Meet Belle, our first foster dog



Our first foster Rottie is finally here. 10 month old Belle spent the past weekend going from one volunteer driver to the next on her journey from Los Angeles, California, to Eugene, Oregon. Her traveling buddy and fellow Rottie, Daisy, is now with another Eugene foster family as well.

Two coordinators from the rescue group came to help with dog introductions over the course of a strategically planned walk. They led the way with Belle while my husband and I followed closely behind with our family dogs, Frieda and Lola. Our girls were allowed to sniff at Belle’s behind during the walk, but they were discouraged from any face to face interaction. This went fairly well. Lola was easy going and nonchalant. Frieda was dying to sniff, then after she’d sniffed, she just wanted to be in front, leading. About halfway, we switched places in the line, and Frieda and Lola walked in front of Belle, allowing her a turn to sniff them. Thumbs up.

We returned home and walked around the backyard on leash for awhile before letting Belle off leash first, then Lola, then Frieda. Lola and Belle seem to get along fine. Frieda, younger, alpha, and more uppity than Lola, was more intimidating for the new dog. The three attempted play several times, though it was broken up cautiously each time it got too energetic. After awhile in the backyard, we moved inside the house. Satisfied that the foster was in a safe place, the coordinators left.


Left to right: Belle, Frieda, and Lola

Together with the kids, we took all three dogs on a 2.5 mile walk. Belle would easily pull ahead if allowed, and is just a little insecure on leash, but these are mild issues that will alleviate with consistent walks. We passed several other dogs on the route, and though she showed interest in them, she did not exhibit aggression or overly excited behavior. She so far has been fine with each of the kids, especially with our youngest, who has never been without dogs and has to be told to give them their space.

Even after the walk, it took Belle awhile to calm down and stop pacing at home. She constantly tried to jump in my lap. This might have been fine if she were a lap dog, but even as a smaller Rottie, she’s simply too big and therefore is learning the command “off” again and again. We had a monstrosity of a pee accident (apparently she did not pee outside after our long walk but saved it for the length of our hallway). She has trouble with “sit”, but we’re working on it.

Belle was found wandering the Sonoma Desert. Her prior owners were located, but they did not want her returned to them. Rather than find her a more suitable home, they chose to abandon her. She exhibits every potential to be a great forever pal for someone. If you are willing to lead, she is more than ready to learn. It is already clear to me that her future person cannot be a pushover. True to her Rottie core, if you let this girl have her way with where she wants to sit, and how, when, and what she wants to eat, she will quickly rule your home. If you want a cute puppy but aren’t into consistent walks and you think enforcing boundaries is cruel, please look somewhere other than the Rottweiler.


Finally pooped.

There are already two potential adoptive families scheduled to meet Belle on Friday this week, which means she could be our foster for only five days. I’ve been so excited to meet our first foster that when she arrived, it was like having a rock star in the house. She is an absolutely beautiful young Rottie and we’re going to work on what we can while we have her.

Sachi the Shiba Inu

The wait for our first foster dog continues and I’m learning that the rescue group’s coordinator in my city is as much in the dark as I am. We’re just waiting for word from Southern California on which Rotties will be transported our way and when. I’ve been trying to tell myself that we are here to help when a dog needs us. Patience. Patience.


Sachi graciously let me use her bed during my stay in Japan.

In the meantime, I’ve been remembering some special fur pals. Sachi, Japanese for “joy”, was my Japanese host family’s Shiba Inu. This was back in ’98 during college. I was studying abroad for a year in Tokyo and each day, Sachi was the first one to greet me at the door upon my return home.

If you are not familiar with the Shiba Inu, think miniature Akita in a reddish-fawn shade with white face and chest. The tail still curls up and over the back, the walk is still a strut with the head held high, though the steps are smaller, busier. I’ve read that Shibas were initially bred for hunting. Would’ve never guessed it, as Sachi was more likely to opt for remaining on a warm lap over putting her nose to the ground to track something. She was not a big barker, but Sachi could croon with the best of them. Any time someone sang to her in a high voice, she’d join in with her soprano howl.

Though not stand-offish, Sachi was a more socially reserved dog who clearly held loyalty only to the main members of her pack. A clever dog, she learned tricks quickly and took treats gently. She had the run of the house and no boundaries on any furniture, but she was never possessive with her things. I also don’t remember her dog hair being an issue. It’s possible my host mom was a cleaning machine when I left for classes, but Sachi didn’t seem to shed fur anywhere. I do remember the family being entirely embarrassed when she’d scoot her butt across the floor. Very crude, un-Japanese-like behavior. Heheh. “Sachi, shitsurei.”


