16 October 2011

A Month with Lola

(Note: It has now been two months with Lola. I haven't had much time for writing lately, but I hope that will change from now on.)

I meant to keep a daily, or even weekly journal, of our experiences with a new puppy. In fact, other than when I was a very young child, I'd never had the experience of raising a puppy. We didn't exactly plan on getting a puppy. It was a happy result of unfortunate circumstances (see Death Brings Life).

When we did set our heart on rescuing Lola (she was unnamed at the time) from a shelter northwest of Dallas, in the small town of Decatur, we had no reliable means of transportation to make the 400-mile round trip. I posted frantically on Facebook through my status updates, seeing if anybody was by chance making a trip from Dallas to Austin on Saturday, September 10, or even to Waco. I called and texted a few friends. We made calls to the staff at the shelter, someone affiliated with Catahoula Rescue South Central, and finally, I posted to every page and group in Texas that was involved in rescuing dogs and cats from shelters and helping them get placed in new homes.

Sometime early on Friday evening, I got a text message from a guy named Mike, who founded a little nonprofit called Transpawtation Texas. He said he'd be able to pick her up early Saturday afternoon and could have her to us by 6 PM, perhaps sooner. She was scheduled to be put down that day - she had maybe until Monday or Tuesday to live. There was nothing wrong with her. The women at the shelter told us she was very sweet, good natured, and in good health. The only thing wrong with her was that no one was available to give her a home.

Mike offered to bring us Lola out of the goodness of his heart, and to "do his part" - he fronted the $25 adoption fee and asked simply for a donation. When he arrived, he handed her over to Shand as if she were a little rag doll. She had thrown up inside the crate and looked bewildered. Shand took her inside the house and out to the backyard, while I stayed out front chatting with Mike, thanking him profusely, and learning more about his nonprofit.

I don't know how I had the courage to bring a puppy into our home. Our remaining adult dog (after Changa passed away), Tonka, was a 12-year-old grumpy Catahoula who had once attacked a smaller dog at the green belt. The woman with the other dog was throwing a stick out into the creek, and on the third or fourth time he went out to fetch the stick, Tonka went after him and grabbed him by the collar. Since then, I could not take the dogs out for walks, or to any public places, without major anxiety that Tonka would get involved in a brawl.

Somehow, though, Tonka understood that Lola was part of the pack. He sniffed at her, and she timidly began to explore her surroundings. We set out a dog bed near Tonka's bed in the kitchen, to give Lola her own space. At first, it was difficult to get them settled into a feeding routine. She didn't have much of an appetite. She was more curious about his food, and he was more curious about hers. I had to coax her into eating, and she'd only eat if I threw her kibbles on the ground and pushed them around. She was probably going through some re-adjusting, having come from the shelter, plus she was having side effects from the de-worming treatment. It also turned out she had a parasite called Coccidia.

After a month-long treatment with a supplement called FortiFlora and an antibiotic for the parasites, her little bony ribs stopped protruding, and she gained five pounds to her current twenty-one pounds. She loves her food now, and she wolfs it down as quickly as she can. We are feeding her Wellness puppy food, and we've switched Tonka to a grain-free dog food called Hi-Tek. Ever since we'd adopted Tonka and Changa in early 2006, we didn't know much about dog food. We figured dogs were equipped to eat whatever. We'd been feeding them generic dog food from HEB, with the excuse we were on a budget. But over the past year, we've been learning about all the contamination and empty fillers in most dog food, so we decided all our dogs from now should enjoy the same quality, nutrition we get as humans. I partially blame food for Changa's brain tumor and ultimate death.

In addition to the worry of getting Lola rid of worms and parasites, I also learned about the deadly parvo virus, only after I'd taken her to a dog park. I mentioned to our vet that I was concerned she might pick up worms at the dog park, but she explained parvo was a much bigger threat and concern for puppies. Essentially, it's a life-threatening disease that can be spread by direct or indirect contact with poop contaminated by the virus. It's very difficult to get rid of it, and it can survive in feces or organic material such as dirt for up to a year.

I didn't fully comprehend the disease, however, until I'd taken Lola to a dog park for the second time, and had taken her to other public places where contamination was also possible, such as Petsmart. Even when we finally realized the seriousness of parvo and only took her to very controlled environments, we discovered that the threat of the virus can still sneak up on you. We'd taken Lola to backyard party hosted by trusted friends, whose dogs were a bit older and disease free, and it turned out a neighbor had a puppy who had overcome parvo several months earlier. It was possible he'd tracked in the virus on his shoes. I stressed for the next few days, watching Lola closely, inspecting her poop for normal signs.

But at some point, you have to stop being paranoid. All you can do is be cautious. We take Lola for walks around the block, and even that can be a threat. But she needs exercise and activity to burn off her boundless puppy energy. The backyard simply isn't enough. And throwing the ball to play fetch with her sometimes upsets Tonka. I still have flashbacks to Tonka going after the blue heeler who was fetching his stick at the green belt.

