It is interesting to write this column and see how people respond to it and to me. Some assume that I know a whole lot about dogs, while others know that my dogs are not perfect so they give me a lot of ribbing. Reality lies somewhere in between. I do know a fair amount about dog training and pet nutrition because I have devoted a significant amount of my life to studying and learning. That learning never stops. My dogs and I have a long way to go.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Maisey and Dakota, two dogs that had been at the Payson Humane Society too long and were in desperate need of homes. Dakota now has a new home, thankfully. Maisey had a new home but she blew it -- so she is back at the shelter. She is an escape artist, a Houdini. Maisey was a street dog, running free for a couple of years, finding people to feed her fairly regularly. Although running free may sound like a great life for a dog, in fact they do not survive for long on their own. It is often a death sentence, and a painful one at that. Maisey ended up with a litter of pups -- which was inevitable. Then she became ill and the rest is history.
The humane society nursed her back to health, adopted her puppies and bestowed loving care on her until a proper family could be found. Unfortunately, Maisey was allowed to roam free for too long and now she is not sure she wants to give that up. Her future depends on finding that perfect family who will be willing to work with her to form a strong bond. Then she may decide that staying at home is rather nice.
A loving family and a place by the fire sound pretty terrific, particularly when it is below freezing out there in the dark of night. What dog or cat would want to give up a warm bed and a hot meal to roam?In fact there are quite a few of them and two of them live here with me.
Megan and Gibson, mother and son, escaped, as they take great pride in doing, and spent 30 hours out in the cold. I looked everywhere as did my friends. I left the gate open and the door open to warm quarters in the kennel and the garage. They chose to stay out all night like wild, rebellious teenagers.
I worried. I searched. I looked at the various decks where they could be up off the cold ground and out of the wind if they decided that coming home was not on their agenda. Mike Spaulding from Gila County Animal Control assured me that they would not freeze to death. Some other peril might befall them, but they would not freeze. He cannot know how reassuring those words were. If these dogs were killed by mountain lion or javalina or motor vehicle, it would be fairly quick. But freezing to death would be slow and painful. His words were comforting.
They came home the next day in time for dinner. They were hungry, but not very humble. I did give them a nice hot dinner. But I reminded them that they were continuing to ruin my reputation as a dog expert.
A dog's behavior can be bred into him or it can be formed during the early years of life. Maisey had a couple of years to learn about being a homeless dog. It had its rewards. She has not yet learned that there are options which might be better. Megan also was allowed to roam free before she came to live with me. Those who set a dog free to fend for themselves don't realize that the dog either will not survive or will struggle forever with confinement.It is not fair.
I am reminded of one of my most favorite Christmas movies -- a Hallmark Hall of Fame special. "Christmas on Division Street" is about a homeless man, Hume Cronyn, and a young boy from an affluent family. This man passes up many opportunities for a better life off the streets. As we learn about him through the accepting eyes of this boy, we see his goodness, so giving even though he has nothing. The story takes place during one of the coldest Christmases in Philadelphia. And behind it all is the story that led this man to the street.
My two chose to be out all night. I'm thankful they were able to curl up together in some protected place during the night. They survived.
In my walk today, I saw several dogs that were securely fenced with, in my opinion, not enough protection from the cold. Do make sure that your guys are warm enough during these cold nights. Preferably they are in the house. If they are not, be sure that the garage, shed or kennel provides enough protection and warmth. Being cold is miserable.
And now you know the truth. My dogs are not perfect. I am not the perfect pet owner. It is important for me to know that. I do the best I can. I love these Houdini dogs. They drive me crazy, but I am glad that they are home.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.