Saturday, January 25, 2014

My sweet, brave, beautiful Luellen: PART 2

I'm going to start back where I left off in LUELLEN: PART 1 if you'd like to catch up.

...So, we had decided Hank needed a pal.  Everyone thought we were insane for wanting another dog, but we were pretty sure we were right about the positive effect it would have on Hank's behavior.  We knew we weren't ready to go through the puppy stages again - heck, Hank was still a puppy - so we decided to adopt an adult dog.  Of course, we needed a pooch who would match Hanky's energy level but who was also grown-up enough to mellow him out a bit.  By this point, we had totally fallen in love with the German Shorthaired Pointer breed, so we began our search within GSP rescue groups.  Although we located a few leads, we didn't have much luck.  The Mister even drove an hour away to a shelter one time, only to learn the female GSP we had our eye on had been adopted 15 minutes before he arrived.  We looked at the possibility of rescuing a Hungarian Viszla next.  I have always wanted a Vizsla, but after looking for rescue groups for the less common and newly popular breed, we discovered there were long waiting lists before even being considered for Viszla adoption.

We decided to Google "breeds similar to German Shorthaired Pointer" to see what we could find.  One of the top search results was the Weimaraner.  I used to not know much about Weims, apart from the facts they are beautiful dogs and used to be in strange pictures like this one on Sesame Street when I was little:

However, when I was a freshman in college, my family got this puppy over MLK weekend:

Matilda is a "silver factored" chocolate lab, which is a fancy way of saying that she is a chocolate lab that has a Weimaraner somewhere in her bloodline.  The Weim in her genetics gives Tilda green eyes and an un-Labrador-like, velcro-dog personality.  Tilda is one of the best dogs I've ever met, and not just because she's mine.  So, we decided to broaden our search for our new dog to include Weimaraners.  It wasn't long before we found a Weimaraner rescue group near the Mister's hometown that had a few dogs available.  But of the three or four dogs listed for adoption on their website, one photo stuck out.

That face!  Those eyes!  And her story... This 2-year-old beauty was purchased as a puppy to be a guard dog.  She lived in a backyard by herself up until the time her owner surrendered her because she wasn't effective as a guard dog (duh, she's a Weimaraner).  Can you imagine, a little puppy sitting outside all by herself in all kinds of weather and with nobody to love her?  Just the thought of my girl as a puppy out there alone makes me want to cry.  Of course, we filled out all the adoption paperwork and submitted it that night.

It took a few weeks for everything to be processed, but we received a call later that month that we had been approved for the adoption.  The next step was to drive down to the foster home where she was living, meet her, and introduce her to Hank, to make sure they would get along.

I was terribly excited, but I was also a little wary.  Although I know it's a little politically incorrect these days, both Chris and I had only ever had full bred dogs bought as puppies, and I knew we could be taking on a dog with issues due to her not-so-pleasant past.  All of that changed when we arrived and the little Weimaraner, a petite 35ish pounds, came running to the gate.  She greeted us with excited jumps (that we were told to nicely discourage) and, even though she seemed a little unsure of Hank at first, the two of them were bounding around her foster dad's backyard in no time.  We had no doubt she was ours and that she was coming home with us.

Our first clues that our new dog may have some anxiety issues came to light on the ride home.  Whenever Hank would touch her, she would snarl and snap.  I doubt she had been on too many car rides in her life, and she was not so sure about the goofy puppy sitting next to her.  She also insisted on barking and growling at every person in every car that got close to us.  We were learning that strangers were going to be a problem.

The first order of business was her name.  You see, her name had always been Lucca (Loo-ka).  We hated it.  It sounded like something you had to say with a New Jersey accent (no offense to anyone with said accent), and I just couldn't stand the idea of feeling like a cast member of Jersey Shore every time I said my new dog's name.  We didn't want to change the sound of her name, so we brainstormed about names that started with "Loo."  For some reason, I have a disdain for cliche dog names like Lucy and Luna (no offense if your dog has one of those names, they're just not for me), so we had to think of something different and something that suited the strong personality of our new pup.  For some reason I thought of the name Suellen (as in Scarlett's sister in Gone with The Wind).  Could it work with an "L" instead of an "S..."  And was that even a name?  A quick internet search led me to the conclusion that Luellen is a real name.  It's an American spelling of the Welsh Llewellyn, the name of a 13th century prince.  We decided it fit our girl perfectly - pretty, magestic, a little strange.

We quickly learned that Luellen is fiercely loyal.  Where I went she went.  I've never had a dog walk around like a shadow before, following me from one room to a next, only resting when I sit down in one place.  She came immediately when called, and she would never even consider running away because that would require being five feet away from her people for more than three minutes.  We also learned Lulu hates all dogs that aren't her personal friends and all humans that are not her humans.  When we walked, rode in the car, even when people walked down our street, Luellen made her dislike for strangers very obvious.  She made a habit of scaring neighbor dogs and small children.  We did not become angry with Lulu though; we knew it wasn't her fault she received zero socialization as a puppy.  

