The First Twelve Days of a Rescue Dog

Editor’s note: Grab a cuppa something and settle into a cozy chair with your favorite lap-warming companion. We all know when we adopt a new pet that we’re embarking on a new and significant relationship, but few of us ever document the experience, the challenges, the triumphs, and the bonding experience in the way this endearing journal does. This submission warmed our hearts, and we know it will have a similar effect on you. Enjoy!


By Karl Berger

Day one, Saturday, July 20, 2019

It was a hot and sunny day. Maybe it’s appropriate that this life-changing trip was memorable. The two-hour TriMet lift bus ride to the Oregon Humane Society was not without excitement. My wife was ejected out of her wheelchair as the bus elevator ramp malfunctioned.

Once we safely set foot at OHS, I had to get her comfortably inside the building and make sure she was okay before proceeding to our next obstacle. My wife, Jan, had a stoke 4 years ago and was affected on one side of her body. Pushing her chair through hallways and rooms on our way to meet our future pet, I was under time constraints, too. We had already reserved our our return ride.

Inside, the building was cool and comparatively calm, considering it was a Saturday. The reception desk pointed us in the direction of the building where adoptable dogs are housed, and when we entered the kennel areas, I was surprised I didn’t hear the expected ear-splitting sounds of dogs barking and whining for attention.

Drew was one of the first dogs we saw, but I didn’t notice him like my wife did. I was scouting out the possibility of a terrier or small dog that wasn’t a Chihuahua. Drew’s pen mate was a Beagle/Bulldog with a Latino name, and he appeared to be the size I had in mind — not too big and not too small. But I asked my wife If she liked him the stout mixed-breed. She wasn’t intrigued.

As we browsed the kennels and pondered the adoptables we saw, ‘No’ seemed to be my wife’s standard reply to any of my ideas. She had already spied Drew, but she was keeping that a secret. Meanwhile, I was still considering the many options. In the toy dog kennels, we was one lone Chihuahua. I spotted a Yorkshire Terrier (Queen Margaret’s favorite") being looked at by a coupe. The other three rooms where the dogs were housed appeared to be a strain for me negotiating around the pens with admirers outside. I was a little depressed about our apparent lack of viable options when my wife finally announced that she liked one of the very first dogs we’d seen in this journey through the shelter. He was a poodle named Drew.

We waited for our adoption review, wandering the shelter with the Olive Garden-type beeper in hand. When it alerted us that it was out turn, we met the kennel master, Ken. He was even more interested in us than we were interested in Drew. We knew he was quickly going to work learning more about us and our ability to provide a forever home for this dog. Were we experienced pet owners? Where did we live? What about his recreation possibilities?

Being experienced adopters, we explained to Ken that we were pretty clear about the kind of companion we wanted. We didn’t yet know Drew well, and I was already downplaying my opinion and expectations of his temperament. He arrived a little less worn for play and possibly overloaded from the experience of being in a kennel, looking at humans, and meeting strangers. But as we visited, he seemed an agreeable guy, calmly sniffing around the room and taking a biscuit from my wife.

It was ultimately her decision to adopt Drew, but I wanted to at least feel a connection to our new family member, or at least get that dog-is-man’s-best-friend vibe from him. When Drew laid down and asked for a belly rub, I thought, “Now that’s what I’m talking about.” I was hooked.

Sadly, when we asked to adopt Drew, we found out he already had a hold on him. For a $15 deposit, we could be number two on his list. It felt like a bit of a gamble, but I had a good feeling about the folks at the Humane Society and felt that all we had to lose was a small deposit. Either way, we’d know in a few days whether our first choice fell through or whether he still had a chance of coming home with us. We paid the deposit and waited.

Tuesday,July 23

The call from OHS summoned me to pick up Drew.The other adopters fell through and we were free to adopt him if we still had our hearts set on him.

Oh boy, what a mixed bag of emotions! I felt stupid that I did not make arrangements to pick him up beforehand. We knew we couldn’t transport Drew on the transit lift. Fortunately, my friend Bob offered to give Drew a ride home, and we were on our way.

Picking up Drew on a Tuesday also was fortuitous. It happens to be Senior Discount Day. We got $50 off Drew’s adoption fees. Being on a fixed budget, I felt like I was almost breaking our account with the $300 bill, but because the adoption fee includes not only our new family member but food coupons, microchipping, and a free vet visit, it seemed like a deal.

In a final debriefing with dog counselor Kat, we learned that Drew and my wife and I already have something in common: we’re native Californians. Drew came from Stockton as part of the Second Chance program.

Thursday,July 25

Learning and teaching  Drew was getting a little awkward. We were trying to use his kennel name instead of one we came up with. The stroke’s effect on my wife’s speech caused some confusion, too. Sometimes she suggested a name and I thought she was saying something different. We test drove a few names like Lucky, Pepe, Buster. My wife mentioned he acted something like a rabbit, and my hear heard “Zach.” The name stuck. Our nimble, miniature poodle is Zach.

Zach was an instant hit around the senior residence where we live. He’s an all-around perfect fit.

Saturday, July 27

Zach had stopped eating. Realizing his could still be adjusting to the shock of his cross-state move, his kennel experience, the neuter, and a new home, I still didn’t understand why he was refusing even the most appealing chew toys. I used the food coupons to sample a few dog food varieties. The more solid canned food agreed to Zack over the soupy mixtures and dry kibble. Human food like tuna and liverwurst are his real choice. I started to see one of Zack’s least desirable traits, which is begging. But at least he was demonstrating what he finds appetizing. After the first week of trial and error, he began eating heartily.

Monday, July 29

The vet guesstimated that Zack was 4 or 5 years old. Our new dog was so listless that I had started to wonder if he was perhaps a senior. Still recovering from his neuter surgery, he licked the area so constantly that I had to buy a $10 plastic cone to help him leave the area long enough for it to heal. Then Zach developed kennel cough, which we treated for two weeks. The cough worried me, and I called OHS for advice. They assured me he’d get better with the treatment. They were right. In time, he recovered well.

Wednesday, July 31

Getting house trained was not a problem. He needs a walk every 3 to 4 hours. When we are gone more than that he pees on the throw rug in the bathroom. We don’t worry much about the occasional wet throw rug; it’s just as good as a litter box but weighs less and is easier to manage.

Our new buddy rarely gets dirty. When he does, I just throw him in the shower and walk him dry. He does like rolling on the ground, gathering up any smells and goop he can find. But he is a dog. I can’t train that out of him. Thank God I am retired and have all the time in the world to walk him.

We learned he’s fearless for a 14-inch-high miniature. He walked right up to a wolf that I knew to be very harmless. I think he has been around large well-behaved larger dogs. But knowing the fearlessness and curiosity that rule Zach, I have to be constantly on the lookout. I’ve seen coyotes at night. Our Zach would make a mere morsel for predators. His white coat would probably look like an Oscar Meyer label to a keen-eyed coyote.

Friday, August 2

The pet store is one advantage of owning a pet. You can always waste there, browsing the aisles. My latest purchase was nail clippers. There are a lot of brands. I recommend getting a good-quality pair. Even if it costs twice as much, the cheap ones will be disappointing. Wandering the store, I found myself reliving my childhood when I saw dog food made in the form of animals or spaceships. The array of scarves, dog fashion, and toys are luring me. I’m resigned to buying something.

I never had children. The dog is a child as far as responsibility is concerned. Living in a senior residence becomes very isolating if you do not have a job anymore. The dog is an instant conversation starter and becomes a vicarious pleasure to have. It sure beats having a hobby.