On learning a new dog

One of the highlights of fostering, for me, is getting to know a new dog. I love seeing a photo and reading a bio, and then experiencing the anticipation of how the new foster will be in real life. How will s/he fit into our family? What will his/her cutest quirks be? Biggest training challenges? Most surprising characteristics?

With a new dog, I am also always anxious to understand her/his personality so that I can try to convey it photographically and in words. One of my many untested theories is that adoptable dogs with a distinct “personality” have a magical sort of draw to them, making them more attractive to potential adopters. Our first foster, Lollie, was a classic lovable underdog. She was a big sweetheart with a sad past who had a lot of heart, and really wanted to win the world over. And she did. We dubbed her Lollie Wonderdog. Next was Gonzo. Gonzo was a pocket rocket. He was a tiny little ball of mischevious antics. He had tons of energy and didn’t much care if anybody liked him, but with that face and those ears, people just couldn’t resist.  His name became Gonzo Bunny-Ears.

TANK’s persona is still evolving, since we’ve only had him about three days and upon bringing him home, we knew much less about him than his predecessors.  He doesn’t yet have his middle name, which we like to bestow upon our fosters. So far we know that he is a big, goofy, oafish, friendly lug who is absolutely jazzed with life. Other aspects of his personality are coming out, but we are just barely starting to fit together the puzzle. It’s hard to resist, but we’re trying not to rush: the discovery is one of the best parts.

Here’s one piece of the TANK puzzle: in the house, he is an enthusiastic, bouncy youngster who is constantly moving, licking, chewing, running, and jumping. He will learn how to be a good house dog quickly, but at this point he is acting like a typical 60 pound puppy with little training. But outside? Outside he is the calmest dog I’ve ever met. He walks slowly next to me on the leash, almost never gets excited, and occasionally even decides to lay down in the grass to rest and smell the clover. And once he’s down, there is little that will convince him to get back up except his own free will.

New foster: TANK!

Introducing our new foster, TANK!

Have you ever seen such rugged good looks on a dog?

We have only had TANK for 36 hours, but are totally falling for this giant, puppy-like goofball. TANK may have that tough-guy look, but he could hardly be more of a softie! TANK lives for ear scratches, belly rubs, and big hugs. He also loves to give big, slobbery kisses to anybody who shows him a little kindness. He has such a big personality that when we say his name, or think his name, or write his name, we can’t help but use all caps: TANK!

This poor oversized puppy showed up as a stray at a rural animal shelter in South Carolina, where few dogs ever make it out alive. There he sat, patiently, quietly, and worriedly, waiting for somebody to claim him, but nobody ever came. And still. The shelter workers must have seen something really special in this guy’s sweet disposition and devastatingly handsome face, because he wound up being the first pit bull type dog to ever be released from the shelter to a rescue group! TANK is very proud of this great honor, and hopes that he paves the way for many other pit bulls who come from his former turf.

The area he came from is very rural and fairly poor, and we wonder: was TANK loved? Had he lived in a house and had his nails trimmed? Was he bred by bad people for bad purposes, but then failed to live up to their expectations? Has he ever played with a toy before? Slept on a soft bed? Seen the bright lights of a big city?

We wish we knew more about TANK’s history, and are really looking forward to getting to know him. We hope you’ll join us!

A letter to Gonzo in his new home

Dear Gonzo Bunny-Ears,

Thank you for being such a good boy and barely whimpering when I left you at your new home with your new people. I was so delighted to learn that you were not only a brave fellow, but quickly forgot about us after I left, just as I had hoped you would. After all, your new parents, C and J, are so wonderful, and your new sister Laila — a 95 pound presa canario — well, she’s just a dream. And I’m sure the milkbones helped too.

When I first heard from C and J and started corresponding with them over email, I thought they were too good to be true. And when they came to the adoption show with sweet Laila to meet you? I just about died from the cuteness of the two of you together. You probably don’t realize how small you are or how big she is, but Gonzo. She is almost three times bigger than you! 

Later in the week when they brought Laila over to our house for a play date, since you never did like the adoption shows very much, we were all nervous about how things would go. Would you like her? Would her rambunctious, boxer-like play style be too much for your tiny self? We already knew that you far prefer big dogs to small dogs, and that Laila always seeks out the little guys at the dog park, but still . . . would you be a match? By this time their application had checked out perfectly, so this was the last step, and the stakes were high! Your co-walk went fine, and the two of you even got to bond over near-simultaneous pooping, do you remember? You probably didn’t notice that Laila’s poops are almost as big as your head, did you. We also learned that you share an affinity for pooping multiple times on one walk — something that drives me and foster dad crazy.

Once we let you loose on the deck together, you did great. It is difficult to describe the joy I felt as I watched you sail through the air — seemingly in slow motion — to give your sister a good love-nip on the neck, and watched you both tumble to the ground, only to writhe on deck, side by side, two backs on the ground, eight paws flailing, two mouths open, and two tails beating on the wood planks in a hyper happy rhythm.

Gonzo, I hope you don’t forget all the things we talked about before you left. I hope you remember how to be a gentleman, and to let your new sister win games of tug-of-war now and then. I hope you are a good snuggling partner and don’t hog the very center of the bed like you so often did with your foster-brother Chick. I hope you remember to always pee outside and never inside, not even a little squirt now and then when you are exceptionally excited. And Gonzo, I hope you remember us. Not as your parents, but as some nice people who helped you make a graceful transition from your former life to your forever life.

