By Judy Kaplan
Atlanta is a city of dog lovers, and my East Atlanta neighborhood it is no different. So I thought that some, or, many of my neighbors may be able to relate to or even benefit from the experiences my family has had over the past year: the loss of one family pet and the adoption of another. With this adoption, we found we needed a little help.
In August 2010, our beloved greyhound Tony lost his painful battle with old age, and we began to worry about Holly, his soul mate. She had been terrorized on the Phoenix track into a racer of great promise, but she also had become phobic, especially of people. The day we adopted her, she had bonded with Tony immediately, and that sweet soul allowed Holly skin-to-skin contact with him for the first three weeks she spent in our home. Then he peed a line in front of his bed to tell her to give him space. She may never stop grieving his loss.
Holly was an only dog for months, but Bill and I missed having a fourth member of our pack. We thought of all the lost, abandoned dogs at the rescue facilities. Bill found Harry’s picture on the website of Atlanta Pet Rescue & Adoption, and we were sure he’d be just the friend Holly needed. Harry met Holly; they went through the sniff test well, and we took home a twenty-one pound ball of Sheltie/Corgi.
Harry was perfect in every way, for two weeks. Then he decided we weren’t giving him back, and his alter-ego appeared. A little, furry Napoleon turned our worlds upside down. He barked Holly off of our bed (hers by day), and the couches both in the front of the house and the family room. He ate her food and snapped at her whenever she made a slight objection. Holly, always polite, put up with it for five weeks, and then got seriously canine vicious. She growled, bared her teeth and snapped. She shocked Harry into submission. He backed off but not for long. The family feud continued and Holly was adamant. She would not come out of the bedroom except to greet me when I came home, and she kept Harry out of there all day. She lay at the entrance, and she lunged at him if he got near. I hoped love would calm him down when he got used to us, when he had seen our friends and family a couple of times, but there was to be no peace. His major fusses over birds, squirrels, other dogs, and any form of human life continued, non-stop.
It got worse weekly, and four months after adopting him, I was on the phone with Atlanta Pet Rescue to arrange his return, giving them specifics on what hadn’t worked. The APR worker, Andrea, had been there at Harry’s adoption. She took it all in and assured me that the APR trainer would work with him before he was re-homed. She said all the behaviors sounded like they could be changed or modified. No guilt trip.
Then I heard myself saying, “Before I give up on him – I love the little guy in my own way – do you know a trainer who won’t cost my retirement savings? Our only quote has been $650.”
“Yes,” she said. “I know a trainer I think you’ll really like.” With Harry still on probation, I called Mara Whitacre, former head trainer at APR and a private dog trainer. I felt immediately that she knew dogs. I liked her, and she did not encourage me to keep Harry. She understood that Harry wasn’t fitting in. She wasn’t looking for business. I had to ask for an appointment. Before I hung up, we settled on that Friday.
Harry didn’t run to the front door and bark at Mara. Had he undergone a transformation when he heard us talk about bringing him back? Not to worry, twenty seconds later, Harry came on barking and growling and jumping around.
“I don’t like this,” said Mara. “Does he do this with everyone who comes?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I have to ask you, ‘Has he ever bitten anyone?’”
“No, he’s never bitten a dog or a person. He nips though when he’s frustrated,” I said.
“Okay, he’s part Sheltie, and that’s what they do to get attention and control.”
And then she started her magic. Before Mara left, Harry was in a sit-stay, and Holly was not only out of the bedroom but also on the front couch.
We’ve been working with Harry for five days. The strides Harry’s made are great. Tonight, he saw my grandson, six and sweet, looked at him and started growling and barking. Even putting him in a sit position didn’t stop his low growl.
I don’t know. I’ve been told Harry’s scared. Well, now my grandson is scared. Maybe it will look better in the morning, and I’ll call Mara. We’ll let you know how it turns out. It won’t be long until Harry either gets sanctioned as one of the family or gets help to find another home.
Update next month.
The Canine Quandary
By Judy Kaplan