Saturday, August 4, 2012

"Little Dog" (Eldwin/Eldwina/Eledwyn)

Late last night, we picked up foster dog #12: a petite one-year-old shepherd mix that the shelter had named "Eldwin."

At the shelter, Eldwin was described as friendly but shy. Filthy and starved to a skeleton, this dog was picked up stray in Robeson County. He had no tags or collar, and his condition made it clear that he'd been on his own for a while. However, his sociability suggested that at some point he'd had a home, if not one that seemed to care about him very much.

Most of those observations seemed to be borne out when I picked him up. All the foster dogs are underweight when we get them, but Eldwin was frighteningly thin: a sack of bones wrapped in fur. He'd gotten a bath and trim at the vet before transport, so his fur was nice and shiny and his nails were short and neat, but it was evident that he'd been seriously deprived for a while before that. At the vet, Eldwin weighed in at 29.2 pounds. A healthy weight would be somewhere closer to 40.

And, most startlingly, "he" was a she.

For the time being, I'm calling her "little dog," since I can't really call her "Eldwin" anymore and there's no point in my teaching her a new name if the adopter is going to change it a couple of weeks later. It's not much of a name, though, so I'm hoping that one of the people interested in Eldwin commits to the pup soon and gives her a real name that I can use while working with her.

After only one day with this little dog, it's hard to make any accurate determinations about her personality, and any guesswork about her past would be just that. However, it seems likely to me that she had a home and was attached to a family in the past, but that family dumped her. At the vet, on the transport van, and in the car on the way home, Little Dog appeared to be severely depressed in a way that I tend to associate with dogs who know their people have abandoned them. Dogs do understand that, and they can get deeply depressed about it.

She never came out of her shell in quarantine boarding (in fact, the vet tech's and kennel workers' description of her shut-down behavior made me worry that she might actually be a severely fearful dog. Having gone through years of that with Pongu the Insane, I am painfully aware of how difficult it can be to live with a fearful dog, and I did not look forward to trying to place such a pup). She stayed morose on transport, and when I first picked her up, she was only mildly interested in food, despite her obvious starved condition. She spent the entire trip home in a state of apathy. It wasn't fear; it was more like resignation. It just seemed like nothing really mattered to her.

But once we got home, and the front door opened, she brightened up like magic. Suddenly the apathy vanished and she was all smiles. It was as if she recognized that this was a home, not just another institutional stop on an abandoned dog's sad journey, and she could tell the difference right away.

There are some things that are still strange to Little Dog. She was confused by glass doors (but not solid ones), initially hesitant about stairs, mightily bemused by the guinea pigs, and fascinated by our washing machine.

Whoever had her before did not take the time to train her at all. Little Dog doesn't know how to walk on a leash (although she's picking that up quickly), she doesn't have any idea what Sit means (and training that by luring is proving to be difficult, because she's so constantly hungry that she can't focus at all when food's in play; I'll have to use another method to get a Sit), and she has no manners whatsoever. Given the chance, she'll try to scavenge tasty tidbits from a garbage can. She has a tendency to jump on people when she's excited, although she isn't too persistent about it and she takes correction easily.

She's getting along well with Dog Mob. Little Dog seems to be well socialized to other dogs and, at least so far, seems fairly submissive (although she's also the smallest, youngest, and newest in this crew, and is dealing with a couple of mutts who are accustomed to pushing fosters around). She could probably live safely with cats and other small animals, as she's mildly interested in the guinea pigs but not inappropriately so.

Thus far, Little Dog has been very quiet. She doesn't bark and barely whines; the only noise she really makes is the thump of her tail against the walls of her crate when I approach. Early impressions can be misleading here, though, so I don't know if that behavior will hold up over time.

I don't know whether she's housebroken, as she hasn't had any accidents yet, but I'm assuming the answer is "no" and treating her accordingly. So far, so good.

Little Dog is still adjusting to the culture shock of going from rural North Carolina to Center City Philadelphia. She's making the adjustment very quickly, however, and from the glimmers I can see, her true personality seems to be playful, curious, and friendly. It's hard to gauge her energy level given her current poor condition, but it does seem like she'll be pretty active when she gets back to full health. She is not shy or fearful (at least not any more so than any normal dog would be under these circumstances); as she gets more comfortable, I expect to see her become more inquisitive and perhaps even adventurous.

We'll see how things develop over the next days. This dog badly wants a home; I suspect she had one before and lost it, and is desperate to find that place of belonging again. She seems to think she has it here, but she doesn't, not really, and the sooner I can get her off to a real home -- one that will love and cherish her instead of abandoning her to starve -- the happier she'll be.

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