Feet Wet!

Rudy, on his last day on Earth. Happy, from "get" to "go!"
Rudy, on his last day on Earth. Happy, from “get” to “go!”

Rudy LOVED water! I could barely keep the truck in my own lane when he spied the river. Even after his body was old and not cooperating as it used to, he would scuttle as quickly as he could to get his feet wet, jumping and splashing around like a toddler in a wading pool!

This being my first attempt at blogging, I’m feeling a lot like that: paddling around in the shallows, having fun while mustering up the “umph” to strike out into the deep.

Rudy was my “heart dog,” a 135lb Great Dane/Boxer/Yellow Lab mix. My girlfriend at the time had started a pet rescue with her friend couple of years before, and by the time that friend came across Rudy at the Animal Control shelter, the rescue had achieved “auxiliary kennel” status with the shelter. That status allowed us to find likely candidates for adoption there and bring them home to foster. There we would put a little socialization and training on them, and adopt them out to well screened “forever homes” as we found them, whether through word of mouth, or the weekend “adoption sites” held at local Petsmart’s, Petco’s, and dog “gatherings” like “Woofstock” whenever one or more of us could attend.

The friend was at Animal Control looking for another prospective foster dog or two when she saw this “adorably ugly” pup being taken into that “room of no return” where a lethal injection was awaiting him. She stopped them literally at Death’s door, and after a hasty conversation, a deal was struck to save little Rudy’s life, along with his brother who was waiting in a kennel for his turn. IF she could find a home for Rudy’s brother, she could save them both from the injection. She, being a  very determined lady, got on the phone and calling “a hundred” people, found Rudy’s brother a home, and life was never the same for any of us again!

Rudy was the catalyst that propelled me into “working both ends of the leash,” training dogs and their people to live and work smoothly together. I learned a LOT about communicating the nuances of living with “two-legs” to dogs through my life with Rudy. Having gone home with our friend that day, Rudy quickly showed himself to be a lively and intelligent pup, who was above all else a HAPPY DOG! He was a hit wherever he went, and I fell completely in love with him the moment I laid eyes on him! I knew that he was MY DOG, though there seemed no way for that to happen at the time. Little did I know that God had already lined things up for Rudy to land in my lap for good!

Large breed dogs grow fast. That’s why they tend toward leaving us just when things are getting good and “settled in.” That is a BIG issue of the heart, and though you can’t be “prepared” enough for the day when one’s love is torn away from your arms, before getting yourself tied in knots with a big dog, you really should get clear about it, or just set your sights on another, possibly longer lived breed. NONE of them live “long enough,” but the smaller breeds tend to hang around a bit longer. That’s an issue in itself, because these are creatures of intelligence and deep feeling, and taking one into your life is rightly a “full term” commitment.

Anyway, as Rudy grew, we began to see that intelligence, liveliness, and HAPPY could have some “rough edges” to deal with! Just as with human children, that combination of traits can lead to BOREDOM, and the “knee jerk” reaction to boredom is to find some MISCHIEF to get into!

Now, understand me, I’m not thinking or saying that dogs are “furry little humans,” but DOGS ARE “PEOPLE” TOO! I would be equally daft to IGNORE the obvious and tangible similarities of development, viewpoint, and behavior that exist between dogs and humans, and even other mammals for that matter, as to go completely off the other “deep end” and see them as “human.” It became very clear early on that this dog could problem solve in ways that were a close parallel to the ways children do. He learned that he could unlock and open a sliding glass door; he learned to find the weak spot in the design of his dog run and actually dismantle enough of it to get out to run with the horse next door – guess that was the only creature around with enough leg for him! And these were just the beginning of Rudy showing us his “chops.”

It was that dismantling of his kennel that brought Rudy to my house, although still a charge of the rescue and not my own…..YET!

Fostering pets in one’s home is a “all in” kind of proposition. We had three boys, four dogs of our own, another foster dog, five cats, and “countless” rescue cats at the time. “Insanity” had some real tangibility in those days! Bringing an “unknown” dog into that menagerie could be a very dangerous proposition, and so my “read” of not only my own animals but also the “newbie” had to be spot on, or there just might be blood, and lots of it! The risk to myself was manageable, but the risk to my children was nothing to mess around with!

