We have a new addition. His name is Truman. He is a rescue Standard Poodle, age 5 1/2 months and 38.6 lbs and very much still growing. I wish I could say this is a joyous story, but there is just too much baggage for poor Truman. I can only promise you a happy ending.
My husband didn’t really want another dog. But after seeing how miserable I was, muddled in grief over the loss of Spencer, our 12-year-old Standard Poodle who was my hiking and walking companion and eternal optimist, my husband started to come around (thank you!). Spencer enjoyed everything about life and woke up happy every day, and was a true inspiration to people like myself who chronically see the glass as half empty. I loved going on walks with Spencer. After he died, walking was an exercise chore, not the joyous stroll in nature that had been full of new discoveries. There was a void that I couldn’t seem to fill. I think my husband realized that when one’s wife is not happy, she is a real pain to live with – – even more of a pain than living with a dog who may compete with said husband for attention.
And so the search began. I signed up with numerous Standard Poodle rescue groups and clubs from Virginia to Maine. I filled out lots of applications and supplied lots of personal information that went way beyond references for vet, groomer, friends and neighbors. The results were often that I came close to adopting a Standard Poodle, but no cigar. Sometimes another potential adopter beat me to the punch. Other times the adoption fees were exorbitant – – or at least more than I could afford or was willing to pay. (Many rescue dogs have high medical bills that are funded by adopters and donors, but those expenses are often averaged into the adoption fees of healthy dogs.) So many of the stories were sad: abuse or neglect, but sometimes, through no fault of their own, dogs were relinquished because their faithful owner died or became ill or senile.
I admit my search started to turn into an obsession. I checked Petfinder.com at least four times a day. I joined every Facebook Standard Poodle group (there are dozens) known to mankind. Four months later, despite my best efforts, I still was dog-less. And miserable.
As I became a more active participant and commentator on Facebook poodle groups, people started to contact me privately about poodles they were relinquishing. I was desperate, but still picky. A poodle can live 15 – 16 years, and it’s really a very long commitment. At the end of the day, no matter how good rescuing a dog from a bad situation makes you feel, you still have to live with said dog every single day for the rest of its life. There’s no point in getting a dog that won’t be a good fit for your situation or personality and then being miserable for the next ten or fifteen years, or getting into a situation that becomes untenable so the dog needs to be rehomed yet again.
In some cases, I was in conversations for weeks (!) with Facebook poodle owners who were thinking of relinquishing their dogs. One lady messaged me privately. She told me about a poodle she had rescued that wasn’t a good fit for her. I asked her to send me a picture. When I made a comment about the dog, she perceived it as an insult to her dog’s looks and dropped me like a hot potato. One rescue person told me of a dog being relinquished for a “minimal fee.” I drove 3 hours to meet the dog. The dog loved me and bonded with me immediately. The breeder couldn’t get over it: “That dog doesn’t like ANYONE who comes to check her out.” I told her I would be happy to adopt the dog, and the lady was delighted. She had spent three hours interviewing me to make sure I could provide the perfect home. I whipped out my checkbook, thinking she’d ask a fee comparable to rescue organizations. “That will be $2,500.” She said this with a straight face. I blanched – – and left without a dog. I still had to drive 3 hours home. A very long, 9 hour day – – and it would not be the furthest or longest in the process. Another person showed me a picture of a beautiful dog who was “very sweet and loving.” But in person, the dog was “very sweet and loving” only to its owner – – it was absolutely terrified of anyone and anything else, and literally jumped backwards in the air when I tried to pet it.
I am embarrassed to report how many miles I put on my car doing “meet and greets” with dogs I thought I might adopt. Let’s just say it makes the drive we do from our hometown to Maine – 11 hours – look like a hop, skip and a jump.