And finally, Gonzo, you have touched our lives in an unexpected way. Just like the rest of the world, we have been hypnotized by your good looks and your bouncy, care-free attitude. We never thought we would see the day when a totally adorable, totally uncontroversial, tiny pocket-pittie would steal our hearts. We thought we were underdog people, and Gonzo, you are not and underdog. And to a large extent, we are still underdog people. But you have helped us realize that above all, we are dog people. Every dog has a story to tell and a special gift to share. Thank you for sharing yours with us. You have expanded our horizons, and we love you very much.

With eternal affection,

Fostermom and  fosterdad (and brother Chick, whose affection has surprised even himself, since he thought he could never love a dog smaller than his 50 pound self)

PS- here are a few photos of you, your sister, and your new parents — partly for you, partly for your fans.

PPS- the first photo is one of your foster mom’s favorite photos of all time.

Gonzo’s Bunny-Ears: Saving Lives Since 2007*

The moment we met Gonzo, we felt that it was his ears that helped spring him out of jail at one of the most overcrowded shelters in the DC area. Having spent almost two months with him, we were all the more convinced that the magnetism of his ears is so strong that they have the capacity to save more dogs than just himself. And now? Well, now we have proof.

We first met T through her inquiry about adopting Gonzo. Her family is perfect. Two boys, one young, one older, a big fenced yard, nice flexible schedules, another dog — a lab — who loves to play. T is absolutely charming, and was equally charmed by Gonzo through his bio and his blog. Because of the young age of one of her children, her application was not a match (Gonzo is a bit nippy with toys and is not allowed to go to a family with kids under 4ish). Sad to be losing a great potential adopter, I emailed her right away, offering to suggest a few dogs at local shelters who met her general criteria (smallish pit bull type, dog- and cat-friendly, young, and cute ears — a la Gonzo — if possible). After all, spring is the season of dogs being put to sleep in huge numbers, so it’s also the best time to adopt.

Much to my delight, T responded to my offer. I rushed to get in touch with friends at our local shelter, MCHS, who immediately recommended a sweet, young, timid pit bull girl named Precious. She even has cute, perky ears! Precious had been a shelter favorite because of her dainty, gentle nature and adorable, petite features, but as many pit bulls do, she kept getting overlooked. Unfortunately, her initial shelter photo kind of made her look like a haggard old lady:

Still, at my determined insistence, T agreed to make the long haul up to MCHS (30 miles is far for the DC area!) to meet her that week. And wouldn’t you know, it was love. They loved Precious’ temperament, her sweet eyes, her gentle nature, and her fabulous bat ears. Over the next few days, another visit ensued with the rest of the family, including dog Gretzky, a home interview, and a spay surgery for Precious. She was adopted!

No glamour shots of Precious (now Luna!) are available yet, but these show off her cuteness just a tad bit better. Check out those Gonz-esque ears!

During the application process, we got a very nice note from T about her experience working with us and with MCHS on the adoption. We were thrilled to hear about T’s great experience, and wanted to pass this along as an important reminder to our friends who are on the front lines of animal welfare work– whether in shelters, at rescues, or elsewhere. A bit of kindness and a willingness to treat every person as an individual just as you would treat every animal — can make all the difference.

“And any lingering twinge over the “Gonzo app” is negated by all the positives that came out of the situation. (Hopefully) A sweet angel of a dog is getting a forever home she might not have gotten otherwise, and in the process ya’ll (You, Bobbi and Dave)  may help a couple OTHER dogs find their forever homes as a result.
I know a few people who want to adopt a dog, but who’ve found the online adoption process to be rather daunting and overwhelming (all those dogs, and they all sound/look equally as adorable, but it’s not the same as meeting the dog in person)  and I’ve shared with them my experiences this far, and how helpful and supportive you all have been and they’re looking into adoption via MCHS and other local shelters in the coming weeks.
So if it all works out maybe a few more doggies with find forever homes that wouldn’t have if everything had gone perfectly and smoothly with the Gonzo adoption. Win!”

So Precious/Luna: congratulations on your beautiful new life, and Gonzo: your ears’ altruism clearly knows no bounds!

*Gonzo has technically been saving lives only since 2010, when he saved his own life, via his ears, at the shelter. But six months ago in human years is four years ago in dog years . . . right?

Gonzo’s favorite things: romancing the kong

Gonzo loves playing tug, hanging out with other dogs, and helping out in the kitchen, but possibly more than all of these things, Gonzo loves romancing a kong. His tenacious terrier nature really goes on display when you give him a food-stuffed kong to chew on. You can almost hear his little heart sing in happiness. Even his ears are cocked in concentration:

Gonzo’s favorite things: helping

Mr. Gonzo Bunny-Ears is ever so helpful in the kitchen. He has picked this skill up from his big foster brother Chick, who is always willing to help clean up– whether the excess be on the floor, in a bowl, stuck to the back of a spoon, or dripping down mom’s leg.

Gonzo was not a natural kitchen-dweller when he first came to us, but he sure did learn fast. As long as there is a dog bed nearby from which both wonderdogs can watch all the action, both Gonzo and brother Chick will lay obediently in their assigned spot instead of getting underfoot. With one exception:

Something about the sound of the hand mixer sends a signal to their brains — and a pavlovian response kicks in, forcing them to leap out of their spot and bound over to where I am standing, butts wiggling out of control.

For more info about adopting Gonzo Bunny-Ears, contact us at DCpetographer [at] gmail [dot] com or through Partnership for Animal Welfare.

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