Adopting a dog from a shelter can be tricky. It’s why I likened it on social media to the famous Forrest Gump quote, “Life is like a box of chocolates….” You never really get the full history of the dog. If you’re lucky, your new pup comes without much baggage. Oftentimes, because they’ve either been surviving on the street or coming from a less than ideal home life, there are challenges to overcome. To me, part of the beauty of adopting a shelter dog is helping teach them the tools to be successful and happy in your home and your life. And, just as powerful are the things they end up teaching us about ourselves and, in our case, Sophie. Adopting a brother for Sophie has put us on this journey, one that is reinforcing my belief in things always being perfect the way they are in the moment, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. So, when we last left little Jasper, our new adoptee from the Manhattan Animal Care and Control, my husband and I were riding with him in a taxi from East Harlem to his new home. As I’d mentioned in the last story, we began to suspect some of the things we were told about him to be false almost right away. We also learned other things about Jasper that would require us to view acclimating him in a very different way. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, Jasper had to meet Sophie.
When we arrived at our apartment, Jasper was a bit dazed from the after effects of the anesthesia used to neuter him that morning. We’d decided to introduce Sophie and Jasper outside of our building, so no territorial issues would arise. I ran upstairs, got Sophie and brought her down, excited for how this was going to go. It was a bit anticlimactic, I have to say. Sophie gave Jasper a couple of sniffs, he did the same and off we went on a walk. We didn’t want to keep Jasper out too long, because he was supposed to be resting. But, even fresh from an operation, he was full of energy. I remember my husband and I commenting on how young he seemed. The walk went well; he was a puller; Sophie’s a put the brakes on kinda girl. So, besides that inconvenience, until we could train Jasper to slow down, all was good.
The first night Jasper made a poop in the apartment, thankfully on the wooden floors and not the area rug, and lifted his leg a couple of times, despite being walked a couple of hours before. Hmmm…we scratched our heads again. This dog was not acting like a 4 year old. But, maybe he was off balance by the newness of his surroundings. He warmed up pretty quickly and gave us kisses. He had such a hopeful look on his little face, our hearts melted. Despite needing rest, it was almost impossible to stop him from playing with Sophie, and he was a rambunctious one! He’d pounce on her, roll her over, they’d tussle and, when she’d had enough, she’d snarl, baring her teeth, and he’d back off. Who knew our typically submissive girl was so fierce, such an alpha dog! It was a revelation for us, and just how complex Sophie’s character was would become more and more evident as the days went on. We tried him behind a baby gate for meals so he wouldn’t steal Sophie’s food, but he got frantic and, no matter how high we raised that thing, he’d jump over it. Confinement was not going to work for him. Oh, great…
Maybe this boy had been locked up for long hours in his previous home?
That night, we all piled into bed. Jasper, possibly a bit cautious, decided to sleep on a mat next to my side, but that would change on night two, when snuggling up with us in our bed became the place he wanted to be.
Our first full day with Jasper was a Sunday. He’d woken up full of beans, raring to go. He’d done his pee outside early (like 5am!), and because it seemed like he couldn’t hold himself for very long, we took him out again a couple of hours later. It was a beautiful day, and we went for a long walk. We’d learned from his paperwork that Jasper wasn’t good with strangers or children, so we were very attentive to how he reacted on the street. He seemed anxious but, unlike Sophie when she’s feeling that way, Jasper doesn’t jump at noises or lag behind. He forges ahead, almost looking for an altercation. And, there were a few. He’d bark and lunge randomly at people. More often than not, it seemed to be men and definitely children or baby strollers. We were very vigilant and kept him close, asking him to sit, ad infinitum, saying “Look at me” until we were blue in the face, and treating him each time he complied. I don’t know how he and Sophie haven’t gotten sick from all of the treats they’ve been eating recently.
We did manage to take the dogs out to lunch with us at a cafe. We brought bully sticks to occupy them, plenty of water and a blanket. Outside of Jasper behaving like a total boy, trying to push Sophie off of the blanket and stealing her bully stick, things went pretty well. I think my husband was already starting to fall in love with the little guy; he was so sweet with us. But, what started as a feeling about Jasper’s age was fast becoming a conviction. There was no way this dog was four. We wouldn’t be surprised if he was a year or 18 months.
