So… we got a dog!! No, not a new one. Just talking about Ashton. I know, this is old news, really. We’ve had him nearly a year. But sometimes it still seems so unreal to me. Plus, I never really shouted “we got a dog!” from the rooftops, so thought I’d take the opportunity to do so now.
WE GOT A DOGGG!!!!
Here’s the story of how Ashton came into our lives and how we’re all doing together as a family these days…
Twelve (nearly 13) years ago, Joe and I got married, and I started a job at the Humane Society in Berkeley. Being me, I fell in love with most of the dogs I worked with, and wanted to adopt about five or six of them that I met in the year I worked there. That job was always full of tears, either sad tears that certain cases didn’t work out and ended in euthanasia, bittersweet tears that dogs I loved got adopted by other people – good people, but oh man, it’s hard to say goodbye, and tears of absolute joy when the perfect match came together so amazingly well (like the family of athletes looking for a dog who could keep up with their 5 kids all in track, who adopted the rat terrier who had been relinquished for his excessive energy! — It was like fate!). I started profiling every dog I met, wondering if they would meet my number one criteria: Not Freaking Joe Right the Hell Out.
Joe has been afraid of dogs for most of his life, especially large dogs, especially ones that bark a lot. So I knew, if we were ever going to get a dog (and I figured it was a long shot, but holy cow I held onto hope like a drowning man holds onto a life raft), it would need to be: small, a non-barker, love men, love kids, love women, love cats, love other dogs. Basically, I was on a hunt for The Perfect Dog.
I also knew, though, that with all my plans for the future, finishing my degree, getting a job who knows where as a zookeeper, having babies, etc, that a dog was a bad idea right then. Even if Joe had said “yes great, let’s get a dog!” twelve, or even ten, or whatever, years ago, I didn’t have the time for one, and I knew that. But it didn’t stop me from wondering what would make a good fit. Especially when I had jobs like dog walking and dog training. I love dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages, but I knew finding a dog Joe would be okay with would be a much more difficult task. Breeds I really had my eye on: Maltese, Havanese, Bichon Frise, poodles in general, Coton de Tulear, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Cut to many years later… We had a baby! And as Homer, grew older, he showed many signs of being really afraid of dogs for a while. Sometimes he was fine with them, but many times, he’d scream and cry when my friend’s wonderfully kind dog would come over and lick his bare toddler feet. It was so sad!
One day, Joe asked me if I’d be interested in fostering a poodle named Oliver. Over the course of trying to get Oliver into our home, I cried with happiness many times, because I was so excited, but even more, I was so moved by Joe’s desire to prevent Homer from developing the same fear of dogs that he had dealt with for so long. It is a beautiful thing, to be willing to face his fear like that for his son.
Plans to foster Oliver fell through when he was adopted the same day we were to pick him up for fostering. It was great news for Oliver, but I was heartbroken. And Joe wasn’t interested in looking at other dogs. He’d very specifically been okay with that one dog, since he’d needed a home, and he seemed like a great dog in so many ways. But when it didn’t work out, Joe didn’t want to seek out another dog.
A few years went by and circumstances brought us up here to Washington! For the first time in years, we spent Christmas with my family, including my brother and sis-in-law, and their newest addition, a dachshund/chihuahua puppy: Tank! We had so much fun that day, and Homer absolutely loved Tank!
That night, after we got home and Homer was all tucked into bed, Joe and I were each on our respective computers, quietly doing our own thing. Joe said quietly, “If you wanted to get a dog like Tank, we could get a dog.”
My brain said, EEEEEEEEEEEEE REALLYYYY?!?!?!!!?? But I managed to say calmly, “I would love to get a dog like Tank.” Freaking out, even with happy excitement, I feared would make Joe retract his original declaration! I replayed the words over and over in my head, “we could get a dog…” wondering if it would be months or years or what until a dog was actually HERE in our home, living with us!
Joe told me he didn’t want me getting all carried away, searching humane society websites and petfinder every chance I got. (He knows me so well!) He said if a dog happened to fall into our laps that needed a home and sounded like a good fit, then we could consider it.
But since we have kind of a lot of criteria, I wondered how a dog like that would ever just fall into our laps! So, I couldn’t resist. I began browsing a few websites pretty much daily, but reminded myself the whole time that these were not dogs I was going to GET, they were dogs to give me an idea of what was out there, of who we could maaaaaybe get, and the type of dog Joe might be somewhat okay with. I showed him a few pictures on a few occasions, but I could tell that just made him anxious even thinking about it, so I decided I should back off for a while. And by a while, I mean about.. like.. five days, probably.
One day, Joe asked me for my phone so he could look something up, and this is what he saw open in my browser…
“Is this the dog you want?” he asked.
