Life With A Shelter Dog: Love, Laughter, And Cat-Poop-Kisses From My Best Friend
Hi everyone, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. His name is Augustus. We adopted Augustus from the Wake County Animal Shelter about 5 months ago, where his name originally was “Freddy”.
He is a mix of Black Lab and whatever else you might infer from looking at the previous picture, because the shelter had no idea what else he could be and everyone that has met him says something different.
People usually suggest Pit Bull or Rottweiler. I’m going to go with him being 1/3 Black Lab, 1/3 Awesome, and 1/3 complete psycho. I have three cats adopted from various shelters and the SPCA, but I’ve never adopted a dog from a shelter before.
I quickly found that it’s an entirely different experience. I’d also like to preface this entire article with the fact that I am, by no means, an animal expert or adoption expert. However, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned and observed, along with some tips for those of you who want to rescue a shelter dog.
Tip #1: Know what you want to adopt
Get an idea of the demeanor of the animal you’re looking for. The SPCA has people trained to help you, and your local animal shelter should give you some time with the animal to get an idea of their personality. Don’t rush your decision; get something that matches your ideal friend. The cutest pet could wreck your house, or not get along with your children or other pets.
Always consult your potential pet’s file to research their details. Remember, this is a serious commitment.
You’ll have to be compatible with each other, know the risks, and be able to deal with and adapt to them. Coupled with the fact that some shelters require an interview with you, and you can be turned down for adoption.
His file at the shelter had his age at approximately 3 years, 3 months (although almost everyone thinks he’s still a puppy), and that he was found as a stray. Does this mean that his previous family abandoned him? Perhaps. Does this mean that he was a stray for the entire three years? Possible, but judging from his demeanor, it’s doubtful. Although, he does have scars spread sporadically across his body that no one can explain. None of them are huge, but definitely noticeable. These provide some evidence that at some point he was most likely a stray that had to defend himself.
While a history of your adopted pet may be available, don’t go in expecting to get a full biography. Some shelters can have detailed histories of the animal, and how they got there, but not every animal will have these reports. If a history is available, use it to your advantage. Study it thoroughly, as it will be your most valuable resource in the adoption process. It will give you invaluable insight into life with your new pet. Either way, observe the animal and spend time with them. Don’t adopt an animal just because you think they’re the cutest. Previously, when searching for a cat to adopt, I became enamored with a beautiful Persian cat. Upon reading her file, I discovered she had a disorder referred to as “Mega colon”. From how the adoption specialist described it, it’s as bad as it sounds.
While there are many people that could handle an animal with a disorder like this (and I thank and respect these people greatly), I simply could not provide for this cat the treatment it required.
Try to find the best match for your personality, living arrangements, and what you want out of the animal. Always remember; this is a living being, fully capable of love and emotion. You’re adding a member to your family. And just like any member of any family, it has needs.
Tip #2: Training (a.k.a. Best of Luck to You)
I don’t have much advice to offer for this tip, as:
- As previously stated, I’m no expert.
- Every dog is completely different.
- I’m still learning with my own. Slowly. And poorly.
So I’ll keep this section short.
I highly suggest giving credit where credit is due. There is positive reinforcement, and there is negative reinforcement. Obviously, give disapproval for bad actions. Scolding and angry looks are usually enough. Dogs pick up on human reaction much more than you may realize. Never hit your dog, it will only make them lose trust in you and fear you.
In my experience, the best way to condition your dog to learn and repeat good behavior is to exaggerate praise for it.
If they poop or pee in the house, take them outside immediately. When they do poop or pee outside, FLIP OUT. Pet them, hug them, tell them they’re a good boy/girl, and give them treats. Make them feel like they’ve won the Pulitzer Prize for defecation. Keeping your dog in a crate when you aren’t home is an option as well. In fact, it’s a practice we still exorcise for Augustus. It isn’t something we plan on doing forever. We hope to train him to function with us away from home without destroying the house one day. It’s something we’re working on.
Dogs are a product of their training. Patience is a huge virtue. Love it and it will love you. Most of this I learned from volunteering at various animal shelters. It isn’t much advice, and some may disagree, but it’s worked for me.
