It was never a marriage made in heaven. Petey and Patti were both strays with a laundry list of medical problems that made introducing them problematic at best. Petey was a grumpy, distrusting guy with severe hip displacia and Patti was a young, playful girl who had been recently diagnosed with cancer. In the end it seemed we had no choice. We had to get Patti out of the rescue boarding kennels before we could begin any kind of extended cancer therapy. Although Petey growled at anything that came with ten feet of him, we thought if we introduced the two dogs slowly with lots of supervision, it just might work.
We did our homework and began to prepare to become a two Dalmatian household. We bought a crate for Patti and got her separate feeding dishes. We bought duplicates of every Kong and dog toy in the house to reduce the chances of fights caused by possessiveness or jealousy. We walked the two dogs together at the rescue kennels to introduce them to each other, before introducing Patti to the house that Petey already called home.
On the day we brought Patti home, we first took both dogs on a long walk together in the park behind our house to introduce them on neutral ground, and more importantly, tire them out a bit before bringing them together on Petey's home turf. The two dogs walked surprisingly well together. Petey took the lead, occasionally growling at mysterious dangers known only to him. Patti followed closely behind, happily sniffing the many new scents along the way. By the time we got home, both dogs were tired enough to postpone territorial issues until another day.
Luckily, Patti was happy sleeping in her crate and didn't immediately covet Petey's place on the bed. It didn't take her long to discover the low, comfortable bed however, and it didn't take Petey any longer to decide to guard it. The first time Patti tried to climb on the bed, Petey growled at her, gave her a sharp look and she immediately backed off and rolled on her belly in a classic submissive position. Petey seemed happy with this response and immediately stopped growling. I began to think that the dogs might be able to sort things out for themselves.
Slow, but surely, this began to happen. After a few days, the dogs began to wander around the house freely without incident. Patti quickly learned to follow Petey outside and go to the bathroom whenever he did and became one of the quickest dogs to housetrain we had ever experienced. She learned other things from Petey as well. In only a matter of days, she learned to sit and wait patiently as I fixed their meals. Soon she would obediently sit, lie down and stay to earn one of the treats that were on top of the refrigerator, just like Petey. It was amazing and rewarding to watch this learning process unfold. Each dog was learning from the other. Petey had never been a playful dog, but Patti was even teaching him to play.
At first her playful antics in the backyard seemed to scare him, but gradually she won his trust and got somehow convinced him that chasing her around the yard at top speed could be a lot of fun. I'd never seen Petey playing with another dog before, but I could tell that he really enjoyed this new experience. Both dogs loved to chase squirrels and within a week were often seen sitting next to each other next to the living room window waiting to be the first to spot one of the reviled rodents.
I was absolutely delighted at Petey's new playful ways, but soon began to notice that Petey limped a bit after strenuous play sessions. His hip displacia was even worse than we though and it became obvious to us that he couldn't keep up with the younger and very playful Patti. This mismatch in energy didn't worry us at first because Patti had been diagnosed with a very malignant form of cancer and everyone expected her condition to deteriorate rapidly. We thought it would be good for both dogs to have a companion they'd grown to trust as Patti became weaker.
Day by day, life became more routine. We continued to take Patti to the oncologist trying to determine the best course of treatment, and more importantly why her apparently healthy condition was at odds with an extremely pessimistic pathology report. The pathology lab said that the tumor our veterinarian had removed was a Mast Cell cancer that grew quickly and would start to replicate itself with a few months after the initial surgery. Three months after the surgery, no new tumors had appeared and Patti was still maintaining her weight and showing no signs of this type of cancer. We decided to postpone chemotherapy until the oncologist could figure out what was going on.
One morning after breakfast I noticed that both dogs were lying together on the bed without any animosity at all. They seemed to have worked out their differences completely in their own canine way. I was delighted. Petey was so fearful of other dogs when we got him that I never really thought that bringing the two dogs together would work. They were both a bit jealous about food and toys, but making sure that there were always identical toys available seemed to work. Feeding them in separate parts of the kitchen seemed to work too. The only time there was a food fight was when I accidentally dropped a sausage on the floor during breakfast and both dogs went after it at the same time. Luckily, I was quick enough to grab both dogs by the scruff of the neck and admonish a stern "No" before any damage was done. This narrowly averted food fight should have been a warning, but it wasn't. I was so happy to see how well the dogs walked together and even napped on the bed together that I genuinely thought the worst was over.
I should have noticed that the intelligent little Patti was quickly assimilating some of Petey's worst habits. Sometimes when another dog crossed our path on afternoon walks, it was Patti instead of Petey who did the growling. The more agitated Patti became at other dogs, squirrels and passing cars, the calmer Petey became. After about a month, Patti took the lead on walks and Petey followed behind. Petey actually seemed more relaxed. He used to walk nervously with his ears laid back flat against his head. Now his ears flopped down loosely and casually like a hound dog. He actually seemed happy to let Patti do the barking for him.
Both dogs still liked to play together in the back yard on sunny afternoons. Petey didn't play as actively as he did before however. He seemed to instinctively know his limits and would quit playing when his legs began to hurt. This behavior would occasionally frustrate the eternally playful Patti. She really needed a young, healthy dog to help her burn off her excess energy. Even though Petey's play times were limited, they seemed to do him a world of good. He no longer seemed fearful of other dogs he met on his walks. In slow incremental steps he was learning that when other dogs approached, they didn't automatically want to harm you.
