Lots of love and some unexpected home expenses along the way.
On a Wednesday evening in March 2019, I spent about an hour on the phone with the kind woman who had fostered Lou in Tennessee, to see if us fostering Lou would be a good idea. From that conversation, I learned that Lou was not playful, she was a flight risk, an escape artist, and had some serious separation anxiety. My main concern was that there was doubt she would be interested in playing with Charlie, who at the time was 9 months old and a bundle of energy.
Her foster shared that Lou had been passed around from various homes in her first year and she wasn’t being cared for by a vet. She and her brother often escaped and ended up at the pound a few times. She was eventually surrendered, and Companion Pet Rescue (CPR) took her in to foster her until she was adopted up north by another family. She was subsequently returned to CPR after about 10 days because of her separation anxiety. At that time, she went to stay in the CPR barn in CT. It’s a bit unclear what else happened in those 13 months, but something to do with the lack of instability set her up for some nervous habits and lack of confidence. Being the nervous gal that she is, she was in need of a foster, rather than staying with many other dogs in the barn. So I picked Lou up from Southbury the following evening, and brought her home, with every intention of bringing her to the adoption event scheduled for Saturday morning.
The first night
The first night was interesting. Lou and Charlie were okay- some minor growls from Lou and Lou spent a lot of the evening hiding upstairs as far away as possible and crying if anyone came near her. By bedtime, she was lying on our bed asking for belly rubs.
“He left his desk for a few minutes and returned to a pee spot… and a shaking Lou.”
Friday morning, my husband, Sid, brought her to work for the day because we weren’t ready to test leaving her at home just yet. He left her at his desk for a few minutes to use the bathroom and returned to find a pee spot on the floor and a shaking Lou. Unbeknownst to me, that was the moment Sid knew we would be ours forever.
Saturday morning, when it came time to get ready for the adoption event, we made the official request to adopt her and became official foster fails. My main hesitation in keeping Lou was that Charlie needed a buddy who would play with her and Lou had not yet been willing to play. As soon as I got the official email confirmation, I found Charlie and Lou chasing and playing in the yard.
We knew that Lou’s next home needed to be her final home and we promised her and ourselves that ours would be it. We knew that Lou needed a lot of help and we made a promise that day that we would help her. We could not bear the thought of her being returned again. After having Lou in our life for 2 years, we still believe that if she had been adopted, someone would have returned her whether it would have been in a few weeks or a few months. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of really patient people out there who will help even the most troubled of dogs. When you hear more about our life with Lou, though, you may be agree.
The Real Lou
Over the next few months, we got to know Lou, and the baggage she came with. Each day, she trusted us more, and we fell more in love with her, despite the issues that came to the surface as the months went on.
April/ May– Lou destroyed our couch (including our new sectional), countless toys, her bed, shoe laces, underwear- anything we stupidly left within her reach. We have holes in almost every pillow and couch cushion (thank you pillow covers and flippable cushions).
June– the destruction had gotten out of control and Lou chewed anything- even if it was nailed down; both of our coffee tables, the floor trim, the window sill- you name it, she probably chewed it. There is a simple solution you may say- crate her! Think again. First of all, the crate was ziptied together because she had been known to escape it. Second, she had started hurting herself in the crate. I would come home to the bars of the metal crate bend, red marks around her neck and blood in the crate.
July– In July she found her voice. She was unruly on the leash, she pulled, and barked at other dogs. It was also around this time that she showed us she knew how to howl- good thing for this because it made us laugh.
She was so rail thing, I swear people thought we didn’t feed her, but she was eating three times a day and not keeping any weight on. We couldn’t crate her because she was hurting herself, and we couldn’t leave her home without one of us there because she was chewing things we couldn’t tuck away out of her site. This really limited what we did and our lives. Both of us worked full-time outside of the house. We were beside ourselves and there were times we doubted if we could do this. BUT we made a promise to Lou so we kept on. We knew she could not be happy in a constant state of stress so we talked to our trainer at the vet and we all agreed it was time to get Lou some extra help. We put her on anti-anxiety meds, with the intention of this being a short-term thing to help her calm down while we came up with some new strategies.
We stopped taking her places with a lot of people and dogs that stressed her out i.e.) soccer games. We set up doggie cams in the house, we put blinds on the front window, and we left her and Charlie home alone only for short periods of time (after hiding pretty much all belongings possible that could be moved). We didn’t leave them home if we knew someone would be doing work near or around our house. We kept an eye on the cameras to see when Lou had reached her limit of being alone. We gradually increased the amount of time we left them home alone and eventually got to a point where we could leave them for about 4-5 hours. Two times in a day though- she wasn’t messing around with that. Things were usually fine on the days I could come home at lunch, but by the end of the day, something would be destroyed.
