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Pet Stories: Monty

Monty Our newly adopted dog, Monty, has become a great addition to our family. Yet, as much as I'm happy we added Monty, as I look back on how it happened, I can't help but remember that this dog had almost no chance of having us adopt him. Things were going against him even before we laid eyes on him on that first dark evening.

My wife and I had two well-loved, happy dogs already. Our German shorthaired pointer, Rommel, and his sidekick, Buttons the beagle, were perfect companions. They traveled well in our van as we made bi-monthly trips between our primary home in the West Virginia mountains and our vacation home at the Delaware seashore. We spent many hours walking the two of them on paths in both states. My wife, Candy, often said she wanted a third dog, but I thought it was convenient to just have two dogs. Two people, two dogs. A happy equation. "We don't need another dog," I kept saying. Three would complicate and unbalance things and I was comfortable and satisfied with things as they were.

Except for during the hottest summer days our two furry friends go everywhere with us--grocery shopping, sightseeing, and visiting. We removed our van's middle seat to make room for a large pad for them to lie on during our rides. Still, the beagle preferred to sleep between the front seats and the pointer chose to lie on the rear bench seat. My wife often slyly commented that the large pad she had made for the large middle area of the van was going to waste. We needed another dog to use up that vacant area! Every time she read the newspapers of either state, she'd unfailingly read the "Pets" section of the classified ads aloud and wait for me to give reasons why we didn't need another dog. We never argued the issue, but her determination to add another dog didn't go away. This went on for over two years.

I was tempted to make phone calls about several of her prospects, and once, when I did, I found out the dog had been placed a day earlier. I was sorry to miss out on him, a fine English pointer to romp the fields and woods with Rommel, but, mostly, I was relieved we didn't get him. Two is enough. Three is too much. I knew that was the sensible attitude.

By late summer I found that I was reading the want ads when my wife wasn't looking. She'd actually halted her campaign a few months earlier, and, left without her hinting, I had taken up the search on my own. It was a brilliant strategy on her part, and I've never doubted that it was just that ... a clever and planned strategy.

One day I came across a classified that started with the usual "Free to a good home ..." and which ended with a "Weimeraner" which was being given up. This was one of the breeds we liked so much. Although neither of us hunts, we like the spirit and character of hunting dogs. People who use them solely to hunt game are missing the companionship of some of the best behaved and loyal, loving family dogs available.

I read the advertisement several times over a two-day period and then, returning to my senses, threw the newspaper in the kitchen garbage can. I'd not shown the article to my wife. The next day, while my wife walked our dogs in our Delaware neighborhood, I dug the paper out of the can and placed a tentative call--just to satisfy my curiosity, not to make a commitment. The area code and exchange told me that the dog was in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay, far away from our home in coastal Delaware.

The boy who answered the phone said the dog was two years old and when I asked him if the dog was house trained, he said a curious thing - "I don't know." When I pursued this inquiry, I ascertained that he didn't know because the dog had never been allowed in their house. I certainly didn't need an adult dog with no house manners or social awareness. If I was going to add a dog it would be a proper one from the start--trained, socialized, and used to the love of people. I might now consider a third dog, but he had to be perfect.

The ad went back in the garbage ... for about twenty minutes. Then I called again and was able to speak with the boy's mother. She said the dog was four years old and, as far as house training went, he "didn't pee inside his kennel house." Her tone of voice was not pleasant. It seemed an annoyance to her to have to be interviewed further about this dog she was giving away for free so I merely asked for directions and hung up after receiving them.

When my wife returned from her walk I made my "confession." She was surprised (seemingly) that I had gone this far toward getting a family addition. When I repeated my somewhat unsatisfying conversation with the dog's owners to her, she was nonplussed and encouraged me to go look at the dog. It was late and we would have more than a two-hour drive to the house, arriving in a strange town well after dark.

Two and a half hours later, after stopping and asking directions several times, we pulled up to a rather unkempt house with a cluttered interior. The woman who answered the door let us know that it was a less than intelligent time of day (or night) to come look at a dog. We explained that we lived six hours away in West Virginia and were going home tomorrow. If we were to get a new dog, we wanted to obtain it early enough to take it back to Delaware and get it a bit used to us and our other dogs before setting out on a long journey with a totally unknown quantity.

She sent her son out to get the dog but he came back empty handed. He said he couldn't find the dog in the kennel because the only light bulb had burned out a few weeks earlier and it was too dark to see the dog, let alone capture him. Then they argued about who should have replaced the bulb. I could see that this dog was not coming from a loving environment.

