I Didn’t Expect Baby Nazgûl: Our first month with a new puppy

Who could resist that face?

Who could resist that face?

I thought I was doing it right this time.

I wasn’t making a decision born of the fear of facing a dogless home, like I did when I adopted Lilah and Jasper only three weeks after Rosie died, knowing that Pasha’s days were numbered. 

I wasn’t making a decision based on a shooting star and an impossible dream like I did when I went looking for—and found—Tucker.

This time I was thoughtful. I thought about what size of dog I wanted: small enough that I could carry them in an emergency. What type of personality I was looking for; someone with a little more pep in their step would get my current two moving a little more. What age range: while I knew older dogs needed homes, my entire house is filled with senior pets—or those getting close to senior—and I wanted someone younger who could potentially still be around when my elders are no longer with me.

I researched the rescue groups I might adopt through. I only searched for pups from organizations that had good reputations, that I knew I could count on, that wouldn’t just let any dog go with any person, that fostered dogs, and therefore knew enough about them to ensure they are placed well. 

This time I asked questions. I was so hurt by Tucker’s loss that I was hoping to add someone to the family who would be with me a long time. Health was extremely important to me, so I wanted to know what the dog’s life was like before she came to me, what the foster situation was like. I probably wouldn’t know if the mother had appropriate prenatal care (which can set up a dog—or a human or cat for that matter—for a more healthy life), or who the father was, but the more I knew about a dog’s early history, the better. 

Most important, I was looking for a dog that was good with cats. That was not negotiable. 

So by the time I began to fall in love with Halley, I had asked all the right questions, got answers I liked, met her twice, observed her with other dogs, and thought, “She’s the one.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, she needed to get along with Lilah and Jasper; if they didn’t approve, the new puppy wouldn’t be a good fit for us, and the potential adoption would end right there. As for the cats, even if Halley was good with kitties—there was one in her foster home, whom I was told she ignored—I figured my four felines would take some time to get used to a new member of the family.

I prepared for some sleepless nights during house training. I knew there would be accidents. I was told she was good in her crate, but I figured there would be some adjustments. I could tell she was really smart, and according to her foster Leslie here in New Jersey, she was a bit of an escape artist. I also knew that puppies can be chewers, and figured there might be some damage to the house from chewing or other misbehavior.

But. 

I had no clue, and was completely unprepared for the upheaval, chaos, challenges, illnesses, and emotional maelstrom that came with my personal comet, my Halley.

During our first meeting, at her foster home, Halley threw up. At first I chalked it up to the ordeal she had just been through, traveling by van in a small crate all the way from Texas; she had only arrived the day before. She had also just been to the vet only a few hours before I met her, where she received two immunizations. Plus, she was running around the yard like a nut. 

Visiting Halley at her foster home.

Visiting Halley at her foster home.

Still, when I came home from that visit, I stripped down to my undies in the garage, Purelled my hands, threw my clothes directly into the wash, and went straight into the shower. I didn’t know what Halley had—if anything— but I didn’t want to bring it into my home. She had come from a foster in Texas, and before that, a home we knew nothing about. She was also on a transport with other rescued dogs pulled from high-kill shelters; who knew what she had been exposed to along the way.

When she had diarrhea the next morning, Leslie took her straight to the vet, where they thought her symptoms might be due to a reaction to one of her immunizations—more likely the leptospirosis. The vet prescribed metronidazole and told Leslie to feed the puppy chicken and rice, continuing with the medication until she had at least two solid poops.  

My mistake—and it was a whopper—was not insisting that Halley be at that stage—cured, off the medication, with a solid digestive system and the ability to eat different foods and treats—before I brought her home.

To be transparent here, I wanted Halley. I really wanted her. And having applied for several other dogs only to have someone else be approved for their adoption, I didn’t want to jeopardize this one. I was afraid of being a pain in the rear, having already asked a zillion questions, visited her twice (on my own and then again with Brian), requested my dogs’ approval (meaning Leslie agreed to drive Halley down to my house for their introduction) and pushed off the adoption by a couple of days because I was hoping to make sure she was healthy.

Brian meets Halley.

Brian meets Halley.

