Picture a tiny room in Colorado. Plastic furniture is being violently knocked down by a 50lb. dog who is compulsively leaping into the air to slam himself against a window over and over. There’s maniacal barking, there’s matted fur, there’s fleas. Now imagine that this – and the 20 hours it took you to drive there – was all your idea. Add that to the cost of the rental car, the trauma of a speeding ticket and the dashed hopes that this would be a puppy-love-at-first-sight situation and I bet you wouldn’t have made eye contact with your spouse either.
That was Andy and I a little over two years ago. And yes, it was me who’s fault it was. I blame this picture:
For years Andy and I had been footloose and fancy free apartment dwellers – no mortgage, no kids and no pets to hold us down. But then in the summer of 2010 we bought our dream condo in downtown Portland and that itch to get a four-legged friend just needed to be scratched. So the research began.
Here’s what I knew:
- I wanted a shelter dog. No way would I be part of the problem of encouraging backyard breeders or supporting puppy mills by buying from a pet store.
- I wanted a medium sized dog. Just call me Goldilocks; not too big and not too small please.
- I didn’t want a puppy. No thanks to chewed up furniture and shoes and a double no thanks to house-training.
- I wanted cute.
I like fluffy dogs.I like a ridiculously fluffy dogs; dogs who look like they stepped out of a freakin’ cartoon.
- I wanted the genetic jackpot. Yeah, yeah… the age-old nature vs. nurture debate and that there are no bad breeds just bad owners. So shoot me for wanting a leg up getting a dog prone to friendliness, kid-lovingness and not prone to barking, shedding or mauling.
Here’s what I learned:
- Petfinder.com is a godsend. Searchable database combined with plenty of participation from shelters nationwide equals lots of good stuff.
- Quizzes are for the birds (or the unlucky in love adolescents). Quizzes that promise to reveal the best breed for you offer just about as much insight as those quizzes I used to take in middle school that promised insight into my crush.
- Breed-specific rescues have impossible standards. No fenced yard = no dog. No prior experience with that breed = no dog. Plans to have small children in the next century = no dog. Plans to ever leave your dog alone in the house = no dog. I know these places are doing lots of good by not just handing dogs over to anyone, but for a first-time dog seeker, it was beyond frustrating.
But most importantly I learned, after all my research, that…
- Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers are the bomb. Low shedding, low barking, super friendly, super cute, 35-45 lb medium dogs, good company, good for condos and good for kids. Why this breed isn’t more popular is beyond me.
So I scoured Petfinder.com in search of a young (but not puppy) Wheaten Terrier or Wheaten Terrier mix near Portland. After a few weeks of no luck I expanded my search parameter. After all, what’s a quick trip to Seattle or Sacramento in the grand scheme of getting a good dog? We could always sleep in the car, right? Still though, no dice.
Finally, after I’d expanded my search to include practically everything this side of the Mississippi, the dog gods smiled down on us. He was in Denver. I called anyway. They said I was crazy. I insisted on speaking with a manager. They said they could hold him through the weekend. I said we’d be there.
Then I called my husband… who, coincidentally also said I was crazy. But, the crazy things you do for love are endless and he okay’d the whole hair-brained scheme. He came home to a rental car stocked full of enough energy drinks to kill a horse and very excited and caffeinated wife. We set out on the open road as we headed east toward the wild west.
Fast forward a few hundred miles and we got to the shelter. Dallas (soon to be named Chaos) was within our reach. We couldn’t wait to call him a member of our family… until we met him. He was, hands down, the most completely bat-shit crazy animal I’d ever laid eyes on.
He couldn’t focus, never said hello to us, never stopped crashing into that window or knocking over furniture or barking until, with no other options, Andy had to physically tackle him and hold him down while I went back to the front desk to get help. I was feeling a bit heartbroken, a lot guilty and massively disappointed. We’d come so far, too far, to return dogless – but this dog jut couldn’t be the one… until he was.
The staff wrangled a leash on him, and with the full force of three of us, we managed to get him past the kennels of barking dogs to a small, fenced doggie-coral outside. While he frantically flew around the space for a full ten minutes we learned he had been in quarantine for six days per their policy for dogs found on the streets – I suppose that’s enough to make anyone a bit stir crazy.
Then it happened – he noticed us. With his tongue drooping about a mile out of his cute, smiling face he came over doing the full-body-wag and met us. After a few minute of petting and playing I was finally was able to look Andy in the eye again… albeit for short glances. Still, our fate wasn’t sealed yet. Sensing our hesitance, the volunteer offered to let us take him on a walk around the parking lot and test out how he’d like the car. This time, Chaos showed us that he was clearly leash-trained. He was joyful, friendly to a fault and after bounding into the car, he promptly took a seat in the back and looked at us expectantly. It was love at
first second sight.
Here we are in the car that first afternoon:
Let me tell you, there’s nothing like getting to know your new dog on a 20-hour car trip. For instance, we learned our dog is a hoarder. Just off I-80 in Laramie, WY “the incident with the keys” happened. Depending on who you ask, one of us lost the car key at a park where we’d stopped for lunch. Truth be told, it was all Andy’s fault – he may try to convince you otherwise, but it’s my blog so it’s my story. It took so long to find them that by the time we got back on the road, it was nearly time for dinner. Oh, and the alarm was going off the whole damn time because, as it turns out, if you don’t have the key it is pretty impossible to convince a car that you’re not trying to steal it. So car alarm wailing and dog howling, we searched every inch of the park and tore the whole car apart – and what did we find? We found every last treat we’d given Chaos. The poor guy had been hoarding his treats under blankets, between seats and in our overnight bags.
This is the scene of “the incident with the keys”. I realize now this park is called Optimist Park but I feel like a better name would be, WHERE THE HELL DID YOU PUT THE DAMN KEYS Park.
Once we got him home it wasn’t all rainbows and puppy dog tails – he still had to go to obedience school and work on his socialization. We also discovered that while wheaten terriers aren’t known for barking – whatever he’s mixed with apparently is very prone to loving the sound of his or her own dumb voice. But he is lovable, friendly, plays well with other dogs, loves kids, is housebroken (except for one slip up early on), doesn’t chew on things (except for one slip up with my sister’s shoe early on), doesn’t shed and expertly learned tons of tricks – I taught him military commands and Andy likes to joke that Chaos learned them faster than Andy did when he was in the Marines. All in all, ours is indeed a very happy tail/tale.
Here are his tricks… also the weird way he eats his food.
This week we’re celebrating Chaos’ third birthday. I know this is a travel blog and not a dog blog but I figure I can get away with one post about him because after all, we did drive a total of 2600 miles to get him… also he helped me with this post. He’s mostly a homebody now – that first trip was more than enough driving for him. By the time we hit Portland traffic he was sitting in the very far, back corner of the car just staring out the window, clearly questioning what he’d gotten himself into – feeling as though he’d traded life in a cramped kennel for life in a cramped car.
After a little over two years with him, I’ve never seen behavior that came close to the chaos he created on that first day – but he is still a bit crazy. Just last week I heard strange noises from upstairs and upon investigating, found him frantically throwing the pillows on our bed around trying to bury a treat I’d given him that morning. I guess you can take the dog out of the crazy shelter but you can’t take the shelter crazy out of the dog… at least not one named Chaos.