In an effort to try and find out how rescues are differently managed and costed in different parts of the world, I took the opportunity to ask Dixie Beagle’s mum in New Jersey about Dixie & Maddy’s rescues. I also asked about the problems encountered with the rehoming process, but which were overcome with love and resilience. You will see that there is some considerable frustration at some of the practices used by the adoption people.
Can you tell us about your experience when you decided to get a rescue dog?
“When we finally decided to get another dog, the first thing to do was decide pretty much what we wanted. Our list was a 20 to 30 pound adult dog that would walk a few miles a day and would not hunt our Caique (small parrot) that had free run of our living room. There were only 2 brick and mortar shelters within 30 minutes of our home so we started there. The first shelter was predominantly pit bulls and pit mixes both of which are too big and strong for me. The other shelter was just as disappointing so we continued our search via the internet. Of course, now that there was no initial face to face meeting with the dog, this meant the process was lengthened so we had the chance to meet the dog before adopting it. We narrowed our search to fairly local rescues. We had friends in other states that rescued their dogs for less than $100. Imagine our surprise when we found we would be spending a minimum of $300. After months of looking on line we decided to start going to “adoption events” at local malls. We finally found a dog, we asked the foster as many question as we could think of, walked the dog around the stores and outside and agreed the 24 pound mixed breed would do the job well. We filled out the paper work and 3 days later one of the rescue’s founders brought the dog and a gallon zip-lok bag of food, and traded them for a check. We named her Scruffy for the unkempt slight curly black fur that covered her. The bird was not happy losing his out of the cage time however we needed time for all to adjust. Scruffy was great. She lay in the kitchen while I was preparing food. She walked like a showdog. She didn’t bark at every little thing, she had great manners and we were happy. After 5 days we thought the Caique might be able to spend a bit of time on his play stand. I had Scruffy across the room as the bird came out. She stayed right next to my feet for about 15 minutes, then as the bird started to whistle, Scruffy charged the playstand. The bird flew to me out of fear and Scruffy was on me, snapping like crazy, trying to get the bird. The bird bit me from fright as I grabbed Scruffy’s collar. I called the rescue and the response was, “Well she chased all the birds out of the yard but we didn’t think that your parrot would be out of a cage so thought it would be alright.” Scruffy was returned to the rescue and our check was returned.”
So, what happened next?
“Back to our search. We decided maybe a young dog would be more accepting of a bird in the house. We found a rescue that had a beagle mix litter about 5 months old. Given the age of the litter pups, we considered that a pup should be young enough to train. We called and the owner/operator said she only had a female left from the litter and would bring her by the next day. The pup was beautiful but very shy. The rescuer attributed that to being shown at adoption events and losing all her littermates. The pup won my husband’s heart right away and cried when he went inside to get her a cookie. She immediately crawled to me but kept looking for him. We had a quick talk and decided to take her. We paid $350 for her with the promise to get a $50 refund once we had her spayed. She had won our hearts so we were content to pay this. During the first week, we took her to our vet for a check up and found out that she was probably a bit older at maybe 6 months, and she had ear mites. That didn’t impress us about the care she had received at the rescue. She also was more than just shy, she was afraid of everything. She had a hard time walking away from us in the yard. She shook at anything unknown. After one mistake, she was house broken so we assumed we could bring her out of her shell. When we went back to the vet to make sure the mites were gone, he admitted that he didn’t think we would keep her and offered a bleak outlook on her ever becoming a normal dog. We made progress getting her out. After a month it was time to spay her. Dixie was a lot of work and patience but we were committed. We found a trainer to work with her and us to make her more confident. I decided to claim the $50 refund to help pay for the private training. Imagine my surprise when I could not contact the rescue. A little investigation showed me that her rescue had been shut down a week after her adoption due to animal welfare concerns! It didn’t matter. We were committed to giving this sweet little pup a good life. When we got her it took us 2 weeks to get her to walk 80 feet to the road. Now, at 7 years old, with a lot of hard work on all our parts, she walks 2 miles twice a day, walks at a 15 minute mile pace. She kind of accepts the bird, she greets anyone that says hello on her walks and makes us laugh at her antics everyday. She is no longer fearful. The only leftover problem is that she gets overexcited very easily.”
It sounds like it was hard work at first, but that perseverance paid off?
The first vet was right, she isn’t a normal dog. She is a great dog. We learned a few things during that time. First, both rescues lied just to place the dog even if it might come back. We were fairly flexible in what we wanted and even redefined our search and that is important, but we may have been a bit too flexible. While we would not trade Dixie now, there were moments when we almost gave her up because she was too energetic for people of our age. It took about a year before we adopted Dixie and I sometimes wonder if search fatigue influenced our decision to take and keep Dixie. We often say “we didn’t choose Dixie as much as she chose us.” I think we just all needed each other.
It sounds as if there is a very special bond between you all. Maybe that you feel now you have put in so much time and effort from both you and Dixie, that you are a strong unit. You must have been pretty upset with the rescue centres though?
