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Father and family welcome adopted puppy

December 8, 2020

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 1, 2020

I finally agreed to a family dog. For years I’ve been firm that our home would remain dog-free. I have a dog allergy, after all, though it is mild in comparison to my dust mite and mold allergies.

I’ve suffered dog bites from three different dogs over the years, though in each instance the dog was off-leash and the owner lacked voice control. I grew up with a family dog, three of them over the years (though not the same three that bit me). Ours were trained to serve as hunting and guard dogs, kept in place with stern voice and punishment.

So, when my wife Lori, who grew up with a much loved family dog, Lolly, and our Zoe and Adam, expressed again and again a desire to have a cute and cuddly family dog I was uneasy about the idea. The more I thought about it, the more I simply did not want an additional responsibility, in this case a living creature that would surely disrupt the precarious balance of everyday family life — not just for a weekend but likely for the next 10 years, or longer! 

Over time, however, I witnessed my family warmly and joyfully interact with dogs in our friendship and family circles. With Zoe and Adam, now 14 and 11 (growing older by the minute) they both seem eager and ready to embrace important roles caring for a dog. And, with the profound social isolation imposed by COVID-19 and related restrictions, my heart warmed to the idea that a family dog could be a welcome source of joy and connection within our family.

We considered purchasing a puppy from a reputable breeder but the $2,500 price tag was not in our budget. We were generally aware that many, many puppies and dogs need a loving home. So, with recommendations from a number of experienced friends, we began the adoption process.

After completing online applications of 50-60 questions each, for a number of agencies, we were finally approved by an agency in Connecticut. During an incredibly thorough one-hour screening interview we learned that there are, on average, hundreds of eager applicants for each adoptable puppy. Nonetheless, a short time later, we received notice of an adoption event where approved applicants could visit with available puppies and dogs.

So, on a Sunday afternoon we piled into the family car with great and guarded anticipation. When we arrived at the center, there were at least 30 cars lining the street and a long line of mask-wearing, socially-distancing, and dog-desiring families. Some had been pre-approved to make appointments with specific adoptees and so by the time it was our turn the puppies were no longer available.

There was, however, a 1-year-old pup (apparently they’re puppies for two years) that drew our attention. After a brief screening and courting process (think canine-people speed-dating) adoption was approved and we drove off with our new family dog, who promptly fell asleep on Adam’s lap in the back seat.

One week into our new adventure we’re still adjusting to new routines and challenges. The great news is that our new arrival, who we named Luna, sleeps soundly all night long in her doggy crate. Admittedly the idea of a crate seemed a bit strange to me, but I was convinced when we read, and heard from experienced dog folks, that dogs are denning animals and generally feel safer and calmer in a crate. Crating also prevents a dog from roaming the house and getting into trouble while families are sleeping, making it a win-win solution.

Luna also sits by the back door whenever she needs to go outside to find a special spot in the yard to relieve herself, and so far we’ve only had two small indoor accidents to clean up.

Everyone enjoys evening snuggle-time with lots of petting, belly rubs and naps on the futon, where Luna humors us with her tendency to sleep deeply and snore loudly.

And, our first attempts at socializing Luna with other dogs during our neighborhood walks has been fairly successful. She seems to crave the connection with other dogs and loves to rough it up a bit, in a friendly way, and we’ve gladly been learning tips from our fellow dog walkers, too.

We were told in the initial screening process that transitioning an adopted pup into a new home would take lots of time, patience and love. Ultimately we know very little about Luna’s first year of life, other than the fact that she ended up in an adoption center in Mississippi and was later trucked to Connecticut where we met her. At the very least she has endured at least one separation from a caregiver and based on some of her behaviors she may have been weaned too early from her mother.

The later possibility is one explanation for her particularly challenging habit of biting us when she seems scared or wanting our attention. The biting has been more than typical puppy nipping and has left us concerned. The adoption agency is offering support and guidance and we started working with a local veteran dog trainer who is a fabulous resource. We’re seeing improvement and remain hopeful that with enough training and love little Luna will be a part of our family for years to come.

In the meantime, adding a dog to our family has been both joyful and stressful, and in that way, just another leg on the fatherhood journey.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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