12. The highs and lows (or just lows) of internet searches

When we brought Annie home I didn’t have any documentation of her birth date. The only document from the original kennel was a rabies certificate from June 2014. I received her immunization records from the vet who took care of her while she was in foster care and that was her entire file. It wasn’t much to go on. I assume some of the other dogs had more paperwork since their ages were known but Annie’s age was estimated to be between 7 and 9 at the time of her rescue. I was very torn about wanting to know more information about her and just wanting to look toward the future without dwelling on the past. There was a video that was created for NCA rescue that told the story of the rescue and the progress of one dog in particular, the last one pulled out that didn’t have a name, didn’t have any records or papers and was in critical condition. The rescue volunteers named her Precious and she has become the face and namesake for this group of dogs.

It took me several weeks to muster the courage to watch the video. It wasn’t as graphic as I feared and the overall message was one of hope and recovery but it left me feeling very conflicted about how much I really wanted to know about Annie. Based on her behavior, it was obvious she suffered from neglect and abuse. She is still fearful around men and is very guarded in new situations. I’ve come to the conclusion that my hope that someone had given her some care and attention in the kennel is just wishful thinking and at best she was neglected and didn’t receive much human interaction at all. That’s a pretty grim outlook, but her guarded behavior and the fact that she gets startled easily is confirmation that she didn’t have many positive experiences with humans during her time there.

Most of the time, I just wanted to focus on her recovery and gaining her trust but I had moments of such rage directed at this breeder that I would find myself staying up late at night doing internet searches. The kennel still had an active website and even though most of the information had been deleted there were still puppy pictures. When I looked at them more closely I noticed that most of the puppies were photographed on straw or a dirt patch with gravel and rocks in the background. He didn’t even try to show them in a comfortable environment! There was a stream of complaints about sick and dying puppies that had been purchased. The kennel owner’s profile was still listed on several puppy websites, which was his primary source for selling puppies. There was an ad for a 19 month old for sale dated after the rescue had already started which led me to believe that someone was still trying to sell as many dogs as possible and was only turning over the senior and sick dogs for rescue. All of this confirmed what I already knew. He was operating a puppy mill and had little regard for his dogs or the breed.

I was actually surprised that Annie got a rabies vaccine. On that certificate her age was listed as 7. The only other information that stood out was that her previous rabies tag was from 2008. Was I to assume that in the 7-8 years that she was on this property she only received 2 rabies shots? And who was this vet that did this, wasn’t there some obligation to report a situation in which the dogs were not receiving appropriate medical care? I did find a notice from 2013 that stated the owner had been sanctioned by the AKC. His privileges were suspended for one year for violating care and conditions standards and he was charged a $1000 fine. How many complaints were logged before that happened? There is just so very little that can be done to prevent this from happening. It obviously didn’t shut him down, the fine was equal to one puppy and then he just kept going, selling puppies online and at pet stores.

The one piece of information that I found that didn’t make me sick to my stomach was a listing of dogs on a Newfoundland database. There were hundreds of dogs listed with this kennel and that’s where I found Annie’s full name with a birth date of 06/07/06. My assumptions were confirmed, if this was my Annie, and it’s possible he had multiple dogs with the same name, she was 9 ½ when we adopted her. This also meant that she had been born there and kept there while being forced to have multiple litters a year for as long as her body could until she was rescued. Many but not all of the dogs in her rescue group were on this list and the dogs whose names I found were all between the ages of 7 and 10. A few of the dogs didn’t survive very long after they were rescued but at least they were able to get into new homes before they died.

I decided to go with this date, it was a pretty close match to the age listed on her rabies certificate and it was the most reasonable estimate I would have. We were going to celebrate her 10th birthday in June! I also decided I would do no more internet sleuthing, Annie was making such good progress and I was trying to get her to only look forward and forget the bad times of her past. We would both be more successful in attaining this goal by putting her past behind us.

 

 

I think we might have a retrieving dog!