One safe place to take your puppy to burn off excess energy and learn new things is a puppy class. Our vet recommended Buddy's Chance on North Lamar. They have a free class on Monday nights for puppies under 15 weeks of age. We've taken her once so far, and she had a ball playing with a bunch of little boy-pups. She learned how to allow us to restrain her by the collar, how to trust other friendly adults with our permission, and how to roll and tumble - without going overboard - with other pups. We'll be taking her to this class a couple more times until she graduates to the Puppy II class for more serious learning of various commands and tricks.

We did teach Lola to "sit" and "shake" (which she knows as "paw") very early on. When she is not overly distracted, she also knows "down." It only took about 20 minutes to teach her to give her paw. She's quite smart - intelligence is a feature of the Catahoula breed. We've also been studying a book that our friend, Chris (who had facilitated the rescue of Tonka and Changa back in 2006) brought us from the thrift store. It's called "The Art of Raising a Puppy," and it's written by the Monks of New Skete who live in upstate New York.

The book has been criticized for some by its harsh and rigid techniques. As it turns out, "mouthing" (gentle biting), is not as inappropriate as the monks say. As the trainers at Buddy's Chance explained, it's good to let puppies bite on you so they learn how to do it gently. That way, if they ever bite when they are older, it won't be a harmful bite. Although, I am sure there are a dozen different perspectives on the matter. We'll keep our eyes and ears open. Like raising a child, there is no one perfect way to do it. And that is one thing I do like about the book - it points out that raising a puppy is about developing a relationship and learning how to communicate with your dog. The communication goes two ways. You need to learn how to read your dog, and you need to understand the way the dog reads you.

All while keeping Lola disease free, socialized and introduced to a variety of environments, and teaching her manners and commands, we've also been watching her relationship develop with Tonka. At first, he seemed to simply tolerate her. He did not seem upset to have her join our home, but he did not seem too interested in her either. His only reaction to her seemed to happen when she got too close to his face or food, or when he became jealous at whatever she was doing, whether it was playing with her treat-filled toys or having too much fun with fetch. He would snap, growl, and/or lunge slightly at her.

At first, whenever I thought Tonka might have this kind of reaction to her, I'd turn or walk way, unable to deal with my fears that he'd attack her. But he never did. I eventually learned that his behavior toward her was very similar to a momma dog putting her pups in place. A momma will even pin her pup to the ground and curl her lips. All the older dog is doing is showing dominance and correcting the young pup's behavior. As long as the pup reacts in the appropriate manner, no harm is done. And Lola has been very good at submitting to Tonka's dominance. The more she submitted, the less interested Tonka became in whatever activity she'd been doing in the first place to annoy him. He wasn't trying to steal her bone or take over her game of ball. He just needed to make sure she knew he was the boss.

Today, I caught Tonka laying on his back while Lola hovered right near his face, pawing at him. He was playfully pawing back. I'd never seen Tonka in such an act of dog loving-ness. He was never even this sweet with his old lady Changa. Somehow, Lola won his heart. He doesn't seem to growl as much - or any more it seems - when she comes prancing in through the dog door while he is peacefully sleeping near it. He doesn't seem to mind when she jumps on him or follows him around. It seems they've become pals even. I think, one afternoon while we were out running errands, they signed some kind of canine pact. They figured something out between them we'll never know.

It's been an incredible month - five weeks now. For now, it's the closest thing I know to having a child. Watching a puppy grow before your eyes, developing a bond with big brother, learning new tricks and behaviors, blossoming in her personality, and learning every new thing in the world. She's discovered squirrels, birds, babies, drive-thrus with dog treats, small and big dogs, puppies and old dogs, vacuum cleaners, coffee grinders, leashes, bar patios, the joy of chewing up sneakers and cell phones, her shadow on the ground, her reflection in the mirror, how the vines grow across and through the chain link fence, and what rain after a long drought in Texas feels, sounds, and smells like.

Her favorite toy is a squeaky monkey that looks like Curious George. She squeaks on the thing with great passion, especially if I start laughing. I've never seen a dog squeak on something so fast and so hard. She cuddles with it as if it were her stuffed animal. She takes it out out to the yard and rolls it around in the dirt and grass. She goes on insane sprints round and round the yard with the monkey in her jaw.

She learned how to get up on the couch, but she also learned that it's forbidden, so she figured out how to grab a cushion from the couch and pull it out through the dog door and to the back deck. She likes to be comfortable. One day, she jumped up and grabbed her blanket from the clothesline, and she dragged it over to the corner so she could lay on it.

We approximate that this month [October 2011], Lola is four months old. (I've given her the birthday of September 10, since that is the day she came to us, and we were told she was about three months old then.) I'll check back in with progress when she turns five months.

Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
It's a mixed up muddled up, shook up world
Except for Lola, L-L-Lola.

--The Kinks

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