The boy was successful when he was sent back a second time and returned with a very excited dog leashed with a piece of clothesline. The floor of the house was linoleum and the poor excited creature was in such a panic that he was slipping and falling repeatedly as he wagged his happy, docked tail.

The dog was far from a picture of good health. His rib bones protruded crudely from his sides and his back line was punctuated by bony discs the entire length of his spine. He had a hoarse, raspy cough and the odor of his breath made us wince. But I had never seen a tail wag so excitedly and when I kneeled down to pet him he licked me with such thankfulness that I didn't know how I was going to tell the woman that I didn't want her dog. We didn't need these problems to upset our happy and healthy family.

As I studied his emaciated frame, she said he got "fatter" every winter. She told us this as she used a dirty towel to wipe away a yellow mucous film that covered both of his eyes. Cruel scars, which allowed no hair to grow through, were present on his legs and he had two hairless red bumps on his hindquarters. She explained that the dog rubbed himself on the kennel fence and cement floor during the summer because of fleas, and that was what caused the hair losses. She didn't act like she knew what a flea bath or flea collar was and she made no apologies about his current state.

The lady then went through some poorly organized files and then returned to us with his "papers." "He cost me $400 when he was a pup," she proudly stated. "He's been my stud dog ever since." She was especially proud that he didn't have a white patch of hair on his chest - "that's a fault that most weimeraners have," she stated expertly. "This is one great dog you're getting." I didn't want to be honest with her as to my opinion of the quality of that statement, so I said nothing in reply. Then she walked away and went back to the TV program she and her son had been watching before we rudely interrupted their evening.

Candy and I talked quietly to each other. The pedigree showed that the dog was going to experience ("celebrate" is not a word that could be used here) his eighth birthday in two weeks. So not only was he not two years old as we were first told or even four as she had bluntly stated when we arrived, this dog had "aged" six years since my first phone call to them four hours earlier. We did not want to start with a dog this old. In addition, this dog obviously had health problems and probably would have socialization problems since he had never been out of his twenty-foot kennel since he was a puppy.

But how could we leave him to finish his life with these unnurturing and seemingly uncaring people? There was also the specter of the chance that he would not be adopted by anyone and would be given up to a shelter for almost certain euthanasia. We both felt the dog had been kept in such a state of wretchedness that we had to take him and try to make the second half of his life better than the first. We quickly told her we would be happy to take the dog. Remembering how she'd told us that he was an expensive pup, I gave her some money to complete the deal even though she hadn't asked for it. This would be my way to totally sever the ties between her and us. As we left she said, "Just give him a good home." These were the only kind words she uttered the entire time we were at her home. I promised I would do so and told her I'd write to her to let her know how it worked out. I immediately wished I'd not made that final promise.

Buttons and Rommel were in the van and we had little time for proper introductions and no choice but to put our new addition directly in the van and head back to Delaware. Amazingly, after each dog took turns with the usual ritualistic sniffing introductions, all three lay down and slept most of the way home. He rode like he had done it his whole life, even though his owner had told us his only rides had been the yearly ones in the back of their pickup truck to the vet for rabies vaccinations. Those shots are required for breeding dogs.

By the time we got home it was almost midnight. We put a leash on our new boy and did a bathroom walk. He pulled against the leash for only a short period of time and then fell in line behind us. Returning to the house, he encountered his first challenge. He had never seen steps before and we have a long staircase leading to our entrance. He stood in his collar and leash a t the bottom of the stairs and whimpered in frustration as we walked up and away from him, calling for him to follow. Then he tried to climb up but slipped twice before we could catch him and carry him up to the landing. When he got in the house he promptly lifted his leg and sprayed the furniture. So much for prior house training ...

He had such a pungent kennel odor that, even though it was past midnight, we decided to try to give him a bath. After reassurances that showed him we weren't trying to drown him, he reluctantly allowed the bath to progress. Because of his lack of house training, we decided to leave him on our screened porch that night.

Five minutes after being put on the enclosed porch we heard a loud bang. It seems he'd never seen glass before and he had tried to run through the sliding glass doors. Five minutes after we had left him again, the howling started. It sounded like something from THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. I knew the neighbors would not be appreciative of this barking cacophony, so I brought him into the bedroom and babysat him the rest of the night. Three times we carried him down the steps so he could do his business.

The next day we came back to West Virginia. We decided we needed a new name for him. We did not want to use his original name because we wanted to make a complete break from that sad era. Since we had a "Rommel", we decided to add a "Montgomery" - apologies to history! He was "Monty" for short.

