By Steve Lopez, writer for the Los Angeles Times
Last week’s column, about my misadventures with a rescue dog, was not universally embraced by pet owners.
For those who missed Part 1 of the saga, my wife, daughter and I were in the market for a pup, and Dogs Without Borders needed a temporary home for a timid, low-slung Corgi mix named Hannah. We committed to fostering her for a week, with the idea we might want to adopt her permanently.
But things didn’t go terribly smoothly, and some readers reacted as if I’d left a puddle on the living room floor. I could imagine them rolling up the front section of the newspaper and smacking me with it.
“It is clear that you have neither the skills or the desire to become a pet owner,” wrote Vicki.
Ann was even more blunt, calling me a “brainless nitwit” and suggesting I return Hannah to the rescue agency. “And DO NOT GET another dog — you are too clueless to be entrusted with another living creature.”
What sins against the animal kingdom did I commit?
When we got home with Hannah — or Ginger, as my daughter called her — I stupidly let her off the leash, and she bolted, eluding all attempts to capture her for the next 24 hours.
The next day, she got away again, but this time Ginger returned on her own. A good sign, I thought. So we showed her lots of love and hoped Ginger would become more trusting and comfortable in time.
But as the end of the week approached, we’d made little progress. Ginger didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. Had she been abused? Was she permanently damaged? I began calling dog trainers for advice.
The first one, David Reinecker, said this was “definitely a winnable situation” and suggested Ginger would come around eventually. He suggested we spray lavender on all the light bulbs in our house for a calming effect, and play a recording of soothing shoreline sounds “with no sea gulls or birds.”
He also suggested that we spit on the dog’s food to establish our alpha role.
My wife did not respond verbally when I related the advice on lavender light bulbs and sea-gull-free ocean recordings. She just stared, as if she were wondering whether there was a rescue agency for unwanted husbands, and my guess is that she’d have done the neutering for free.
“I’m not spitting on the food,” she finally said, bringing a close to the conversation.
The second trainer, of course, disagreed with the first. Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis listened to my story, and then the former host of the PBS dog-training show “Woof!” made this diagnosis:
“You’re adopting a problem dog.”
If and when Ginger got comfortable with us, Uncle Matty predicted, her fear would turn into aggression against everyone else. There could be dog bites and lawsuits, he warned.
“Here’s the problem,” he went on. “When people get animals, they wanna look at it as, ‘It’s all gonna work out.’ If it all worked out, you wouldn’t have 5 million dog bites a year in this country from the family pet.”
A third trainer agreed with Uncle Matty, and in a move sure to get more readers foaming at the mouth, we decided to return Ginger to the rescue agency.
After the column ran last week, I got a lot of advice along with the scoldings. This being Los Angeles, I also heard from an animal communicator. She offered to make contact with Ginger — just by looking at her photo — to ask why she kept running away.
I hadn’t been down this path since an animal communicator talked to the raccoons who were tearing up my yard. And I may be a skeptic, but I know good material when I see it.
Sure, I told the communicator, a flight attendant who talks to animals on the side. I didn’t tell her Ginger had already moved on. If she could really talk to the dog, wouldn’t she know?
Apparently not. The communicator got hold of Ginger, and naturally, the dog blamed everything on me.
“He took my leash off, so I thought they didn’t want me anymore,” Ginger said, according to the transcript sent to me by the communicator. The Corgi went on to remark: “I’m a little bit scared of the dad … I like the mom & the little girl.”
I can’t catch a break in this story.
I also got some good news after the column ran. A woman named Lee emailed to say she didn’t need to wait for Part 2 “to know the story has a happy ending,” adding: “My husband and I adopted Hannah … and she is doing great.”
She said Hannah was getting better on walks and happily wagging her tail. “And we’ve even taken her to Huntington Beach on weekends.”
After hearing from Lee, I got another email from the animal communicator, who had an addendum to the transcript.
“Ginger would like to go back to the lake,” she said. “Maybe the beach?”
Holy Chihuahua! Huntington Beach?
So maybe people really can talk to animals, I don’t know. But I do know this story has a second happy ending.
After Ginger found a new home as Hannah, we adopted a stray mutt and named him Dominic.
He’s exactly the dog we wanted, my wife and daughter are happy, and, as of press time, the nitwit hadn’t lost him once.