This helped a lot with her separation anxiety and we could breathe again.
By the end of July– Lou started waking up every night sometime between 1am-3am. Do you know who did not wake up for any of it? Sid! This habit continued for the next three months. Every. Single. Night.
September– she figured out how to open the gate to the fence. When we clipped that shut, She found a way to squeeze through the fence post. When we blocked that off, she started hopping the fence. Sometimes in the middle of the night, too. She trusted maybe 4 people at the time and barked at almost anyone who came in the house. Charlie had picked up on Lou’s on-leash reactivity to other dogs.
Enter Claudia Burburto, Owner of Naturally Pawsitive Training and Reactive Dog Trainer Extraordinaire (my words). This was actually more people training disguised by dog training. We have had many sessions, classes, calls, zooms, texts, instagram messages, etc. with Claudia since she came to our house for the first time. She has taught us so much about the things that we have done (unintentionally, of course), that did not help Lou. The biggest thing us humans can do is to set dogs up for success. Put them in situations where they can learn to behave, not the ones where they’re too stressed to learn. We still go back to Claudia for refreshers and help and we would highly recommend her to anyone who is struggling with dog issues.
By November she was climbing or hopping the fence every chance she got. It got to the point where Sid and I didn’t flinch; however, Charlie was quite attached to Lou and would be frantic as soon as Lou fled the yard (in hot pursuit of the neighborhood squirrels). We would get Charlie on her leash, walk down the street and Charlie usually cried when Lou was close. We could call Lou when she emerged, praise her, get her leash on, and walk home… only for her to do it all over again. Finally, we had no choice but to keep her on a leash and watch her like a hawk when she was in the yard.
Unexpected Home Expenses
We didn’t buy a home with a yard so that our dogs would have to spend their life on a leash any time they were outside, but Lou also could not control her prey drive so we sucked it up and had a 6ft vinyl fence installed. This was hefty, but worth it. Of course, Lou found a way out of that (under), but we addressed that, and of course she has tried to jump it on many occasions. So far, her 43 lb lean, mean, muscle machine of a body has only been able to reach one paw to the top of the fence. My fears of our yard feeling like a fortress were overshadowed by the privacy that this fence gave us and the peace of mind that Charlie and Lou could play freely in the yard without having to worry about Lou escaping.
You may also remember that time that she chewed our window sill, floor trim, coffee tables, etc., shoes, etc? Well once we knew the chewing was under control, all of that had to be replaced. These were not necessarily costs we had factored into owning a dog. They are also not costs that most people have to pay, but they are good to keep in mind. I mean did you even know floor trim was chewable?
Lou is 100% Worth It
There were times we really didn’t know how much more or how much longer we could put up with this. So why share this? Every animal is worth helping and with the right help, they can become their best self. There are still hard days, but there are also SO many positives.
She and Charlie are the best of friends. When we walk them together, they have a limit to how far they are willing to be separated. One of them plops themselves on the ground and will not move until the other catches up. Their bond is unmatched and it is so sweet to watch.
For us, coming home to Lou and Charlie was and still is the best thing ever. Lou wiggles her whole body so hard her tail thumps against anything in sight. Her howl CRACKS us up. Lou is THE best companion. She is happy just to be with us. She is more than happy to spend hours curled up with us on the couch, or to keep us company in our offices while we are working. She is as sweet as she is sassy and her personality makes us laugh every day. She has taught us so much about patience, understanding, and of course that hounds love mounds (see below).
Year two with Lou has been much better than year one. Pandemic life really suits her. She has gained and kept on weight and now looks like the healthy beefcake that she is. She has expanded her circle of trust to about 12 members of our family and friends who have been patient with her learning to trust them (and accepting it if she does not). We have new strategies when new visitors come over- we let Charlie greet them first and give her stamp of approval, which tells Lou it is okay. She has learned more than the basic commands and learned to walk impeccably (if we do say so) on a leash. Today we went for a run and saw 5 dogs- not a peep out of her… later in the day we went for a walk and it wasn’t as perfect- alas we are all a work in progress. We have days where we get frustrated, but we have to ask ourselves what we have done to make her anxious or nervous.
We did all of this with positive reinforcement training (praise and LOTS of treats- never any type of punishment). We have put in and still continue to put in a LOT of work, but as much as we put in, we get out so much more. We now have her complete trust and she has ours. Her unconditional love is unmatched and has been 100% worth it. Love you, Lou <3!