Now I know I’m going to offend people with the following comment; and I am in no way equating my disappointment about a failed dog adoption on the same level as a person; but I now can appreciate on a much, much smaller scale, how traumatic it must be to go through the adoption process for a real, live, human baby. The adopters spend countless hours and months with the birth mom in an open adoption. They emotionally invest in the baby that will be theirs. At the last minute, the birth mom changes her mind and the adoption doesn’t go through. All their hopes and dreams – – dashed. And the knowledge that they must start the adoption process all over again, posting ads, interviewing, expenses, etc – – for what might be another false hope – – it’s just devastating and exhausting. Of course the birth mother has the absolute right to have second thoughts about relinquishing her baby, and pull out of the adoption! But that doesn’t make it any less painful for the adopters.
At my wits’ end, I started looking at other breeds. My requirements were tough: a medium to large dog that did not shed (much or at all). There are surprisingly few dogs that meet these criteria. There are many wonderful dogs out there, but they are either too big and short-lived (ie Great Danes), or too small (and therefore yappy).
I then started doing searches of reputable breeders in my area. I wasn’t interested in a puppy, but asked if they had any poodles they were retiring from breeding who would like to be out of the show arena and into a pet home, or if they knew of past customers who due to life circumstances (illness or death or a lifestyle change) needed to rehome their dogs.
Finally, it paid off. On Thursday I spoke to someone I’d never met before: a breeder who raises Standard Poodles as service dogs for the disabled and who is also a dog trainer. He said, “It’s funny you called. Someone I don’t even know just called me, telling me that she wanted to give up her Standard Poodle puppy because she hadn’t anticipated how much work it would be to train a dog.”
The trainer knew nothing about the dog’s temperament or what it looked like, but said if the lady decided not to keep the dog, he would call me. The lady had assured him the dog was not aggressive in any way.
The very next day he called: “The lady is dropping the dog off tonight. If you think you want it, come see it tomorrow.”
Two hours later he called me back. “This is one fantastic dog. I don’t understand why she didn’t want it – he is really great.” The trainer did not take a fee and the lady wanted only to get rid of the puppy – so the dog came to me without any cost at all (a relative term, since I have since purchased food, toys, and a visit to the vet).
Indeed, it was love at first sight – – if this dog was really a poodle. He hadn’t been clipped in a while, and looked more like a mutt. And as more of his story came out, he really was a tragedy in the making through no fault of his own. Worse, his story is actually pretty typical.
His parents started their breeding life at an auction. Dogs in horrible condition are paraded on a stage and bought by the highest bidder with no thought to the life they will endure at the hands of cruel and unscrupulous breeders. Lancaster County in Pennsylvania is the puppy mill capital of the United States. These mills are run by Amish and Mennonites, who view the animals not as pets but as chattel. They are never groomed, never bathed, and never petted nor exercised. They never leave the confines of their cage except to mate and produce puppies. They are kept in small cages in all types of weather – – extreme heat, extreme cold, infested with flies and intestinal worms. There are some that never even touch grass – – only the wire floor of their cage. Their cages aren’t even cleaned — they defecate through the wire. They never walk, their nails are never trimmed. The only thing that matters is their ability to produce puppies.
And when they do, the survival of the puppies is at stake, because many are infected with parvo virus and a variety of intestinal worms. By law they must be examined by a vet. Usually these puppies are sold to pet stores around the US. Yes, they may be “purebred, AKC” puppies, but the parents are not tested for genetic afflictions which are then passed to their offspring. These genetic diseases are not usually present during puppyhood. So when a pet store offers a 1 year guarantee, it means little. Those puppies that are returned are rarely rehomed – – they are destroyed. And despite the poor family tree, pet shop dogs sell for premium prices. Truman was up for sale for $1500. For that same money, you could easily find a reputable breeder that health tests its dogs.
But for whatever reason, despite the cute factor, Truman lingered longer than most of the other puppies at the pet store. Eight weeks old, then nine, then ten – – at 12 weeks he was suddenly more of a liability than an asset. His price was reduced – – Poodle Puppy On Sale! – – to $800. That’s when an older woman with 2 Chihuahuas purchased him – – an impulse buy because he was “so cute” and “a good deal.”