Well, we subsequently found out some more information, which we couldn’t confirm but seems to show that Dixie was born in Kentucky. The “story” is that the litter was found under a shed and turned into animal control. I don’t know that for a fact. We have no idea how she got to NJ.
Her NJ rescue was obviously not a good place to be as a pup. The woman told us she had never stepped on grass until she came to meet us. We can only imagine her life before us. When we got her she was afraid of the world and didn’t trust humans not to hurt her. Treating her ear mites did not help that situation. Although it didn’t hurt it was uncomfortable to have liquid squirted into her ears. In the beginning she did not like anyone reaching for her and especially not over her head. We started touching her back near her tail. Soon we were stroking her back and chest. It actually took about 2 years before we could ruffle her ears without her pulling away. Now she loves any kind of petting and tickling.
She was ok with a collar but did not like being controlled by a lead. In the beginning, she had no curiosity. She had to be coaxed to walk a bit farther every day. Neighbors would laugh as we tried to get her around that block. When fear became too great she would just stop, stand still and shake. We were overjoyed when she made it around the block but we had to be careful how we showed it as even praise given too loudly or actively would make her cower. We couldn’t clap our hands or wave them about and “good girl” said too loudly had the same effect as “no”. We learned to physically smile whenever we praised her and eventually she got it. We stopped saying “no” to stop unwanted behaviors and made the ah-ahh sound some use with toddlers. We still use that sound today before a firm “no” if ignored. Much of our progress in giving Dixie confidence came through her daily walks. We have many dogs behind fences in our neighborhood. Many of those dogs bark at people on the street. We were told to just ignore the barking and walk by. Dixie would freeze and want to run away at the first sound. One day I picked her up and carried her by a solid fence behind which was a barking dog. This was a major mistake according to a trainer, however once by, I put her down and continued on. Dixie found some interesting smells and was happy. I had to repeat that a few times. Thereafter she would pause at the barking and then run to the smells she knew were waiting just up the road. After that it was easy to slow her down and now she doesn’t even acknowledge unseen barking dogs. Just as I went against conventional dog training by picking her up to get past a fear block, we both soon realized that each dog is different and we had to become creative in finding ways to help her get past fear triggers.
Not all triggers are alike either. She was terrified of clapping, doors slamming or something heavy falling but thunder or fireworks had absolutely no effect on her behavior. It’s not so important to know why she was afraid as to find triggers and help her conquer them. We did consult a behaviorist and Dixie was on Prozac for 4 months. During that time we eliminated many triggers and her life became much better. And then our trainer suggested one more thing. He wanted us to start Trick Training with her. Soon Dixie could sit up, play dead, wave, roll over, spin in circles, weave through my legs while I was walking, jump through hoops and other goofy behaviors. The amazing thing was that with each new trick, she gained confidence. It showed in how she strutted down the street like she owned the place. She still has some traits such as not liking change or ignoring a “Quiet” command and having virtually no recall but those are common to most beagles. We can’t change instinct. The only other suggestion our trainer had was that she might benefit if we had another dog. It took us a couple of years to take that advice, but now that we have it has made a big difference. Before she was happy with us but not necessarily accepting of others. Now she is a social butterfly wanting to meet all dogs she sees and any person that says hello when we pass. It took 4 years to get a good dog and 6 years to get a great dog.
Sounds wonderful, there is so much progress with Dixie to allow her to become the strong, confident Beagle that we all see today. Shall we move on to Maddy?
We had been told that another dog might help Dixie resolve her anxiety. When we decided to finally get her a friend, we decided we did not want a puppy and this time we would get a slightly smaller dog. With that in mind, we realized we could look at a wider age range, anywhere from 3 to 10. On this basis we started our search. We missed a dog by one person in line at a shelter. One of the rescues gave a dog to a friend after keeping us waiting for a month. We were frustrated again with the search. Then we found a rescue that was linked with a kennel specializing in end of life care for dogs. The rescue part of the organization took any adult dog but mostly had dogs 7 years or older. We stopped in at one of their adoption events and got to know them. They didn’t have a dog we wanted at the time, but they got their dogs from a kill shelter in New York City whenever they had space. Eventually we went back to see their dogs. The event was at a pet store. We arrived shortly after it began. There was a Puggle that seemed ok, though heavier than we wanted, until someone showed up with another dog and it got aggressive. I then fell in love with another but it was blind and we didn’t think it would work out. The rescue workers told us to wait as there were 3 more dogs coming. Soon two of the dogs showed up… a Shih Tzu and a Schnauzer. Both were 8 years old. They had been raised together but given up when their owner was hospitalized. The Shih Tzu was perfect. Her “brother” was having a hard time adjusting to the new reality and was fixating on her. The rescue really wanted to adopt them together. We would have taken them singly, but 3 dogs would be too much for us. Then the last dog arrived. She was a 9-10 year old long haired Chihuahua. Smaller than we wanted but we decided to take a look. The foster handed her to Tony and said she would probably whine as she didn’t like many people. He spoke with the foster for a full half hour and was holding the dog the entire time. He then passed her to me. I noticed all the other rescuers were paying attention to us. We spent about an hour holding and walking her then went home to think about it. The decision made, it was time for the dogs to meet in a home visit/inspection. When the fosters arrived they drove straight up to the house, instead of letting them meet in neutral territory on the street. The foster brought her daughter with her ,who was very attached to “Madison”, and wanted to make sure Dixie wouldn’t attack her. Dixie was very excited running around the yard and barking like a loon. Little Madison was a bit uneasy but as there was no aggressiveness from either of them, I said we wanted her.
