Scott and I have been thinking about getting a dog for some time. Within the last few weeks we made the decision that a dog was definitely in our future. We also knew that the only specific breed we were interested in was a Great Pyrenees. The Great Pyrenees is a livestock guardian dog that originated in the Pyrenees Mountains that divide Spain and France. They are large dogs (average male 100 lbs., average female 85 lbs.) white with a double coat to keep warm and repel rain. They are very independent and work to protect the flock or herd from predators. They are also sentry dogs, and Louis XIV popularized them among the french nobility as chateau guard dogs. They are generally gentle, but definitely independent and "alpha" type dogs.
We were actually in the process of contacting recommended breeders and starting the process of locating a Great Pyrenees puppy. At work last Wednesday I saw a newspaper article about a minor fire at the humane society's animal shelter (the roof of the *gulp* crematorium had caught fire -- minor damage, no injured people or dogs). The accompanying photo showed a 6 month old shepherd mix in a crate sitting outside by the fire trucks. After thinking about the dog in the picture and realizing what must happen at the crematorium, I felt an obligation to at least consider adopting (or "rescuing") a dog. I knew we would be happy with an adopted mixed breed or an older dog and I thought -- we should really consider adopting a dog from the shelter.
Scott was out of town and the kids were away, and I was preparing to leave work I thought about stopping by the shelter on my way home. I was still trying to convince myself I should go and see the dogs. I called and found out the shelter was open until 6:00 p.m. About five o'clock it was time to "fish or cut bait". I rationalized, well the shelter is open for about another hour, I'll just go in, look around and see what type of dogs are available for adoption and whether there are dogs suitable for us. If it looks good, when Scott gets back on Friday we can take the kids and all go together to find a dog.
I have never been to an animal shelter in my life. I parked the car and sat in the parking lot for a minute. Quelling my fears -- that I would be overwhelmed with grief, horror or pain at the sight of dozens of animals who would not make it out of the shelter -- and wishing I was not alone, I went inside.
It was overwhelming. The cacophony of barks in all shapes and sizes never stopped and echoed off the concrete walls. The first dog I saw was an adorable young retriever-lab mix about seven months old. It looked like a black retriever with floppier ears and was playing with a yellow ball. I couldn't help but smile watching it and it ran up and smiled and barked at me looking happy. It was one of those dogs that looked like it was smiling at you! I thought, someone will want this lucky guy. (I'll give you the happy ending now, as I was leaving a woman was adopting this adorable imp and they both seemed very happy).
The next cage was sobering. A bassett hound laying on his side only moving his eyes to look at me with something like despair. I know all bassetts look sad, but this one made my eyes well up. Choking back the tears and willing myself to continue I walked around the corner to the next row of pens ("cell block" is the term that best describes the set-up). There were lots of young (8 month to 2 year) middle sized healthy looking dogs, lots of shepherd mixes, lab mixes, retriever mixes and numerous rottweilers. (According to the shelter folks, the purebreed they receive the most often are rottweilers.)
I was actually feeling pretty good at this point, there were lots of friendly dogs who would work for our family, and I was thinking -- how can we ever pick just one, there must be five I have seen already that would be okay. I turned away from the lab-shepherd mix I was talking with and stopped still in my tracks. His back was turned towards me, but it was unmistakable: a beautiful Great Pyrenees was sitting in the cage across from me, alone and aloof.
I couldn't believe it! I looked quickly at the card on his cage. It said he was a stray and handwritten on one side was "dog dominant". Someone else had written below, "seems fine". He was a male, came in as a stray, and they estimated his age at 6 years. I looked for a shelter worker to talk about the dog, she glanced at his card and said, "he's not available." I asked why, and then she looked closer and said she was mistaken the dog was available. A dozen thoughts were running through my head, he's beautiful, he sure has a lot of fur, his feet are so BIG, I've got to get Scott into see him as soon as he comes home . . . .
I asked whether they could hold him so I could bring my husband back to see the dog. She interrupted me and said, "I have to tell you this, some people don't like to hear this, but tonight is his last night and he won't be here after today." They have over 300 dogs come through in a week, and lack of space permits them to keep dogs only five days. I had come in 45 minutes before closing on the 5th day. I could hardly speak over the lump in my throat and the tears were back in my eyes. I asked her to let me try and contact him by phone. Never in a million years did I expect to find a Great Pyrenees in the shelter. I felt that somehow I was meant to have this dog and I wanted to take him home.
I ran out to my car and of course didn't have the number of the hotel where Scott was staying -- I had left it at work. It was well-after 5:00 and Gina was gone, I called Juliana (her office is next door to mine) and she was there, I asked her to go in and read the phone number off the Post-It note where I left it. I called the hotel in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island the woman who answered knew who Scott was, and told me his group had left for the beach and wouldn't be back for some time. I was obviously agitated and she promised to have him call me as soon as the group returned. I next called Melissa (mom to Cleo the golden retriever and Toby the australian shepherd mix) crying, and asked her to come to the shelter, told her that I wanted to adopt a dog, Scott was gone, what should I do . . . . Ineeded a reality check to be sure I wasn't overlooking anything I should be looking for -- and moral support! Melissa said she would be right there so I went back in to visit the dog.
I asked another worker if he would bring the dog out
so I could meet him. Because the dog had been exposed to another dog with
kennel cough, he couldn't take him out of the pen. I asked to go in (mind
you I'm in navy blue linen slacks and silk blouse, I was on my way home
from work and only "looking"). I had to step on a towel drenced with
disinfectant before I could go in and the floor sloped and it was extremely
slipperly footing. The dog was so gentle and loving and silent (the card
noted he may have been debarked). He began leaning against me, and when I
stopped petting him he would lay the side of his head against my stomach
and wait for more. That is where Melissa found me, covered with white hair
hugging the dog.
My phone finally rang while we were at the pet store buying food dishes, a leash, dog food, brushes and treats. Scott asked what was going on so I told him the story, basically I had just adopted a smelly, white 85 pound pile of white fur, and offered to find another home for the dog if he didn't work out. Scott told me I did the right thing and then began asking about the dog. I told him he was six. Scott asked, "Six weeks?" That was where my phone went dead. I smiled thinking, boy is he in for a surprise!
We've had him six days now and finally decided on a name -- Yukon. He looks like a Polar Bear and our cats Tiber and Elba are named after rivers in Italy so we are sticking with the theme -- but no wimpy European rivers for this guy! He seems to be adjusting okay, but isn't happy to be put in the basement at night and when I leave in the mornings. The vet told us he is actually only three years old, not six so we are hoping for many more years with our shaggy sweetheart.
Copyright © 1998 by Stephanie Bloomfield. All Rights Reserved.