Friday, October 17, 2014

The Carleton Pack

Katie and Annie

Our eight-year-old, Katie, wanted a puppy for her birthday, so we hopped on Petfinder to check out our options. After limiting our search to this region, and to only puppies deemed suitable to live with another dog and a cat, we got about fifty hits. The first one that popped up was a black-and-white Shepherd-mix named Anna.


"Mom! This one is perfect. It says she is playful! Let's get her!" Katie exclaimed.

"All puppies are playful, Honey. Let's look at a few more before we make up our mind," I said.

Katie half-heartedly agreed, but when the next two or three puppies' bios did not specifically say they were "playful," Katie insisted we contact the organization that was fostering Anna despite my assuring her that the other puppies' bios didn't say they were playful because it's assumed.

"All puppies are playful, Katie," I said, rolling my eyes.

"But I want Anna." Katie had made up her mind before we even met the puppy in the flesh.

I contacted Love 4 Paws, the rescue organization that was fostering Anna. The foster mom said she guessed the puppy was about 12 weeks old. Spayed, shots, dewormed, microchipped--all that good stuff. We made arrangements to meet her, and for her to meet our 12-year-old dog Sawyer. We filled out the background check paperwork, got approved, returned the next day with a check for the adoption fee, and took Anna home with us.

Katie and Annie watching TV

The foster mom told us that Anna and her sister, Elsa, were strays. She named them after the two sisters in the movie "Frozen". Puppy Elsa, blonde like her namesake, got adopted right away. Anna had waited almost two weeks without her sister before we brought her home to her new sister Sawyer, and her obnoxious cat-brother Thatcher.

Will, Katie, Sawyer, and Annie

She blends right in with the family. We decided "Anna" sounded too proper for a puppy, so we nicknamed her "Annie". When people ask what breed she is, they laugh when we say, "a Shepherd Surprise".

Annie and her stuffed animal friends

We have no idea how big she'll get, or what color her coat will be when she's full grown. She's grown some brown patches of fur around her ears and hind end, but she's still mostly black-and-white. She loves to swim, and knew instinctual how to do it the first time I took her and Sawyer to the dog park when she was about 12-weeks old.

Annie swimming at the dog park with the big dogs

"Is she a lab?" fellow dog park parents would ask, amazed such a tiny puppy could swim.

"We don't know. She was a stray. We call her a Shepherd Surprise, but I wouldn't be surprised if she does have a little Labbie in her," I'd say and we'd laugh at this adorably goofy puppy swimming with the big dogs.

Annie chasing Sawyer at the dog park

It was no time at all before she was retrieving tennis balls and sticks nearly as big as her from the lake. I never had to train her to do this. The cells of her ancestors must have been coaching her from within her innate memory.

Katie, Annie, and Sawyer at the dog park

Our 12-year old dog Sawyer is half-Beagle and half-Lab. Also an early and avid swimmer, Sawyer was only 9-weeks old the first time she swam at the lake. I never had to train her either. If only Katie were a dog, born with that instinct. She refuses to take swimming lessons and claims that she's swimming when she's actually tippy-toeing on the bottom of the pool. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise: puppies are easier to train than children.

Annie and Sawyer hiking through the woods at the dog park

Some puppies learn faster than others, just like humans. A puppy's early life influences its outcome, just like humans. If a puppy is abused or neglected, it can grow distrustful of its peers, act-out against authority (its human pack leader), and become a menace to the pack, just like humans.

Sawyer, Katie, and Annie hiking the woods at the dog park

But, like humans, puppies are born with their basic, innate personalities, too. I've seen plenty of adult dogs who were abused as puppies turn out just fine, and other adult dogs who were raised with loving care from the get-go cower, trembling and peeing, under the bed whenever there's a thunderstorm outside. We all know those dogs that freak out when you bring out the vacuum cleaner, or the picky dogs that will only eat the crappiest dog junk food on the market and won't touch the organic, grain-free healthy kibble you feed them. Unless you put your leftovers on top of it. Dogs, like people, can be pretty funny.

Katie and Annie playing in our back yard

At six months old, Annie already know three commands:


"Leave it."


Sawyer and Annie in our back yard

She has also figured out how to open the bathroom door so she can get into the trash can and drag disgusting things out onto the living room couch, something neither Sawyer, nor our old dog Earl, who passed away last spring, ever figured out how to do.

She's getting tall, so she's a masterful thief. The other day I was making Katie a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When I turned around to get a storage container, Annie jumped up and helped herself to half the sandwich off the plate. Before I had even turned around, she had snuck out of the kitchen. I would have thought the thing had magically disappeared had I not heard Katie yelling in the living room, "Annie! No! You're not supposed to steal food!"


It's funny, because this all came about from Katie asking for her own puppy. I thought their relationship would be kind of furry-mother and daughterish. But they've turned out more like siblings. Katie, keeping her bedroom door shut so Annie won't run in there and steal her stuffed animals. The two of them chasing each other in the back yard, falling to the ground, wresting, licking, and giggling.

Me and my furry baby, Annie

I used to feel sorry for Katie, being an only child. I always thought I wanted six children, and for many years I was disappointed in my subfertle body being unable to produce more than one. But one seems fine, now. Two parents, one child, two dogs, and a cat feels like just the right size for our pack.

Clockwise from top: Thatcher (12), Sawyer (12), and Annie (6 months)