The dog had been getting on the freeway. Amid screeching brakes his rescuer stopped for him and offered him a ride. He barely paused before accepting it. He had a too tight collar, no tags, no tattoo or microchip, and was dragging a length of baling twine. When introduced to "inside" he seemed unfamiliar with it. Best guess was that he was between 1 and 3 years old.
She named him "Freeway". She already had five dogs. She obviously cared a lot about him, but also felt that he would be happiest in a situation where he could get a bit more personal attention than being a clinic dog or one of six. So she was willing to place him in the right situation. And this is the story of how we came to meet, and how Freeway came to join my family.
In April 2003 I lost my heart dog Tanith to hemangiosarcoma. And in January 2004 I lost my therapy dog Oso due to spinal problems. That left Tsuki with no canine companion, although he did have the cats. While Tsuki handled the new state well, I knew he must be bored and lonely while I was working during the day. So I put the word out that I was looking for a new therapy dog to join our family.
I didn't set a lot of criteria, but it wasn't all that easy to find just the right dog. There are, sadly, lots of dogs available. But if you are going to be sharing lives for the next 10-15 years it is best to make it as good a match as possible. You can't save them all, so the one you pick should be the one you can maximize in life quality because of the quality of the match. Anyway, first thing I needed was a dog that was known to do well with cats. I had two twelve year old cats. Although they had always had dogs in their lives they had not been happy when I brought Tsuki into the house, and then they were five years younger. I needed a dog that would respect their space. Second, I needed a dog who was people oriented but who would be happy with calm rather than rambunctious petting. Everything else was secondary, although I certainly had preferences. I prefer an easy care coat. I prefer dogs without exaggerated features. I prefer medium sized dogs although small ones are often an advantage in therapy. And I prefer bitches. I have a general preference for mixed breeds, and a strong preference for rescues. But I was flexible on all these factors, just as long as the cat and therapy criteria were covered.
The first thing I discovered was that although I had plenty of time to have a dog, I had very little time to actually look for a dog. Virtually every weekend was either a herding trial or agility trial. When I finally got a weekend free it was taken up by taking care of all the yard/house maintenance that had gone undone the weeks before. But I was running into lots of people who would hear about potential dogs, so I made sure to tell everyone what I was looking for.
I hate the process of evaluating and turning down a dog. What I wanted more than anything was someone to just tell me "here is the right dog for you" and to be right. I didn't want to evaluate "maybe" dogs. I didn't want to take a dog home to "test" it. Once I actually take a dog home I'm committed to it. So dogs where the reaction to cats was unknown were not considered, nor were dogs where it was known that it would take a significant time and effort to just potentially prepare for therapy work.
The weekend of July 24, 2004 I attended an agility trial. As always I mentioned to several people what I was looking for. The next day, Sunday July 25, I got my first glimmer of a potential candidate. The dog was described as a former stray, who seemed to read both people and dogs well. One of the most promising comments was that the dog tended to act deferential and leave people who didn't want to meet it alone, yet would happily engage with those who did. And unlike other dogs I had inquired about this one had been actually observed with cats, and seemed uninterested, or at most casually interested. This sounded good so I got the contact information.
The following Tuesday was our herding lesson day. On those days I usually took Tsuki to work with me. I was wondering how I was going to be able both have the time to check out the dog and not miss my lesson. My herding instructor called and told me she needed to move the lesson later due to an appointment. It was perfect. So I got to leave work a little early and Tsuki and I drove out to where the dog was.
I don't know what I was expecting. I hadn't asked any questions about his physical appearance. I was somewhat surprised at the block headed black and white dog that greeted me. After meeting him briefly I decided it was time for Tsuki to meet him. Tsuki was unimpressed. Tsuki almost never growls at neutered dogs, but he had a low rumble for this one. Freeway didn't care. He just seemed to shrug :"Okay so you don't want to play." So they wandered around sniffing and ignoring each other, more or less. Freeway's behavior was consistent with what I had been told. Tsuki might not have fallen instantly in love, but he didn't have instant hate either. I decided to take Freeway home.
Freeway has what a good therapy dog needs. A basic imperturbability. He takes things as they comes, and he doesn't seem to expend any energy on mere worry. He got in the car happily, and remained calm and well behaved while tethered. He didn't get anxious or loud while Tsuki and I were herding.
When I got him home I went inside first to shut the door to the bedroom so the cats could meet him later. The youngest cat, Dusty, declined to go into the bedroom, so I left him out. There are plenty of escape routes and they'd have to meet sooner or later.
I left both Tsuki's and Freeway's leashes on for several hours. I wanted to be sure the grumbling wasn't going to turn into warfare (I didn't think it would). Leashes are the safest way out of that problem. Tsuki didn't quit grumbling from time to time but it never escalated into any display so eventually the leashes came off. I took care to not hover, to let them work things out. This was fairly easy as Freeway wasn't inclined to pay much attention to Tsuki's grumbles. It is a lot harder to start an argument one-sided.