Tip #3: Be Ready for Anything, and Keep Your Eyes Open
This is the area where I can provide the most information. Buckle up, things are about to get interesting.
I’d like to start by saying that the photography for this article wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be. Like most animals, every picture became a rousing game of “stare at the camera until the precise moment the shutter opens, then walk away and/or make a goofy face”. How animals have the PERFECT sense of timing to pull this off every time is something the most gifted scientists could never explain.
But I digress.
Everyone has had a weird friend that did something strange or embarrassing every once in a while. Perhaps you’ve had a friend drink too much at a party and get naked, or a relative that suddenly blurted out something racist at a family reunion. Having Augustus as part of the family is something like that–just imagine your friend pooping on the floor at said party, or instead of a bigoted relative, they violently tackle something 1/8th their size because they thought it wanted to play.
Upon bring Augustus home, after a nice, long bath, we gave him a big meal to welcome him home. We wanted to make him feel comfortable. Since he was fresh out of the joint, he scarfed it down like it was water on Dune, and promptly vomited it up on the carpet (along with other assorted objects we were 99% sure we hadn’t fed him).
Later that night, we took him to a friend’s house so they could meet the new addition to the family, as well as meet their French bulldog, in hopes they’d become fast friends. The good news was that they immediately became buddies and sprinted joyously around the living room couch together. The bad news is he made it no more than two revolutions around said couch before popping a squat and pooping on the floor. In addition, I awoke the next morning to the sound of a thick torrent of urine defiling my bedroom carpet (and no, it wasn’t me or my girlfriend).
It took approximately two months for him to finally realize that poop and pee are for outside only. But it was a huge relief and accomplishment.
When you see a cat, you may think, “My, what an interesting little creature. Perhaps I could pet it, although I should approach it cautiously, as I wouldn’t want to startle it.” Augustus’s first thought seems to be (and read this as quickly as you can for the full effect):
And yet he’s still confused when the cat latches onto his face like a facehugger from the Alien movies. Note: The facehuggers from the Alien movies are significantly less evil than the average cat.
He also eats anything and everything. Like most dogs, he has an obsession with cat poop. He’s constantly sneaking upstairs to eat cat poop.
I put a small desk in the threshold of the room with the litter box to inhibit his poo eating fixation, but he eventually began climbing over it. I then strategically placed a chair in front of the stairs to prevent him from getting to the second floor to indulge in his cat poop preoccupation, but that lasted about two weeks. I still don’t know how he got past it, as the chair never seemed to move. I was impressed how he put more effort into overcoming obstacles to devour feces than he did to learn tricks.
Later, we got tickets for the ACC championship football game, which we were very excited about. We had to bring him with us, as we had no one to watch him. We had to leave him in the car when we exchanged our vouchers for actual tickets. We thought this would be quick and easy, but in reality had to wait in line for a while. We knew no good would come of this. By the time we reached the car he had rended a can of red bull to shards of shrapnel, as well as a few CD’s, a pair of sunglasses, and destroyed the display of a digital camera. I was naturally quite worried for his health and kept an eye on him, but apparently being a stray foraging for food in his past had gifted him a stomach of steel, and he carried on unscathed.
Incidentally, several times throughout writing this, I’ve had to take breaks to pull things out of his mouth. Most times he leaves our sight, he returns with something in his mouth. Sometimes it’s a toy, sometimes it’s a random object. In fact, when fellow Candid Slice writer Jack Campbell came over to discuss writing and the web site, he ate the chips and dip the instant we weren’t looking. It’s like living with a cartoon character.
While his blank stares may lack in intelligent thought, they excel in affection. All of his brainpower was put into his heart, and while you want to train your new friend, love and patience are most important. He sees me as his friend, and this feeling is reciprocated. What you think you’re getting and what you’re ready for are two very different things. You never know exactly what to expect. But we wanted a friend and a new addition the family, and that’s definitely what we got.
We’ve been through a lot with him, and we’re still learning. But I’m confident that I’m learning as much from him as he is from me. Introducing something new in your life is one of the most difficult things you can do. But no matter what, it helps you grow. Regardless, he’s a member of our family now, and if he weren’t busy eating cat poop or peeing on the floor, he’d write the same about me.