THE JOYS OF A MULTI-DOG FAMILY
by Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.
Over the years there have been between sixteen and twenty-four canine paws padding around our home at any point in time. From morning until night, the dogs’ antics bring more laughter than most TV sitcoms and their joie de vie brightens my darkest moods. Their unconditional love is priceless. Yet I am cautious about advocating multi-dog families for others. For a multi-dog family to work, appropriate choices of dogs, adequate resources of time and money and lifetime commitment are necessary. The temperaments of the dogs need to mesh with the members of the human family especially important when children are involved. The dogs need to get along with each other. With multiple dogs come more complex problems and greater expenses for food, veterinary bills and grooming. The human guardians must commit to a lifetime of love, attention and care lasting ten years or more.
Perhaps it is because I have been involved with greyhound rescue for over a decade and witnessed the sad and depressing results of unsuccessful dog adoptions that I am reluctant to push too hard for people to adopt more than one dog. No matter how well intentioned the people may be, having more than one dog is not right for every family nor is it right for every dog. But when the circumstances are right, having more than one dog in the family can be a non-stop affirmation of life. If you are considering adding another dog to your family, read on for a taste of just one moment in the home of a multi-dog family mine!
The Patter of Twenty Paws
Mornings start early at our house, as our pack of precocious pooches is ever eager to keep us from wasting even one minute of the day. Whoever coined the phrase “carpe diem” surely lived with dogs!
With my eyes still shut, I can tell that the sun is up. Tromping across my chest, Bella plants light gentle kisses on my nose. I groan and push her to my side. How can a dog who weighs 20 lbs. have such a heavy footfall? Undeterred, Bella pushes her blond fluff of a face over my shoulder and continues to bathe my cheek with her soft, warm licks. I open my eyes and grab her, roll her on her back, and give her velvet tummy swift, tickly rubs. Her eyes giggle.
Hearing me stir, Gus barks a low, huffy ruff from the rug below my bed where he guards me while I sleep. My pint-sized knight-errant has the arrogance of a Genghis Khan. He jumps up, places his two front paws on the mattress beside my head and gives me a cold-nosed nudge to the cheek. His whiskers prickle my neck like an old grandfather’s beard. Longer than he is tall, Gus is the descendant of the league of homeless dogs who roam these rural New Mexico hills. Surely part corgi, a little basset plus some wirehaired terrier ancestry have created this canine cocktail.
Timber comes next to kiss my ear. Sweet and spastic Timber is a dark brindled boy - almost black. Not the icon of a racing greyhound, he sports a potbelly. The eldest of my three greyhounds, his face is white, aged even as a youngster from a puppyhood of neglect. That he kisses me is a testament to patience and love for this boy who cowered seven months in a corner when he first came to live with my family. Velcro dog, Timber presses tight against my leg. Timber wants to eat breakfast. Timber always wants to eat.
Dancer, my tiger-stripped brindle girl, waltzes over to me as I sit up on the edge of the bed. She flips my hand with her nose, hoping it will land on her head for a quick rub. Dancer is graceful, a classic and elegant greyhound. Her fur is soft, almost down-like, not what people expect.
Jasper stirs in his bed. His long, slender legs stick straight out and quiver a little with the tension of his stretch. Doe-like amber eyes mark the entrance to his soul. I was at the greyhound rescue the day Jasper was born. I held his white and brown puppy self in one hand. His little tail was no more than the size of a half strand of linguine. We have such a bond that Jasper thinks he is human. He stays in bed while the others cavort for attention. He is above such canine groveling.
I get to my feet, and Dancer starts the rooing. Greyhounds bay differently than other hounds. Roo, roo, roo! Jasper is not above joining the chorus. The three greyhounds roo and prance and escort me to the door where they do not wait patiently to be let out into the back yard. They anticipate the first adventure of the day. If the dog gods have smiled favorably on them, there will be tiny pellets of fresh rabbit poop and eau de coyote to sniff and pee over assembly line style. Gus and Bella join, too, Bella doing a circle dance around my feet all the way to the door. Most mornings I manage to get to the knob without tripping.
The smell of coffee calls from the kitchen, and I shuffle past my husband, working at his computer already. I squeeze his shoulder good morning. He is a tolerant man. He shares me with the dogs, and seems not to be jealous of the fact that every canine that joins our family prefers me to him. I am no dog whisperer, but I know how to make them each feel special. They are not shy about returning the affection.
Mug of steaming coffee in my hand, I stand at the kitchen window to watch the greyhounds race along the perimeter of the yard. They have made a track around a large juniper tree. Bella and Gus try to keep up. Yipping and tearing, tails aloft and ears to the wind, they fly. I envy the dogs and thank them for reminding me that every day is the best day ever.
Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator. She shares her home in Cerrillos with her husband, four rescued dogs (two greyhounds, two corgi/terriers) and three horses. The above column was written prior to the death of Timber several months ago. Timberís spirit remains a part of the Schildkraut family.