“What do you mean we’re denied? Why?…What do you mean you don’t have to provide a reason?”
This was the shocking reality our family was faced with after building a home with dogs (yes multiple) in mind to be a part of our growing family. We specifically built to special criteria and made sure where we built had acreage for animals to run and play as well as a fenced in area for when we were not outside with them. Nevertheless, we were shot down- even after making a few changes that others suggested. No reason. No explanation. Just a firm “no”. We were utterly devastated. It turns out it was the absolute BEST thing that could have ever happened, although it didn’t seem so at the time. A few days later, my husband called me from work- a German shepherd was listed on Craigslist (yes that dreaded list where so many animal adoption mistakes can be made) due to divorce. I threw my two youngest kids in the car as they were not in school yet, and headed to the address.
It was a very, very small house with an even smaller yard… if you could call it that. The concrete driveway was full of feces and the “yard” was so full of everything one can think of, that clearly it was not used to play in, let alone run with your dog. I heard him before we even got to the front steps. Ferocious? Maybe.
As soon as the door opened, I loved him. There was an overwhelming smell of stale cigarettes that was almost unbearable. And there he was. It was dark and cramped in that living room, so he just seemed big and loud. I felt horrible for this dog immediately. I could not stop staring into his eyes. I loved him already. The woman there explained that they were going through divorce, and neither could take him. He was 2 years old, fixed and up to date on everything. I naively believed her. All the while the barking was nonstop. Ferocious? No. Scared? Uncertain? Absolutely. Yet, I still could not stop looking at his eyes. While I was half listening distracted by his noise and assessing this living situation, she explained that she was leaving tomorrow and would leave water with him until “something can be figured out”. In my mind I was screaming “WHAT?!?! You are an a$$h@le!” Instead, I smiled politely as panic for this beautiful GSD set in. I basically threw the $60 I had in my wallet at her, and took him. She gave me a folder of his “paperwork” ( later on looking through it with my vet, it was breeding lineage from a puppy mill in PA, and a shots record from 4 years prior- remember I was told he was 2 and up to date and fixed.) He was too scared to jump into the back of my suv, so I lifted him. I thought,”hmmm… should I be able to easily lift a full grown GSD?” I also noticed that his back haunches were sort of singed or something and his paws looked really raw. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Upon returning home, I called my vet. I explained that I needed an appointment ASAP because we got a dog. They squeezed me in the next morning. Then I thought it would be a good idea to walk him…. until we got off the driveway. I noticed he had a weird walk- sort of limpy, but not a full limp. It was odd. Also odd-He would not touch the grass. No way. The antics performed to get this dog to put his paws on the lawn must have looked hysterical to anyone watching. I tried pulling. I tried treats. In the end running the driveway and onto the lawn without stopping tricked him into it. I was exhausted, but he had apparently found grass and was enjoying every single blade of it. Rolling and running and laying in it. It was so fun to watch him- and at the same time I wanted to cry. “How could this dog have not known grass?”That night was brutal. The screaming that this poor dog did all night undid me to no end.
In the morning, he was relieved to see me but when my husband came to greet him he peed all over the floor and laid in it showing his tummy with his tail tucked. My husband looked at me and said,”that can’t be good. Mention that to the vet.”
After I got my oldest on the bus and a sitter for my two younger children, it was off to the vet. What an eye opening visit. I cried. I was angry. I was sympathetic. I was so full of so many emotions, but I could not stop looking into those eyes. The vet went through the paperwork with me and explained that socialization and obedience classes would be helpful. She explained the puppy mill situation and the actual age, 4. He was a bit underweight and that would need to be managed, and that he was still intact and that would require surgery. I said,” Fine. Whatever needs to be done, needs to be done.”
And so began our journey.
He bit. He barked. He bit some more. He chewed. He howled. He paced. He hated every male that came near him. He pulled. He hid. He. Was. Everyone’s. Nightmare. To me, he was a dream. I loved him more each day. And each little hurdle we overcame felt mountainous to me. I cannot tell you how many people said to put him down. That he was a danger. We lost a few “friends” because of him. Every bit of progress made me so proud of him. I did not realize I should have been proud of myself to some degree too.
From the start he loved my children. All 3. Children were never an issue. It was men and other adults he was unsure of. We started basic obedience and scheduled surgery to neuter him.