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From the time Maisie was a puppy she has always loved her toys. Plush squeakers are the first choice, but balls and rope toys also are among the chosen. Every night after dinner she loves to tear around the house, running as fast as she can, squeaking her favorite toy of the week and making as much noise as possible. She will skid out as she rounds the corners and then change direction midway through. Then, as fast as it started, she will plop down, out of breath, and fall asleep.

Often times I will join her, playing run and chase, her version of keep away. She loves this and really loves when I catch her. When she was little I would grab her toy and give it a toss, expecting her to run after it and bring it back. This was a game that all of our dogs loved but Maisie would stop and look at me like I’d just ruined everything. Why on earth would I throw her toy when we were having so much fun? When Maisie was about 2 I finally gave up on the idea that she would ever retrieve. She had absolutely no interest in chasing down a ball or toy and I was tired of the confused look she would give me when I would toss one of her toys.

We have been taking Maisie to the dog beach since she was a puppy. The number one game down there is retrieve the ball from the water and at any given time there are multiple dogs tearing through the water in pursuit of far flung balls. Maisie loves tearing through the water, and her favorite game is chase the dog that is chasing the ball. It’s no surprise that many of the dogs don’t think this is a very good game so we spend a lot of time redirecting Maisie and trying to find her a dog that she can run with. She is incredibly fast for a Newfie, and is actually one of the fastest dogs on the beach, so when she finds a runner, or a dog that doesn’t think she is trying to steal their ball she has a really good beach day.

On the 4th of July, we took the dogs to the beach first thing in the morning. We like to go early because there aren’t as many dogs down there and it’s easier to keep Maisie in check with her love of chasing other dogs. The collies really don’t like the way she plays but she has a couple of boxer and doodle friends that think her game is a lot of fun. Unfortunately on this morning she wasn’t finding anyone that she wanted to play with. Chris and I were talking to another owner that we hadn’t seen in a while and he was tossing a ball for one of his dogs. The ball was floating in the water and for some reason Chris tossed it so that it landed close to Maisie. We call her a tracker because she will chase a toy, give it a couple swats to show us she found it and then return without picking it up, but on this morning, for the very first time, she picked up the ball and brought it back! Chris gave her huge praise, then tossed it again and she went out and brought it back again! The game continued, each time Chris would throw it a little further and each time she would chase it down and bring it back.

I never thought she would retrieve and laughed about my water rescue dog that wouldn’t bring anything in. Newfoundlands are working dogs and love to be stimulated with a job. Bailey’s job was to bring in the paper every morning. She also loved to bring small items in from the car. She would let me know every morning if she hadn’t yet done her job and would be completely upset if someone else brought in the paper. Maisie hasn’t shown any interest in the jobs I’ve tried to introduce and water training seemed out of the question. I could just picture her chasing other Newfies while they were on their mission and the disruption she would cause. I don’t think we will ever do water rescue training, but at least now we can bring a ball to the beach and entertain her when she can’t find a friend who doesn’t mind her water chasing game that she thinks is so fantastic.

11. The narrow hallway

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Between our kitchen and our TV room where we kept the crates is a narrow hallway. Annie never liked going this way to get outside and after the first 2 days she flat our refused and would go the long way around every time she went out, came back in or went to the kitchen for her meals. We assumed it was because there were 3 doorways in addition to the entrances on either end and she didn’t like doorways.

We all got used to her parade through the house and most of the time I would escort her through the house when I was trying to get her to go outside. After about 3 months, she would go on her own when I stood by the back door and called her but if I was watching TV and she gave me her signal of sitting up, breathing heavy and looking into the next room, I would get up and walk with her to the back door. I found this little quirk to be charming and assumed that she would never venture down the narrow hallway. She seemed happy enough to watch me from one end when I was cooking and would sometimes lie down and stretch her chin so her face rested on the cool tile.

A couple of days after Mother’s Day I asked the girls if they would like to go for a walk, I grabbed the leashes from the hook (in the hallway) and realized their collars were still in the basement from when we had bathed them. They were both eager to go so I ran downstairs, grabbed the collars and was shocked to see not 1 but 2 big heads staring at me as I came up the stairs! Maisie always waits at the top of the stairs usually in a play bow as I get closer but Annie had gone down the hallway and stuck her head through the basement opening to see where I went. I was stunned, she had braved the hallway but this was actually consistent for Annie; she needed to do it when she was ready and with no one watching.

