Griffith goes home, again: Sometimes doing what’s best is also doing what’s hardest

October 2, 2009 at 12:40 pm Leave a comment

It’s been a couple months since pariah dog Griffith arrived in Sacramento after Facebook, Twitter and real-live people helped bring him from the streets of L.A to my home in Sacramento. It took a couple weeks of R&R and several trips to the vet to get him all patched up, vaccinated, neutered. But it didn’t take long to discover what an amazing dog he was … “bomb-proof” as my trainer/friend Megan of Common Sense Dog Training said, after keeping Griffith for a week while I traveled east for work. When I picked him up she handed me a list of more than a dozen training commands that he had mastered while attending her version of doggy boot camp, including my (and Gina’s) personal favorite “poodle up” which prompted him to sit up with his front paws dangling and mouth ready for a Scooby snack. (Gina kept him for a weekend too, and puppy Faith fell in love with his good spirits.)

kennedyI adjusted pretty quickly to having a second – and more exuberant – dog around. After all, my life as a single dog owner began in 1998 when I adopted my yellow Labradork Davis from the Sacramento County shelter. Davis happily accepted rescue cat Kennedy when we adopted her from the City of Sacramento shelter in 1999 on the day that John Jr. & Caroline’s plane went down in the Hudson. (Note: I wanted to name her John-John, but no one thought such a name befitted this girl’s gray-glam style.) Davis’ non-plussed approach to the cat suited Kennedy fine and there was no drama at all adding this feline to the family.

Over the next four years, foster dogs of all shapes and sizes came and went. Davis and Kennedy were always initially curious about the new fur-person, but I always managed our expectations by having somewhat different rules for the foster dog (e.g., since not every adoptive family is going to be keen as keen as I am about an 80-pound dog on the couch, that was a no-no for fosters). I kept from getting too attached by being mindful always of their temporary status and usually had a flashy “needs home” flyer made up and circulated within days of taking the needy fellow (usually) or gal in.

 Then along came little Yoda’s litter of six. Dumped sans mom on the steps of the City shelter, this batch of four-week olds were unweaned and undeniably adorable. I scooped them up (ok, it did take some pleading and cajoling… I mean, puppies!!??) and set up a nursery in my breakfast nook. With the help of neighbors and friends who took “puppy shifts” so I could keep my job, we raised this litter right and at 12 weeks, I began placing the Star Wars’ crew… first Chewie, then Leia, Han, Wicket, Dot… and then there was Yo. This was my first litter and I had grown more attached than is healthy for foster moms. I had to keep this last sensitive, shy one. Davis was characteristically uninterested in him (after all, Yoda was neither a tennis ball nor food) and Kennedy had become somewhat of a dog-cat tester for my foster/rescue friends. She was completely comfortable with dogs and just put her paw down when crazy puppies got over-interested.

We were a family of four for several years before hemangiosarcoma claimed Davis prematurely. Then our trio moved to/from DC and Griffith popped up on Facebook *just* at the time my heart and mind were feeling settled enough back here in Sacramento to be up for the adventure of another dog. Yoda is a little iffy with foster dogs… he’s a bit territorial, doesn’t like to share his stuff, and definitely claims his mother as his own. But he has lots of doggy friends and I felt in my gut that Griffith might be a great new playmate. And if not, I was prepared to get Griff on the path to health and happiness and prepare him to be someone else’s fab rescue dog.

Interestingly, the assimilation with Yoda went quite smoothly. There were a few spats over favored toys (which duh, I should have put away) and occasionally Yoda would raise his lip and get a little growly when I was petting Griffith. But I went out of my way to assure Yoda that his place as top dog was secure. I fed them separately, always feeding Yoda first. I gave Yoda treats first. Yoda entered and left the house ahead of Griffith. Yoda was allowed on the furniture as always; Griffith was not. I even walked Griffith on a slightly shorter leash than Yoda so that Yoda was always out front.

A turning point in their relationship came on a Sunday in August when I went with some girlfriends on a hike along the American River. Yoda and Griffith were both set loose to wander ahead down the path. And they were amazing to watch… quickly they formed a two-dog pack and trotted side by side, never out of eye-sight or voice range. When one found something interesting to sniff, the other had to check it out too. They were having a ball.

At the bottom we came upon a family of four who had just made the journey down and set up their picnic. Griffith was the first to greet them, and I raced ahead to make sure he didn’t eat their lunch! The family also loved this hike and rather than mind Griffith’s incessant begging, eight year-old Madi pulled out the family’s jerky stash and started feeding Griff and trying to get him to swim with her.

Madi’s mom Christine and I got talking and turns out the family had been looking for a dog on and off for nearly a year. She told me that many of the shelters they went to had dogs they liked, but wouldn’t adopt them to families with children (this issue deserves its own whole post, so I won’t digress here). I told her where I worked and said I’d be happy to help find them a dog that fit for their family. On our way out, I left my business card on their windshield. My primary memory of that day was just how great it was to see MY two dogs so happy together.

As the next month proceeded, I exchanged a couple emails with Christine while I tried to get a sense of their lifestyle and the kind of dog that would best suit them. I put out some feelers to the local rescue/shelter community and just generally kept my eyes peeled. At the same time, I was watching a scenario I hadn’t expected play out at my house. The hike had definitely bonded Yoda and Griffith and now they played incessantly – wrestling, tumbling, and running about. I stopped worrying about it escalating to a fight… clearly they were past that and they were now just two frat boys in love.

But I stopped seeing Kennedy. After living her entire life underfoot and always in the room with us, she was living almost exclusively, by her own choice, in the garage. She has a kitty door, and her food and litter box are out there. But now she was choosing to stay out there – despite the heat and loneliness. I’d bring her in, set her down and she’d scoot back out there quickly. Perplexed, I started paying more attention to the pack dynamic. And I discovered that it was Yoda, not Griffith, who was acting in a threatening manner toward Kennedy. After living with this cat his whole life, Yoda was now asserting himself by chasing after Kennedy, growling, and generally being not nice to her. I don’t know if he really would have hurt her or not, but she seemed to think so.

I tried making Kennedy’s life in the garage a bit better by providing her a fan and a comfy bed and going out there to sit with her more. But over time I just couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that this just wasn’t fair to her. She’s probably 12 or 13 years old and has spent ten years inside with us. I didn’t want her spending her last few years alone in the garage. She’s too social and too much a part of the family to be ostracized.

So on a bit of a lark I asked Christine via email if she and her family remembered Griffith from the hike.  I explained a little about our situation and said I wasn’t sure yet if I could part with him, but wanted to see what her reaction was to the idea of him. Within minutes, Christine emailed back:

“WOW! Madi was hoping after m…

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Prevent Puppy Biting Griffith goes home, again: Sometimes doing what’s best is also doing what’s hardest

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