The next day, the vet confirmed it. After inspecting his teeth, she declared him in the vicinity of 10-12 months! So, that three to five year old dog, near Sophie’s age, we’d wanted? We didn’t have that dog. What we had was a floppy, wild, not house broken all-boy puppy, with the attention span of a gnat! No one had taught this dog anything. Our work was cut out for us.
By Monday night, he hadn’t had an accident in the house since the day before. I started devoting daily training sessions, tailored short for puppy brain, reinforcing sit, teaching down, stay, more “look at me” and how to properly walk on a leash. It was apparent he was very bright and a quick study. But, the fear aggression issues? They were proving to be much more challenging.
Getting Jasper through our apartment building lobby and out onto the street is tough. He seems to have a phobia of the lobby and usually finds something to howl his head off at, usually some sweet, unsuspecting children, who cower in horror. It’s awful. The doormen have started to subtly avoid him. And, sweet Sophie would just trot behind, minding her business, probably thinking what in the world was Jasper so freaked out about!
Through it all, poor Jasper developed kennel cough from being at the ACC. Thank goodness, as a precautionary measure, I’d had Sophie get a Bordetella vaccine the day before we picked him up, because kennel cough is very contagious. We have him on azithromycin, an antibiotic for this given us by our vet, but it hasn’t started working yet. And, the awful cough is now accompanied by a runny nose. Jas has a cold. So, I’m taking him back to the vet today, to just make sure he’s ok and to try, again, to get his blood work done. He was fiercely adamant last visit against doing this, and we didn’t want him to get hurt struggling. They may have to mildly sedate him to get it done.
Yesterday, was probably the biggest milestone accomplishment for Jasper. For Father’s Day, we took the pups to my cousin’s in the country. She has a big yard and a pool, and about 20 of my relatives were there. My husband thought Jasper would handle it well, but I was really nervous. My nephew would be bringing his two girls, aged nine and seven, and the last thing I wanted was to frighten them and have my relatives looking at us as irresponsible pet parents.
When we arrived, my husband waited outside the backyard with Jasper while I went inside with a big bag of treats and told those already there about the situation. “Don’t pet him,” I said. “Just give him treats and talk nicely to him.” When my husband brought Jasper in, he looked around but remained quiet. One by one, my relatives came up to him and treated him. Some, who were real dog people, talked to him softly. He was an absolute star. We had one incident where, after a little while, another group of relatives arrived en masse, startling him. That set off a barking episode that would erupt a few times that afternoon. But, by the end of the day, Jasper was off lead running around in the grass with Sophie and taking naps out on the patio amidst all of the guests. What a huge accomplishment for this frightened little boy! We were so proud of him! It reconfirmed for us that Jasper can be rehabilitated. It will just take time.
Despite the many challenges we’re facing integrating Jasper into our lives, we are experiencing a lot of joy with him, too. In just one week, he’s become quite attached to Sophie. He just went over to her bed as I’m writing this, got on top of her and laid his head down on her chest. So sweet! But, it will take a village. Jasper will have a team. We’ve reached out to an animal behaviorist, a trainer and a play gym. We have the tools to teach him basic training, but we need help with his fear aggression issues. And, having the opportunity to rough and tumble with other young, small dogs for a couple of hours at a gym each day will,hopefully, make him less aggressive with Sophie. She’s handling it and seems, most of the time, to enjoy it. But, Sophie is four. And, now that we know he’s just a baby at 10 months, he needs a heck of a lot more tussling than she. Are we up for all of this? At the risk of sounding uncommitted to this wonderful boy, we do ask ourselves that everyday. But, you know what? We’re not giving up on Jasper that fast. We see such a special dog in there. And we know, if given the time, patience, love and guidance, he’ll blossom like a beautiful flower. I’ll keep you posted on life with Sophie and Jasper. Wish us luck!