Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Duchess: a pound puppy's tale

Now that you've seen her a few times, I figured I would tell you a bit about Duchess's background and how I came to find her.

I spent several weeks driving down to the Miami-Dade Animal Shelter, trying to find a dog that was a good match for my living situation (there were two other dogs in the house to think about, as well as a few other factors). I met so many cool dogs - I remember one MASSIVE Cane Corso with a head as big as my torso (rhyme!). 

I put my name on waiting lists for several dogs that seemed like good matches, but I never got called. Sometimes I would just sit and fuss over dogs that I knew I couldn't adopt due to my situation, and were unlikely to be adopted themselves. I petted and loved on them and I silently cried beside them. Dogs don't deserve what people do to them.

One day when I was at the shelter, I spotted a sweet-looking black dog that went by the name of Missy. I asked to see her, and a volunteer went to get a leash to bring her to the 'play room.' As I was waiting, I walked around to the hallway where they kept the smaller dogs in tiny cages. Among the chihuahuas and dachshunds I found her: too big for her cage and curled up in a frightened ball, facing away from anyone who walked by. I stooped down to look at her, and the volunteer came back to tell me that "Missy" had already been adopted, and the new owners were coming by today.

By that time I had already forgotten about that dog. I asked to see the scared little girl in the too-small cage. The information on her paperwork stated that she was five days overdue -- if you get my meaning. In a high-kill shelter, that's a lifetime. I felt a sudden sense of urgency as I impatiently waiting for the volunteer to get a leash.

The dog wouldn't walk on a leash, and so she had to be carried to the play room. The volunteer set her down, and I sat in the middle of the room and waited.

The dog paced the perimeter of the room, wary and distrusting. She sniffed this and that and ignored me altogether. I called to her a few times, snapped my fingers, made kissy sounds. No response. All of my knowledge, all the tips and tricks I read about how to choose a rescue dog suggested that this one was not for me. For some reason, I chose to sit and wait.

She continued her pacing around the room and then circled inward. She walked right up to me and gave my face a brief lick. Relief washed over me like a wave and I burst into happy tears and I told the volunteer that I would take the dog today. 

I paid my fees and carried her to my car (she wouldn't walk on a leash, remember?). She rode all the way home with her face wedged between my back and my driver's seat. I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into.

She didn't always look so cute and cuddly; when I first got her, she was underweight, she had worms, her right eye was infected and she had some mange on her face and back. Here's one of the first photos I ever took of her:

In the first two weeks I had her, I focused on getting her back to health and making her comfortable in the house with my other two dogs. Here's a photo of her a week later:

Her eye infection was just about healed, and her mange was almost gone. She was very shy. She kept digging under the fence in order to escape. she wouldn't make eye contact with me and she never wagged her tail. I was incredibly patient with her; she'd probably never been inside a house before, so every experience she was having was most likely brand new, and very scary for a 5-month-old dog.

I have a fair bit of experience with dogs, but training her was less like training and more like taming a feral animal. 

After a few months of mishaps and runaways, I finally snapped. She had run away -- again. I got into my car and followed her usual escape route through the neighborhood. I spotted her running through everyone's backyards, and then into an empty lot. I made a split-second decision to drive right into the empty lot with my little 4x4 hatchback, swung the car around, opened the door (I was way too mad to take the time to roll down the window), and screamed at the top of my lungs: "GO HOME!"

I'll be damned if she didn't do exactly that; she spun around and ran the hell home. By the time I had pulled back into the driveway, she was sitting at the front door of the house just like this:

It would have been funny at the time if I wasn't so over it. I had never yelled at her before; it made me feel terrible. I couldn't look at her the rest of the day. But I will tell you this: she never ran away again. Ha!

Things with Duchess got a lot easier after that. I was firmer with my discipline of her -- something that is important with strong-willed breeds, like shiba inu and shepherd mixes. There cannot be any question as to who is the alpha in that relationship. I came to the understanding that it was my lacking disciplinary skills, and not the dog, that was the issue. Once I figured that out, everything fell into place.

Nowadays, I can call her out of a full-on gallop with a word or a clap of my hands. She understands and obeys complicated commands and has a firm grasp of the nuances of what I ask of her. She knows the exact difference in the meaning of "Stay with me" and "Wait for me" when we're hiking on the trail. She's still strong-willed, and sometimes we disagree on things, and sometimes she makes a fuss and plants her feet when it's time to go to bed, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that she is the smartest dog and the best dog I have ever -- and will ever -- own.


  1. She really is an awesome dog. She has burrowed a special place in my heart with her sass.

  2. What an awesome story. She sounds amazing and I especially loved hearing how she turned tail and headed home right away. Ha! Both of our girls are very strong willed, so we have to be pretty firm with them sometimes. Duchess sounds a lot like them!

  3. The Pound Puppy is missing you.

  4. I enjoyed your story. it was great. Thank you for sharing.