Her veterinary records showed she had all required immunizations. She was up to date, her stool had been tested for worms and parasites twice. I was happy that she hadn’t been spayed yet, but instead came with a connection to a state spay / neuter program that offered the surgery with approved vets for only $20. Recent studies have shown that dogs are healthier if spay and neuter surgery is performed after six months. This was all good.

Halley on table chair eyes

Jasper, Lilah and Halley. At first Jasper and Lilah weren’t sure how to play with her, but they accepted her right away.

When Halley arrived at our house, Lilah and Jasper approved. We brought her inside where I had gated off the kitchen. She sniffed at Echo—my daughter’s cat whom I was cat sitting that day—and wagged. Both were cool with each other. Then I introduced Halley to her crate; she walked in, wagging her tail. I didn’t close the door, just let her hang out.

It all went downhill from there. 

She saw one of the cats when she was in the crate—I think it was Elsa Clair, though I couldn’t be sure—and had a puppy meltdown, digging and biting at the bars, crying, barking, yapping and making a sound that my daughter Melanie said sounded like a baby Nazgûl (for those of you who are unfamiliar with The Lord of The Rings books or movies, those are the ringwraiths, servants of the evil Lord Sauron, whose screams would make the stoutest hearts shrivel). The video below shows a very mild version, after we’d been working with her for a while.

The cat ran away, terrified. When another cat—this time I think it was Calvin—showed up a short time later, and was seen again through the bars of the crate as he walked through the dining room, we had a repeat performance of Baby Nazgûl. 

Halley in the crate in the dining room. It opened to the kitchen, blocking the doorway between.

Halley in the crate in the dining room. It opened to the kitchen, blocking the doorway between.

That night—and for days after, we had to feed the dogs outside of the house on the deck, because none of the cats would come into the kitchen. I didn’t blame them.

Halley, Jasper, Lilah—and Brian—waiting for me to bring the dogs' dinner outside on the deck.

Halley, Jasper, Lilah—and Brian—waiting for me to bring the dogs’ dinner outside on the deck.

Later I brought Halley up to our bedroom and showed her her nighttime crate. It was a duplicate of the one in the dining room, and I had placed it right next to my side of the bed. Halley walked into the crate, looked through the bars and… Baby Nazgûl. Apparently she believed that crates magically caused cats to appear. 

I had to come up with plan B, and dug up a portable pop-up crate (I keep two of them in my Go Bag for emergencies in case I need to quickly contain my cats). This became Halley’s bed, but since it was flimsy, I spent the next four nights lying on the floor next to her, with my arm slipped through the zippered opening. This kept her calm, and prevented her from digging or chewing through the material.

That first night, Halley woke us up at 2:00 AM with explosive diarrhea. I took her outside while Brian cleaned up the mess. Luckily it was contained to the blankets so could still use the pop-up crate when I came back.

Mind you, I had brought her to our vet for a checkup that afternoon, where she was pronounced healthy. They had suggested I bring in a stool sample, even though she had already been dewormed, and had her poop checked by two vets within the past couple weeks—once in Texas and again in New Jersey. 

The next morning, since I couldn’t use crates to control Halley and keep the cats safe, I resorted to baby gates, restricting the puppy to our dining room. 

The first time a cat walked by, she went nuts. Baby Nazgûl again. And she jumped the gate.

I put blankets over the gates so she couldn’t see the cats. Apparently Baby Nazgûl could hear them. And still jump the gates.

I double stacked gates—one on top of the other—on one entrance to the dining room, and put chairs backed up against the other, effectively extending the height by about a foot. I covered everything with blankets.

Apparently Baby Nazgûl can climb when motivated. In an instant. Right over the gates.

I gave up on the gates and tethered Halley to me. I put her on a six-foot leash, and she had to go with me everywhere. Which sometimes she didn’t want to do.  So in addition to Baby Nazgûl, I discovered that Halley was also really good at passive resistance. As in, I’m not moving and you’ll have to pick me up if you want to go upstairs. Or to the bathroom. Or want to eat.

Halfway up. Halfway down. Doesn't matter. Halley doesn't feel like moving.

Halfway up. Halfway down. Doesn’t matter. Halley doesn’t feel like moving.