It's been a long time since that night. Monty fits in well! At first almost every experience was new to him. He'd never gone on walks, swam in a river, rode on weekly shopping and touring expeditions, eaten "treats" from fast food restaurants, been inside a house, or, most sad of all, had never been openly loved and respected. He often lays and just stares at us and we can see the love he has for us and we, in turn, feel blessed that we are the recipients of such affection.

The mucous film covering his eyes was an infection that was treated successfully with antibiotic drops. It took three days and cost $5. How could anyone have denied him something like this? Our vet also found that he had hookworms and whipworms and these are now gone. He put on eight pounds in the first three weeks and is just now started to have a somewhat normal appearance. We had his teeth cleaned and our vet noted that many of his teeth were broken - probably from chewing rocks or chewing the kennel fence. As for the house training, he made only six "mistakes" in the house before learning to hold himself. The separation anxiety howling ceased soon after his successful house training, when we were able to let him stay inside and have the run of the house with our other dogs while we were at work.

Any worries we had about socialization problems were groundless. He has never growled at people or other animals. He enjoys contact with both, though he is still cautious upon his initial meetings. We make it a point to walk him on the crowded ocean boardwalks of Delaware and Maryland for socialization practice, and take him on frequent jaunts on populated walking paths close to our West Virginia home. Everyone likes him and is impressed with his friendly, laid back manner.

A month ago he started having intermittent problems when walking. At first we thought that we had walked him too far when he wasn't used to it, but then we noticed that he would walk fine for four or five days and then, for two days or so, he'd be almost unable to stand. He was listless and had stopped gaining weight. Another trip to the vet showed that he had Lyme Disease. Apparently, he had it when we got him but it was now progressing. The vet prescribed antibiotics and, thankfully, he improved. His appetite returned and he acts more puppylike than ever. We often comment it is hard to believe he is eight. He looks forward to our walks again. Though his previous life had given him no occasion to learn the concept of "play" in his first eight years, our pointer now tries to teach him by including him in his romping and planned ambushes. Of course, he also had never learned to play with toys or balls, so we are working on this too.

Having three dogs was not the nightmare and annoyance I'd anticipated. After becoming used to the situation, we quickly adapted. The first few weeks were "classical conditioning" exercises that our dogs practiced to teach their human owners how to best handle the new trio. Buttons the beagle quickly adopted Monty and became his surrogate mother a role she also played for Rommel. Even our cats accepted him quickly, allowing him to give them sloppy baths with his long pink tongue.

Sadly, it turned out that we are now back to having only two dogs. Our beagle, Buttons, who loved to chase deer and any other animal that would run from her on the mountain in back of our house, did not come back after one evening's chase. We think she had a heart attack, as she was overweight and often would come home gasping for breath but happy as could be after one of her usual chases. As hard as it was for us to accept, we are at least comforted that she left this life doing one of her favorite things. We miss her very much.

But I can only imagine how much harder it would have been for us and for Rommel to have to have faced this without Monty. He helps fill the hole left in our hearts with Button's disappearance. We feel blessed to have Monty. Though some people will say we are "spoiling" him, we know that we are only giving him back some of the comfort he has earned by having to live out his first hard years in a non-stimulating and unhealthful environment. Yes, he is probably lucky to have been chosen by us, but we know that we are equally if not more lucky to been given such a good friend with whom we can share our lives. Monty will have the love and respect that all dogs should have. Our wish for him is a long, healthy, and happy remainder to his life.

I did keep my promise to his original owner and wrote to her to tell how Monty had progressed and how much he was loved and appreciated by us. I resisted the urges to chastise and blame. They would not be appreciated or understood. That one letter is the only contact I will ever have with them. Their chapter of Monty's life is over and we are thankful that it is.

By the way, we've started reading the "PETS" section of the classified ads again!

UPDATES:

Our beagle Buttons never came back--we think she may have been shot by a hunter (it was almost deer season). My wife brought home a 2-year old beagle to me for Valentine's Day. Her name is Soozi - she is another "rescued" dog - she had her back leg broken by a car and could not hunt so her owner had kept her in an outdoor cage for the 1 1/2 years since the accident. She has fit in well and took Button's place as the "boss" of the pack.

Monty sadly passed away in October of 1999. It happened on a Friday night about midnight and no vet was available. By the time we got him to the hospital the next morning it was too late. At least he had one great year with us. We will always be thankful for having him for that short time.

Since his death, we've acquired another Weim-Hagen. He is now one year old and is quite a handful. We see so much of Monty in him. He is quite a character and we think Monty would approve.

Kindly Contributed By:
- Bruce and Candy Kibby