“It is a dog I was kind of interested in, yes,” I said.
He really wasn’t a dog I had thought we might get, though. In fact, in my petfinder searches, I hadn’t even been all that careful about checking the distances dogs were from us, because I didn’t think we were getting any of them, specifically. I was just enjoying my fantasy dog searches!
Joe didn’t say anything else at the moment, but a few days later, on a Sunday, he asked me, “Hey did you want to try to go see that dog?”
I said, “Oh. Well, he’s in a foster home, so we actually have to fill in an application if we want to see him.”
“Oh,” Joe said. “Okay.”
The next day, I checked in with Joe again, just to be sure we were on the same page, and when I mentioned the application again, he said, “Okay, fill it out.”
And that I did! But holy crap, it was 9 pages long!! It took me a few days of putting it all together, and then I sent it in. And then had to wait and wait and wait for many days to hear anything. I knew a call must be coming, though, as a couple of the people I’d put as references said they’d gotten a call and spoke to the woman in charge of the rescue. Finally, she called me, and upon hearing I was formerly a zoo worker and dog trainer, and getting the details of the extent of Joe’s fears, she seemed to want to just hand the dog over to me. But first, she told me a little bit about Ashton himself.
A woman had tried to be kind to animals by taking them in when she heard they were on their way to be surrendered to a shelter. So, she accumulated quite a few animals, and fed them, but didn’t have the money to spay and neuter them. So, a couple of litters were born! And Ashton is one of the pups from those litters. As the puppies grew, the woman realized she just didn’t have the ability to handle all that she’d taken on, or neuter any of them, and surrendered everybody to the rescue. Ashton was placed in a foster home with his mom and brothers, and possibly others, I’m not even sure. And apparently, his foster lady lived in a house with a bunch of people, including her adult children and some of their children, and several dogs. It all sounded pretty great! He’d never even been in an abusive situation, just an overcrowded one. She said he was very sweet, great with kids, dogs, cats, people… And he was only 7 months old. (In retrospect, it sounds like his original home and his foster home were overcrowded and overwhelming to him!)
Oh, also? He was in Kennewick. I had mistaken that for Kenmore. Kenmore is 20 minutes away. Kennewick is 4 or 5 hours away!!!
When we got off the phone, the rescue woman said she’d send me the foster’s phone number in email so I could set up a time to go meet Ashton. Joe and I started thinking about a road trip! This was further complicated by the fact that we were actively making moving arrangements and apartment hunting while all this was going on, and we figured we needed to move before actually having Ashton come live with us (if we even liked him enough to adopt him), but we could at least go visit him once, then go get him on a separate visit. (As it turned out, we didn’t move that year after all.)
I had to have checked my email and text messages 100 times at least that day… and the next day… The communication situation with the rescue…. left a lot to be desired. To say the least. But! I did finally hear from them, when I’d almost totally given up, a week and a half later. The foster lady called me directly, saying she’d gotten my number from the rescue lady, and that I was approved, and that rescue lady was driving a dog to a couple in Seattle that Sunday. Did I want her to bring Ashton too, and drop him off with us? I said YES!!!
I told Joe, “Hey, so she’s bringing Ashton here. On Sunday.”
“To keep?” he asked.
“I think so?”
“FOREVER? We haven’t even met him yet!!!”
He had a point. I felt excited, but nervous. Thrilled, but with reservation. I knew I couldn’t fall in love with this dog yet, though it was hard. I wanted to feel like we were getting a dog, but I started having every fear imaginable. What if he walked in the door and growled at us? Bit one of us? What if he hid under a table and didn’t want to come out? What if he barked nonstop? I guess all of those things would have been manageable, if only by virtue of the fact that we would have known he was NOT the right fit for us immediately. The real worry was that he would do any or all of these things, but weeks later, enough time for me to fall in love then get my heart broken.
In the meantime, I kept looking at these same pics on my phone as I went to sleep each night…
Yes, I know I already posted that last pic, but I wanted to post the bigger version, since this was my absolute favorite. And look at the other pics – his little legs, the fluffy ears… At night, I’d look at him and wonder if it really might happen, if he really might actually fit well in our family and become our dog.
After a lot of anticipation and anxiety, the rescue lady texted that she was on her way. It was a long drive, so she texted a few times along the way. One of them said, “He’s excited to see you!” and this was the photo she sent:
We were like, uh wow, he looks pretty different! Joe asked, “Is that even the same dog??” But it was, he just got some crazy fur as he got a bit older!