We had a ten foot chain link fence around the front yard of our tri-level house, and that sat on a two foot high brick wall. Rudy was about seven months old, and came in with “electric happy” bursting out of him! “Overexcited” is such a small word to describe the rush of the big dog’s entrance. He met my sons, and the rest of the pack, and promptly did some laps around the yard getting the lay of the land. Suddenly, in the midst of one of those laps, Rudy bee-lined for the fence at full speed. Up he jumped, clearing a ten foot fence with about two feet to spare! “Superdog” in training! he landed in a heap and lay like a dead thing until my girlfriend opened the gate to see if he was still alive. Fears blew away in the wind that followed the hundred mile an hour “nub” of his docked tail as he sprang to life and waggled up to her!

Rudy changed his lap strategy after that first hurdle. Now, he would mostly run full speed and do a full layout “bank” off the top of the fence, landing like that anti-gravity speeder of Luke Skywalker’s. And then another…and ANOTHER… But every once in a while, he would repeat his “Great Escape,” landing now with the greatest of ease. I think He was verifying his “calculations” after his first experiment!

The really big bummer about fostering animals is that just as you’re developing a real bond with them, you have to let them go to their “forever home.” It’s usually something that balances nicely with the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a job well done, when one home makes the cut as the right place for this one. Not when it’s your heart dog!

Being a charge of the rescue and because of the “auxiliary kennel” agreement with Animal Control, I had to let him go about six times before we all agreed that he was supposed to stay with me. Each time the “right” home came up, Rudy would learn a new and completely unexpected “trick” that would prove to be too much for the family to deal with. The last time, a couple of very nice ladies fell hopelessly in love with the Big Guy, and in one of the very few times we allowed an “out of area” adoption to take place, these ladies spent about $300 in buying gear for caring for Rudy, everything color coordinated blue – blue collar and leash, blue brush, blue food and water bowls…you get the idea! They took him home to Southern Cal on Saturday, and by Monday evening were contacting us in tears about returning him. It seems that they went to work and left him alone Monday morning after spending Saturday evening and all day Sunday with him without incident. While left to his own devices, Rudy, Lover Of Water, discovered the bathroom sink. One massive paw got the plug in the drain, the other turning on the water. Y’know that little hole in the sink that’s supposed to prevent overflow?  Yeah, they don’t always do that very well!

Splashing around in the water now flowing onto the floor, he discovered the tub. “OH YEAH!!! They made one for DOGS!!!” He climbed in, did the “bash the plug” trick, and figured out how tot urn the faucets on! He own private pool party!

You probably have an image of water streaming out from under the front door by now. Yep! That’s what met the nice ladies when they came home from work. This was also the weekend when our last foster homes all resigned coincidentally at once, meaning that the two “core” homes had to absorb their foster animals. I got a phone call. “Either Rudy comes home as your dog, or he has to go back to the pound.” i paused momentarily, for effect, and said, “oh well, I guess so!” She must’ve heard my “wink” somehow! Rudy was HOME!

And THEN the fun began!

What is the point of all this rambling? Me getting my “feet wet” in what I hope becomes a happy part of my life – sharing with more people through this blog the fun, growth, expression, community, and insight that has come my way through working with animals and the people that get attached to them. Along the way I plan to also share some of the “tricks of the trade” that have helped get cooperative behavior in the dogs I’ve owned, and the one’s that have brought their people to me for help! And yes, there will be further installments of Rudy’s “problem solving prowess!”

Whatever success I’ve enjoyed these 24 years or so since I first began rescuing and training dogs, cats, horses & other creatures, I thank God the Father through Jesus Christ for. When He made me a new thing, with a new heart and mind, he truly made me alive, with eyes that could now see life and love where I thought there was only pain and death. My gratitude knows no bounds, and i happily share the joy that has been given to me!