Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The New Guy

I'm a little superstitious. Not to the level of the baseball player who hasn't washed his red socks in four years, sticks a plastic figure in his underwear, and spits on the plate 3.5 times before he goes to bat, but when it comes to certain things I like to play by the book. The bigger the event, the quieter I get, lest I jinx it. So goes the case with the new guy...

Meet Huckleberry Huckabee Hasselhoff Hadley, but you can just call him "Huckleberry" for short.

Around mid-February this year I started to get a weird feeling. After an intense search last spring, and a handful of hopeful meetings, we'd sort of dropped the dog search. There was so much stuff going on, Xdog's budding adolescence required so much attention, and then with the holidays it just seemed way too much to handle. But then, mid-February, that feeling started creeping in... the feeling that our dog was somewhere out there.

I'd get it driving home, so I'd swing by the shelter to take a look. Nope, not there today, but maybe we should swing by the other place since we'll be biking past anyhow? Nope, not there either.

One day a friend came in to get a collar for her dog. It happened to be a day where I was having that feeling especially intensely. As a volunteer at Oakland Animal Services, she described a dog she thought would fit our needs. A few hours later, we met her at the shelter for a behind-the-scenes tour.

The dog in question was pretty cool, but he wasn't "the one." I brought Josh Radloff along since he'd never been to an animal shelter before. As we went through the rows and rows of kennels, I started to think that maybe my gut feeling was leading me the wrong way.

On the way out we were introduced to the puppy, Lucca, being fostered in the office. As Josh stopped to coo, I offered, "You know, if you guys ever need a puppy foster I'd be down." Recent dog sitting of late had reminded me how much Xdog really needed another dog around, and puppies are adopted quickly making my total commitment a fairly minimal. I promised to check in a few weeks later after the dog-sitting gigs had ended.

Fast forward to March 3 and I was back at OAS ready to take on a foster pup. The compassion hold I'd agreed to take was put down prematurely (she was suffering too much) so I was anxious to fill the slot I'd mentally prepared for. As usual, there were several pit bull puppies available for foster. As we walked past Lucca, still being fostered in the office, I mentioned, "You know, I could take him if you wanted."

One by one the "several" choices dwindled down. Those puppies were still in a legal battle and their custody was in limbo. Those two puppies were way too young and possibly quite sick. The choice was finally narrowed down to Lucca and two very young female siblings. I told them I'd take whoever they needed me to take more.

At the suggestion of my friend, I took the nearly 4 month old Lucca to the classroom in order to suss him out a bit while the shelter director decided which dog(s) I should take home. As I watched him in this new environment, I could tell he had issues. They were subtle, but they were there. The way he was more interested in his surroundings than me. The way he froze as I reached for the rawhide in his mouth. The way he was conditioned to solicit attention at the gate, only to move away once the person wanted to interact with him.

Word came back: They wanted me to take Lucca.


My heart sunk even more as I watched him interact with other dogs. His body language was horrible. Poor Bob the Dog looked for petrified as the little puppy hackled, growled, and jumped on him. Xdog knew how to handle it and just completely ignored him until he was good, then choose to play with him. They totally hit it off, but then he reverted into possessive-mode as his foster mom came into the room, snarling and guarding when any dog came close to her.

But I kept in mind the moment I'd had with him just minutes before: it was just the two of us and the beloved rawhide he so desperately wanted to own. Within seconds, I had him reliably giving it to me based solely on the prospect of his getting it back. We had a moment of being right there, together, and he gave me his all.

After a minor wrestling incident I like to call "Introduction to a crate," we got home and the tables turned. I slipped a lead over his head and affixed the other end to my belt before his feet even hit the floor. One impressive back-flip later and he realized he was stuck with me, like it or not.

Several weeks went by and the hard little puppy I picked up from the shelter started to become a different dog. The unhandle-able wonder got used to having his teeth checked daily and his feet inspected every time he came through the door. The serious beast became a tumbling, goofy clown, learning to roll down hills for laughs and stunt trip himself to earn the appreciation of playmates. He managed to take his incredible ability to focus on his handler and generalize it to strangers, and his extremely poor dog-dog body language loosened up a bit and he made real friends.

There have been setbacks. As with any living being, it's not always a straight path to perfection, but his little compass is pointed that direction so we've decided to give him a chance (and a new name).

Today we officially adopted him, flaws and all.

Welcome to the family, Huckleberry.