Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gift from Out of the Blue

This is a guest blog by Jean Lorrah


We love our pets, so we give them our hearts. And then they break those hearts by growing old and dying far too soon.

Over the years I have learned to adopt a young dog when my current dog shows signs of age. There are two benefits from this practice: the old dog seems to perk up from the presence of a young companion, and later, when the old dog inevitably crosses the rainbow bridge, the young dog is already part of the family and a comfort to me and the other pets.

My old dog, Kadi, is only 14, but the Humane Society helped me rescue her from an abusive situation when she was about a year old. I'm used to my dogs living to 16 or more, as I have been fortunate not to have one with health problems before. So I didn't think about adopting a younger dog until I suddenly realized that the poor girl is failing. Her reactions when I first got her showed that she had been hit on the head, and within a year or two she started having seizures. My vet put her on Phenobarbitol, and once we got the dosage right it has kept her seizure free ever since.

I will never know if Kadi's neurological problems would have occurred anyway, or if they came from abuse, but she has had a good life in spite of them. Now, though, she is growing weak, and I have come to the realization that I am going to lose her sooner than I expected. Therefore about a month ago I decided I needed to start looking for a young dog.

I'm not a breeder, nor do I plan to enter my animals in dog shows. Therefore all my pets are rescues. It's good to know I'm saving lives, and these animals, whether they are purebreds or mixed breeds, make wonderful pets. I urge anyone simply looking for a family pet to start at their local Humane Society rather than at a breeder's kennel. If you are looking for a specific type of dog, even the most surprising and exotic breeds often turn up there--as I was recently reminded to my delight.

I am a volunteer for the Humane Society, doing pet therapy with my cats, Dudley and Splotch, so I asked the director to start looking for a small dog for me. I have reached the age myself now at which I can no longer handle a large dog, not just for training (I've always been successful at teaching my pets good manners, but they don't generally come that way), but for manhandling an unconscious or seizing pet into the car for an emergency trip to the vet. So I asked her to be on the lookout for a small dog that wouldn't be more than 15 pounds as an adult.

I was amazed to be offered the little white dog you see at the top of the page: a purebred Maltese! Incredibly, someone abandoned her in an area of town where many small dogs are found abandoned. Where they are coming from is a mystery the Humane Society has not yet been able to solve. Still, they treated this little girl as lost, advertised her, but no one claimed her, so she went into the adoption pool just when I started looking for a new companion.

I didn't know much about the breed except that they are reputed to be very loyal and easy to train, but require a tremendous amount of grooming. So before meeting the dog I did some homework on Google, and found that they are also a very healthy breed, and that Maltese not used as show dogs (or kept by movie stars) are kept in what is called a "puppy cut" their whole lives.

The Maltese, it turns out, is one of the oldest breeds, and can be traced back 2800 years. The "little white dogs of Malta" were great favorites of the Greeks and especially the Romans, who called them "comfort dogs." Surprisingly, the breed survived the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages because they were traded all around the Mediterranean as currency!

So I just had to meet this little girl, and of course she immediately stole my heart. They were calling her Marnie, but I have renamed her Bianca because she is white, her heritage is Roman, and she is a little urchin who needs to be reminded that she is supposed to be an elegant lady!


This is how the poor little thing looked when she was found running free and trying to survive. The groomer was able to salvage some of the hair on her head, but her body hair was so badly matted that they had to shave it. That's why at the moment her head looks too big for her body--when her hair grows out to about an inch long all over she should look in proportion, and that's how I plan to keep her. If I have her professionally groomed every couple of months, she should stay cute as the proverbial button.

Bianca has already cheered Kadi up, reawakening her love of taking walks. She's good for me, too, because she needs a long walk every day in addition to the short one we take with Kadi. Dudley, my Zen cat, has already made friends, and Bianca is slowly working her wiles on Splotch, who at first resented her, and slapped her every time she came near him. Splotch is twice Bianca's size, but he can't make her back off. He has made Dobermans back off.

Bianca is a fiesty little thing--probably the reason she survived in the wild with the handicaps of her size (seven pounds) and that long coat. She is an accomplished thief, probably another survival trait, and has already claimed all the cats' toys as her own.

Bianca is also an escape artist. Because of her penchant for chewing up virtually anything (including one of the cat beds), I am crate training her to keep her safe and out of mischief when I'm out of the house. The third day I had her, I came home from errands to have her meet me at the door! When I put her back in her crate, she immediately demonstrated how she had figured out how to push the double latches up, and then shake the door till it opened for her! I now use the clip of her leash to hold the door shut. Bianca hasn't figured out how to open that yet.

As I write this, Bianca is snuggled up next to me, sound asleep, a little white cherub. But I know that as soon as I move she will be up and bouncing again, looking for new mischief. Therefore I plan to enroll her in the Humane Society Obedience Class in June, with an eye toward making her another therapy pet. I'm quite sure she will make a wonderful "comfort dog."

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