Patti seemed so healthy that our oncologist began to suspect that she might not have cancer at all. She got another pathology lab to prepare a new slide from the frozen tissue sample that had initially set off all the alarm bells. Much to everyone's surprise, it was discovered that Patti didn't have cancer at all. The first slide had been stained too darkly and although it looked like cancer to the technicians, it was really a non-cancerous TVT that had been inadvertently diagnosed as a Mast Cell tumor. After a few more tests to ensure that this new prognosis was accurate, Patti was pronounced a healthy dog.
The ironies of this whole situation were everywhere. Patti, who we thought would only live another year at best, was now a young healthy dog. Petey, who we already knew had hip displacia, was really in much worse shape than we initially thought and was probably already a candidate for an artificial hip. In spite of all the surprises, we were all very happy. Petey was becoming calmer and better behaved and Patti now had a future. We had two nice dogs that appeared to be growing to trust each other more and more with each passing day.
Patti still loved to play however, and was increasingly frustrated by Petey's reluctance to play outside for more than a few minutes at a time. Like any young, playful dog she tried every trick she knew to try to get Petey to chase her. Sometimes she tried too hard. One afternoon, she was in an especially playful mood and tried to jump over Petey in the yard. When she landed on his back, he cried out in pain and immediately went to the ground. From that moment on everything changed. Almost instantly I understood why Petey never let anyone come near his feet and growled when other dogs approached him. He knew that his legs were vulnerable. If a playful push from a smaller dog could send Petey to the ground, he must have known for a long time that he would have trouble defending himself from another dog. Patti knew too. Almost overnight her image of Petey shifted from pack leader and Alpha male to an older, sick animal that could be challenged. Like it or not, this is normal animal behavior. Stories abound of young dogs challenging an older, sick alpha in an attempt to increase their position in the pack. Patti was always an assertive dog and now she wanted to be the alpha dog as well.
It was sad to see this happen. In so many ways these dogs were both good for each other. In less than two months, Petey had learned that living with another dog wasn't such a bad thing. He was calmer and much less frantic with all the other dogs in the neighborhood. He was even learning to share his toys, which we never thought would happen. Patti was learning as well. She was a smart dog and a very quick learner. All the things it took months of professional training to teach Petey, she picked up in a matter of weeks, just by watching him. She would sit, stay and even heel, unless she saw a nearby squirrel.
Unfortunately, the longer she stayed with us, the more she wanted to become the alpha dog and continued to look for opportunities to go after Petey when he was vulnerable. Now, when Petey would give her a warning look and a short warning growl, she didn't back off and growled back even louder. We tried crating her when she became aggressive. We tried training. Over time, we tried almost everything we could think of. Nothing worked however. Every day was an accident waiting to happen and only quick reflexes on our part prevented a nasty fight.
As every dog owner knows, it is close to impossible to be everywhere at the same time. Surprises always happen and sometimes you just can't get there quick enough. Petey and Patti both hated the garbage truck. Every morning on trash pick up day, they ran through the yard like maniacs, barking and carrying on like the world was going to end. One morning they heard the garbage truck coming down the alley behind the house while I was eating breakfast in the kitchen and both went running for the back door. Petey got to the door first and Patti almost immediately piled into him from behind as she brought up the rear. The collision must have hurt Petey's hip and he cried out in pain as he went to the ground. I immediately ran for the door myself, but before I could get there Patti had already bitten Petey three times.
Maybe things wouldn't have turned out badly if the dogs weren't already in a wild-eyed frenzy at the sight of the garbage truck. Who knows? All I knew when I pried Patti's jaw open where she had clamped on to Petey's ear, that our happy family was over.
I immediately crated Patti and then took Petey to the veterinarian. Luckily, his cuts were superficial and no serious damage was done. You have to be careful with puncture wounds however, since they have such a tendency to get infected. I asked my vet and then our trainer if this might have been an isolated incident caused by the dog's excitement. Their answers weren't encouraging. Pack behavior has been around as long as there have been dogs. Once Patti sensed a weakness in the pack leader, it would be hard to reverse this innate animal instinct.
I kept wanting to think that all the experts were wrong. It is hard to believe that this situation can't be repaired, especially when most of the time the two dogs got along so well together. In the end Petey's safety came first. It just wasn't fair to either Petey or Patti to keep them together. Patti is a wonderful dog. We suspect that she would probably still be a great pet in a home with other dogs, if those dogs were as young and playful as she is. Trainers and behaviorists have known for years that active play is a great way to resolve any potential conflicts that dogs may have. Petey will never be able to play actively though. On cold damp days, he can barely walk.
Reluctantly, I took Petey and Patti on a final walk together, trying my best to end things on a high note. After feeding both dogs their favorite meal, I took Patti back to the boarding kennels. Petey sleeps alone on the bed again, probably wondering where his companion went. Patti sits even more alone in her kennel run, listening to the cacophony of the other barking Dalmatians in nearby runs. For the moment, there is not a happy ending to this story.
Patti will find the home she deserves. She is a wonderful dog, and I'm sure some kind person will fall in love with her soon. She already had a home though. Why did she and Petey have to blow it? If Petey weren't such a grumpy, growler, would Patti have behaved better herself? We'll never know for sure. All I know is that these two strays had a few playful afternoons where they had more fun together than either of them had ever had before. If only their animal instincts hadn't gotten in the way.
If you enjoy these stories and would like to help this wonderful breed of dogs, please consider making a donation to Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas. Your donation will help Dalmatian Rescue continue to rescue and rehabilitate the hundreds of Dalmatians that are abandoned in North Texas every year. To help give a deserving Dalmatian a second chance, just click on the button to your left. You can use any major credit card to make your donation instantly and no matter what you choose to give, you can feel a little better knowing that you have helped a dog very much like Petey find the one thing it really needs: a home.
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