The night we bring him home, he huddles against us like a scared rabbit. We take him to a fenced area in the back yard and put him down. He hops a few steps, still rabbit-like, then hugs the ground. No interest in exploring. No interest in us. I begin to worry that we have a pup too fearful to grow into a confident dog. I will later see later how wildly wrong I am about this.
We outfit one of the cat carriers with blankets and give that to him as his crate. He likes his crate from the start, goes right in and curls up at the back. At least he likes it while we’re in the room. At bedtime, we discover he cries when left alone, but fortunately only for a couple of minutes. Both Tom and I are too light of sleepers to have a dog in our bedroom and we don’t want him so dependent he can’t handle being alone. That will turn out to be another groundless fear, but we don’t know it at the time.
When he begins to cry at 2 am, my first thought, as I prepare to take him outside, is, “I’m too old for this.” It’s a thought that repeats itself many times over the next few weeks, especially when I have to walk him at 5 am, in 18 degree weather with a howling wind that sends the wind chill temps into single digits. On the plus side, he hasn’t soiled his crate.
The next morning he still doesn’t seem to like us much. Have we brought home the only unfriendly puppy in the universe? We introduce him to Tiyo and our two outdoor cats. I write, “Tiyo likes him in a nervous sort of way. The cats are wary and give us looks that could be interpreted as “Now why the heck did you bring HIM home?” Later I add that “Tiyo, bless his soul, was cute and good natured with the pup.” This will turn out to be another spectacularly erroneous assessment.
I email Nancy about Shadow’s lack of affection. She reassures us that it is a labradoodle trait to be reserved, to stand back and observe a situation before committing to an action. (We later learn this is a poodle trait.)
And, maybe she’s right because by the end of that day, all his reticence vanishes. Suddenly, he likes us! He really, really likes us. He follows us around like, well, like a dog. He cries if we leave the room even for a minute when he’s in his crate. All is right with the world.
Still, I try to maintain my own reticence. “He is cute and quite smart but we’re not naming until he passes his physical at the vet’s tomorrow,” I write on a listserv.
I’m fully aware (even if I don’t seem to act on that knowledge) of the possibility that he’s at risk for a host of genetic problems such as hip dysplasia or skin allergies. I have a particular fear of the latter, having watched two friends who had dogs basically incapacitated by severe allergies. The first had to have her much-loved German shepherd put down when he was only three. His allergies put him in constant agony, despite expensive meds to try to control the problem, and he became aggressive. Another friend spent years nursing her Akita through doses of prednisone and antibiotics for his skin allergies, sometimes getting up in the middle of the night to give him his meds. Both of these dogs were registered and from reputable breeders. (These serve as reminders that even with good breeders, there’s no ironclad guarantee that a pup will be healthy.) It’s not a stretch to think that Nancy, whose control over her breeding program seems sketchy to non-existent might have diseased dogs. I know I’m playing the lottery, gene-wise.
In fact, I’d asked Nancy when I first called her, before we went over to see the puppies, if she did genetic testing. “All our dogs are healthy,” she replied. “Go ask Liz. She’s treated them all and knows their medical history. Tell her she has my permission to talk to you about them.”
So I had dropped by Liz’s office hoping to talk to her the day before my appointment with Nancy. No luck. Liz was out dosing some cattle for a local farmer. But Linda, her receptionist, trying to be helpful, thumbed through the files of Nancy’s breeding dogs and found no evidence of hip dysplasia, skin allergies, or any other serious problem.
Liz (a pseudonym) is the country vet that everyone in our area uses. Her office is an old two-story farm house remodeled to have a waiting room in the front. It has a rich ambience with its creaking wood floors, wall paper, and old fashioned windows. A not-so-pleasant pungent odor also contributes to the ambience. (“It reeks,” Tom says, crinkling his nose the first time we walked in.) Several cats and a French bulldog roam freely through the house. It was here, on a bulletin board, that I first saw the photo of the wacky-haired labradoodle from Nancy’s kennel that started this whole quest.
I’d hoped to whisk him to the vet’s the morning after we brought him home, but the only opening is for the following day. We arrive bright and early, prepared to hear the same glowing report about his bloodlines as we’d had from the receptionist.
But Liz insists that, permission or not, professional ethics and state law prohibit her from telling us anything about other people’s pets.
“Really?” I say, not able to hide my dismay. “Because I came in the other day and Linda said there wasn’t anything bad in the records Otherwise we wouldn’t have brought him home.”
Liz sighs. “Linda shouldn’t have told you anything.” Then, making a decision, she says, “I can’t go into specifics, but there is some hip dysplasia in his lines, and some skin allergies.”
Great. Now you tell me.
The pup himself, Liz tells us, looks fine except he’s a little underweight, has fleas and worms, and is older than Nancy told us. Liz guesses he is around eleven weeks old.
Liz straightens up. “So, do you want to go ahead with his shots?”
Can we really return him? If we could have had the information about possible genetic issues before he started to like us—really, really like us—maybe we could have managed it. We definitely didn’t want a shut-down, fearful dog. But now that he’s over that, he seems like a normal, exuberant, and extremely smart pup. He crouches on the stainless steel table, radiating beams of puppy cuteness that penetrate our hearts.
Tom and I exchange a glance, and then he shrugs. “Let’s do it.”
“Okay,” I say.
And just like that, we’re all in.
(to be continued. . .) SIGN UP TO BE NOTIFIED WHEN NEW CHAPTERS ARE POSTED
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