After about a month in our house, he was comfortable with my husband too. My husband is very stoic- quiet. Confident. Dependable. And that is what we based everything concerning this dog on- quiet confidence and a tight schedule and sticking to routine. He had terrible separation anxiety and the routine helped with that. I was learning as we were going along. I am soooo glad I didn’t know anything going into this journey other than I loved this dog.
Tight routine meant every single day the same. 4 am walk. Then breakfast. Then kids up and fed and to the bus stop. Then another walk and rest in the house on his bed. We started with those rests for 5 minutes. If he got up- we would just start again. Patience, patience, patience. Gradually I increased the time and always made sure he had a bone and gave him a treat when he would stay the entire time without issue. It is a good thing I had the luxury of being home with him. He learned that his bed was not a punishment to be away from me, but a nice place for him to relax and have a treat. And the kids were never allowed to be on the dog bed. It was his spot- they were learning too. During my kids nap time, we would spend time together just sitting on my front porch or throwing a ball around. We would also go upstairs to my mothers apartment( she lives with us) to visit and get him used to being with her as well. After nap times, we would go to the bus-stop to get my oldest from school. Then the kids would get a snack and he would get a treat. Then dinner for humans while he stayed on his bed and then a walk and dinner for him. Still the anxiety and excruciating nights would occur. The cat would leave my bed (cats always sleep with humans) to go and lay with him, but that didn’t help much, even though during the day they were best buds.
Finally the vet suggested getting another dog. “WHAT?!?!” How could I possibly…? She said that another dog would probably help him be a dog. And so the search began…. which is how we rescued our second dog- a lab/shepherd/Aussie mix.
He was NOT from Craigslist, but instead we worked with a fantastic rescue- AWOL Mutts. We did not want a puppy- they find homes more easily than other dogs and plus our guy was huge now. We didn’t want an accidental injury while playing. So we found a fabulous mix breed who loved to play and was 100% dog. As in, my humans are happy, then I am happy. My vet is a genius. This dog helped instantly. After 1 scuffle to determine the pecking order, they were best buds and sleeping through the night without issue. Suddenly, days were much easier. Still keeping to the routine was important, but it was just easier.
We did another round of obedience classes. Our new guy was a runner… and the two of them would run the fields behind our house. They were great listeners, unless they weren’t. Lol! Where we live in farm country, tractors can’t always stop on time. I was a nervous wreck about them getting run over. We finally broke down and got a shock collar. I was afraid to use it- so my husband trained the dogs on it. It took a little over 2 hours. That was, I am pretty sure, the only day they ever felt the actual shock….most times just showing them the remote was enough, or sometimes we would use the warning.
For 9 years we got to live the dream. I mean it really was a perfect dream. Two great dogs who after some trial and error fit perfectly into our lives. Our GSD would play for a bit and then just want to be with me, but our son had taken to our mix dog so well they would continue play for hours. They became very close- our son was even his handler for training and did very well with him. They were inseparable during the day. Then suddenly, our mix got very tired. He was always so rambunctious and happy. It wasn’t like him- something must be wrong. I brought him in and the xrays proved the worst. Cancer. He was such an awesome dog. I thought he would be here forever. After all- he was a mutt. They were always healthier. He was always so fun and ready for anything. The vet and I had a long heart to heart- her dog was going through this same horrible disease at the same moment. I was devastated. This dog that had helped us so much and become such an integral part of our family was very sick. My son! He would be lost without this dog- this dog that helped all of us. Helped our other dog, helped our son come out of his shell, helped all of us laugh more…. he was going to die. I bawled my eyes out with this all the way home. How could I deliver this news.
In the end, I did not say much that evening. Just that he was sick and we had to figure out how to help him. I was certain our GSD already knew, had known probably for a while looking back. Their play had changed a bit, and they would rest together more often during the day.
I told the vet we needed to get through the school year. It was April when we found out. We had to get through these last months of school, or my son would surely not be able to function. With a lot of prayers and pain meds and a ton of other stuff to help him- he made it to June 19. He lasted a few days after school got out. That day, he couldn’t make it to our favorite bench to sit together- our GSD nudged him along, but he couldn’t get him further. We knew it was time.
