Saturday, May 14, 2011


This is MY DOG PONGU, aka the Dog I Got By Mistake.

Pongu at four months

I adopted Pongu from the Morris Animal Refuge, where he'd been dumped by his previous owner's landlady after his owner moved away, leaving a bewildered four-month-old puppy with a malfunctioning left forepaw in his empty apartment.

On the day I met Pongu, I wasn't intending to adopt a puppy. He wasn't even the kind of dog I was looking for. I was on the hunt for a little foxy dog, ideally a Shiba Inu mix, and Pongu was labeled as a German Shepherd-Doberman mix who would likely grow up to be 70+ pounds. (As it turned out, that label was mostly wrong -- while Pongu's definitely some kind of Shepherd mix, it's more likely that he's got beagle in his ancestry than Doberman, and he topped out at a relatively petite 50 pounds. I couldn't know that at the time, though.)

But the sight of this terrified puppy cowering in the back of his cage while other dogs yipped and barked all around him grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I lost sleep over that little booger. I went back the next day and tried to run Sue Sternberg's temperament test on him, although I really had no idea what I was doing and didn't even realize that a puppy too frozen in fear to respond to half the tests probably meant problems ahead. It was soon apparent that Pongu was a very smart dog, but I was too clueless to recognize the signs that he was also super skittish and had a persistent limp.

I'm not sure it would have mattered if I had known. I went back again the next week with my husband, my sister, and my sister's dog Ditto, a pitbull who has no concept of "shy." And finally, in the company of another friendly dog, Pongu broke out of his paralyzed fear. He played and played, and smiled and smiled, and that was the end of it for me.

I adopted him the next day.

Pongu and Ditto at my parents' house last Christmas
Pongu is about a year old now. Regular visits to the dog park have improved his social skills immeasurably; months of work in canine freestyle ("dog dancing") have built up his confidence. He is still terrified of children, chalkboard cafe signs, and plastic bags that blow down the sidewalk after dark. Although he's gotten (slightly) less paranoid over time, he's still a textbook example of a one-person dog: supremely loyal and responsive to his one special person, deeply suspicious of almost everyone else.

As I type this, Pongu is sprawled under my desk chair, hugging my right foot while he sleeps.

This is my dog Pongu, the best dog in the world. He's not a perfect dog by any measure, but he is perfect for me.

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