A little sharper tone can remind them. They can even detect a question, with its rising tonal pattern at the end.  I'm a big believer in talking to a dog, but in a low voice meant only for his ears. No need to talk as as we do with humans; dogs hear very very well.

I think that Caesar Millan (see his book, Caesar's Way) believes that we tend to talk (verbally) to dogs excessively, and that we communicate our state of mind best through our body language and movements. I don't disagree at all with the second part of that statement. And I agree with the first as well, if he means by "talking excessively" (my words, not his), a whole lot of heaping of praise when the dog has only done what he knows he's supposed to do anyway, or a lot of excited baby talk, and so on. But talking is as much a form of behavior as our body language, and dogs can sense our state of mind when we talk to them in a low, even voice. But hey, I'm not an expert!

happy dog

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

First Day Home

adoption day--looking pretty skinny and scruffy

When I took my newly adopted dog home and introduced her to my wife, she (wife) was surprised (I hadn't told her) and delighted. Now we had to think of a name. Always a tough choice (well, sometimes a tough choice). She (dog) was clearly a Siberian mix, so that suggested a Russian name. We didn't agonize over it-- the name "Shauna,"  presented itself in my wife's mind, and though it doesn't sound Russian, she's good with names and it seemed to fit. And that was that. She was now Shauna, though she didn't know that yet.

Shauna showed her appreciation on that first day, by prying a board in the back fence loose and trotting happily away, down the drive. But we spotted her from the living room window, and recovered her before she reached the street. It was the first and last time she ever tried to take off on her own. Since then, in our present home, she has escaped from the back yard (she has a dog door leading from the kitchen to the back yard) a couple of times when we carelessly  left the rear gate unlatched; but she only went around to the front porch and waited for us to return, sometimes hours later. We're being more careful now, though. Funny, for a dog that was originally picked up by Animal Control as a stray. I think it's because she gets out for a long walk or, more often, a long run, every evening after it cools off. Maybe she doesn't feel like she has to wander off in order to check out the neighborhood and beyond.

In my humble opinion, all dogs need to get out for a walk or run every day. By nature, they are travelers, a characteristic inherited from their ancestor, the wolf. Northern Gray Wolves cover a lot of ground every day, except when they're anchored to a den-- up to forty or fifty miles. According to renowned wolf researcher David Mech (The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species), their movements mainly reflect hunting activity, although writer/naturalist Rick Bass (The Ninemile Wolves) believes that, in addition, they just like to explore, cover their territory checking for incursions from other wolves, and leaving fresh scent marks.

I've heard a lot of people say that they'd like to adopt a dog, but don't have much of a yard, especially for a larger dog. My view is that it doesn't matter much if they do have a big yard, since a dog will not exercise by herself, running laps or doing push-ups. They just find a nice spot and snooze all day. And even if you have a big place and play ball with them, it's just not a substitute for a good long walk or run. Don't get me wrong-- playtime is good. It's fun for both you and the dog (until your arm wears out before your dog does). It's just not traveling, checking out scent posts, meeting new people and dogs, getting used to everything you encounter when on the move. Dogs need both play time and travel time.

At first, Shauna saw a lot of new things when we were out: a woman walking with an umbrella, for example. When we passed the woman up, Shauna kept looking back over her shoulder, no doubt wondering whether that thing hovering over her was part of her or some other object. Or maybe just being cautious: "Hey, you never know when something like that might turn on you. Let's just keep an eye on it." After the first experience, she never again paid any attention to umbrellas. Gradually, she became used to everything: motorcycles racing past,  kids on skateboards, a truck with a flapping tarp covering stuff in the bed, people on bicycles, and so on. She experienced all these things because at that time I had a manufacturing biz, and  took her to work with me.So we went out in the evenings, in that busy industrial/commercial area of a nearby city. She even came to pay no attention at all to pedestrians, just looking straight ahead: "I've got a busy schedule and no time for small talk." Unless, of course, she became aware that someone was talking about her-- then her demeanor completely changed: wagging tail, smiles, softened facial muscles.

Daily exercise seems to be a sedative for Shauna. After returning home, she has her supper and lies down to rest. From there, it's off to sleep. She has several favorite places to sleep: in the kitchen, by the doorway leading to our bedroom (she won't enter the bedroom, because our one remaining kitty sleeps there, and she knows the cat is terrified of her-- more on this dog-cat relationship later); the dining room, by the large window; the sunroom  (which is considered her room), and her favorite, the living room chair that we  kept just for her when we replaced the matching sofa with a new sectional.
Snoozing with her toy puppy, on her chair.

Warning to anyone thinking of adopting a dog with a thick two-layer coat: buy leather living room furniture. Otherwise, your chair or sofa will look like it's made of dog hair. Shauna's chair is in fact leather, but we have to cover the cushion with a large towel or bedsheet, because when she gets down, she likes to stretch her hind legs out behind her, and her nails scratch or even cut the leather.

   Compare this recent  picture to her adoption day picture!

Monday, April 11, 2011

How I got here...

In 2003, I found a large dog running loose on a busy street (actually, he was in a supermarket parking lot on a busy street). Supermarket employees tried rounding him up because he entered the store through the self-opening doors. They took a dog lead from the store shelf and tied him in a room, then called animal control. He, however, had other ideas, and he chewed through the lead in less time than it takes to write about it and left the store, without buying anything. Store personnel tried again; same result. So I volunteered to take the guy to my office and redirect animal control there. Later, an animal control truck (air conditioned cages) pulled up, and I handed him over.

The following day, I (being in a worrier mode) went to the county shelter to check on him. He has fine, in his kennel, and waiting for his owner to claim him. At the same time, I noticed the dog in the adjacent kennel. Through the bars I could see that she was kind of grayish, and had a nice face. What impressed me was that she, unlike most of the dogs, was not jumping around in excitement or barking.  I casually read her kennel card, which had just a bit of information: she had been there for about a month, was a spayed female, and was, they reckoned, about two or three years old. Picked up as a stray. Somewhere. That was it. I left and went about my business.

Two days later, out of curiosity, I returned. She was as before, friendly, no fear of strangers, and with kind eyes (have you ever watched your dog change facial expression when she realizes that a stranger has noticed her and made a remark? Eyes soften, ears drop, entire face relaxes). I left. I had no intention in adopting a dog at that time, even though I was"dogless" (more on this later) in Tustin.

Saturday morning, I woke up and a thought flashed through my mind: if she was still there, I was going to adopt her. She was, and I did. And at my wife's suggestion, I named her "Shauna." She appeared as she is in my header photo here, a cross (or so we thought-- later on this) between a Siberian and a collie.

I had no idea how I was going to make it work, since for a couple of years I had been busy capturing feral cats from a colony across the street from my manufacturing biz, in an industrial area. I would trap them in a   humane trap, take them to a vet for shots, spaying/neutering if needed, care for any medical problems, and then releasing them where they had lived. When I found kittens, I fostered them and found homes for them. But I had kept three kittens, which were now cats. (This is irrelevant, but I had never before had a cat, and watching these feral cats emerge from hiding at night and scrounge for food tugged at my heart.) I had no idea how I was going to arrange things to add a large dog to the collection. I guess that sometimes, you just have to dive into the water without knowing how deep it is, and have faith that things will work out somehow.

And my new life began.