Suddenly the foster said she had to check our references before the deal could be done. It took her a week. She talked to all my neighbors. She called our vet to make sure we could take care of Dixie and seems to have got in a fight with the vet over the response. The Vet Assistant who answered the phone told her to give us the dog and refused to answer any questions about Dixie. Without anything to prevent it, we got a call to say we could have Madison for $200. We picked her up 2 days later.
First thing we did was change her name to Maddy. The foster told us she would only eat boiled chicken breast and cheddar cheese, hand fed. She was sleeping on her daughter’s bed and she didn’t like to go for walks. Within 2 weeks we switched her over to kibble. We bought her a harness that fit her properly and started taking her for walks, and she started sleeping in a crate. We took her in for a vet check and the assistant who had talked to the foster was there. She was so excited for us and told us about the call. Maddy has a collapsing trachea (common in small dogs) and luxating patellas. Other than that and needing her teeth cleaned, her only problem was her weight. She weighed 10.2 pounds! Probably due to the horrible diet which kibble and excersize would help.
Did Dixie take to Maddy straight away?
Bringing a second dog into a home isn’t hard, but its not easy. It takes a while for things to settle into a routine. Dixie is not good with change so we had a little trouble from both sides. Maddy was a bit intimidated by Dixie and seemed to have a slight trust problem. This was not helped when on the second night at home, Maddy tried to jump over a sleeping Dixie and fell short landing on Dixie! Dixie reared up with a growl and it took about a week before Maddy would go near her. Dixie was a bit jealous of the attention and special food Maddy got while we were switching her to kibble. That eased a bit once they both ate the same food. We are lucky that the food we feed Dixie makes a version for small dogs with much smaller pellets. However, Dixie, being a beagle mix, decided she wanted all the food and one night chased Maddy off her bowl. Now Maddy eats in a crate and probably will forever as she eats much slower than Dixie. Problem solved. After 6 months, Maddy had lost her excess weight and now weighs 7.5 pounds. She was building her stamina on daily walks that she loves. Early after adoption Maddy couldn’t keep up with Dixie so at least once a day we would all head out together. One of us would take Dixie for her usual walk. The other would head out with Maddy. We planned our routes so we would meet up at some point close to home and the four of us would finish the walk together with Maddy trying hard to keep up and Dixie being held back to a slower pace, kind of our version of a “pack walk”.
About the time we had made great strides in Maddy’s exercise and diet, we took her to one of her rescue’s events. Everyone was excited to see how good Maddy looked. After fielding many questions about what and how she was eating, we got the back story on Maddy. It seems she had been with her foster for at least 6 months. Everyone kept telling the foster that she was not helping the dog become adoptable by babying her so much. We also learned that the foster had overcharged us $50 in an effort to make us cancel the deal so she could keep Maddy. We didn’t care and consider the extra money a donation to the rescue. There have been many ups and downs during this year. We had to learn to let the dogs work things out by themselves, as long as there’s no contact with teeth. Dixie was barking more as she was excited more often and Maddy assumed that was correct behavior so barks a lot now. Dixie learned that Maddy got attention when she whined so now Dixie whines too. Maddy still eats in her crate but the only food she feels the need to guard is her nightly chew and even that is easing some. And just recently Maddy has become strong enough to keep up with a slightly slowed Dixie on her evening walks.(We think we see a lead splitter in our future.) Now more often than not, when the girls are resting we find Dixie lying on one side of the pillow that Maddy is sleeping on.
Apart from a couple of early incidents, Dixie liked Maddy right from the start. She keeps trying to get Maddy to play chase with her. It hasn’t happened yet but maybe next summer. Dixie became Maddy’s protector almost immediately. Our neighbor has a dog that fence fights. He charges the fence and growls and barks. Maddy was terrified. It’s great because Dixie ignores him. The second time it happened Dixie ran over and stood between the dog and Maddy until he gave up and left the fence. Maddy now wants to do everything that Dixie does. Dixie is very demanding about getting her two daily walks. Maddy is just as demanding but seeing her bounce and run in circles when the lead comes out makes us laugh so it’s ok. Dixie gave Maddy the needed confidence to adjust to her new life. And Maddy has helped Dixie too. Dixie always wanted to meet people but couldn’t let herself meet a stranger. Now she bounces up to anyone that speaks to us while we’re out walking. Dixie plays more and Maddy has started being interested in toys. Everyday we see improvements all around.
That’s the story of Dixie and Maddy. It hasn’t always been easy and is rarely quiet but we wouldn’t change a thing. We are happy every day that we have these two sweet rescued dogs in our lives.