Lisa Ramos only wanted to get home out of the storm, but then her headlights swept across two pups huddled on top of a flooded dog house. Their small pen was awash in mud and feces. She stopped her car and waded to the front door of the home. The man who answered her knock said he didn’t want the puppies.
Back home at Companion Animal Rescue and Education, Inc. she named the brothers Johnny and Axle. As with all her rescues, Lisa paid for them to be neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and put on heartworm/flea prevention programs. They would never be hungry or neglected again. However, because CARE, Inc. didn’t have volunteers to help out back then, the pups spent their first two years with little human contact. Few dogs have personalities that can withstand lack of early socialization, and being half Great Pyrenees, suspicion came natural to Johnny and Axle. When I started volunteering to walk dogs twice a week, Johnny’s sad face that looked so much like my own rescued pyr just broke my heart.
One day the kennel manager helped me catch Johnny, and I took him out for a walk. From that day on, whenever I arrived for my volunteer stint, Johnny would jump on the fence and bark until I took him out. Even though he loved his walks with me, he remained fearful of everything from falling leaves to fish splashing in the pond. It appeared he would stay at CARE, Inc. until he died of old age, an unthinkable sentence for a two-year-old dog.
Eventually a spot for fostering opened up here at my home. I took him, knowing he might be here forever since he was still so spooky. On his Adoptapet listing, I posted photos of him running in my pasture and woods with my dogs. I wrote a frank blurb about his background and fearfulness. In less than a month, a woman named Jennifer Hogan connected with his photos and story. She told me she had looked at approximately 100 dogs in the year since her dog died, but Johnny’s photos and story kept calling her back to his listing.
Surely she didn’t understand that he wasn’t ready for adoption. I was the only person in my family who could catch him. However, I knew that meeting new people would help with his socialization, giving him one more new experience with a kind person.
When Jennifer came to meet him I realized I was watching a true case of love at first sight. In spite of his fear, Johnny clearly felt drawn to her and stood with his paws on my picket fence long after she had driven away. Jennifer and her son Gabe visited Johnny several times as they waited for the Christmas holidays when they would have three weeks to settle him into their family.
After adopting Johnny, her emails to me were a revelation of how quickly the right mix of personalities, commitment and patience can change a dog. I’ve excerpted some of her reasons for choosing Johnny as well as some of their milestones. It’s important to note how much thought the Hogans invested into finding just the right dog, even if that dog came with issues.
Jennifer wrote: “What mostly spoke to me was his mildness. Being an easygoing adult, contentious folks don't bother me. Maybe it is the gift I was given to make my life as a teacher easier. But it feels so good to be in the presence of a kindred spirit.
I gave careful consideration to the personalities of the two dachshunds that are already part of our family. They can't take that lusty puppy frenzy too well anymore and prefer a sage and somber friend to share their space. Sure enough when we brought him home they bombarded him with shrill barking that must have been pretty dreadful for him. His calm response pretty much took the wind out of their sails, and gradually, they just went about their weenie dog business and left him alone.
I look at him and see the born runner. Once he conquers his fears and the outside world becomes less intimidating, I can imagine him enjoying some jaunts through the woods here and running with me at the recreation complex nearby, a four-mile round trip. Today I really enjoyed watching him stretch out and go. “
At three weeks Jennifer wrote---“It seems I could write you daily about some little accomplishment that owners of other more confident pets might not even notice. A difference in his gait when we walk or run, the way he started holding his head up high with something I'd swear is pride.
Coming home from work and having him greet me at the door instead of waiting until I come a little closer to his nest, finding our sweet dachshund Maggie curled up beside him on his bed. That telltale yellow puff of hair I pull off Gabe's sweater in the mornings after he's hugged his buddy goodbye.
His Christmas present - a hydration pack for him to wear while the two of us go on our jaunts-- seems to calm him somehow, and it also gives him a better workout. Two 16-ounce water bladders in pockets that rest comfortably on his back, a small pocket for a collapsible bowl for him to have a drink, and a spot for my cell phone. He does enjoy that backpack, who knows why”.
At five and a half weeks Jennifer wrote—“Thought I'd share with you the milestones we were discussing last night at the dinner table for the boy. In just over a month he has come so far!
He officially allows my husband Doug to walk him now. Although he will still jump a little every now and then while they are walking, he doesn't seem fearful like before. Trusting Doug has been his biggest issue so every stride we make there is big in my book.
He now comfortably trots up and down the stairs at our house, accompanying us when it's time to tuck Gabe in at night. He has a consistent routine of putting his face beside Gabe's for just a moment, then turning and heading downstairs. Kind of seems like he's making sure all is well up there before he turns in for the night himself. He still seems soothed by Gabe in all things.
He has come to love running; the jumping up and putting his paws on my chest for reassurance when a car would pass by us has all but ended. Now he turns and looks at me when he's unsure but is much more easily soothed. The longer the run, the more relaxed he becomes.
But the very best thing of all is that he has now started getting playful. The first time I noticed it I was on my knees peering under the couch for the TV remote control. Johnny put his paw on my head and scraped it across, twice. When I said "Hey, what are you doing?" I noticed his stumpy tail wagging away. I got up and he backed away. As I walked by, he head-butted me in the back of my knee then trotted off, still wagging. Two days ago as soon as I walked in, Johnny went into that puppy-frenzy, where they get excited and run back and forth, back and forth, in all-out sprint until they are exhausted. I love that!”
Johnny, the ambassador
Jennifer sums up—“I've thought how the odds were really stacked against me finding exactly what I felt like our family needed...a submissive dog who would not battle the dachshunds for dominance, a running partner, a quiet friend for my quiet son. A large canine presence once again in our house. And here I sit typing while he naps nearby. I do hope the volunteers understand completely that what you are all doing for the more challenging dogs is very much worth it. Hopefully, Johnny can be an ambassador. Who would have ever thought it, right? “
Looking for a project dog? Johnny’s brother Axle suffers from shyness even more than Johnny did, but only needs the right family to bring him out.
Looking for a small-medium dog with no issues? A dog who even loves cats and big men in boots? Take a look at Colleen.
CARE, Inc. dogs can be transported to new homes north from GA to TN, KY and the general vicinity along the I-95 corridor to Maine. About 98% of CARE, Inc. dogs are adopted to the Northeast due to pet overpopulation in the South. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about adoptions, fostering or volunteering around the kennel located in Molena, GA.