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Finding the Right Dog


(Many updates below; see the comments.)

Here’s a classified ad in a nearby newspaper:

Rat Terrier – 3 yrs. old, female, housebroken. Great dog, but we have a baby. 219-XXX-XXXX

Subclassification: Absolutely Free
First Rundate: 10/08/2009

And here’s an ad on Petfinder:

Fox Terrier
Young, M
Humane Society of Indianapolis

Hi, my name is Luke and I didn’t have the best start in life, so I’m pretty scared right now. I don’t take very long to warm up, though, and when I do, I’m super sweet. So if you can give me lots of love and help me build my confidence I’ll be your best bud. I’m only about a year old, and my adoption fee is $105. Please visit our friendly adoption counselors to ask about taking me home today.

Luke is up-to-date with routine shots, house trained and spayed/neutered.

Luke is shown in the photo up top. Not the cutest guy I ever saw, but he’ll do.

I wrote earlier about falling in love with a dog while Peter was here visiting in June. We met a friend who has an older fox terrier, and it was love at first sight. I grew up with fox terriers, but I hadn’t seen one in decades; the breed lost all popularity after World War II, but before that it was the quintessential Midwestern farm dog, useful and with a good personality. When my dad went to pick out a dog for us kids, he got what he knew, a fox terrier. We had three or four of them over the years.

Once I became an adult I’ve never had a dog. I was always a renter, and it’s hard to find landlords who accomodate pets. But now I own a house, and I’m home all day, and the old terrier Peter and I met was just a joy — sweet, not yippy or aggressive, just a nice little guy. (Size matters; I don’t want a big dog. I only weigh 125 myself, and I figure a 25-pound dog is my upper limit. I want a dog who fits my size.)

Well, I’ve been on the lookout since that day; I’ve been to do the dog pound in this county and the next one. I even thought about a beagle, but the one I visited was a little too big and way too noisy. As we approached the kennel, the animal control officer said, “He’ll be the first one you hear as we start to go in,” and sure enough he was.

I’ve read the want ads, I’ve gone online. I’ve searched on Petfinder.com a couple dozen times. I’m skeptical of all the “rescue” and “shelter” outfits they list; a lot of them sound like businesses to me, and “don’t call or come here, e-mail us and we’ll send you an application, then if we decide you’re good enough your animal costs 300 bucks.” At my local pound you just show up, pick the dog you like the best and take him home, he’s free. The county wants to get rid of the animals it has custody of, not make adoption difficult. They set up incentives, not barriers.

But there aren’t many fox terriers at the dog pound anymore, so if that’s what I have to have (and it is, although rat terriers look and act much the same and I’d be very happy with one), I probably have to travel. Then the money becomes an issue. Should I drive four hours to look at a dog I may not feel good about, if he’s even still there by the time I arrive?

Finally, one more complication which I didn’t anticipate. Apparently I’m a gender bigot. I want a male dog, not a female. How misogynist, how Gay!

My parents’ litter was three boys, no girls. The terriers my dad got for us were always male, because he didn’t want a female having half a dozen puppies behind the garage. (We had a cat once who delivered behind the hot water heater. Warm and private, I suppose.) A lot fewer people got their pets spayed or neutered back then; Bob Barker hadn’t made it a crusade yet, though he was on TV already when I was a kid.

Once we did end up with a female dog when I was 16 and had just started driving. I took her two towns over to the nearest vet so she could get spayed, and on the way she got sick in the car. Of course I told the doctor all about it, he checked her out, she seemed okay, he took her to the operating room — and came back a half hour later and said she died on the table. He was all apologetic, but you can’t bring them back once they’re gone, and just like that, no more dog.

You can see where all this is leading; a conditioned preference for calling, “Here boy!” and not girl.

I feel a little guilty about it, but then again it’s my house and my dog. Of the two ads above, I’d rather drive 100 miles to Indianapolis and pay 100 bucks to the humane society than call someone in my own area code who’s giving away a girl for free. I’m Gay, I don’t know nothin’ about no grrlz.

As long as I’m coming clean, I had one more bad experience as a kid: being around an unspayed female in heat. Goodness, what a sound, half-moan, half-yowl, being in the same house with her for five minutes made me want to get the hell out. “She’ll get over it in a month or so,” the human told me. Jeez, a whole friggin’ month of that? I’d rather have a male humping my leg than listen to a month of misery.

So even if I’m All Wrong, my Petfinder search term now specifies male. I guess I’m getting old and set in my ways. I know lots of pet owners, including Gay guys, who love their female dogs, find them less trouble and all that; I don’t care. The important thing is taking in an animal that needs a home. I’m not taking in a St. Bernard or German Shepherd or pit bull, or anything else that can knock me over. And I’m not taking in no grrlz.

