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Pets | Adopting a dog

One family wrestles with a shelter dog's challenges

It happens whenever we take our dog, Molly, for a walk. No matter who we pass, they invariably say: "Oh, what a beautiful dog!"

If they only knew.

If they only knew behind that beautiful golden coat lies a troubled disposition. If they only knew behind that carefree strut lies a split-second lunge. If they only knew behind that apparent happy face lies a vicious growl and fearsome teeth.

What we have here folks is a seriously disturbed animal.

My wife, Jennifer, started the drumbeat for a new dog before Christmas 2005. And by Valentine's Day 2006, I had succumbed.

Knowing her interest in rescuing animals, we went to the SPCA Tampa Bay.

We wanted a smaller dog, but quickly found out that they were in short supply. The shelter person suggested a Lab and took us to meet Molly. She seemed friendly and obedient. She sat on command and raised her paw to shake. She was a year old and fully grown. About 70 pounds and as tall as me on her hind legs. We were told a family had to give her up because they were being evicted. We had four cats but the SPCA person seemed to think Molly could adapt. The deed was done. We would pick her up in a few days after she'd been spayed and updated on shots. Jennifer had her dog.

If she only knew.

Jennifer picked Molly up at the SPCA a few nights later and brought her home. I arrived excited about seeing the new member of our family. She wouldn't let me in the door. Her bark sent me reeling.

Jennifer got her under control and I slowly made my way into the house. We tried a couple of approaches, but each time she'd go into a barking and growling fit. So I slinked off to our bedroom, closed the door and pouted the rest of the night. Here, we had a new dog and she hated me.

But a new day dawned and somehow (with the help of lots of doggy treats), Molly warmed up to me.

We later found out from our vet that Molly had fear aggression, mainly toward men but generally toward strangers. She also hated kids or really anyone on a bike. And other dogs. And cats. Which quickly became an issue. Our mostly indoor cats became mostly outdoor cats. Instead of lying around the house, they took up residence mostly on our patio.

I secretly kind of liked the New World Order, but Jennifer insisted we needed to get Molly to the point where she could coexist with the cats and be around visitors.

So back to the SPCA we went. Within two classes, we had been kicked out. Molly had lunged at another dog and inadvertently bitten Jennifer on the leg. There were suggestions we should give up Molly right then. But she had hooked our hearts.

After the required quarantine, we tried some individual classes. Molly made some progress and we worked with her.

But it seemed for every step forward, we took two steps back. We haven't given up, but generally when visitors arrive, we relegate Molly to her crate in a back bedroom.

Despite all the headaches, they're outweighed by the rewards. Her greetings every night. Her beeline to the door whenever one of us mentions "walk." And her insatiable appetite for treats that I use to lure her into her crate.

About a year and a half ago, we almost lost Molly. She stopped eating and was lethargic. We found out she has diagnosed with Addison's disease, a destructive affliction characterized by extreme weakness and loss of weight, among other things. The folks at Parkview Animal Hospital nursed her back to health.

When I think of how pitiful she looked with an IV, all the negatives — chasing the cats, growling at visitors, digging in the yard — don't seem nearly as bad.

Still, if we only knew . . .

I wouldn't change a thing.

Steve Morse can be reached at smorse@sptimes.com.

One family wrestles with a shelter dog's challenges 09/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 2:08pm]

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