Only three weeks later, she realized she’d made a mistake. Her Chihuahuas didn’t appreciate having to share her attention with a poodle puppy. She didn’t really have time to meet the puppy’s needs. So she advertised on Craigslist and found a family with young children who wanted a small dog. Truman wasn’t a small dog – in fact he’s quite large, even for a Standard Poodle – – but he was “so cute” and “a good deal for a purebred dog.”
But soon the kids tired of the puppy. The parents had trouble keeping the house “puppy safe” as the puppy started teething, chewing up toys and shoes. They never did get the housebreaking thing. They started keeping Truman in a crate for a few hours a day, and soon that time increased to most of the day. They got mad when he pooped in his crate – – what a mess to clean up. They’d take him on a leash outside and he wouldn’t go – – and then he’d come home, be locked in his crate, and poop. Despite having paid $800 for him only three weeks earlier, they couldn’t unload him fast enough. They called a trainer (who also happens to breed Standard poodles) and asked if he would take their dog – for free.
The trainer was appalled. From the family’s description, every issue could easily be remedied. He spent two hours without charge giving them advice, counsel, and ideas for getting Truman to be the dog he was meant to be. The family said they’d think it over. At that point the trainer felt more sorry for the dog than the people, and was afraid they’d dump him who knows where. So he said he would take the dog and find it a good home if they decided to relinquish him. And that’s when I called out of the blue.
When I went to visit Truman I brought two of my grandchildren with me. Whatever dog I would get would need to be kid-friendly, as my grandchildren visit frequently. Indeed, I saw that the dog did not have a mean bone in its body – – it loved everyone. His expression was that of an old man in a puppy body. The name Truman immediately came to me – – due to his rough start in life I couldn’t bear to call him the name he had been given by his previous owners.
(I nevertheless solicited name suggestions from friends and family and Facebook poodle groups. But “Truman” won out.)
From the trainer’s home, I took him straight to the groomer for a bath and trim. His scruffy mutt look was soon replaced by that regal Standard Poodle bearing.
I am happy to report that Truman has never had an accident in his crate (or in the house) in the past 96 hours that I’ve had him. I taught him “sit” in five minutes and “heel” in 30 minutes (an impressive accomplishment on his part). He walks beautifully – never pulls the leash or tries to drag me down the street. When he needs to go out, he approaches softly and puts his head in your lap, looking at you with those sad, beseeching eyes. He is polite! But he can be silly too. He loves throwing squeaky toys high up in the air and batting them around. He retrieves beautifully and quickly got the hang of giving me back the ball, handing it to me gently for another chance at chasing it. He can run at a gallop – – yet he always comes when called. He loves my grandchildren, and the feeling is mutual. Even my children, who (unfortunately! where did I go wrong?) are not dog lovers –like him. And his puppy antics are quite amusing. Today I took him to a pet store that had life-sized stuffed toy animals. He looked intently at one fake furry toy golden retriever – and promptly approached it and sniffed its butt! He was delighted to find a playmate in the mirror – – but when he noticed me in the reflection he was truly bewildered how it could be possible that his owner had a twin.
Today I took him to his first vet checkup. He needs to be treated for worms and some itching – – we’re not sure if it’s an allergy or a reaction to insect bites – – but overall he seems okay. If he has major issues due to his poor breeding, they are unlikely to surface at so young an age. Miraculously, despite his horrible start, his incredibly sweet, smart temperament is intact. (He does sometimes get nightmares, though, and whimpers piteously in his sleep.) I can’t wait for the weather to clear so we can go on our first hike. I think this is the start of a beautiful relationship.
I didn’t want a large dog (our past two dogs were around 40 lbs – Truman will be 75 lbs). I wanted an adult dog, figuring I myself was too old to take in a puppy. Ironically he may end up being the most medically expensive “free puppy” in the world down the road due to his poor breeding.
I’ve learned this: we all make “checklists” of what we want in life, and how we want it, but real life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we just have to seize opportunities that may not seem perfect, with the chance that they may turn into a blessing.
Truman, the throwaway Standard Poodle, is perfect for us.
Life is so much better with a dog.