I made sure to give her her metronidazole, and was careful to feed her chicken and rice, knowing that a sensitive digestive system could get even more screwed up if I took her off that diet too soon. Every day I examined my pup’s poop like a mystic reading tea leaves, pleading with the gods of dogs to deliver me two solid poops in a row.

When my prayers and supplications were answered—nine days after Halley came to live with us—I brought a fecal sample into my veterinarian, noting that I also saw she had tapeworm.  (Leslie had warned me that one of the other pups had tapeworm too, so it wasn’t a surprise.) At least the treatment for that was easy: just one pill.

During those nine days, I watched as Baby Nazgûl came out when Halley met my neighbor’s Yorkie for the first time. And then again when she met a pibble in the local pet store. And then when she tried catch a chipmunk running along our fence. And when she was on one side of our sliding glass door and I was on the other.

I Googled “puppy temper tantrum”—the only way I could think to describe her behavior—which was how I found out about barrier frustration. My puppy wasn’t a ringwraith; it’s just that she didn’t like to be thwarted. Imagine a two-year-old human who wants cake for dinner and is told she can’t have it. Meltdown.

Let’s review: I had a puppy who is sick and on a restricted diet—and was bored with chicken and rice, making it hard to train her with no food other than chicken allowed as training treats. She throws temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. I can’t tell if she wants to eat the cats or play with them, as she throws a tantrum every time she sees one. I can’t use crates because she turns into a baby ringwraith. Gates do not contain her. She is tethered to me. My cats hide during the day.

This was not working.

And then I find out from our vet that Halley’s fecal sample showed an active Giardia infection—yet another parasite. One that is spread so easily that my other dogs were very likely to get it so everyone needed to be treated. That’ll be $228 for medication for all three of the dogs. Five days of mixing powder into everyone’s food. At least they ate it willingly.

At this point, I am trying everything. I brought in a trainer—Anne Macaulay from On Good Behavior—who I’ve worked with in the past. She came for a private in-home consultation to help me assess whether Halley’s problem is a cat thing or a frustration thing. The fact that she was fostered with cats is helpful here, and Halley’s early interaction with Echo indicated she could be fine with them. Anne said she thought Halley could be okay, but she’d be a lot of work, and of course there are no guarantees.

As a way to help assess her issues, I also brought Halley to a puppy play event through My Dog’s Got Class and saw first-hand that she’s fine off leash with all the other pups. The trainer there told me she is well socialized. This was good news. 

I signed Halley up for Camp Bow Wow—doggy day care—and she passed the interview, getting along perfectly with all the other dogs. Also good news.

But she still can’t stand being thwarted. And if she’s on a leash, and meets another dog on a leash, I can see her building toward becoming a leash reactive dog. Right now she just wants to play, but I’ve read enough to know that her behavior has to change, because it can become aggressive.

I tried to take Halley and the other dogs for our daily walk. Walks are a great way to bond with a dog, to practice tolerance of other leashed dogs, and to burn off energy through exercise. The first time we attempted a walk, though, when a car sped by, Halley froze and then added a new performance to her repertoire—the dancing freakout. This time,Baby Nazgûl left the building and in her place was a scared puppy. Something about cars frightens her. Now I added getting her used to traffic to my list of things to help her with. And I can’t use an easy walk in the neighborhood as a tool for training.

On Yom Kippur, I brought Halley in for a half day at Camp Bow Wow—I couldn’t leave her alone in the house as she still wasn’t crate trained. I arranged for Maria, their on-site trainer, to work with her while she was there, to focus on the barrier frustration. 

I also signed Halley up for obedience classes with My Dog’s Got Class. And I brought her there for doggy daycare on a day when I needed to attend meetings, and paid extra for a “Mind Your Manners” session for trainers to work on her issues.

In the meantime, every encounter with the cats resulted in a meltdown. By now, though, I had begun to feed Halley real food and to give her high-value rewards. These rewards were nothing more than chopped up FreshPet and other high-quality dog food, which I was able to feed her because I now realized that her digestive issues were caused by the undiagnosed Giardia, which, based on the cyst count, she probably had since she was in Texas. Thus, she got very little food at mealtimes—mostly for practice and exposure to our meal time routine, to ensure there’s no resource guarding, and so she has additional opportunities to deal with her barrier frustration, as she must sit and wait before I release her to eat just like the other dogs. 

