I adopted Otto from my local shelter on June 16, 2008. He was an estimated 7 months old when I met him. He had all his front adult teeth, but only just.
I still have a copy of his shelter “cage card” – the piece of paper that resides in a transparent plastic envelope on the front of the shelter dogs’ cages with their intake information. It shows that he was brought into the shelter on May 7, having been picked up by a county animal control officer. (Can you believe that a cutie like him was at the shelter for five weeks without getting adopted?!)
The cage card does not show this, but his computer file at the shelter, which contains more detail, says that the country officer was dispatched due to a complaint from a person who found him in their chicken pen. He had killed the complaining party’s chickens. They had never seen him before; he was a stray. His cage card has a hand-written note regarding this incident that has always made me laugh: “Kills chicken.” (The typo makes me laugh, not the chicken-killing.)
The cage card shows that he was vaccinated with two different multiple-agent vaccines upon arrival to the shelter; that’s standard operating procedure for stray dogs with no ID and no microchip. He was identified as an “Airedale Terrier/Border Terrier” mix. Hmm.
He was given a brief health examination on May 13. His weight was recorded at 44.5 pounds. He had a normal temperature.
On May 14, he was given another vaccination and a heartworm test; it was negative. His weight was recorded again at 44.5 pounds.
While he waited for someone to adopt him, he was neutered, and vaccinated several more times – for protection from distemper, parvovirus, canine adenovirus, bordetella, and canine coronavirus. Shelters use a much more aggressive vaccination schedule than most veterinarians would recommend for an owned dog. He’s had a couple of nasal bordetella vaccinations since then, always as a requirement in order to take a class, but he’s never again been vaccinated for distemper or parvovirus. I have had his antibody titers tested for those two diseases at least a half-dozen times, and the results have always indicated that he still has ample circulating antibody levels.
In 2008, I was spending every other week with my husband in Oroville, and every other week with my son, who was attending high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. (My son spent very other week with his dad.) We had cared for my father-in-law’s old Australian Shepherd, Cooper, until Cooper passed away, but I hadn’t had my own dog for a few years. Partly, because it took me a while to get over the loss of my former heart dog, a Border Collie named Rupert, at the end of 2003, and partly because the logistics of driving back and forth, and having to leave a dog behind with my husband every other week, were daunting. In the Bay Area, I was renting an apartment in a building where pets were not allowed and finding (and paying for) a pet-friendly apartment, for my every-other-week occupancy, was more of a project than I wanted to take on.
But we were having regular incursions of skunks coming into our yard at night and digging up our lawn and plants. My husband – who is not really a dog person – finally agreed that we needed a dog again, and indicated that he would be willing to care for a dog in the weeks when I was away with my son. We had that conversation on the phone on the night of June 14, 2008, at what was nearly the end of my week in the Bay Area, and I spent much of June 15 looking at every adoptable dog on the website of the shelter back up in Oroville. There were two I was considering, the “Airedale/Border Terrier” -mix and a black hound/Lab-mix.
On Monday morning, June 16, 2008, I said goodbye to my son, and drove straight to the shelter back in Oroville. I brought both of the dogs I had been considering online outside, and walked them on leash around the shelter. I had been volunteering at the shelter for some time – helping with their fundraising newsletter, and working with some of the adolescent dogs – and I asked if I could bring each dog home, to see how they would do with my cat, and to see what my husband thought. It wasn’t how things usually worked at the shelter, but they knew me and said it would be okay.
I started with the red dog. I put a collar and leash on him, and walked him toward my car. When we got close to it, he suddenly balked and braced his legs, ducking his head in that precise way that dogs who have managed to slip out of their collars on a number of occasions know how to do. I was ready for him, though, and I slacked the leash enough so that he didn’t slip the collar. He sat down, and I picked him up and put him in the back seat of the car.
When we got home, I took him out of the car and started walking him around the yard. My husband came out of the house and said, “Is that the one you picked?” I said, “Well, I thought I would bring both of the ones that I was considering home for you to meet, and to meet Shadow (our old cat).” My husband said, “I would just keep this one; he looks just right!” And so he was.