At this point we are just closing out the second day. So who knows what the future will hold. I did finally get to see Freeway's reaction to cats. Pazzaz came out to stare at the invader. Freeway kind of looked "Oh, Hi!" but turned away in disinterest when Pazzaz bolted for the upstairs room. Perfect!
It is interesting how much Freeway resembles Tsuki in a distorted kind of way. It's like looking at Tsuki in a fun house mirror. Everything about Freeway is slightly coarser - blockier head, more bone, shorter legs, shorter back. But he is a very very sweet dog. I think this is going to work out fine.
Freeway does have one unusual feature. He has five toes on each of his back feet. They aren't high up on the foot the way most rear dew claws are. I took some pictures.
It's been two weeks and things are going great. He's a smart dog, eager to please. I've picked February 3, 2003 as his birthday. I made a video of Tsuki and Freeway playing at the Elk Grove agility facility on August 7, 2004. (The latest updates to Windows Media Player can read it, there are a number of other players. Please be careful of what you load to view media files. Many so called "free" packages come loaded with spyware and adware.) A less interesting video shows Freeway and Tsuki wandering around, but they are moving slowly enough you can see what they look like.
Freeway is very gentle with the cats. Even my cats that don't like Tsuki like Freeway. He sniffs them over, does a few nose shoves but he doesn't bounce on them or try to physically stop them from leaving.
A week or so after I got Freeway I decided to try to do something about those long toe nails you see in the picture. He wasn't thrilled with the toe nail clipper, but not too bad. But the quick was so long now that it was going to take some time to gradually get it to receed. For most toe nail maintenance I prefer a "Dremel" - in this case the "Dremel MiniMite" with a medium sanding drum. Sanding down the nails is often less bothersome to dogs than the clippers, and there is less chance of "quicking". Well Freeway decided he wasn't having any part of the tool! I gave it a couple tries then decided to give him more time before introducing it again. In the meantime I got him used to the sound and what I did with it by maintaining Tsuki's toenails. This was especially effective because Mr. Freeway wants all the attention for himself. If I give Tsuki attention, Freeway wants to butt in. So when I turned the tool on he had a choice.- come in despite it, or stay back. For the first half dozen times he stayed back. Then he started coming in. So I buzzed one toe nail, then two. Now it is not a problem.
September 7, 2004. Freeway has been to two agility trials and a herding trial in the short time he has been with me. At these trials I used my van as the base. The dogs always travel in wire mesh crates for their safety and s I've always had a secure place Freeway at these trials. He hasn't had to deal with people and dogs passing within inches, and being right in the middle of things. This past weekend was different. Because I was organizing the ring crew for one ring of a very large and busy agility trial we were set up right in the middle of everything. Not knowing what to expect I brought an extra wire crate. The crate was surrounded by an exercise pen (x-pen) and Tsuki had his own soft sided crate. Usually Tsuki isn't closed in the crate unless I'm going to be gone a long time. The first time I let Freeway out of his crate he tried to go over, under and through the x-pen. I told him "no" and he settled down. In fact he settled down so well and so quickly that I lost track of the need to keep an eye on him and I wandered off to lunch without closing him in his crate. It turned out it didn't matter. He was sleeping inside his open crate when I got back.
There were lots of knowledgeable dog people there and they enjoyed meeting him. The consensus seems to be that he is most likely part Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. What's the other part? Dunno. Maybe Border Collie, maybe Springer Spaniel, maybe such a mixed up mutt that there isn't really a second "breed" at all. It doesn't much matter.
I was filling out his paperwork to become a visiting dog for the Friendship Foundation and it asked for the dog's registered name. Well of course he doesn't have one. But sometimes they can be fun so I asked a bunch of people for suggestions. Here they are:
Dogplay's Blue Highways
Dogplay's Can't Drive 55!
Dogplay's Clearwater Highway
Dogplay's Freeway Robbery
Dogplay's Hit the Road
Dogplay's Life is a Highway
Dogplay's Long and Winding Road
Dogplay's Long Promised Road
Dogplay's Lost Highway
Dogplay's Major Artery
Dogplay's No Particular Place to Go
Dogplay's No Speed Limit
Dogplay's On the Road Again
Dogplay's One for the Road.
Dogplay's Road to Happiness
Dogplay's Road To Perdition
Dogplay's Road to Success
Dogplay's Road Warrior
Dogplay's Roadside Assistance
Dogplay's Roadside Rescue
Dogplay's Rush Hour
Dogplay's Scenic Route
Dogplay's Seven Bridges Road
Dogplay's Six Lane Highway
Dogplay's Speed Bump
Dogplay's Steady Rollin' Man
Dogplay's Texas U-Turn
Dogplay's Watch Your Speed
Dogplay's Which Exit?
Dogplay's Yellow Line
There are a lot of good ones there. I chose DogPlay's Roadside Rescue.
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Copyright © 2004, Diane Blackman Created:July 31, 2004 Updated November 12, 2007
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