Every day I tried something new:

Feeding her morsel by morsel in the laundry room as a training exercise while we feed the cats, so she can see them and be rewarded for calmness. This required elaborate planning and execution, and worked as long as I talk Brian through the feeding process.

Feeding her morsel by morsel in the kitchen with the cats across the room. This was a step up from the laundry room, and it worked until Halley lost control. After that, the cats wouldn’t come for dinner. They didn’t feel safe. I think we were on Plan Q by then.

Reintroducing her to her crate in our bedroom only. This worked, but we needed to cover it with a blanket because at first Halley wouldn’t settle down unless it was dark.

Keeping her on a 30-foot-leash at all times in our fenced-in yard because the ill-behaved yappy neighbor dogs on one side of our house torment her and bring out Baby Nazgûl, and the Yorkie on the other side—while usually leashed and in control—causes Halley to run back and forth by the fence in frustration. The chipmunks in the garden elicit the same reaction. This behavior reinforces her barrier issues; it’s actually fun for her. 

Halley outside with her ball.

Halley outside, always on a leash for now. It’s 30 feet long, and we’re always with her. It’s the only way we can control her environment.

Making a cat room out of Melanie’s old room. It was going to be my new office, but I outfitted it with our cat tree and a chair and a rug and hidey places, and sealed it off with a gate that features a small cat door. I noticed that Halley seemed to leap over gates to get out of something, but not to get in. Elsa Clair and Calvin discovered the room on their own, but Dawn seemed to think the safest place is under the couch in our family room, and Halley knows she’s there. I brought Dawn up to the cat room once and sat with her, and so did Melanie, but the cat insists on spending her days under the couch.

The cat room.

The cat room. Elsa Clair demonstrates the cat-sized pass-through.

Feeding Halley morsel by morsel in the family room, near the couch under which Dawn is hiding, so that the puppy can be rewarded for controlling herself near a cat. I’m so sorry, Dawn, but you didn’t want to go upstairs to the cat room.

Playing fetch and tug with Halley. Anne suggested fetch as a way to burn off some energy, bond with Halley, and direct her inner hunter. We throw stuffed animals, balls, squeaky toys, flying discs, whatever she’ll chase. It took her a while to figure out that if she brings it back, I’ll throw it again, but she did eventually get that, and is becoming more consistent.

Halley played ball so hard one day she flipped her ears back.

Halley played ball so hard one day she flipped her ears back.

But wait! There’s more. In preparation for her spay surgery, the vet did standard bloodwork, where we found out Halley has antibodies to both Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. She’s showing no clinical signs for either, but Lyme can be tricky so we’re treating her for that. Tucker had tested positive for anaplasma antibodies all his life, and never showed symptoms. 

Nearly every day I cry. I want to love this dog, but I’m holding back. She’s everything I thought I wanted: smart, fun, playful, affectionate. But I don’t know whether she can live with us. I can’t put the cats at risk.

And Agnes, my Depression, tells me that I am stupid. Why did I think I could handle a puppy at this stage in my life, she asks me. And then she points out that the cats are miserable, and probably will hate me forever. She laughs and chides me, noting that I have a blog called Life with Dogs and Cats and I can’t get a new puppy—who is supposedly good with cats—to integrate with my current feline crew.

This has been my life for the past month. It’s why I have posted almost nothing on social media about Halley. There is little joy, because I fear I will have to give her up. 

Yet.

I haven’t stopped trying. 

Where are we today? 

We have made some progress. Halley knows Sit, Stay, Down. She sleeps quietly through the night in her crate in my bedroom. She can stay in that same crate for about 15 minutes with a Kong during the day. We’re working on extending that. Until she can be left alone for longer periods in her crate in my bedroom, I am essentially trapped at home—unless I take her to dog friendly stores (I’ve been to every pet shop within a few miles of my house) or she goes to puppy camp or daycare, both expensive propositions.

We practice dealing with frustration all day. Plus she has to deal with leashed dogs on either side of her during during obedience class. It’s a huge challenge for her, but I saw some improvement even from the first to the second class.

To help with her fear of traffic, I stand at the end of our driveway and she gets treats each time a car goes by. Anne suggested I bring her to parking lots for more exposure. We’ve started going to Starbucks, where I can get a coffee and sit outside with her as she learns that she can be safe with me when there are cars around.

