My business reporter friend Steve is one of the kindest people I know. Back when we were neighbors in the Westport neighborhood of Kansas City, he didn’t have dogs, but it was only a matter of time. Here’s the story of Gus and Charlie, two lucky rescue pups who eventually landed in his lap.
The stick is mine!
Tell us about your dogs. Who are they and what are their stories?
We got Charlie almost exactly two years ago. We think she’s a cocker-dachshund mix and think she was about eight months old when we got her. She was picked up by the Wyandotte County pound as a stray, which makes a lot of sense when you get to know Charlie and her dynamic, complicated personality. She’s independent and willful. At the same time, she’s very afraid of thunderstorms — likely a product of her having to find shelter during some gullywashers from her time as a stray — and will hop on the bed to seek comfort from us. But all in all, she’s a very sociable dog and a great older sister to her brother Gus.
We got Gus a few months after getting Charlie. He was only about 12 weeks old at the time. We don’t know much about his background, but it’s clear he had a rough go of things early in his life. The thing that stuck out to me when I first met Gus was when I held him, I could feel him holding on to me, even digging his nails into my jacket. It was as though he either wanted me to take him with me or that he was afraid of yet another human. Either way, he was a very skittish dog around other humans and dogs. It’s been a lot of work to get him more comfortable in his own skin. But he’s come a long way, both physically and in terms of his confidence. He’s a very up and easy dog, always energetic and devoted to pleasing his owners. One of the better moments of my week is watching him search and locate a long lost toy and seeing him react in obvious pride to his own feat, with a torso that shakes in sync with a wildly wagging tail.
You’ve had Gus since he was just a tiny baby. Did you know you wanted to adopt a puppy, or did you just happen to fall in love with him?
I figured I’d always get dogs that were at least half a year old so that they would have a chance to get some socialization and a certain measure of housetraining. That’s what we had in Charlie, who despite a stretch of time as a stray, came to us understanding basic house rules and comfortable around other dogs and humans. But when we met Gus, we really did fall in love with him. And we like to think he wanted to come home with us, given how he seemed to latch on to us when we first held him. But it was a lot of work to get Gus up to Charlie’s speed. Complicating matters was that we lived in an apartment when we first got Gus, so it was worrisome to have neighbors annoyed with us if he would start barking when we were away, not to mention pooping in his cage. But his sister was a good example, and I think that helped us get Gus to grow up faster.
Gus as a young pup.
How and when did you know you were ready to bring dogs into your life?
I grew up with dogs and always loved them, so I knew one day I would get one. My mom promised me while I was in college that when I got my degree, she would get me a dog as a graduation gift. When I got done with college, I told her that it wasn’t practical to have a dog. During my childhood, my family’s dogs always had a backyard to run around in and people around to keep them company most of the time. I got my first newspaper job a week after finishing school and moved into a dingy little apartment in the Northland. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon to work 15 hour days at this newspaper where I thought I was somehow saving democracy. That obviously wasn’t a good environment to own a dog the way I thought was fair to them.
As time went on, I got a better perspective of the space that professional life occupied in my life in general. As such, I worked more efficiently and spent reasonable hours doing my job. I also met the person whom I will marry in two weeks, who was also a dog person. Together we knew we had the means and the shared ability to keep after a couple of little dogs. And we were going to move into a house in Brookside, which would give the pups more room to roam. At first, I wondered if I was ready to give up the free lifestyle that your mid- to late-20s can offer — spending time at the bars, hours on the bicycle, traveling on a whim — to keep a dog healthy and happy. But I can say without question the tradeoff has been worth it. There’s a unique happiness that dogs can bring into your life, as anyone reading this blog almost certainly knows.
Why did you choose the dogs you did?
We sought out rescue dogs when we decided we could get a pet. The principle of bringing a dog from difficult circumstances into a loving home appealed to us. We looked at the Petfinder type websites until we found Charlie and fell in love with her from the photos we saw. But the Wyandotte County pound
was very difficult to work with in trying to adopt her. I went a couple of times during work and they wouldn’t let me see her because some factotum in the pound was out to lunch. Another time they told us that she was gone, without further explanation. Eventually, we went to a satellite adoption at a PetSmart on a whim, thinking maybe she would be there. We saw her in an aisle, played with her, filled out some forms, and left.
