A Really Big Lesson, Otto’s Story

I wasn’t alway so righteous.  I have, in fact, made some very irresponsible pet choices in my life.

Espresso Macchiato “Otto” was probably one of my biggest and yet the least regrettable. The decision to add him into our pack was a HUGE life lesson and one of the many inspirations behind MyAnimalActivist.

Ten years ago, I finally felt like a “grown up.” I had a newly built a house, married a darling man,  owned and operated a small coffee house,  given birth to a healthy baby boy, and was regularly “herded” around by a friendly female border collie.  Life was good.  Life was busy.

However, I felt like there was something missing.

In my early childhood I had dreamed of one day sharing my life with a Great Dane dog. So, feeling like an adult and suffering from early stages of  I.W.A.P. syndrome, * I began to plead with my husband.  I convinced him that we desperately needed to add this giant breed to our family.  My dear husband, wasn’t so sure…

Away I ventured through the winding hilly paths of proper pet owner enlightenment aka discovering the difference between the fantasy of sharing my life with a companion animal vs the reality of sharing my life with a companion animal.

Wanting to rescue a dog from a life spent in the pound, I started scouring local shelters hoping to find an adoptable dane.  My search was surprisingly lucky and quickly led me to a two year old male blue dane less than thirty miles away.

Barely able to contain my enthusiasm, I dragged my husband, toddler son and 4 year old female border collie to meet him.  The shelter volunteer had this big boy kenneled in a barn near her house.  (If you know anything about Danes this is one of the worst places for this companion animal-they absolutely NEED the closeness of their humans and can not handle the extremes of a MN winter).  She handed me a leash, and I took him out of the barn to meet our family.  During the minutes that passed this big boy was vacant and wanted nothing to do with any of us, dog or human.  He was extremely nervous, and pulled on his leash seeking the sanctuary of his kennel in the barn.

In an instant I knew I wouldn’t be bringing this dog with me.  I cried all the way home.

Fast forward two days….

I was absolutely positive we needed a Great Dane immediately, and I was determined to find a puppy.  Look out world here comes trouble and bad decision making.

Thus, I turned to the “For Sale” section of the Newspaper to find a purebred puppy.

I found a “breeder” in my area code so I phoned her.  The breeder wasn’t available to answer my questions; however, I  was assured by the breeder’s daughter that they had a quality product.  “Our puppies are really healthy, and they come from champion lines,” she said. “Great Danes are really popular right now and we have a lot of repeat customers.”

She also informed me that they only had one 14 week old male puppy left.  After hearing the words “14 week old male puppy,” my brain left the building and puppy fever took full control.

This so-called breeder and her male puppy drove to a halfway point, a county fair grounds, to meet us.  At the time, I thought it was a generous gesture that she would bring him to me. BIG RED FLAG!  I now regret terribly never seeing the environment he spent his early days in or meeting his sire and dam, for I know the value of these things.

Of course we all  fell in love with the calm and shy puppy.   The breeder “discounted” him for us to make a quick sale.

The breeder never asked us any questions about where we lived or if we had any knowledge of the breed or experience with caring for pets.  She did not ask us if we planned on breeding or sterilizing our dog.  Once the check was handed over, it was a done deal, he was our dog.  No contract.  No guarantees.  No pedigree.  No AKC registration papers.  No nothing.

He was a darling sweet puppy, but at six months he was already beginning to show major health and disposition issues. I noticed his gait and stance was “off” and so I had him X-rayed.  The vet discovered early signs of osteo-arthritis in his knees, hips, and elbows.  To keep him comfortable and mobile the vet suggested we give Otto an expensive daily supplement. Little did we know, we would continue to use the supplement and other expensive medications to keep him comfortable for the next six YEARS of his life!  My “discounted” puppy was already costing me many times the amount I would have paid for a puppy from an ethical and responsible breeder, or from a legitimate rescue organization.

Unfortunately, in addition to his genetic health problems, Otto also had some intense disposition issues.

I am a big believer that you only get what you put into an animal, and so I enrolled him and myself  in classes, took him with me everyday to work, socialized him with children/dogs/cats and did my best to bring out his best.   Meanwhile, he continued to display fear based aggression and I could no longer take him anywhere he might hurt someone.  For six years w didn’t go too far from home…

Ultimately, I just accepted that he would never be the dog that I had imagined, but that I would love him for who he was. He did get better emotionally after time patience, and lots of training.

Meanwhile, his health did not improve and it was awful to watch his body literally fall apart.

I found out a couple of years after he had joined our family, that this breeder was indeed greedy, cruel, and negligent.   After sending a friend interested in a dog to Otto’s breeder, my friend revealed to me that all of the dogs were unhealthy and aggressive and kept outside in wire pens.  I was sick to have put money into this backyard breeder’s pocket.

So, yeah, I wanted to do it right with our next dog.  This is where I toot my own horn. 🙂

Before bringing Posh into our pack I:

  1. Researched breeds that matched what our ENTIRE family was looking for in a dog and narrowed my search down to two breeds. I further narrowed it down to one.
  2. I went to dog shows and met enthusiasts, breed fanciers, ethical breeders and dog rescue volunteers.
  3. I went to a dog “open house” hosted by three active area show breeders and asked a lot of questions and spent time interacting with about 13 dogs, of which only two were puppies. This was a good thing as I wasn’t blinded by puppy fever.
  4. I got on a waiting list, and I told myself and my family it was okay to wait, that waiting for the “right” puppy was well worth it, and it was! We got Miss Posh 4 months after I first saw her, which really wasn’t that long of a wait…but it wasn’t instant gratification.
  5. I got to meet Posh again before I had to commit to buying her, and I was able to see her in her home and play with her and talk with the breeder again.
  6. I asked for referrals before saying “yes.” I did my homework on the breeder and spoke with other families that had her dogs.
  7. I asked the “right” questions about health testing, and double checked the breeders claimed health testing results on the OFFA Canine Health Registration website.
  8. 100 percent of my family was 100 percent supportive and wanting a dog.

No regrets.

Meanwhile, I can’t tell you how different life is with a dog that has been properly socialized and that is not suffering from a degenerative health problem.

Thank you Otto for being my teacher.  I miss you big boy.

*I Want A Puppy Syndrome affects millions of Americans every year.  There is no known cure.

    • Beth aka Luna
    • May 22nd, 2010

    OH this story brought tears to my eyes. I am so glad you turned this negative into such a positive. Keep up the good work!

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