Halley getting treats, praise and reinforcement at a shopping center, to help her feel more comfortable around cars.

Halley getting treats, praise and reinforcement at a shopping center, to help her feel more comfortable around cars.

For the past few nights, Halley has been able to sleep in our family room—actually sleep!!!—even though Dawn was under the couch only a few feet away. The puppy whines a bit at first, but settles down. Anne had suggested that I reward her when she self regulates; if she looks at me when she’s frustrated that she can’t get to a cat, I give her a treat. If she comes up to me, even better: more treats.

We’re training her to a mat, which I’m learning is a great way for dogs to learn self control, to have a spot to go to where they feel safe and can decompress. I’m going through the same process with Lilah and Jasper, as I think it will help everyone. 

Everyone has a mat. This works real well, as the dogs stay put while I make dinner.

Everyone has a mat. This works real well, as the dogs stay put while I make dinner.

Halley walks beautifully on a leash. She matches my pace. She sits when I stop. She learns everything so fast. It took her less than a week to figure out how to ring a bell if she wants to go potty. She’s pretty consistent with it, and of course quickly figured out that she can ask to go outside any time she’s bored. I let her do that for now. It’s good for her to have some part of her life she can control. We haven’t had an accident in almost 2 weeks. 

Baby Nazgûl is showing up less often. Halley is still working on controlling her tantrums, but they are happening less and less, and are quieter, shorter, and less violent.

As for the cats, we stopped sharing meal times, and we now feed the dogs and cats separately. This causes much less stress for everyone. Until I can get Halley to stay quietly in a crate by herself for more than 15 minutes, Brian has to hang out with her and the other dogs—either outside on the deck or in our bedroom—while I feed the kitties. I think this now allows the kitties to feel safer, while everyone is getting used to Halley’s presence. I am starting to catch glimpses of them peeking around corners, or from behind doors when Halley is around. They’re getting used to her, and I try to keep Halley calm when any of the feline crew are around, providing treats whether she sees the cats or not.

Every night, after Halley settles down in her crate, I sneak downstairs to spend about an hour with the cats. I think they forgive me. They purr, crawl into my lap, and complain to me about our resident ringwraith. 

A night time visit with Calvin, after Halley is asleep.

A night time visit with Calvin, after Halley is asleep. I think he forgives me.

With all of that, I still don’t know if Halley will be able to stay with us. I still don’t know if we’ll get to a moment where she and the cats can live together—if not in harmony, then at least without violent discord. It crushes me to think that I might have to give her up—but I will if I think the cats are at risk.

I’m putting so much effort in to making this work, and my emotions are all over the map at any given moment. Yay! Halley didn’t whine when she caught a glimpse of Athena. Oh no! The cats’ first response when they see me is to run—because they equate me with Baby Nazgûl.

I've also worked hard to expose Halley to new experiences, like playing with sticks in the baby pool when the weather was warm.

I’ve also worked hard to expose Halley to new experiences, like playing with sticks in the baby pool when the weather was warm.

However, as Brian reminded me, all this work I’m putting in to train her, to make sure she’s healthy, to increase her frustration tolerance, and to arrange for her spay, will make her more adoptable if it comes to that. But to be honest, that’s little solace if I have to go through another goodbye.

The other day, I mentioned to Brian another thing I was trying to help integrate Halley into our family. We’re way past Plan Z by now. He said, “I hope you’re right.” I laughed. I told him I’ve been wrong so many times in the past month that I’ve lost count. That I have failed over and over and over again. This whole process has made so clear to me how important failure is to progress: That didn’t work? Try this instead. Still not working? Try another thing. Change it. Try again. Tweak it. Try again. Ad infinitum. Maybe, eventually, with the right combination of training and patience, I’ll succeed. Despite what Agnes tells me.

I love Halley. I want to love her more. I think she’s very special. I believe she’s what my heart needs.

But I won’t put my cats at risk. For now, they are not.

A couple weeks ago, Leslie texted me to ask how things were going, and I told her I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to keep her. She called me and I wept on the phone with her. Like any good rescue organization, Big Dog Rescue Project said they’d take Halley back, find her a good home, and I could even help choose her next family. I reached out to a friend of mine who has no cats and is a wonderful dog mom, to see if she might take Halley if this doesn’t work. The thought tears me apart. But I have to do what is right for my current family.