My husband is the namer in our family; he names and nicknames all of our pets. He named Otto “Otto” for two reasons: because he looks like an “Otto,” and because Otto was chief among all of the jokey, punny names that my husband always joked about naming one of his children. My husband’s last name is Maddock, see; he envisioned having kids named Otto Maddock, Dram Maddock, Proble Maddock, Charis Maddock, and so on. (It could have been worse; he could have tried to name the dog Dog Maddock!)
Life With a Night Owl
Our first year with Otto was a little bumpy. I think this was partly due to the fact that I was home only half the time; on my husband’s weeks alone with Otto, not much training went on. Otto also had quite a few distinct behavioral quirks. He was fearful of certain types of people, including kids and short people and people with dark skin. (Our next door neighbors used a gardening service and the workers were short Latino men; Otto was terrified of them!) He used to dig in any moist soil he could find – meaning, any plants and trees in the yard that we watered were at risk from his digging! (This was ultimately – mostly – solved by giving him his own sandbox, which I would wet down every morning.)
And, that first long, hot summer, Otto was an utter night owl! Oh my goodness: He slept ALL day and was highly alert and barky at night. He didn’t want to sleep in the house; he wanted to be outside. After a few sleepless nights of trying to keep him indoors, nights that I spent trying to get him to stop whining and settle down, I set up a bed on my back deck, and slept outside with him for the rest of the week! He liked having company outdoors, but he barely slept; he would jump up off of the bed and run to the front fence to bark at every feral cat that walked by the front of the house, every late-night person that walked on a sidewalk within blocks of our house, every single bang or bump in the night. I would call him back to me, give him some treats, and encourage him to lie down again. Soon, I, too, was sleeping during the day, having gotten almost no sleep at night!
When I went down to the Bay Area the next week, my husband just let Otto sleep outside, and mostly slept through whatever barking Otto did. While I was gone that week, I came up with a solution: I would let Otto spend the night outdoors, but arm him with all the toys he loved to play with, so it would be more likely that he’d have a toy in his mouth when he barked. I didn’t usually let him have stuffed toys without supervision, he was prone to tearing them up. But in order to get some sleep, I’d do anything.
Oh, I could go on and on. Twelve years with Otto have given me so many memories and stories. As you can see, he grew out of any possibility of being part Border Terrier; his adult weight has always been within a pound or two of 70 pounds. And he’s been absolutely the best dog: a little serious, a little silly, always game to try, always interested in playing the training game. He’s the first dog I’ve owned since I was introduced to no-punishment training, so he was the first dog I’ve raised without incorporating a choke chain and collar yanks, or the routine use of “No!” (I’ve said it before and will say it again: The difference between a dog raised without being punished for “mistakes” and one who is constantly punished is astounding. Otto isn’t afraid to try, to raise his hand, so to speak, and volunteer an answer. As superstitiously anxious as he is about certain things – floors that he thinks might be slippery, for example – he always sees me as someone who will help him; he’s not afraid to come to me ever.)
He’s also been an awesome partner in fostering goofy adolescent dogs and countless puppies, and the best “older brother” to foster-failure Woody, my 4 ½-year-old pit bull-mix. Today, Woody is bigger and stronger than Otto, but he still lowers himself and, as my son put it once, shows an almost “aggressive submission” to Otto, groveling and licking Otto’s face like a puppy licks its mama, even as Otto growls and snaps at Woody: “Get out of my face!” Otto is the boss! But he’s never left a mark on Woody or a single guest, no matter how rude or unruly.
I’ve forgotten to celebrate his adoption day several times in past years, but, dog willing, Otto will be 13 years old in November. I won’t overlook any opportunity to celebrate him any more. He has some chronic health problems that we are monitoring. Thanks to good health insurance, he has been getting an abdominal ultrasound every six months for the past few years. He has some growths on his liver that we are watching, and he’s getting slightly lumpy with lipomas. I don’t want to worry you – I’m worried about him enough for all of us! – but my point is, at this point, Every Single Day with him is a gift for me, so I thought I would share that with you. Happy adoption day, Otto Maddock. I love you so much!