Coast Lines - October 2015
The Flawed, But Perfect Dog
The white dog named after a general didn't meet many of the criteria that would make up the idea of a perfect dog. It turns out heart trumps lists in the story of foster failure.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
The name was just the beginning. I had a check-list and not many boxes were ticked off for the ropey white hound. While we had wanted an adult dog, we wanted a younger one. According to our vet, Sherman’s probably five or six. He also came with heartworms, broken teeth and a weird scar on his back that looks as if he’d been speared by a harpoon.
He wasn’t house-trained and apparently had never ridden in a car. He didn’t even know how to walk up steps. When we first fostered him, he’d go into a thrashing panic when anyone tried to put a collar around his neck.
The first day I met Sherman, ferocious purple thunderheads crowded the horizon as I struck out for the Pet-Smart store in Gulfport. Storm-phobia was another “can’t have” on my list. And we wouldn’t adopt a chronic barker. Any serious candidate would be tested this day.
Wait, what candidates? What was I doing? As I drove, I reminded myself this was a research trip for an article I was writing about the Hancock County animal shelter.
At Pet Smart, I planned to meet Denise Hines, a board member from Friends of the Animal Shelter. She volunteered most Saturdays helping adopt out dogs. I’d talked to her on the phone, but seeing her in action would add color to my article.
I wanted to write about the group's fine work because I had a soft spot for rescues. Every dog in my life had been unwanted by another before me. Like Jack, our beloved collie mix who had died two years before. And Buster, a mature boxerish bruiser who had been happily soaking up all the attention since Jack’s passing.
That spring, my husband, Larry, and I had discussed becoming a two-canine family again. He was out of town and I wouldn’t dream of picking a dog without him. But it couldn’t hurt to do a bit of advance reconnaissance while working on my article. This particular day, I hoped to persuade Denise to keep an eye out for the Perfect Dog, one that could meet all the requirements on my long list.
Inside Pet Smart: pandemonium. The store swarmed with people led by dogs on leashes. Children of all ages shouted and skittered through the aisles like loose mice. Adoption candidates, corralled in the center of the store, barked from anxiety. I circled the island of kennels, then parked myself against a display and watched.
Only one of the dogs wasn’t barking. The white dog with the upright rabbity ears sat in his wire kennel, paying sharp attention to the torrent of people passing by. As I watched, he spotted a woman coming toward him and fastened his attention on her. His whole boney body quivered, his tail flailed against the wire cage and his muzzle crinkled up in a weird doggie smile. He didn’t make a sound, but I could hear him crying with joy: “It’s Her! She’s here! She’s come to save me! I knew she’d come! It’s Her!”
As the woman grew closer, he took in enough of her scent to realize his mistake. He instantly deflated with disappointment. “It’s not Her. It’s not. Oh no. Oh no." He sank down in seeming despondency.
I went over to his cage. He seemed like some kind of pointer or greyhound mix, with amber eyes and a liver nose. A few gold patches marked the short white coat, which was thin enough to show his leopard-freckled skin. While he was sweet and tolerated me scratching him through the wires, clearly, I wasn’t his person. He was remained focused on the people passing by. Looking for Her.
I stood back again and watched a few more heart-breaking let-downs. I figured out that Her was probably a youngish, plumpish, white woman with shoulder-length dark hair. There were plenty of people who fit that description in the store that day, so the dog’s hopes would be dashed repeatedly.
I went over and introduced myself to Denise. When I asked casually about the white dog, she said he was one of three dogs a family had surrendered to the shelter. For whatever reason, Her had no longer wanted him in Her life and apparently wasn't overly concerned that older dogs often get put to sleep at shelters. Her dropped him off and left forever. Maybe Her had a good reason. Maybe the dogs had just become encumbrances.
Then Denise rattled off basic information about the dog, all of which convinced me this particular dog would not be a good fit for our family.
But still. While I was there, it wouldn’t hurt to walk him.
Sherman’s calm demeanor exploded when Denise opened the kennel door, and she had a hard time getting a loop of leash around his head. Then he dragged me to the end of an aisle and peed a lake on Pet Smart’s tile floor.
Denise cleaned up the flood without batting an eye and then accompanied us outside so Buster and Sherman could meet. We watched as the two dogs did the sniffing butts routine. They seemed to get along fine. Meanwhile, gusts from the approaching storm felt as if they’d carry us away. Thunder warned us lightning was striking nearby. Sherman didn’t seem alarmed. When it started raining, we all ran for the store. Once inside, Sherman ignored Buster and me, resuming the search for Her. I drove away that day with only one dog, certain and a little sad that Sherman had no future in our home.
Then Denise called. Sherman had been at the shelter for a long time and they were having issues with overcrowding. Could we foster? Just for a week or so? She hinted that canine lives were at stake. Larry and I discussed it over the phone and decided no harm would be done, especially since it was just a temporary arrangement. We’d give back the Not-Perfect dog when the crisis passed and hold a spot for the Perfect one.
When she brought Sherman over, Denise played the social worker, teaching him how to walk up steps. Inside, he immediately peed on the floor. Once. I shook my finger at him and he never had an accident again. I began to see the advantage of having an older dog.
At first, Sherman mostly slept, beaten with exhaustion. It would take time for his full personality to emerge after the shattering betrayal and the long shelter stay. But by the time Larry arrived home a week later, Sherman dazzled him with a performance of sitting and lying down on command. The smart pooch had also learned to ride in a car civilly and take walks on a leash without dislocating my arm when he spotted a squirrel. Sherman responded with bright enthusiasm to the frequent distribution of extravagant treats that began soon after Larry rejoined the household. The two became fast friends, bonded by bacon.
Denise has since said that there’s a term for people like us: Foster Failures. Sherman has become a euphoric and permanent addition to our family pack. Aside from a few curtain casualties and one gate mangled during a thunder storm, he hasn’t lived up to the ominous aspects of his name. Thankfully. Flaws and all, he’s turned out to be the Perfect Dog.
Every morning, after letting himself out through the dog door, he gallops back into the house with the same report: “It’s a fantastic day! The very best! Doesn’t get any better than this! Just wait til you see for yourself! Let’s go NOW! C'mon, c'mon! Get moving!”
And when we go away and return - whether we’ve been absent ten minutes or ten hours – the white dog’s tail thrashes the air, his body quivers with joy and his lips pull back in that crazy canine grin.
Apparently, I have become Her now - and Sherman’s also acquired a Him.
Click here to see some fantastic dogs currently up for adoption at the Hancock Animal Shelter! You might find your own Perfect Dog!
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