Novelist | Singer
After our rescue with Skip was a no-go, we decided to wait for a while. It felt like a failure, though I knew it wasn’t our fault. I pondered how lucky I had been with my Lila, who was also a rescue; neglected and possibly abused. She loved the family who had purchased her but was crazy with lack of engagement and a job to do.
A few days had gone by, and I started checking the listing once again. Searching on a Border Collie rescue site over the weekend, I paused on a photo of a beautiful Golden Retriever look-alike. The color caught my eyes immediately; how could this be a Border Collie cross? And the most unusual and tempting of items; this listing had a phone number.
Rescues, particularly during COVID are typically on-line. You make the initial inquiry on-line. They send an application on-line. They then contact you on-line. Don’t people just talk anymore?
The coordinator was Russian, and this 5 year-old dog was a rescue—from Russia. Apparently, there are loads of street dogs in Russia, where they don’t typically fix their dogs on a regular basis. The best part; this dog was in Weymouth, a mere hour away. I called, and then launched into my questions, including those about aggressiveness, health, training, weight, etc. Of course, she said he was a sweetheart; no problems with aggression, walks fine on a leash. We asked for the foster family contact and called the following day. They said they were home, so we jumped in the car and headed to Weymouth.
On first glance, he was fabulous. They said his name was Waltz. So of course, we called him Waltz. He was friendly, alert and calm. He was fairly big, around 55 pounds, and the woman at the house had been cooking three meals a day for him. Hmmmmmm. That would not happen in our house. I took him out in the backyard on the leash, and he did pull a little, but seemed more interested in returning to the house. After a short time at the house, we decided we would try him. The best part was that this rescue agency did a two week trial period with no money exchanged until adoption. I spoke with the coordinator again on the phone, and she asked if I could send a photo of him, to which I agreed.
Waltz rode in the footwell of the backseat on the ride home. He clearly hadn’t been in a car much. Before we even got home, we took him for a walk in the Seine Field, and here we discovered his true personality. His ears went straight up, his tail in seeking position, and he pulled like a mule, with no regard for us as he dragged Al along the trail around the field. That would have to be fixed.
Back at the house, I tried treats to determine what he knew, which was nothing, and he refused any treat I gave him. At mealtime, I set his bowl of kibble on the floor, and he sniffed, then snubbed the dish and walked away.
The next morning, I was up before light, and took Waltz for a two-hour walk, intent on teaching him the first steps of heeling. In a straight-line mile, we likely walked about 3 miles, turning constantly as he would start to pull. This was one tough dog, and he certainly wasn’t used to doing what people said. Home again, I supplemented his uneaten bowl of food, which he refused to eat.
That afternoon, I walked him twice more, gaining a little success with every trip. My back was already tweaked in pain, and I was fully aware that perhaps this dog was just too big for me. There was no response from him in any way once he got outside. He also lingered at the door and tried to push his way out, so we worked on “wait,” which was tough for him. Impulse control is an issue for dominant dogs. The weight and strength of the dog certainly affects the training, particularly for someone like me who has had back surgery. We called him Waltz many times, but there was no response.
The second day in, the cards started to fall. I looked out the window and saw a woman in my driveway, talking on a phone. She was looking up at the house, and finally walked back up the driveway. I had no idea what this might be, until I decided to take a break fifteen minutes later and walk the dog again. The woman was waiting for me at the end of the driveway, and wanted to see the dog, claiming that we hadn’t responded to the many texts and phone calls from the coordinator, which I hadn’t see because I was so intent on working with this dog. She said that I was to send a photo every day to make sure that Waltz was OK. I didn’t remember hearing any of that in our correspondence and told her that we were working hard with him. I told her I would return in an hour after our walk.
When I returned, there was another woman in the driveway waiting for me. This was the coordinator, coming to find out about the dog. I was floored. We talked outside for a bit and I invited her in. Then came the diatribe about how she had told us to “send a photo every day so she could be sure that he was alright.” The conversation went back and forth, including her telling us that we shouldn’t feed him kibble because it had chemicals in it, after which I showed her the bag of our healthy kibble with natural ingredients. The absurdity of the conversation was difficult to handle, and the fact that she had driven two hours one way to check on him. The whole thing was over the top. We asked his name again, because he didn’t seem to respond to “Waltz.” Then she dropped the bomb that his name was something like Vislik in Russian! We had her repeat it a few times, and the dog didn’t respond at all. It was clear that he, in fact, didn’t know his name. When she finally left, my husband and I looked at each other and shook our heads. This rescue thing was weird.
