Archive for Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Shouts and Murmurs: On the lookout for the perfect dog

September 13, 2006

Living in the country, it's reassuring to have watchdogs.

They bark at cars that come up the drive. They bark at salesmen, they bark at everyone. They even bark at horses in the field, or opossums under the deck.

And though our dogs were small, they carried a loud bark, a reassuring, although sometimes pesky bark that would awaken us in the night. I'm sure the foxes that live in the woods don't miss our rat terrier, who died after being struck by a car last spring as we went for a walk.

But I miss him. I miss the jittery little dog's enthusiasm. I miss the way he would go from one deck to another, following our moves as we walked through the house. I miss the way he kept our older dog company.

I miss his bark.

One recent evening, a truck made its way up our driveway. Two men in a white Ford truck with Missouri plates said they were selling frozen meat.

The back of their truck had what appeared to be a kitchen freezer. Perhaps it was full of frozen meat -- however questionable it may seem to even consider buying beef or pork from an unknown vendor who drives an unmarked truck. Or perhaps the deep freeze was empty, handily ready to fill with household items had we not been home.

We took down the license number and called the sheriff's dispatch. I don't know if anything came of it. The men didn't bother us. But for me it brought up the antsy awareness that there's no way of knowing what is the right thing to do when strangers come to the door. Do you open the door, do you not. That is the question. Often we open the door, phone in hand, ready to dial 911.

At any rate, I'm on the search to bring our dog force back to routine operating level.

That means a younger dog with good hearing to supplement the older dog's not-so-good hearing. That means, when both dogs get stirred up, two dogs will bark and scurry around. And somehow that seems to intimidate unannounced visitors and comfort me.

No matter how cute puppies are, I don't want one.

I want an instant protector dog -- loyal, ready to love and be loved, ready to defend. Not a dangerous dog, but a feisty dog, one who hears every car. A dog who barks at anything that moves.

I found the perfect dog recently. A 5-year-old setter shepherd mix at the Lawrence Humane Society. On a rainy weekend morning I checked out the Web site, looking at the pictures of adoptable dogs.

"Ralphie" caught my eye. He resembled a dog of my childhood, a reddish shepherd mix -- a loyal, loving dog who protected our home.

Gaining my courage, I asked my husband if we could drive to the shelter to take a look at Ralphie. My husband's take on it is that the one dog we have is one dog too many.

But to his wonderful credit, he went along.

The pound is a busy place on a Sunday afternoon. People sit at tables happily filling out adoption papers. We enter the kennel room. Some two dozen dogs energetically check us out, much as we check out them. Like my children's favorite story book, "Old Hat, New Hat," the dogs I saw were "too big, too small, too fluffy, too tall."

And then there was Ralphie. He was as beautiful in person as on the Web site. Ralphie stood tall and proud, connecting with his brown eyes as if to say, "Please, won't someone give me a home." Clearly, this was the dog for me. Just let me sign the paperwork and we'll give this dog a real home.

But wait. A slip of paper hung on the door of his cage.


Rats. The only dog I'd mustered up the courage to see, and moreso, to convince my husband to see, had already been adopted.

I checked with the volunteer, yes he'd already been adopted. I e-mailed that evening, just in case his family fell through. No response. I called on Aug. 29, the day before Ralphie was to be delivered. "He's been adopted," the clerk said, as if muttering under her breath, "Don't you understand!"

With defeat, I admit, my first try at giving a homeless dog a home was a dismal failure.

Yes there were several dozen other dogs there that need homes, and I went back to the Web site later, finding a couple of "maybes."

But you know, now that I've raised my kids' dogs, I'm ready for the one I want. And the one I want not only will bark up a storm when company comes, he also will be the dog of my dreams.

Who knows, maybe "the one" will show up tomorrow, on the Web site, on my doorstep, or at least in the classified pages. You know the type of ad I mean: "Needs a good home, big reddish-brown medium-haired dog, fluffy tail, good barker, loves kids and cats, he's meant for you -- you'll love him."

At least that's what I'm hoping.

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