Although isn’t Lucy, the rat terrier below, just the cutest thing you ever saw?++


A Boy & His Dog


I continue to go through many after-effects of my recent trips with Peter to some favorite places in western Indiana, then to the Smoky Mountains, my all-time favorite destination. One is that I seem to be suddenly in the market for a dog. And not just any dog, but the kind we used to have when I was a kid, a fox terrier. One was named Tinker, another was Half-Pint. They’re cute little guys with sweet personalities, and they don’t bark much. I hate yippy dogs that go nuts every time the mailman walks by.

I’m also not that fond of bigger dogs, and it seems like everyone’s got a behemoth these days. Fox terriers are my size, not too little, not too big.

Turns out I have a lot of prejudices or preferences about dogs; I despise “designer dogs,” pure-breeds with genetic weaknesses, which is all you see in New York. I want a dog from the pound, a rescue dog, an abandoned one who needs a home. If you’ve got hundreds of dollars to spend on a dog, send that money to the human food pantry instead; go bail out an inmate in dog jail and you’ll have a friend for life. Animals are not your status symbol.

The dogs I grew up with, both in town and on the farm, were working dogs, respected as well as loved, and well taken care of for both reasons. Grandma Clara had a collie mix named Gypsy, an outside dog who was mostly a watcher and companion. She had the run of the place, a couple hundred acres, and she wasn’t always stuck at the house. But if she was close by and an unknown car pulled into the lane, she was there, barking and asking, “Who are you?” She wasn’t threatening the way some dogs can be, and she learned not to chase cars on the highway, but only to guard the house; she was better than a doorbell. And of course she always recognized us, so then her bark was saying, “Hi, you’re back!” We loved our Gypsy. She lived to a good old age.

Fox terriers were the dogs of choice on a lot of farms back then, because they’re smart, athletic, good hunters and great companions; now there are a lot fewer farms and foxies have fallen out of fashion. But they’re what my parents liked, and a couple of weeks ago I fell in love with one again.

Peter and I were visiting our photographer/cop friend Quentin in Lafayette. Mr. and Mrs. Q have a foxer, and oh man, is he sweet. He’s older, not as frisky as he once was, but he and I took an instant liking to each other. Quentin said that was unusual for the dog in his older years, he usually avoids the stimulation of meeting someone new; and it’s become unusual for me in adulthood to bond with an unknown pet. But somehow we hit it off the minute we met, and I can’t stop thinking about his breed. Terriers are ideal dogs.

In young adulthood before this phase in my life, I wasn’t fit to keep a dog; didn’t always make enough money for all his bills, I worked long hours, wasn’t home enough, and then I had a very sick lover to take care of. But now here I am, with time on my hands, six rooms and a yard to run around in; maybe adopting a dog makes sense.

Some other thought-streams are running in my head: I’ve seen the Smokies again, so my spirit is fulfilled. After two good trips I’m ready to stay at home a good while, and able to look after another creature. I’ve got a whole big house and no one else around, so maybe it’s time.

Fox terriers are not demanding; that’s the outstanding them about them compared to other dogs. And being pack animals, they love to bond with the leader. Besides, they’re impossibly cute.

So I think I could accomodate a foxy at this time in my life. He and I could grow old together. I probably have enough years left to see a puppy through his lifespan, which is no small consideration. Or I could take an older dog like Q’s; dogs need homes, people to be around, someone to buy the food and see the water dish is fresh. I could do that.

One other prejudice: I want a male dog. All our dogs were boys when I was a kid, and males are what I know. Their behavior isn’t that different from females’, and a girl who’s been fixed doesn’t turn into a yowling bitch in heat; but still, boys are what I know.

Maybe it’s time. Maybe I’m ready to retire and not do much but take the dog to the park and watch him run. Maybe I can teach him to catch a Frisbee; maybe my arm will get tired of throwing before he gets tired of jumping and catching.

Maybe I just want someone who’ll lick my face no matter what I look like. That’s probably it.

But there are two shelters now that know I’m on the lookout for a male fox terrier, and I wouldn’t be surprised to bring one home soon. Heaven is full of animals, you know; they go there direct without stopping at purgatory. This was one of God’s easier decisions, while the humans have to face elaborate vetting.

If you were St. Peter would you cross-examine this guy, or just wave him through and hold him while he licked your face?

If you can’t see the soul in this little boy, you’re going straight to hell.++