Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm changing my house list already

If you've been reading for a while, you know that we used to have two dogs, Bailey and Hammy.

We no longer have either dog. Bailey never liked this house. I don't know why; she'd lived with us since B got her for me as a Valentine's Day present way back in 2003. We'd moved several times in that time period and she never cared, but she hated this house. It tooks week of work and doggy Valium to get her to even go outside. She would stand by the door shaking but would refuse to go out. Even if you carried her out she would whimper and cry and run back to the door to cower without relieving herself. Eventually she went to stay at my parents' farm while we figured out what to do. She'd been there before several times and loved it (especially the chickens). She loved it this time too and was immediately back to her old self. However, not long after I took this picture, she was hit by a delivery truck and killed. I'm still angry about it, angry at the delivery company and angry at myself for not figuring out a way to make her happy here. On the one hand, I wish we'd kept her so she'd still be alive. But on the other hand, if we had kept her she'd still be miserable and would probably have had to be rehomed by now. So I don't know what would have been the right choice there.

We adopted Hammy from the local animal shelter in May of 2009. Although we were assured that he was great with kids, he was scared to death of them. He spent most of his time peeing himself if you so much as looked at him. He had other issues that we think stemmed from abuse and probably starvation, but the constant food theft didn't bother me nearly as much as how he acted toward the kids. I began to suspect pretty early on that he was a one-person dog; he was stuck to me like glue but couldn't stand anyone else. Instead of getting better at dealing with the kids he got worse. Over the course of two years he went from ignoring them to snapping at them if they walked into the same room. I tried to change his behavior with training for the first year and a half, then, when he started getting snippy with the kids, I spent the next six months looking for a rescue to take him. There had been a huge flood (it's been a rough few years for weather in the midwest) and all the of the rescues were full of displaced animals, not to mention that no one wanted a dog with behavioral problems. Finally my mom agreed to let him stay at their house. He started out living in the barn, but very quickly moved to the house and is now my mom's Velcro dog. Like I suspected, he needed one person to love and no kids around on a regular basis. He's very happy there--no more screaming or fear urination when you look at him.

We took--are taking--a break from dogs after Hammy left. Currently we have a cat and three fish. Lately, though, I've been feeling like we should get a dog. There are studies that show that getting a dog in early childhood is helpful for autistic children, and I want the kids to have a dog. Plus it just feels like we need one.

When I was growing up we always had at least one dog. The most dogs we ever had was 22, after one of our rottweilers had a huge litter. (I'm pretty sure it was 14 puppies.) I've had experience with lots of different breeds and had the most success with bigger or medium-sized dogs. We had cocker spaniels (50% success rate, but I had the first one before I had kids), miniature schnauzers (I remember they were pretty good but it's been a while), German shepherds (awesome), labs (double awesome), rottweilers (very good), Maltese (hyper) and Yorkies (absolutely horrible). I've had a Maltese, rottweiler, two cocker spaniels and a rat terrier/springer spaniel mix. I think that's it.

I'm kind of feeling like a lab would be a good choice, but I don't know. I want to make the best choice for us, and with a baby and an autistic child Heaven knows we have lots of potential pitfalls. B wants a French or English bulldog or a Boston terrier, which from what I've read might be OK. However, we differ on where we should get it. B wants to swear off shelters forever because of our experience with Hammy. I say swearing off the shelter we got him from should be enough, but he's not so sure. He'd rather get a puppy from a reputable breeder. I say a breed rescue should be fine, but to be honest I have the same fear that he does.

There are two major rules I've laid out for getting another dog. First, it would take at least one training class, probably somewhere like PetSmart. This wouldn't help with the issues we had with Hammy or Bailey, but I believe animals should always be trained, at the very least, not to go to the bathroom in the house, not to bark at everything, to sit, to stay and to heel. Shaking is optional, and I will admit that I think it would be funny to have a dog that rolls over and plays dead when you "shoot" it with your finger. Bailey and Hammy were both pretty well trained in sit, come, go outside to use the bathroom, etc. Just the basics. We did it ourselves, but I figure having an expert teach us can only help.

The second rule is that we have a separate area of our yard, complete with fence, for the dog to use as a bathroom and play area. Here's a reminder of what our back door and deck look like.

We had a temporary fence set up for Bailey and Hammy, which you can see here.

I want an honest-to-goodness chain link fence, though. It would be in roughly the same spot, just chain link instead of poultry fencing and with a gate. I've also thought about doing something further over, just across that little strip of side yard, but we'd need to put stairs on that side of the deck for that to work. The meter is on the back of the house next to the AC unit, so that would probably need to be moved or something. Putting the fence back where we had it is the smarter choice. The two feet of yard we'd retain is not really enough of an incentive compared to all the money and work that would have to go in to doing it the other way--ripping up the tiny deck, installing stairs, moving meters, etc. All of the plants and rocks that were there are gone, so except for another inexplicable patch of gravel on the side of the house and some pavers we put down to make a path from the side gate, it's all grass over there right now.

I don't foresee getting a dog this year. Maybe not even next year. But I'm adding the fence to the house list anyway. We don't have a dog now, but I think it's inevitable that we get another one, and this is one of those projects that, even if I won't absolutely need it for a while, it's nice to have it done.

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