The dogs laid together in the lawn for a bit. We all came to say our goodbyes and then my husband and I brought him for his last ride.
We brought him home to put under his favorite tree by the cornfield behind our house. Our GSD laid on that grave for many days. He would not budge. When he did come inside, he was not himself. He stopped eating. He stopped playing. He was starting to go downhill too. Again, my vet was a genius- “ …get another dog…” and so we found Black Dogs and Company. They had a shepherd mix that was “returned” and needed another forever home. Our GSD met her and he was fine but she was grumbly. He wasn’t phased and my husband was very smitten with her. We kept her for a “2 week trial”… yea right. We are not a 2 week trial household. If we got through to our Craigslist dog successfully, we will make it work with any dog. And we did. But she was young and our guy was old and missing his buddy. He did start eating again, but he was in his twilight years now and she was only 2. Another call to that same rescue and a few weeks later I was in a parking lot off of I-95 at 11 at night waiting to meet our newest addition. A beautiful 9 month old male GSD from Texas. A complete hot mess of energy and anxiety.
But this time, thanks to my beloved Craigslist GSD, I had a better idea of what I was getting into. I had a much better idea of how to help him. And this guy wasn’t aggressive or a fearful biter- he was just uprooted and taken thousands of miles away.
Well, long story is we now had three fabulous dogs. There were a few snags here and there, but I have a wonderful vet who is ALWAYS there to lend a hand and offer help and advice. My Craigslist GSD was very much a senior citizen now… but still the best dog ever. People who watched this transformation from a dog who was so scared he was vicious into this perfect specimen of what a well trained and happy dog should be, were always amazed. We really were not expecting him to still be with us- he was literally like 100 in dog years. Each morning that I would come downstairs and see his tail wag, was a gift. I knew his days were numbered short now- GSDs do not live this long… 14 years. He was just not ready to leave me yet because I never left him. That might seem too romantic a thought for some, but it is my honest feeling. This Craigslist “mistake” as so many called him, turned out to be one of the best mistakes that ever could have happened. I would never change anything or any part of our journey together. It has been full of life lessons that have helped us in more ways than I can count.
You will notice that I have switched to past tense for my beloved GSD. He left me a few weeks ago. It was time- it probably had been time for a bit, but I was being selfish. As much as my children, family, pets and other dogs fill my days, I miss my dog. There is a hole. The guilt that I have is intense at times. Guilt because I feel free of the burden of caring for his ailing body. I had not even realized how time consuming he had become, because I did not care that he was. I miss him, so much. I am so fortunate to have had this experience with this dog.
I do not by any means consider myself an expert on GSDs. I do feel comfortable saying that I can help other GSD or dog owners in general, but I am not afraid to suggest other resources for help if I feel it is out of my comfort zone. I also feel that if I can get through this experience with such a happy ending, I can handle just about anything thrown my way. Our house will take the “rescue returns” that can’t be adopted out. We have decided that if an animal finds its way here when no one else feels they can handle it, we will. We will do whatever it takes. Thank you Jesus that I have a vet who supports me in that. Shout out to JVC and Dr. Magnifico😊
Do I recommend Craigslist for people looking for a dog?-no. Absolutely not. You do not know what you are getting into. Unless you are in a position where you have the luxury of not giving up and are stubborn enough to refuse to quit. It took us 3 years, 3 hard, long years, to get our GSD to a safe place with company and al throughout those years, we still had to be careful with strangers or new people. I loved this dog, but I also respected the fact that he was bread to protect and that anything with teeth can and will bite if they feel threatened.
If you are looking for a dog, first make sure you are really willing to take on this responsibility. Animals are not disposable. You need to be in it for the long haul. Then, find a rescue that will work with you. One that will help you prepare your family, yourself, your home- properly. If a rescue says “no” without explanation or reason and does not offer to help you, then they are not the rescue for you. If you are in the midst of a rescue that has you second guessing yourself, please know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes that tunnel is very, very long. Don’t give up. Keep at it. I had the best dog ever because I refused to give up on him. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Do not punish yourself because of setbacks. They will happen. You just have to keep moving forward. It is soooo worth it in the end.
“What do you mean we’re denied? Why?…What do you mean you don’t have to provide a reason?”