My son came home from college that evening and we knew that would be an adjustment for her. They had met but she was still reluctant to approach men and it would take her a while to get used to him. One evening while we were eating in the dining room with him and his girlfriend I caught a black blur out of the corner of my eye. Annie had gone down the narrow hallway into the kitchen. Maisie was laying in there while we ate and I think Annie wanted to make sure she wasn’t missing out on any after dinner treats. When she confirmed that nothing was happening at the moment she turned back around and went back to her crate. She had successfully avoided the dining room where my son was sitting and had been able to check on us from a distance. She was getting more comfortable in the house!

I know it doesn’t sound like much, Maisie had full reign of the house and skipped from one room to another without any hesitation but Annie contemplated every move she made, where she was going, was it safe, would it be just like it was the last time? Her safe place was her crate and it was as if she took a risk every time she ventured out.

About a week after her hallway walk my daughter and I were in the basement installing a new cable box. Of course this was taking far longer that it should and there was a fair amount of frustration (expletives and threats towards the cable company) expressed while we were down there. Maisie was asleep on the couch, completely ignoring my outbursts but to my complete surprise Annie came galumphing down the dark and steep staircase to join us. I had always taken her through the outside entrance and never considered trying to get her down that staircase, it was off of that narrow hallway and it was also steep. None of our other dogs attempted this in their senior years and I saw no point in trying to get Annie to try. Once again she amazed me with her determination to take things at her own pace and by herself. Slowly, very slowly, she was trusting that this house was her house and she was safe in these four walls upstairs and down.

 

10. Mother’s Day gifts

For the last several weeks, our walks were much shorter to accommodate Annie and I had missed my long lake front walks with Maisie.   The morning was beautiful, sunny and not too hot, so I grabbed Maisie’s leash and asked her if she wanted to go for a walk. Maisie was so excited and followed me out of the room.  To my surprise, Annie popped up and wanted to go too. I knew she wouldn’t be able to go the full length, but I couldn’t turn her down when she was showing interest in going for a walk for the very first time! Prior to this she would come to me when I had the leash and I would lead her out the door but she hadn’t yet responded to “would you like to go for a walk” so I turned and grabbed her leash and headed for the door.

Annie really wanted to go, but true to form, she ventured out of her crate a little bit and then turned back around to tag up. Her next attempt she went a little further, tagged up and then tried again, each time going a little further toward the front door. On the 6th attempt, she finally made it out onto the front porch, I clipped them both and we headed out. I was elated that she wanted to come out with us, but I debated whether Annie was ready to head out for a new direction, so far we had only been walking around the same 3 or 4 blocks. I decided to give it a try, so when Maisie and I headed left toward the lake rather than turning right to go around the block, she hesitated only a moment and then trotted right along with both of us. This was the best Mother’s Day gift I could receive; Annie was becoming more confident every day and was overcoming her fears in order to be with us.IMG_0925

We didn’t go all the way to the lake, I assumed it would be very busy with people and dogs, so we went around the neighborhood and came back home about 40 minutes later. She kept a great pace and walked beautifully on leash, it was her best walk ever and we all really enjoyed it.

A couple of hours later we loaded everyone into the car and went to my brother-in-law’s house for Mother’s Day brunch. This would be a big test for Annie, a new house, a new door to go through and meeting new people. When we got there she was very curious about where she was, but she followed Maisie right into the house, sniffed around, greeted the women that were in the kitchen and then headed back out the front door. Chris was with her and followed her back out. She didn’t seem nervous, she just wanted to investigate her surroundings. The house is set on a huge beautiful lot that backs up to a forest preserve. There were lots of good smells, the man next door fosters multiple Golden Retriever rescue dogs and there was a resident dog to get to know. She took all of this in stride, followed Chris around the yard, went up to the fence to greet the loud, barking Golden Retrievers and eventually settled next to me on the deck and went to sleep until it was time to leave. She did keep a safe distance from the men, but otherwise she showed no reluctance and was comfortable enough with her new surroundings to relax and nap. All good signs that she was making significant progress in her recovery! I was so happy.

