A fantastic fringe benefit of our move is the ability to add dogs to our life. This was also the best aspects of moving into our own house. In Chicago, it was extremely difficult to find apartments that would allow dogs. In Cork, we were told by any number of snooty estate agents (all of them English), that we would find it quite difficult to find landlords who would permit dogs.
Closer to the bigger towns, like Clonakilty, they're right. But when you get out into the Middle of Nowhere, West Cork, most landlords are happy enough so long as the dog is properly housetrained. I'm happy enough with that restriction because right now, I am only capable of caring for a dog. Puppies, like babies, are too much responsibility. (If Peter came home tomorrow and said we could adopt a 7-year old child, I'd be thrilled. But I'm still not ready to take care of a baby.)
Looking back at our Chicago dog search, it seems at first that it was quick and painless. Then I start to remember the details. It took about a month and involved a lot of getting our hopes up by online ads and descriptions only to find the dog was not quite as advertised. Case in point – Freddy, a German Shepherd-mix who was advertised on a rescue site as being 7 years old. I think Freddy had tumors that were older than seven years. He was at least 12 and probably closer to 14. He was ancient, arthritic, and mostly deaf. Sweet dog, but he had a loving foster home and he honestly didn't look like he was going to live out the year.
One Saturday, we drove up to a shelter in the far Northern suburbs, where we had to fill out a very nosy application before we were permitted to even look at the dogs. Bear seemed like a possible candidate – he was some sort of big, fluffy mutt, maybe a cross between a chow and a golden retriever or something. Playful, housetrained, about 3 years old, Bear was checking nearly all of our boxes. Only he had a little problem – he didn't like kids and had, in fact, bitten a child. As there was a school right behind our back gate, we didn't feel we could bring home a possible child-biter.
Desperation drove me to the online classified ads in the chain of local papers, where one jumped out and slapped be in the face: "Free to good home, Great Dane-Lab X, 4 years old." Jackpot. Mr. Free to Good Home, Kodiak, turned out to be the Best Dog in the Whole Wide World (BDitWWW). All of the searching and fussiness paid off handsomely.
I often write here of the differences between the States and Ireland, because they interest me and understanding these differences is important in my never-ending quest to become a swan. I can't help but observe the differences in how dogs tend to be kept here and how I'm used to seeing dogs kept. (Remember now, I'm from the suburbs. I'm sure my friends who grew up in more rural areas would have different ideas about dogs.)
Everything you've heard about how childless, suburban Americans treat their dogs is true in my case, although I do have Peter to keep the dog in line so that a trip to the Dog Whisperer is not required. If you had asked BDitWWW to describe the order of our pack, he would have told you "Big Human, then me, then Little Human, then Small Dog." I believe dogs should live in the house, should be neutered or spayed, should be kept on a leash when out, and should be treated, as much as possible, as members of the family. If a dog isn't going to live in the house and occasionally cuddle with you on the couch, what's the point?
In the States, unless you have a show dog or intend to use the dog for breeding, you have the dog spayed or neutered. Over here, spaying and neutering seems not to be done. After ringing a vet to find out how much it would cost (nearly 200 euro), I'm not surprised. In Chicago, you could take your dog to the low-cost spay/neuter clinic and have it done for something like $50.
Most people in the US suburbs keep their dogs in the house. Especially down the country but even in Dublin, a lot of dogs live outside. Especially the big dogs. Peter told me that more than one person has said to him "Oh, no. We have a <<small breed>> and he's in the house, but you wouldn't have a big dog like that in the house. Sure you wouldn't." Like he was mad to even suggest a dog over 20 pounds should be allowed to cross the threshold.
Each day, Peter does a search on the online ads of the Buy and Sell, looking for new leads. It's almost gotten to the point that he can decode the ad and know exactly what to expect when he rings. For example, "good watch dog" usually means the dog has lived outside, chained up, with little socialisation. (Not always, but usually.) Any ad that has two or more female dogs over the age of three tends to be a backyard breeder situation.
It's difficult to find ads for proper dogs. There are loads of puppies out there, of nearly every imaginable breed, but not so many dogs. The ads for dogs fall into three categories: utility, desperate, and reluctant.
Utility ads are the working dogs who have been trained for a specific purpose (gun dog, watch dog, farm dog). Utility dogs are usually not right for us. If a dog were looking to retire, that's one thing. But we don't have any jobs for a dog to do, so it would be unfair to take a working dog away from his work.
Desperate ads are placed by people who are moving, can’t keep the dogs, and are desperate to find a home for the dogs. Shelter space is precious here and if you surrender your dog to the county/council pound, they can put the dog to sleep immediately; hence the desperation. Desperate ads can be somewhat promising, although sometimes they end up as big busts. For example, you read an ad for a pair of golden labs and picture in your head a couple of goofy, personable dogs. Then, when you arrive to see them, they don't seem like they've ever been bathed in their lives, one goes spastic and the other growls when you try to pet it.
Reluctant ads are the most frustrating and the most difficult for me, because I've been that soldier. These are the people who find it impossible to keep the dog, for whatever reason, but the dog is part of the family and giving it away is like cutting off a limb. These ads are frustrating, because the people are liable to change their minds at the last minute. And then change them again. And then change them again. You get the picture.
We've only been looking for about a week and a half, but a certain weariness is starting to set in. We met a charming lurcher (fancy word for a greyhound cross) right before we moved. Rusty was mid-sized, had a great brindle coat, and a charming habit of leaning against you when you pet him.
He needed some obedience training as he wasn't much into heeling and would randomly decide to take agin' other dogs. All of that was manageable. We had to pass on Rusty though because he was a hunter and had shown untoward interest in sheep in the past. I didn't want to go into the village and hear whispers of "There's the blow-in whose dogs is after killing Finbar's best lamb, so he did."
In the last two weeks, Peter has made countless phone calls, seen a couple of dogs, and had two different "reluctant" people change their minds right before he was meant to see the dogs. He's going up to Meath to interview another candidate this morning. The search for a good dog goes on…