We also fell in love with Gus the same way, trolling the pet websites before visiting and taking the boy home.
This is a lovable face.
What are some of the challenges of living in a multi-dog household?
I think the biggest challenge was getting Charlie used to having the new pup around. She used to get all of the attention and didn’t take too kindly to Gus when we first brought him home. In fact, we brought her with us when we adopted Gus, which might have been a mistake. When we put them both in the back of the Jeep, Charlie literally plastered herself as much against a side door as possible to get away from Gus. Over time, they got used to each other. But I always took great care to feed Charlie first, pet Charlie first in the morning, let Charlie walk in the door first so as to not make it seem like we were suddenly favoring the new addition to the household.
But to dredge up an overused expression, Charlie and Gus are a couple of peas in a pod. They do everything together and have hardly spent any time apart and are easy to walk and take places together. And in some ways, it’s easier to keep them entertained. If I come home from a long day of work and am not up to playing too much ball in the front yard, Charlie and Gus take to their famous wrasslin’ matches to keep themselves occupied.
Do your dogs help you accomplish writerly things?
Working in corporate business journalism, I’m not as lucky as my counterparts at The Pitch used to be
in that I can’t bring dogs into the office on occasion. And work is where I do most of my writing. But Charlie and Gus are pretty respectful dogs and seem to recognize when I’m working at home. They let me focus on my work at home on the occasions I have to do some writing. They sleep lazily or quietly gnaw on their preferred toy — a stick in the front yard.
Do you still use your old typewriter? Do the dogs notice the sound of it?
Unfortunately, my old Remington has a dried up ink ribbon and I’ve had a hell of a time finding a replacement. So it’s been a while since they’ve been acquainted with the rapid-fire sound of POP! POP! POPPOPPOP! DING! WHOOSH! WHACK! in some time. But like a lot of unfamiliar sounds, it stokes Charlie’s curiosity and Gus’ concern.
Have you ever written about your dogs?
There was one time where writing about the dogs was particularly therapeutic. It was a few months ago when I walked the dogs over to the CVS Pharmacy in Brookside to do a couple of errands. When I was a kid, my dad always walked to the grocery store and would just tie up the dog’s leash to a pole and go grab groceries for the better part of half-an-hour. So I always thought that was sort of OK but with my own dogs would not leave them unattended for more than a minute or two. I went to CVS that day needing only paper towels. So I tied their leash to a sidewalk bench, and went straight to the aisle for paper towels and went straight to checkout and got out of there all in about 90 seconds, tops. When I got out, Gus was off his leash and surrounded by about five people. He was retreating from them and very nervous. They explained to me that he had gotten off his leash and run from somebody into heavy traffic at the corner of 63rd and Brookside Boulevard and narrowly avoided a gruesome fate. I’ll never have any idea how he got loose from his leash. I suspect maybe someone tried to play with him and he struggled free to get away from strangers he generally avoids. The prospect that Gus could have been killed overwhelmed me on my walk home. I wrote about the incident on an inactive Tumblr account of mine, which helped settle me down.
I love the wind blowing on my ears.
What sage advice do you have for someone who is considering adding a rescue dog to their family?
I would say that you should expect some behavioral issues and eccentricities from a dog that comes from rescue. That may go without saying, but my parents always got their dogs from breeders so they had an easier time with training and socializing dogs. But my advice is NEVER GIVE UP! There can be a lot of issues to work out with a dog, and it can tax your patience and your wallet. But dogs are amazingly resilient creatures. With enough time, work, love and devotion, your rescue dog can come a long way under your direction. No dog is perfect and rescue pets can seem to have more imperfections than others. But there’s hardly been a prouder feeling for me than watching a dog like Gus, who came to me as a nervous little guy who would quake in the presence of other canines, immerse himself in a pack of other dogs at the park and play like a wild little kid discovering his new favorite pastime.
Do you have rescue dogs? What have they overcome since joining your household?