Eventually, rescue lady showed up with Ashton at our doorstep on a Sunday afternoon in March (the day before our anniversary). Ashton didn’t even want to come in. She picked him up and kind of shooed him over the threshold. Then she squatted down next to him and he squished himself against her legs, and she said this was just silly because he didn’t even like her usually. After several minutes of us all hovering in the entry way, she picked him up and plopped him a little closer to me. I decided to just confidently pick him up and hold him against my chest. I brought him to the couch and we sat down together. He reached up, very gently kissed my nose, then laid down on my lap and promptly went to sleep. So freaking adorable.
Rescue lady walked us through the paperwork, I signed and initialed a million things, and wrote her a check. She congratulated us on our new dog and it felt not at all real. We woke Homer up from his nap, and showed him Ashton, told him he’d be staying and he was our dog now. He smiled, though I think he didn’t quite know what to make of it all. And the rescue lady took our new family photo.
Then she left, and that was a weird feeling. Like, okay, what now? Poor Tails was like, hey rescue lady, you forgot your hairy evil beast!! And began growling and hissing at Ashton like CRAZY! Ashton was freaked and followed my every move. I kept not seeing him and asking, “Where’d he go?” Joe said, “He’s right behind you. He is always RIGHT behind you!”
I wanted to name him Shadow, or any other number of even more awesome dog names I’d tried out in my head for weeks. But Joe insisted – “His name is Ashton!” And it’s true, Ashton totally knew his name really well. I reluctantly said we could keep the name. (And spent like six months not feeling like it fit him, but I got on board eventually.)
Joe decided to go take a nap and soothe Tails’s nerves (and his own, I’m sure) after the early anticipation and stress of the day, and Homer, Ashton and I went to PetCo for some dog supplies! I found myself really wishing I’d just bought things sooner, but it was okay, I just figured it out and bought a crate, some food bowls, a couple toys. The rescue lady had left a bag of his food and a few toys with him, so that was covered, which was nice. And soon we were back home again, figuring out our new routine and everything.
Over the previous decade, I’d played out a million scenarios in my head of what it would be like to finally get our own dog. In most of the scenes, I saw Joe gently smiling at me and saying definitively, “This is the one for us,” and then I would hug him and sob freely with overwhelming joy. Uh, but that is not how it went, exactly. Once the rescue lady left, Joe said skeptically, “Well, we have two weeks in case it doesn’t work out, right?” And I made a mental note not to get attached for two weeks. I went into business mode, Professional Dog Trainer mode. I could evaluate him myself, right? (Even though I’d never done that personally!) But I did test out certain things. After a few days of him seeming really comfortable, I tested out touching his food bowl while he ate, which he was totally fine with. Thank god. (Don’t ever try that at home. That was really fucking stupid, and I realized that the second I did it, and still regret it. If he had had major problems with that, that could have been a trip to the ER. Just, hear me: Do NOT do that. Leave it to the professionals. Which I have to remind myself I’m not anymore, and should also consult a professional for such things!! Okay, / End Disclaimer.) He did show some guarding behaviors toward Tails, and a few days later, toward Tank. He was not as house trained as I was lead to believe, so that was (extremely) aggravating. And I seriously just waited for the other shoe to drop. I did love him, but I felt on edge, wondering how things were really going to play out.
After we had Ashton about a month, he did something particularly cute one night, and I told Joe, “I love this dog,” and Joe responded, “He’s a good little guy. We’re really lucky to have him.”
And until that moment, I hadn’t even realized how much I’d been waiting and watching and fretting. When Joe said those words, and I knew he liked him too, I felt this weight lift off me, felt like I finally could allow myself to breathe, and to really bond with him. And even then, it really wasn’t until the six month mark that I really truly felt like we found our rhythm together.
Part of having OCD is doubting any decision I make (it is aptly nicknamed The Doubting Disease, after all), doubting things I know to be true, etc. So here I was with a set of doggie doubts: Was he really the BEST choice we could have made? Is it possible he’ll still bite someone? Do I need to worry about his potential guarding behaviors? Is he happy with us?? Do I love him enough??
(Note: almost all signs of guarding behaviors are gone as of this writing!)
The “do I love him enough?” worries are so irritating to me, as they can feel like a sign that I don’t. “If I’m thinking that, I must not, right?” No. I have had those same fears with everyone. I had those same fears with my own child when he was a newborn. I’d look at him and know I loved him, and some twisted part of my brain would poke at me and say, “But do you love him ENOUGH??” Enough? For whom? What does that even mean?!! So since I’d been through some of that already with post-partum anxiety and that had been resolved, I knew with Ashton it was due to the damn anxiety issues I have, and had to trust that as he and I got to know each other even more and bond even more, those doubts would subside, and that everything would be fine.
And it really has been!
