In Cara Sue Achterberg’s new book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting, she chronicles her experiences fostering dogs of all sizes and types, many of whom arrive in her home state of Pennsylvania from southern shelters. While there are occasionally some challenges, puppies count—hands down—as one of the big joys. After an emotionally taxing time with an adult dog, she and her husband, Nick, consider their options.
“Maybe I should stick to puppies for a while,” I told Nick.
And so we welcomed a string of new puppies that summer as I prepared for my book launch and tour.
Zander, a four-month-old Lab puppy from Tennessee, was a gentle soul who collapsed in an adoring heap whenever you touched him. He was one of the easiest foster puppies we’d ever had—housebroken and mild-mannered, his worst habit was chewing shoes left available to him.
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On Sunday, I took Zander and met up with my former foster dog Edith for our first K9&Kds Event. K9&Kds was a program I’d helped create with a group of other Operation Paws for Homes volunteers. It was a program to educate kids on how to safely care for and interact with dogs,* but it also shone a light on dog rescue and the good dogs that we’d saved. Doing the research to write the program was somewhat self-serving in that I was desperate to know how to protect myself from being bitten. I was grappling with my newfound fear of dogs and working on this program was one way to whittle away at it.
Much of what I learned was new to me—dogs can be frightened by people wearing sunglasses or hoodies or baseball hats. Looking them in the eye was a threat, as was approaching them head-on. If I didn’t know these things after more than fifty years of living with dogs, how many other people didn’t know it either? It occurred to me that while K9&Kds was designed for children, we would likely be teaching a lot of adults at the same time.
After Zander, we welcomed another new puppy. Hops was ten pounds bigger and at least ten times more trouble than little Zander, who had been adopted by an excited young couple who named him Enzo.
Hops was a gangly, sweet, goofy boy who seemed to grow larger every day. He was forty pounds, but his feet were so big he looked like he was wearing galoshes, so even though he was six months old, he was far from finished growing.
Like a gangly kid in a growth spurt, he routinely ran into doorways and walls and coffee tables, unable to get his long legs out of his own way. He was labeled a lab mix but looked like he was put together with spare parts from a handful of breeds possibly including shepherd. He had a loose discombobulated swagger that made me smile and think of teenagers trying (and failing) to look cool.
Nothing on the counters was safe. In his first few days with us, he polished off a bar of cream cheese, sampled the newspaper, and [insert frustrated shriek and several curse words] broke my favorite tea mug.
While Zander had simply stockpiled shoes in his crate, Hops had the ability to do permanent damage if he could just stay focused long enough. Thankfully, some other treasure usually caught his eye and, like a severely ADHD youngster, he was on to the next adventure in moments. Everyone was learning to put their things away!
Hops was very people-oriented and followed me like my big loping sidekick. I quickly dispensed with the leash, as he never left my side and the leash only raised the possibility of him tripping me a hundredfold. He liked to keep one part of his body in contact with me when we were outside for a walk. Even the cat, while interesting, couldn’t pull him from my side.
We took Hops to our first adoption event held at Gunpowder Falls, the local brewery just over the hill from us in a small industrial park that also housed a cheerleading and gymnastics studio. Maybe it was time Gunpowder had its own brewery dog, I told Kristin, the taproom manager, as I introduced Hops. This one was meant for them. Conveniently, the owner was away for his daughter’s graduation.
As it turned out, Gunpowder was the perfect location for an adoption event. Not only were beer drinkers friendly and generous and not averse to considering adopting a dog, but the families coming in and out of the gymnastics studio had no choice but to follow the siren call of friendly dogs. Hops and the other dogs lapped up the attention.
*One of the most common reasons an adopted dog is returned is because it bit a child, and most of those bites could have been prevented.
Reprinted from One Hundred Dogs and Counting by Cara Sue Achterberg. Published by Pegasus Books. © Cara Sue Achterberg. Reprinted with permission.