From her adoption in March until September, we were completely at ease with our new pup apart from the few small setbacks.  We found out the hard way she couldn't be left alone without Hank (we crated them in different rooms once and came home to find her $100 metal crate destroyed and Luellen waiting for us at the front door).  Although she was vocally terrifying to strangers, she never showed any signs of aggression toward us or our families.  However, in mid-September, the first night Chris and I were home following our honeymoon, something very disconcerting happened.  Chris went to pet Lulu while we were all laying in bed, and Lulu growled and snapped at his hand.

This behavior continued, but it was only with Chris, not me, so we figured it was just some dominance power struggle.  We stopped allowing Lulu on the bed, but she exhibited the same behavior toward Chris on the couch and other furniture in the house.  It was nearly impossible to keep her off all the furniture, but we found some comfort in that she was only acting out at Chris and that she never actually bit, just tried to be scary and claim all furniture as her own.  However, in October, we watched a puppy for a couple weeks, and having a third dog in the house really upset Luellen.  She seemed very ill at ease and growled at me a couple of times on the couch while the puppy was at our house.

After the puppy left, Luellen seemed very relieved and went back to acting like her normal self.  The furniture incidents have drastically decreased since then with both Chris and me.  We have determined the area she doesn't like touched is her back/hip area when she's sleeping or drowsy, so we've tried to be cognizant of touching those places so she doesn't feel like she needs to growl and become defensive.  The vet inspected her hips and the surrounding area and didn't find any tenderness, but she did say that some dogs are just extra protective of their backsides.  Neither of us have ever actually felt threatened by Lulu, she could hurt us if she wanted to, but she doesn't.  Our only fear is that, when we start a family, we will have to worry about Lulu becoming aggressive with our children.  We will have to have a strict "let sleeping dogs lie" rule at our house.

Although I never thought I would own a dog who growled at small children, made passersby uncomfortable, and snarled when touched the wrong way, I am so glad I do.  For every one problematic tendency Luellen has, she has 10 good traits, and she is a loving dog.  She is full of snuggles and has a completely unique personality.  When we put Luellen in our car and drove her home last spring, we made a promise to her that she would have a place where she would always be warm, dry, well fed, and loved.   Luellen's quirks are not her fault; she was mistreated.  We made the conscious decision to make her ours and that is not a responsibility that I will shirk because she has dominance issues with furniture.

What I have learned from my time with Luellen is not to judge a dog owner by his or her dog's behavior.  Yes, maybe the dog is aggressive toward strangers, has to walk on a different side of the street, can't go to the dog park, or whatever else.  In these situations, I choose to believe that dog's owner is not responsible for the dog's behavior, that he promised that dog a forever home, and he is not going to give up on his pal.  I choose to believe that owner celebrates the small victories with his adopted dog every day, just as I do when Luellen lets a stranger pet her or lays as close as she possibly can to my head as she's falling asleep.

I recently read about an awesome cause called the Yellow Dog Project.   This cause is dedicated to helping people understand that some dogs need space.  And just because these dogs need space, it doesn't mean they are bad dogs.  When you pass a dog wearing a yellow ribbon or leash, give that owner and their dog a little extra room to walk by on the street.  Don't assume that the dog is bad, or that its owner is a horrible person.  Assume someone else treated this good dog badly, and that its owner is giving the dog love and positive reinforcement, and just needs your help to make walks a little easier and less stressful.  Because, after all, each walk is one step toward having a better socialized dog.

It's not hip to have an anxious dog who can act ugly in public, but it's not fair to give up on the best dogs who just need a little help.

Luellen's issues:
  • Strangers are evil.
  • Other dogs cannot be trusted.
  • Cats are the devil.
  • All particles on the floor are food (even though they usually aren't).
  • Owners going to work is totally unacceptable.
  • Hank is not allowed to walk through any doorways.

Some of Luellen's redeeming qualities:
  • A never ending source of comic relief (especially when Hank is involved)
  • Ability to stand like a human for 30+ minutes
  • Ability to curl into a ball 1/8 her actual size when sleeping
  • Ability to spot trespassers roughly half a mile away (This makes them not actual trespassers, just neighbors.)
  • Best pal to our main man Hank, which was our original intent!
  • Unconditional devotion that we really don't deserve

FYI, this is how we ride in the car.



  1. I so love reading your blog Hannah. You are a great writer. Sure would love to meet Luellen!

    1. Thank you Mrs. Fisher! I'm so glad you enjoy reading Hart & McKee! I sure do love writing it : ) Lulu would love to meet you too!