By Melissa Jo Peltier
We were ready. Our beautiful Millennial was out of college and on her own, and my husband and I weren’t traveling as much as we used to for our jobs. We’d finally be able to adopt a dog.
We ended up looking for over 3 months. First, we sat down and wrote out honestly what kind of energy would work with our lifestyle: a medium-small, medium energy dog that would be easy to travel with. That meant the dog couldn’t be aggressive with other dogs or people; neither of us had the time to work on issues that serious. Other problems, we could and were willing to handle.
After going everywhere, from NYC animal control to dog adoption days, a wonderful woman named Cece from “Tails of Love” rescue said, “You guys would be perfect for Frannie. She’s a very special dog I won’t let go to just anyone.” Frannie, – about 3 years old and some kind of herding dog/pit mix – had been pulled from a 72 hour kill shelter in Georgia and brought up north with a group of other dogs. Cece sent us video of Frannie who looked wonderful, but at 52 pounds of solid muscle, we thought she’d be too big.
Cece brought her over anyway. When I met her and took her for a walk down our street, her expressive eyes looked up at me for direction, and once inside our house, she again looked at me for permission to explore. She took treats so gently, you’d think she was accepting them with her lips. When she leaned on me and looked up wistfully into my eyes, I was won over. I asked Cece how this extraordinary dog could’ve been in foster care for a year. She said Frannie had some issues that turned people off. She looked too much like a pit bull to some people, who believed the myths about them. Her foster parents said she was notoriously unreliable off-leash – bolting chasing after any nearby critter for miles. She was also skittish around loud noises and crowds, and absolutely refused to get into a car. She’d plant, pant and shake like a leaf. No one wanted a 52 pound dog they’d have to lift in and out every time they wanted to go somewhere.
My time on Dog Whisperer had taught me that those were problems I could fix. But when Frannie met my husband, he said “I just don’t connect with her.” He took her impeccable Southern manners to be stand-offishness. We agreed we both had to be thrilled with whatever dog we chose. But over the next weeks as we continued our search, I actually had two vivid dreams about Frannie. In the dreams, she was begging me with her eyes to bring her home.
After a month more of looking, I tentatively suggested to my husband that we take Frannie for a weekend. He agreed, and Frannie’s foster parents brought her to our house with her crate, her bed and some favorite toys. Fifteen minutes in, Frannie leaned her head on my husband’s shoulder. He turned around and said to me, “This is our dog!” The day was January 9, 2015. Frannie never went back.
I was able to fix the car problem within about two months, and I immediately started practicing with her off-leash on 3 mile walks around a local lake – three minutes on, three minutes off, gradually increasing the durations until she understood that off-leash means staying with us at all times. I have video of her walking off-leash, right next to taunting squirrels on St. Patrick’s day 2016. It’s taken me nearly two years to get her to the point where she won’t sprint after the many deer in our woods-surrounded neighborhood. I put a GPS on her collar for the inevitable times she’d make mistakes, and practiced in the woods constantly. Frannie is like a teacher’s pet who never wants to get the answer wrong, so a stern voice and a command to sit and make eye contact did the trick over time. Just today, two separate herds of deer ran just behind our yard, and I saw Frannie start to get excited. By using a stern “Uh uh uh!” – and calling her to look at me, I watched her relax and wait until they were out of sight. Then we resumed our walk, with me praising her to the heavens. She always walks proudly when she’s accomplished something big.
As for her skittishness, Frannie now goes to every possible dog-friendly place with us. We go to the doctors’, the chiropractor, boutiques, Lowes, the Mac store; we’ve been to hotels, motels and on a plane; and in good weather we lounge around at outdoor cafés and restaurants. She can trot through crowded Times Square without flinching and has even been sailing and to a drive-in. It’s all built on trust. Everyone who meets her remarks on her gentle, loving nature and calm energy. She’s got an amazing nose on her – her DNA says she’s about 10% rat terrier (also about 37% pit bull, 33% border collie) – so I decided train her as a medic alert dog my life-threatening nut allergies. Working with a close friend who has trained hundreds of seeing eye and other service dogs, we’ve got her about 2/3 of the way there. She’s proven she can do it, but needs to be more consistent.
I often think my prescient dreams of Frannie make this truly a tale pre-ordained love. It’s worth any wait to find your perfect dog, even if you have to say no to some winsome faces along the way.