Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Slow pet week, so here's a short story about Tess that I submitted for a short story contest.

“So do you want her?”

The shelter employee regarded me with an expectant expression and I glanced down at the sable bundle of uncontrollable energy bounding around the “Visitor's Room” at the Casper Humane Society.

“I just have a question about why she was surrendered,” I said. “Why did her previous owners give her up? I don't want a dog who is aggressive or vicious.”

“It was nothing like that. Let me check her surrender papers,” the employee said.

He handed me the leash and Lacy the German shepherd launched herself at me, wrapping her front paws around my waist before pushing off and attempting to dart around the room again. She circled the room several times, her nose in everything.

“Lacy, sit!” the employee commanded.

The dog ignored him completely.

The employee left the room and returned a few moments later with the dog's surrender papers. Under “Reason for Surrender” it said, “Digs holes in the yard.”

That was it?

“Why didn't the other people want her?” I asked the shelter employee. “The ones in line to adopt her before me?”

“We told them they could pick her up Wednesday after her surgery,” he said. “They asked what the surgery was for, and when they found out she was scheduled to be spayed, they changed their minds.”

That wasn't so bad.

“Oh, that's no problem for me,” I said. “In fact, please spay her before I take her.”

“So you want her?”

The shelter employee wore a mixture of hope and wariness on his face, sort of like the expression teenage boys wear when they ask a girl out, fully expecting to be shot down.

“I'll take her,” I said.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The employee obviously hoped I'd take her, but was afraid I'd change my mind when I realized my new dog behaved like a Tazmanian devil.

I had just bought my house and broken up with my long-term boyfriend all in the same month when I decided it was time to get a dog. I was in no rush. In fact I didn't have any intention of actually adding a dog to my household for at least a couple more months. I had a trip to Denver planned in a week and I figured it would take awhile to find the perfect dog. I always wanted a purebred female German shepherd. Since I also wanted a rescue, I thought if I started looking early, I'd find exactly what I was looking for eventually.

Female German shepherd rescues aren't just walking the streets to be picked up by new owners.

My second day of cruising Petfinder.com brought me to Tess – or Lacy, according to her profile on the website. She was a one-year-old female German shepherd, purebred with papers. It was earlier than I wanted to actually adopt a dog, but since she was two hours away in Casper, I thought I could at least call and ask about her. She sounded like my dream dog, after all. Timing isn't always on the side of fate. When I called, the receptionist at the Casper Humane Society told me that she was already spoken for. She was scheduled to be spayed later that week and after that she would go to her new home.

“You're the second person to call about her,” the receptionist said. “I can put your name on the list in case they change their minds.”

“Sure, why not?” I said.

“But,” the receptionist said. “They aren't going to change their minds. They are definitely going to take her.”

“Okay,” I said. “That's no problem. I just wanted to call and see about her.”

“Do you still want us to call you in case the adoption falls through?”

“Yeah, sure. Give me a call if something changes.”

“Okay, we have your name on the list. But nothing will change.”

“Thank you.”

The very next day I had a voicemail from the receptionist at the shelter, informing me that the adoption had fallen through and if I was still interested in “Lacy” I should call them and come down to see her. I decided to drive down there that Saturday to see the dog even though I still had a trip to Denver planned a week later.

I filled out the adoption papers and the shelter receptionist told me to come back the following week to get her. They did sort of act like they couldn't get rid of her fast enough.  While this made me a little nervous, I chose to ignore it.

The first thing I did when I got the dog home was change her name. Lacy was the name on her papers, but she was such a rough and tumble dog, so full of spit and vinegar and bravado, that the name just didn't fit her. I changed her name to the Contessa because her ego rivaled the size of Wyoming. I've never seen a female dog that was so alpha. Not only was she a constant blur of movement, her personality was completely unchecked. The shelter employees acted almost as though she was some kind of holy terror they wanted to unload on the first unsuspecting person. I saw a dog that had been purchased as a puppy and left to basically raise herself with no discipline and no boundaries, probably confined to the yard. No wonder the shelter employees kept giving me that look like they were afraid I'd change my mind about her too.

Digging was never something I had to deal with, but Tess was not an easy dog. It was probably the only bad habit besides barking that she did not have. She was fearless and bossy, not mistreated or neglected, but just full of herself. I walked her for three hours every day the first four months I had her and I probably vented to my mother every day about the impossibility of Tess' issues.

She never stopped moving. She never stopped frustrating me.  She was completely alpha, and lifted her leg on trees and clumps of grass like a male dog.

She was smart. German shepherds are mind readers. They can anticipate their owners' every move and all of Tess' misbehavior culminated in a complete lack of exercise and discipline. She challenged me at every turn and once she tried to mount me. I squatted down on the floor to pick something up and she clambered on to my back and tried to put my whole head in her mouth. That resulted in a fight of epic proportions. There we were, a 105 pound 5'4” woman wrestling a 65 pound dog of solid muscle to the ground until I could sit on her head and she was too exhausted to fight anymore.

Another fight happened during a walk. She decided she didn't want to follow where I was going and rebelled against her correction. For several seconds she was up on her hind legs, her paws wrapped around my shoulders and my hands on either side of her muzzle while she mouthed my forearms.
Once again, I won. Once again Tess ended up on the ground with me sitting on her. I'm sure we looked ridiculous to outside observers.

A third fight resulted from her trying to mount me in my front yard after a walk. We wrestled for at least fifteen minutes. She wouldn't submit. I wouldn't give up. I held her down while she fought, paws flailing, my forearm in her mouth. Every time I got her down on the ground she would lay still for a second and then begin struggling again. She rolled on her back and kicked all four legs at my face and chest, resembling an overturned turtle. I finally managed to get her on her side and the air filled with her panting and my heavy breathing, both of us spent and exhausted, both of us stubborn and determined to come out as top dog.

Our relationship turned a corner then. Our walks no longer turned into fights. Tess no longer challenged me or tried to climb on my back.

I was never prouder of her than the day I took her to the dog park. That day Tess ran with the other dogs, playing with some, avoiding others, and one in particular kept annoying her, following her around and trying to mount her in dominance. Tess is alpha and dominant herself, but instead of picking a fight she snarled and snapped at the dog if he got too close. She never made contact or drew blood. True to dog behavior she disciplined the bad-mannered pug with unfailing patience and no sign of aggression, just like I had to do with her when I first got her. She was calm-assertive, a true pack leader, asserting her dominance in a healthy way and encouraging all the other dogs to follow her.

Now when I work on my writing she stretches out under the table at my feet, completely relaxed, no longer a whirlwind of constant movement.

She does still however lift her leg on every tree or rock, announcing to the rest of the world that she is alpha over everything but me.

That's my good girl.   

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