The days progressed, with long leash walks which were a struggle. We eventually started to take him to our local dog park so he could run. Every dog he met ended in a fight instigated by Waltz, or Vislik, or whatever his name was. He had been advertised as “good with female dogs,” but since he picked a fight immediately with every dog he met, I was sure he was just a fighter and the sex of the other dog didn’t matter. We tried training recall in the house, which worked pretty well, and then outside in the dog park, which was a dismal failure every time. We started calling him Rocky because he picked fights with everyone, and that name seemed as good as any name, even Vislik.
He was heeling a lot better at this point, but only if I put a Halty on his snout, like Cesar instructed. But despite the training tool, he was still over-alert and I knew if we released him, he would run and possibly not come back.
On Saturday, I walked him again, with a focus on the boat ramp at Cripple Cove. If we were considering this dog, he would have to be willing to go on a boat. I walked him to the top of the ramp that led down to the dock, and that was where he stopped. I coaxed him, turning him around to try again, but he planted his butt and dropped his head. I wasn’t going to force him to walk down the ramp. That was the last straw. Even if we could fix his fighting problem and get him to recall, the ramp issue was a deal-breaker. By the time we got home, my back was pinched in pain. I told my husband it was no good. This dog would never work for us. There was no way to fix these issues to the point we could be confident that this dog would work for us within the two-week trial period. I called the coordinator and broke the news. She said she had a few more applications and would get back to us.
This rescue attempt didn’t feel as bad as the first one with Skip, but it was discouraging. Rocky continued to live with us until the coordinator could find another potential adopter. The next day I decided to peruse “Uncle Henry’s,” a magazine for buyers and sellers out of Maine. Instantly I found three parties with puppies for sale. Two were Border Collie pups, and one was an Australian Shepherd classified. The puppies had not yet been born. I emailed and inquired. The owner told me she would take only one more deposit, then proceeded to give information about the sire and dam, when the puppies were due, and how to make a request for sex and color. Amazingly, the price was not that different from the rescues. We discussed it, and Al told me that we should get what we wanted, which was an Aussie Shepherd. Go with what you know. I made the deposit. The owner’s reply sounded hopeful; only four people had made a deposit before ours. The pups are due on the day of this writing. I’m so excited I’m checking my email constantly, and the owner Danielle and I have developed a great on-line relationship. She even offered to care for the dog if we went on vacation. What a deal. Though I realize that getting a puppy will be a big challenge, puppyhood doesn’t last forever, and this will give us an opportunity to raise a dog to fit our lifestyle. I haven’t had a puppy since I was a kid, so technically, this will be my first.
Meanwhile, Rocky is still providing our desire for a dog in the house, and even though he’s difficult outside, he’s an angel inside. He will fill the void for a while, and there’s always the anticipation of new birth and new life coming into our lives.
Two weeks out
Today marks two weeks that Rocky has come into our house. Early this morning, I took him up to the dog park, and he was beautiful. He waited patiently when I opened the back door and walked nicely with pulling on the leash to the enclosure. Once inside, he waited without pulling again until I unclipped his leash. He didn’t bolt off like other days. He perused the entire perimeter of the big dog enclosure, which is quite large, allowing full out sprints, which he badly needs. Then, remarkably, he found a discarded tennis ball and started tossing it, then left it on the ground. When I threw it, he fetched it, then when I called, he came running, not directly to me, but near me. I had to wait until he dropped it again, but he got the message. He’s almost fetching. It’s a slow motion, wait-until-he-drops-it kind of fetching, but it’s fetching, nonetheless.
There was a shift yesterday, like someone had turned on the light bulb in his head. He’s visibly calmer than before. He waits if you go out the door without him, then stays in place until you return. He stayed for a bit in the house alone with no problem. He waits patiently in the car if you’re running an errand. He’s a changed animal. Good timing, too! A big snowstorm is heading up the coast, so walking and running the old Rocky could be challenging. We’re not really rethinking our decision to bring the puppy (who we have named Sailor) home at the end of March. But what if the coordinator doesn’t rehome Rocky?
After her panicky visit to our house, we have heard less and less from her, to the point that she hasn’t responded at all in the past four days. Hmmmmmmm. Have we unwittingly adopted a dog? The better he gets, the more hope I have for him in his life, but we’re planning to pass him on, and that will require a little “tutorial” for his new people, or I fear he’ll revert to his old tricks. At this point, all we can do is wait and keep up the training. I’m sure Rocky will be all the better for it.
His name is now Rocky and is heading for the Mohawk Trail.