Sachi in the snow, Nagano, Japan

In 1999, Sachi grew sick and eventually lost most function of her back legs. My host family began putting her in dog diapers because she couldn’t make it out of the house in time and had accidents. It may have been my human interpretation, but I swear Sachi hated the loss of her dignity in those diapers. If she had been a human, she would have been somewhat of a prima ballerina with her high carriage and dainty footfalls (and minus the butt scooting). I was there the night she passed away, seemingly too tired to chew on her dog food, she passed out while eating and didn’t wake up.

Arguably one of the most popular pets in Japan, the Shiba is to the Japanese what the Golden Retriever is to Americans. Even in the US, the Shiba is gaining a following and purebred puppies often sell for upwards of $1,000. Shiba pups just about annihilate the limits of any cute scale, but I’ll keep my fond memories of Sachi and continue to adopt dogs from the shelter when we are able.

The Dog We Failed


Klaus, 2005. The day we brought him home.

About nine years ago, before our two forever furries, my husband and I had another dog: our first dog as a couple. He was a purebred yellow lab that we bought from a breeder, handpicked from about four remaining puppies of the same litter. He was 10 weeks old when we brought him home, permeating that addicting puppy musk, and already gnawing on everything. I named him Klaus.

Initially, Klaus stayed in a crate in the house while we were at work. After he adjusted to our home, we partitioned off our kitchen so he had more space. Then we started coming home to chewed closet door corners and children’s markers. Thinking he needed more space, we built a long run for Klaus in the backyard. He broke off the run repeatedly, chewing through every material linking him to it.

After work each day, I’d put him on leash and try walking with him all over the yard. He’d grab the leash in his mouth and whip his head around. He’d bite onto my sweatpants and yank back–several of my clothes were ruined this way. I’d threaten him with loud words, as if he could understand what I was saying. Angrily, I’d pull on the leash only to have him lunge at my side and latch on to my sweatpants again. Eventually, I’d give up and walk away, aggravated.

As Klaus grew, so did his attitude. I could’ve sworn he was laughing at me trying to master him. I remember once tossing the tennis ball for him in the backyard. He was several feet behind me, and I threw the ball forward and told him to go get it. He ran right through me, about 60 pounds of him straight into the backs of my legs, knocking both my feet out from under me so that I landed on my back with a thud. When I recovered my breath and got up, he was prancing around the yard like a show pony. I wanted to kill him.


We decided we’d take Klaus to a Dog Beginner class at PetSmart. Something like 6 or 8 weeks of clicker things followed by dogs treats. Klaus graduated and could sit, and down, he could stay, and come, but these were brief commands sprinkled meagerly throughout long days and he still was not getting any regular exercise.

About a half year in, our neighbors started complaining about Klaus barking in the mornings after we left for work. He never did this when we were at home, so we figured this was separation anxiety. A friend recommended that we watch “The Dog Whisperer” and that this guy, Cesar Millan, worked wonders with dogs and their owners. Much to our regret, we did not heed the advice, and wouldn’t watch Cesar for another few years. Instead, we bought Klaus a shock collar. This seemed to work for the barking, except now he was chewing all of the wood siding along the bottom edge of our house, not to mention pulling all the green slats out of our neighbor’s privacy fence as fast as we could replace them.

A little over a year after bringing him home from the breeder, we put Klaus on craigslist, one of so many damn ads that said, “Looking for a home. We don’t have the time for him that he deserves”. We stated he was extremely energetic and needed a firm owner. In a few weeks, a mom and her 12 year old son came by to meet Klaus. She said they had lots of experience with high energy labs and that her son was anxious to have a dog of his own. We watched him play fetch with Klaus. The kid had more rapport with him than we did. Klaus was listening. He went home with them that day, the dog we failed.

I cringe writing this story, because with each clear memory, I can see exactly where we went wrong and what we could’ve done to help Klaus be a great dog. We never walked him; never tired him out fully. All of the destruction he wrought on our house and its contents, all of the disrespect he showed us – it was because he had pent up energy that we never helped him work out. No walks, no runs, no commands to wait before eating or going outside. We never established our roles as leaders, letting him win far too many standoffs. We gave him neither consistency, nor structure.

When we finally did start watching The Dog Whisperer, we were and still are, in awe of Cesar and his immediately applicable methods. By this time, we had our second puppy, Lola, and we started walking her regularly. We waited years before adopting Frieda–in the meantime, watching every single Dog Whisperer episode we could get from Netflix. Lola and Frieda are happy, exercised dogs, and our pack is balanced. But remembering Klaus always makes me sad. I wish we could have done right by him, and I know he would’ve made a fine dog if we had given him the exercise and discipline that he needed. I really hope that that kid was a better leader than I had been. I hate having failed a dog we chose to bring into our lives, and I also know that I’m a much more informed, confident dog owner now than I was nine years ago. Sorry, Klaus.


