At first it was hard to believe that a dog like Petey would ever wind up in a public animal shelter. This handsome and well-adjusted Dalmatian definitely wasn't your typical pit bull/chow mix pound pup. Not only was Petey already neutered, he was already trained. Maybe this is why he had survived over two months in a kill shelter that normally only kept dogs for ten days before putting them down.
Petey was definitely a charmer. He was a model of decorum as he would obediently sit, stay, lie down and even heal to either voice or hand signals. Like any well-mannered canine gentlemen, he would extend a paw to greet you and always remember to lick your face. He was so well behaved that when I first met him, I was certain that Petey must be lost. Who could possible abandon a dog like this?
Animal control assured me that dogs like Petey get abandoned every day of the week. The reason they had kept him for over two months was that they were hoping against hope that he was indeed a lost dog and wanted to give his owner every chance to find him and bring him home. I know that if I had lost a dog, the first places I would call were all the local shelters. Anyone that lived within a hundred miles of the animal shelter could have easily found Petey.
No one came however. Day after day, Petey sat alone in his kennel and came closer to the day when he would be euthanized. Finally the shelter was able to find a rescue group who was willing to give Petey a second chance and that's how we met.
Initially, I thought this well-trained dog was just about perfect. Like any Dalmatian, Petey had his secrets though. As we got to know each other better, Petey began to gradually reveal some other sides to his personality. The first thing I learned was that he didn't like you to touch his feet. If you even tried to lift up a muddy paw to clean it, or needed to remove a thorn from between his paw pads, he would growl and snap at you. It was an odd reaction, since every other part of his body seemed to be fair game. When he was wet, you could easily dry him off with a towel. He would even let you dress him up and seemed to have no problem wearing hats, sweaters and silly Christmas antlers. Everything was fine, just as long as you remembered to stay away from his feet.
Thinking that he might have an old injury, or even a thorn or bit of glass embedded in a paw, I took him to the vet for an exam. Everything seemed normal. He didn't even growl when the vet looked at his feet. As soon as we got home however, the weird foot fetish started all over again.
So, Petey wasn't perfect. He still seemed better behaved than any other Dalmatian I'd known. The trouble with Dalmatians is that the more comfortable they become, the more badly they behave. They start out eating the dry kibble the veterinarian recommends and six months later they are under the table drooling on your shoe unless they get a juicy piece of the pork chop they know is on your plate. Dalmatians start out perfectly happy to sleep in a crate and then almost inevitably discover that sleeping right in the middle of a queen-sized bed is much nicer. It's hard to get too mad at a Dalmatian's eternal quest to expand their privileges though. I realized a long time ago that most Dals are acting no differently than I would in a similar situation.
It didn't take long to realize that Petey was a prodigious drooler. Not only did he drool on my shoes at dinner, he drooled on the bed, on the rugs and worst of all, on the paws he hated you to touch. It didn't help matters that Petey was missing a tooth either. The gap in his teeth let the drool pour out of the right side of his mouth like milk from an open carton. I began to wonder if Petey might be a strange Dalmatian/Basset Hound mix, or if it was possible to bottle and sell dog drool as a commercial product. I know that if you could wax floors with the stuff, we would have the shiniest kitchen in town.
About a week after he traded his unfortunate incarceration in the pound for a spot in the middle of our bed, Petey discovered that there were squirrels in the back yard. It was obvious that somewhere in his former life, Petey had encountered squirrels before. He was obsessed by them. Unfortunately, our yard is filled with large Oak trees where a multitude of squirrels make their home. Each room along the back side of the house has floor-to-ceiling glass that provides inquisitive dogs with an armchair view of squirrel shenanigans. It wasn't long before Petey was spending hours peering through these windows like an NFL fan watching Monday Night Football on a big screen TV. Watching wasn't enough however. Petey really wanted to catch one of these squirrels. When hew saw one outside, he would race around the yard like a maniac trying to figure out where the pesky rodents has disappeared to. I learned to prop the screen door open on warm days since he was in and out constantly. If I wasn't quick enough opening the door, he would slap the screen with his paw and quickly ruined it.
This was all normal dog behavior though. Every dog on our street was interested in squirrels in one way or another. Usually they would eventually reach an uneasy peace with the squirrels, just like they did with cats. I though this would happen with Petey too, until the day he jumped through the living room window. I was eating lunch and Petey was sitting at my side waiting for table scraps. All of the sudden, he turned and saw a squirrel sitting right on the porch less than a foot away from the living room window.