But I think we’re making progress. I hope we’re making progress. And I’m trying to shut out Agnes, because she is a known liar. My wish is that one day, I’ll look back and think it was all worth it. And maybe others can learn from my experience.

For the past three days, Calvin has been leaving me gifts again. This, more than anything, gives me hope that this whole thing might work out.

Until then, I’m going to keep failing and trying again. And I’m going to love my puppy.

Halley on one side of the gate, Calvin's gift on the other.

Halley on one side of the gate, Calvin’s gift on the other.

Three amigos.

Three amigos.

Hanging out in Lilah and Jasper's rhododendron cave. She helped dig a bit.

Hanging out in Lilah and Jasper’s rhododendron cave. She helped dig a bit.

Halley found this piece of tree limb in our garden. It's huge, but she loves it. We call it "the femur."

Halley found this piece of tree limb in our garden. It’s huge, but she loves it. We call it “the femur.” 

Learning about gravity.

Learning about gravity.

Jasper, Lilah, and Halley. They're hanging out at Halley's "spot"—a less-than-one-foot square part of the yard that she dug a tiny depression in, and which is where she brings all her toys and sticks.

Jasper, Lilah, and Halley. They’re hanging out at Halley’s “spot”—a less-than-one-foot square part of the yard that she dug a tiny depression in, and which is where she brings all her toys and sticks.

Love this dog.

Love this dog.



7 Comments on "I Didn’t Expect Baby Nazgûl: Our first month with a new puppy"

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  1. I am SO very sorry this has been so hard. This certainly seems to be piling up on you. But from someone in rescue PLEASE know that you haven’t failed. You have given this every try and then some. I tell adopters all the time that the animals in the house have to come first. No matter the ending, this chapter is NOT a failure.

    • Thank you. The thing is, I thought I was prepared. I was just prepared for the wrong things. Plus, I thought the cat thing was going to be easier than it was. It is still quite possible that she really is good with cats. We just haven’t been able to get her—and a cat—in the right place or frame of mind to figure that out.

  2. Halley is awfully cute and we sure hope it works out. But…do NOT think you are a failure or failing Halley if it doesn’t work out. You are doing everything…and then some…but sometimes it’s just not enough. And where you are doing it right is realizing that it might not work…and that you have to do what is right for you, Halley and your fur family.

  3. suzanprincess says:

    Susan, you and Brian are such patient, loving furry-people parents! I do hope your Halley adoption works out, and she finds her forever home with you.
    But whatever the final decision, tell Agnes to be quiet, as her opinion is not valued! Liars should never be trusted!
    I do so enjoy your blog–thank you for posting, whenever.

  4. databbiesotrouttowne says:

    Agnes knows NOTHING about dogs; you and Brian do…. all good things in time as the saying goes….Halley will work out….the corner is turning ever so slightly, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race; guess I need to quit with the quotes here huh !! 🙂 ♥♥♥ looking forward to reading a post about what she thinks of …snow !!

  5. meowmeowmans says:

    Susan, you are absolutely, positively NOT a failure. Thank you and Broan for having such big hearts, and for loving Halley and working to give her every opportunity to become a part of your family. We sure hope it works out that way!

  6. Halley is so precious! With any adoption, we roll the dice and there’s really no way to know in advance how things will turn out. I wasn’t planning on getting another cat when I met Ellie. But I also couldn’t let her go. Within the first couple weeks, I spent almost $1000 trying to figure out why she was having bloody diarrhea (that the rescue hadn’t known or noted). But in just the couple years since then, she’s paid me back several times over. Follow your heart – it knows. And you will NEVER regret following your heart. When I adopted Bear (I found him on the street) – he and Kitty COULD NOT get along. We had roving hissy/hissing fits. I didn’t want to take him to a shelter – though my rational side says that’s what I should’ve done. Instead, I followed my heart and he’s transformed my life in ways I never thought possible. Have the same compassion for yourself as you do for everyone else (people and furries both). Let go of doing it “right” – like with kids, there are very few “rights” in parenting and loving kids and pets.

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