The rest of the day went like this: we went home after several hours and had a late dinner with my daughter and husband.  We decided to eat in the dining room, one of the least used rooms in the house since we usually eat in the kitchen.  I think this may have been the first time we ate in there since we brought Annie home and she kept coming around the corner to look at us.  After several peeks, she came all the way in and lay down by my chair.  It was the first time she ever searched us out and decided to stay with us while we were eating!  Usually, she would just come say hello and then go back to her crate. It was another gift on this day.

After dinner we invited our neighbors over to sit by our fire pit. We haven’t spent a lot of time outside since we brought Annie home in January and it was a beautiful evening. I was hoping she would join us but she opted to stay at the top of the deck stairs. She could hear us and keep an eye on us while maintaining a safe distance. Our neighbor has a very loud deep voice and he was conscious of keeping his volume down but she wasn’t ready to greet him. At one point she came down to the yard level and lay down on the other side of the huge oak tree that is situated close to the fire pit. I took this as another sign that she wanted to be close but was keeping a safe barrier and that was fine. If the tree made her feel comfortable, then she should lay by the tree. It was such a good ending to a wonderful day!

9. Annie goes to college!

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Our son returned to college in January, a couple of weeks before we adopted Annie. He was on the lacrosse team and this would be his first season playing college lacrosse. We were so excited and planned to travel to as many of his games as possible. After we had Annie for a couple of weeks, I realized that perhaps we would not be able to travel to his games like we originally planned. When we brought her home she was terrified of everything, even the car. Getting her out of the yard was a huge endeavor, bringing her to a game seemed impossible. As the weeks progressed and she responded well as we slowly introduced new places, I began to hope that maybe we could bring her with us to watch him play. Leaving her home wasn’t a consideration, either she came with us or we wouldn’t go at all.

When the season started we were staying home with Annie but we were able to stream the games and watch his team play. During Spring Break the team traveled to Colorado and this was my first opportunity to go to a game. My parents live there so I went out for a visit and I was able to bring my parents to the two games on his schedule. Because my parents live out of town they hadn’t seen him play very often so when he hit the field for the first time in his college uniform we were all thrilled.

The player’s parents have a tradition of putting out a meal for the team after each game. At the beginning of the season we all chose a game in which we would be in charge of the meal. The game we had volunteered for was quickly approaching and we still weren’t sure how we would do it. It would be easier if we were both there and we both wanted to watch a game in the home stadium so at the last minute we decided we would both go. We were sharing the responsibility with another family and we would only have to bring coolers with drinks and paper goods so there was room in the car for both dogs and our supplies.

We loaded everybody up and headed out very early that morning. Once we arrived I led both dogs to a really nice grassy patch near the entrance to the stadium. It was well shaded and Maisie could greet people coming and going and Annie could stay by my side and watch. Once all the spectators were settled we went in and were able to sit on a bench at the top with no one around us. Annie stood stiffly by my side for the entire game. She always chose to stand rather than sit when she was a nervous and I knew this was a lot of stimulation for her but I kept my hand by her side to comfort her and as the game went on she continued to look around and tried to relax.

After the game our son came over to greet us. Maisie was beside herself once she realized that she had found her boy in this new place. She smothered him with kisses and rolled right over for a belly rub. Annie stood behind me and watched Maisie’s reaction in an effort to figure out if this boy was someone she should know. Tom gave her a gentle pat but quickly backed off to give her some space. It was a great first meeting even though I know it was a little stressful for her. I was prepared to wait in the car with her if it seemed like it was too much but she really seemed to be OK with Maisie, Chris and I all right next to her so I considered this excursion to be a success.

We took her to 3 more games and at each of those she was much more relaxed and would lie down or sit right by me. We always chose a spot that was far away from other spectators and she was still shy around my son but I was so happy that we could bring her with us and she was learning that she would be OK in new places.

 

 

a shared life with our very large dogs

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