As a devoted pet owner, I regard cats and dogs like kidneys: You need only one to survive, but it's best to have two - just in case.
So when my beloved Boston terrier Benny left this Vale of Tears, the search was on for his replacement.
Don't get me wrong: Even though I immediately started looking for a new dog, I didn't do it impulsively. You get a dog, you've got him for at least a decade. And if you make a poor choice, that's a very long 10 years?-?for both of you, not to mention everyone else in the house.
So as disorganized as I am with most things, when it comes to pet selection I'm as systematic as it gets.
First, I never get puppies. Yeah, I know, everyone adores puppies. So do I. But I'm not about to take one home. The simple truth is while you might have some idea what the puppy will be like when it grows up, that's all you've got. You've no idea of its disposition, fears, shedding, barking, destructiveness - nothing.
So I get adult dogs. What you see is what you get. Sure, you'll have some surprises, but chances are, they're not going to be huge, since someone's been observing them for a while.
Second, any dog I adopt has to get along with other dogs and cats, not to mention people - especially kids.
And third, I never get hounds. I like hounds, but given their genetics, once they get outside they are A.D.D. to the max. Sniffing this, hearing that, spotting those and they're off. Even when on leashes, hounds can -?and do -?tug, pull and sprint everywhichway, except the one you want them to go.
The game is on
So with all this in mind, I started looking for my new dog. On the net, I looked on Petfinder, which is plugged into every animal shelter between here and Alpha Centauri. I found some likely candidates and visited them, but none were a good fit. One was dog-aggressive; another didn't like cats; another couldn't pay attention to anything, and so on.
No biggie, thought: I'd just keep waiting, and looking, till Mr. Right came along.
Months went by and I kept my cool and kept on looking.
Then one day I got a call from a friend of a friend.
"Hey," she said, "I understand you're looking for another dog."
"I am," I said.
"Well, I may have the dog for you."
"Really?" I said. "What's he like?"
"Far as I can figure, he's about as close to a perfect dog as you can get," she said.
I asked her where she got him and she launched into her tale. Weeks before, a friend of hers had found the dog in the woods, where apparently he'd been running for a while. They called all the shelters and vets, put posters up everywhere, but no one claimed him. So obviously it was one more case of I.D.O. (Idiot Dog Owner). Want a dog, get a dog and then never take care of him. Don't neuter him, keep him at home, brush him, don't even try to find him when he's gone. I sure didn't feel guilty that I'd be taking someone's beloved pet away.
"What's he look like?" I asked.
"He's a really good-looking dog," she said. "Kinda looks like a blond golden retriever, just not as big and with not as long hair."
I agreed to check him out and we got together the next day.
One look at the dog and I realized, while he looked "kinda" like a golden retriever, he was clearly a hound of some sort. His face and ears were pure beagle, and his body was houndy too. The coat was something else, but when it came to this guy's DNA, it was hound all the way.
I called him; he came over. I asked him to sit, and he did. Then I petted him some, and he just sat there, cool and calm. Keep in mind, the other dog I had at the time was Brother Phineas the Pug Thug. The idea of a dog sitting calmly, not to mention doing it while being petted, was completely out of my ken.
Next, I introduced him to Brother Phineas, who started to play like the maniac he is. The new dog, who outweighed Phineas by at least 20 pounds, played, but not roughly or dominantly.
I took him for a walk and he just strolled at my pace, never pulled, pushed, dodged, none of that. When I got back, still thinking over if I'd take him or not, he did something amazing. He got up on his hind legs and laid his front paws on my chest, so gently I could barely feel them. Then he gave me That Look. We all know it it's the one a dog or cat gives you when you first meet it that says, "Take me home and I promise I'll be good, forever."
That did it.
"OK," I said. "He's just found a home I think."
"What's it depend on?" she asked.
"The acid test," I said. "How he gets along with the cats."
The three of us hopped in the car and went home.
When we got in the house, he sniffed around, checked out this and that, and then saw one of the cats. It was the moment of truth. It was also a SHORT one: After he saw the cat, he went back to sniffing around, and finally just curled up in a corner and went to sleep.
I put him through some other trials -?taking his food away while he was mid-meal and giving him the tail-pull check, also mid-meal. He didn't react to either. When he met kids he wasn't effusively friendly, but he was non-threatening and patient. If a kid started to overhandle him, he'd just move away, turn his back and sit down.
I kept waiting for him to act out, but he didn't. He barked if he saw deer, but otherwise seemed never to utter a sound. He didn't' beg. He didn't chew anything but his toys. All in all, he didn't do much of anything. In fact, the only time he got excited was at mealtime, when he'd sit by his plate and shake all over. It was so uncharacteristic of him, it's how he got his nam - Shaky Jake.
He was so level, calm and well-behaved, my brother labeled him," The perfect dog for people who don't want a dog." It should go without saying, that's the perfect label.
and a delightful dozen later
That was 12 years ago and he hasn't changed. Oh, sure, he's gotten grayer, slower, and deaferbut who hasn't?
But he's never snarled or snapped, been pushy or needy, destroyed anything, or even had an accident in the house.
And since the day I got him, there's something else he's never done. He's never reared up, put his paws on my chest, and given me That Look. Then again, he's never had to.