Ready, Set, Wait


The third Kuranda bed is good to go.

Oregon doesn’t usually experience prolonged 90 degree weather, but we’re roasting in it this week and next. Our foster dog hasn’t arrived yet, and we wait, the furries sprawled about, all of us lethargic without A/C, ready for a call to start our adventure.

I’ve become increasingly fascinated at how rescue organizations work and how it’s decided what dog is routed where and by whom. There are groups who focus on one species, those whose rescues span species, and those who are breed specific. Other organizations engage in a specific situation, like those who find foster families for pets of deployed military service people. Since many rescue groups do not have the facilities that animal shelters do, they rely heavily on fosters, and when those aren’t available, they try to coordinate with shelters to use shelter space. Often, the shelters themselves are at capacity and in need of fosters as well. Spay and neuter your animals, people!

The networking and logistics of this largely non-profit rescue effort impresses me. Volunteers sit behind computer screens, locating animals in need, coordinating transportation, and posting information on various websites to find potential homes. Others put serious mileage on their cars, part of a modern pony express of drivers who get the dogs to where they have a better chance of finding a home. And there are those like us joining the chain, waiting at home until we can be of use to an animal that is most likely stressed and in need of calm consistency.

We are likely to foster one of two Rotties making its way up from California. We don’t know the background of either dog except that both were rescued from high-kill shelters. I was told that the rescue group will try to do a temperament testing on both when they arrive. Keep in mind that shelter animals aren’t tantamount to bad or dangerous animals. There are numerous reasons why an animal might end up in a shelter, many having to do with inadequate owners.

I just counted over 75 Rottweiler rescue groups in the US. Can you imagine the entire web of all rescue organizations and the efforts of thousands of volunteers? Beautiful. Ready to get to work.


The Home Check: Are We Fit to Foster?

Carrie, a volunteer from the rescue organization, came yesterday to determine whether or not our home was ready for a foster dog.

She walked through the main areas of our house, pointing out quiet spaces, like behind one of our couches, where the dog might appreciate having a crate set. She suggested the French doors between the dining room and extra room to be a good place for introducing the dogs, as our dogs and the foster can check each other out through the glass and sniff at each other beneath the door.

Our enclosed backyard got the thumbs up, provided we move one structure away from the fence so that the dog won’t be able to jump onto it and escape over the fence. Carrie applauded the electric wire that ran the length of the backyard fence near the base. She agreed with how useful it could be with an escape artist dog. We have had too many escapes to go without it. Our Rott/Lab Frieda broke out constantly over a period of two or three months, oftentimes within the first 10 minutes of being let outside, and usually by tearing off pieces of cedar board fencing at the base. After the electric wire was set up and she received her first zap, she hasn’t torn off another board.

all-a-board-2We’ve decided to foster with a Rottweiler rescue group. We love the intelligent, protective Rottweiler tendencies in our Frieda girl, and would love to work with other Rotties. Fullbred Rotts are said to be stubborn, headstrong animals who will usurp the dominant position if the humans allow. We’ve seen that potential in Frieda; that with more enabling owners, she could use aggression to rule the roost. Seen it, and never allowed it. We’ve provided consistent leadership with her and have been rewarded with an extremely loyal protector.

Carrie went over some useful tips about the Rottweiler breed. I think most of these are applicable to all dogs:

-They might not appreciate prolonged eye contact. Some Rotts take this as a challenge.

-Never allow a child to tease the dog or pull at any bodyparts.

-They do not like having the tops of their paws touched.

-Never put your face squarely in front of a Rott. (I’ve seen people do this with dogs they don’t know. Never a good idea.)

-Have the dog on leash when introducing it to new people or animals.

-Always have dog on leash outside. (I wish everyone followed this rule.)

Over the course of the visit, we heard about Carrie’s own 100 pound Rottweiler and the potential that our foster could be a full grown Rottie as well. I experienced my first “Wait…aaah…what are we doing? Should we be doing this?” My foremost concern is for the safety of our kids. We will have to be vigilant with whatever animal we bring into our house, but more so with an animal that is large and powerful. We will start talking to my daughter soon about what fostering means and how we need to behave around animals we don’t know. I am still convinced we can do this and that it is overall a win-win situation and I am so excited to meet and work with our first foster. Word is we may have him or her within a week.