In the blink of an eye, he took a flying leap over the coffee table and jumped right through the living room window. This wouldn't have been so bad if the window was open. It wasn't. Petey smashed through the big picture window like he was a quarterback trying to reach the goal line in a fourth down situation. There was shattered glass everywhere and Petey was outside, looking very confused.
I knew this was not going to be a good situation. Petey has cut himself badly on both front legs, his belly and all four paws. I was faced with trying to quickly calm and bandage a dog who wouldn't let you touch his feet even in the most normal of situations. I know that the first rule in dealing with cuts is to stop the bleeding. I tried hard to quickly bandage the leg that was cut the worst with a dishtowel as Petey tried to equally hard to bite me. This wasn't going to work. Petey was a very strong dog and he was panicked. I gave up on the bandages, picked up the growling, bleeding dog, put him in the back of the car and drove as quickly as I could to the vet. I have always believed that everyone who owns a Dalmatian should live near a vet, and luckily my vet was only a few minutes away from the house.
Five minutes after jumping through the window, Petey was on the operating table being sewn back together. He was lucky in a lot of ways. Shards of broken glass could easily have put out an eye or lacerated his face. His face wasn't even touched, but his left leg was hurt pretty bad. Broken glass had cut through a vein in his leg, exposed the bone and torn muscle tissue as well. I was worried that he might have a permanent limp or lose strength in his front legs, but the vets did a great job of repairing the damage.
Two weeks later, Petey was back to his normal self. He can run and jump and apparently hasn't lost interest in squirrels at all. I have replaced the glass in my house with tempered safety glass and am a bit nervous about eating lunch next to a window, but for the most part, life has returned to normal. I keep wondering how cats got the distinction of having nine lives. Dalmatians are really the animals with nine lives. Almost all the Dalmatians I've known have gotten themselves in a terrible predicament at one time or another. They are amazingly resilient though and most bounce back to live another day.
After the squirrel incident, we began to make a game of guessing how Petey wound up in the pound. It could easily have been the squirrels. If our back yard weren't fenced, Petey would easily chase a squirrel or cat until he ran out of breath. It is easy to imagine a scenario where this single-minded dog chased something a little too long or too far and became lost. Even easier to imagine would be the day when he jumped through his former owner's screen door for the tenth time and wore out his welcome.
Maybe Petey's former owners were young and planning to have their first child. A lot of good Dalmatians lose their homes this way. People love a Dalmatian's rambunctious ways until they start reading that this might not be the right breed for families with small children. Petey is actually very gentle with children, but you could easily get the wrong idea. He has a very deep, gruff bark and when he gets excited he makes strange growling noises that can be a bit unnerving until you realize that there is no hostility involved.
Or perhaps it was Petey's Hip Displacia that sent him to the pound. It is all too common for pet owners to put down or abandon an animal, rather than pay the vet bills it would take to bring it back to health. We discovered that Petey had Hip Displacia after a vigorous afternoon of squirrel chasing in the back yard. He next morning he had a limp. When this happened again about a week later, I took him to the vet for x-rays, thinking that there may have been an injury somewhere in his mysterious past that was still causing him problems. We didn't find any evidence of broken bones that hadn't healed properly, but the Hip Displacia was very evident. It was sad to see such a young active dog with Hip Displacia, but luckily, there are plenty of things we can still do to make his life a bit more comfortable. On our vet's recommendation we started giving Petey Glucosamine to build back the cartilage in his joints and Rimidil to ease the pain. It only took a few weeks to see a new spring in his step.
Maybe Petey's owners had a perfectly legitimate reason why they could no longer have a dog and found him a new home. It's entirely possible that he ran away from his second home and got lost trying to find his way back to his original owners. I'll probably never know whether Petey got lost chasing a squirrel on a family vacation, or was dumped by uncaring owners who didn't want to pay his medical bills. There could be a hundred reasons why Petey wound up in the pound. This is how it is with rescue dogs. They all have a past and they all have a certain air of mystery that surrounds them.
I'll never know Petey's past. The best I can do is ensure that he has a good future. I've learned to ignore his drooling and he's learning to let me clean his feet. We take things one day at a time. Getting a rescue dog isn't like getting a dog from a breeder. If I'd raised Petey from puppyhood, perhaps he wouldn't have so many strange habits. Who knows? When you adopt an adult rescue dog, you agree to take the good with the bad. Maybe you can't instill habits and shape behavior like you could with a puppy, but you have the ability to reclaim a life. Seeing a dog like Petey slowly turn from a nervous survivor into a happy clown is it's own reward.
Petey's past will always remain a mystery. But I know that he'll never wind up in the pound again.
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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