Coming up with a working relationship

PETS AT HOME

April 04, 1992|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

In the past year, a dozen dogs -- almost all strays, of all sizes and shapes, both purebred and mixed -- have passed through my front door. Each stayed a couple of weeks, was spayed or neutered, vaccinated, tested for parasites and finally placed into a loving home, a shiny ID tag on each new collar.

Add one cat to the list and you've got a baker's dozen of former no-hopers now living happily with families who care about them. For me, that's a pretty typical year.

But of all those dogs and the occasional cat who've moved in for a time, I've never been tempted to keep one.

I adored them all and missed them plenty when they went to their new homes, but I was secretly relieved to return to my quiet life in a two-dog household, with permanent pets Toni and Andy, predictable, well-trained and middle-aged.

But since the day I fell in love with a pound puppy, nothing has been quite the same in my house.

I named him Bobby. He came to me as a foster dog, pulled out of a shelter by a volunteer as time was running out. I had agreed to hold him until another foster home could be lined up, but within a couple of days I knew Bobby wouldn't be leaving.

There were a few problems.

Like house-training, a totally new concept to Bobby, even though the vet agreed with my guess the dog was about a year old. I crated him by day, leashed him to me by night and praised him like crazy for going where he ought to. There were a cou

ple of setbacks, but within a week the problem was pretty much solved.

Next problem? Chewing. The librarians at my branch know of my love for animals and got a good laugh out of the thoroughly chewed book I brought in to pay off. One $30 library book, two magazines, an old purse and a sock. Bobby and I had a few discussions about this, but I bought him some chew toys and there hasn't been a repeat incident.

Formal obedience was a mystery to Bobby, who didn't even know "sit" when he walked into my house. Within a week he was pretty reliable at "sit," "down," "stay" and "shake hands" The others we're working on, 15 minutes at a time, twice a day. He learns quickly and wants to please, a trainer's dream dog.

I used the obedience work to fix the fighting. Andy and Toni are usually quite gracious with guests of all kinds, but the day I put a new city license on Bobby, he wore out his welcome with Andy. Maybe Andy figured out Bobby was staying and realized his privileged status as Younger Dog was being usurped. Maybe Bobby looked at him funny, or touched one of Andy's green latex squeaky frogs. Who knows? The result was fur-pulling melee, followed by hours of dirty looks.

The boys have been doing 30-minute down-stays side-by-side every night, to help them understand that I make the rules in the house. No more fur-pulling, and dirty looks have diminished.

And finally, there was Bobby's health. Although Bobby came through his neutering and vaccinations without incident, he did test positive for heartworms. The vet says he's young and strong enough that the treatment won't be a problem. This is a good reminder for anyone who has ever grumbled that vets overstate the prevalence of heartworm to make a little extra money on tests and preventive medications. They don't.

And what do I get for all the time and trouble? What made this dog so special? Bobby is beautiful and playful, sweet-natured, smart and outgoing. That's a lot, but there have been others that scored just as high in all those categories. I think he cinched it with the way he behaves when I'm writing at home.

The first time I turned on the computer he stopped what he was doing -- noisily worrying a squeaky toy, probably Andy's -- and curled up at my feet with the others. After a while he sat up and quietly put his head and one paw on my knee, sighed and closed his eyes. Although it would be another day before I would figure it out, Bobby was home and he knew it.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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