When we first got him, Ashton barked an incredible amount, but I watched some videos of kikopup on YouTube, and it really helped me a lot. I worked on clicker training with him, and I noticed his barking at other dogs has diminished. He used to bark like crazy at nearly any stranger, then just men, and now just some men. Women, too, if they’re wearing very heavy, long winter coats. That is super scary, apparently. Men… it’s hard to tell. Mostly, I think he barks at dark skinned men. A note about that… Some people accidentally make their dogs racist. How? By not having friends of different races, and not thinking to introduce their dogs to anyone besides their friends. Ashton grew up in a white household and never saw anybody but white people for the first 8 months of his life. So when he saw someone with darker skin color? He barked his fool head off. It happens a LOT to dogs. It was something we discussed a lot at the shelter where I worked, and counseled people who were adopting puppies. Introduce them to everything and everyone imaginable – skateboards, canes, walkers, wheelchairs, tall people, short people, babies, dark skinned people, medium skinned people, light skinned people, big dogs, little dogs, cats, birds, trains, buses, bicycles, cars, etc, etc…. Some of those people don’t think about. And when it doesn’t happen in the first four months, a lot of times, it’s hard to get them to accept those things and people later in life.
So anyway, Ashton has made huge progress with people, but needs more progress with other dogs. I think he is just REALLY EXCITED to see other dogs, but he presents himself as a barky jerk most of the time. And it stresses me out, because I find it so obnoxious. I’m working on my own reactions/feelings, because I don’t want to make it worse. I need to be patient and keep working with him. It’s just an on-leash thing too, it seems, because I can take him to the dog park! Luckily, the one I enjoy going to seems to be split, usually, where little dogs go to one park, and big dogs to the other, even though it’s not an official rule or anything. I wish it were! Anyway, Ashton does really well there.
Other stuff – he knows sit, down, sit up, and roll over, and look (for looking at me). We’re working on Stay, and Leave It. He also knows to stop barking at a knock at the door once I say “thank you.” (Usually.) So that’s pretty cool!
And the potty training is going much more smoothly because I took very big efforts to really, really focus on it this past month, and it seems to be paying off. Nothing could make me happier, as I was getting really freaking fed up with cleaning up the carpet. That deserves its own entry, I think!
It’s just cool to think of it all… How I went from fretting and worrying so much to being able to focus and love him for who he is. He often growls when he hears new sounds. And for a long time, I wondered, why is he like that? Why can’t he just be a happy dog?? Like those dogs that go out into the world and look around like what wonderful things can I smell? WHAT A GLORIOUS DAY!! SQUIRREL!!!!
Ashton is not like that. He is more like I’m here, I’m growling, no one better be making any trouble, or you will hear my disapproval. You, shadow on the ground, what tomfoolery are you up to? I will not stand for this! I bark at thee!! Quit your mischief, plastic bag blowing in the wind!!! I hear keys which I’m mistaking for dog tags. Hear my barking and stay far away, terrifying beasts that clearly must be making those noises!!!!
It used to drive me batshit crazy, but now it just makes me laugh a little. He’s just like that. It took me like six months to just appreciate that that’s his personality and that it’s pretty much okay. I mean, I’d love for him to be more relaxed and less afraid, and we’re working on that. And I’m so proud of him for all the progress he’s made so far! He’s just totally a Jack Russell Terrier mix, so he’s on high alert when we’re out and about, and that’s just how it is. Him being a JRT is a bit hilarious, because I always said I’d never get one of those. But I didn’t realize what he was when he came to live with us. All we heard was chihuahua. We figured out JRT later, once everyone and their brother asked me if he was one on our walks and outings. And his behavior does fit some of the time, though he has the sleepy laziness of a chihuahua, too, which I’m grateful for! As I type this on the couch, he has his head resting on my leg.
He loves draping his head over my ankle, and when he does, I feel his breath on my foot, and I’m filled with true doggie-guardian bliss. My puppy, Hannah, who I had when I was 13, used to do that when she was really little, and it reminds me of that when Ashton does it. It’s this mark of Life With a Dog. If there were a checklist for such a thing, that would be on it. Along with lying down with you all day when you’re sick, playing ball, licking tears away when you’re sad, and wiggling on their back for belly rubs in a way that makes you laugh. All of those would be checked, too. Bonus: Tails, the cat who hissed at him for a week straight? Is now BFFs with Ashton. They lay around licking each other, and chase each other joyfully up and down the hallway. It’s extremely adorable and heart warming!
So, we did it. We found our dog! He loves Joe (though not all men), and pretty much all women, and pretty much all kids. Especially our kid! He loves Tank and gets along okay with other dogs in the dog park, as long as he’s not meeting them on leash, and he loves our cat. I went into this searching for The Perfect Dog. And I found The Perfect Dog For Us. Which is all I could ever ask for, really. I love my pup!!