Friday, January 8, 2010

My Furry Four Paws: Ollie

Oliver B. Superbiscuit is a Rhodesian Ridgeback--81 pounds of pure muscle. If you aren't familiar with the breed, picture a carmel colored greyhound with a broader chest that could stand on his hind legs, put his paws on a woman's shoulders and look her in the eye. (Thank goodness he's never jumped up in his life.)

We adopted Ollie in May of 2006. I had been volunteering at the Franklin County Animal Shelter at the time. He had come in as a puppy, but I rarely paid any attention to the new pups. Puppies that were old enough to be adopted usually moved on in less than ten days. Ollie was no different and was adopted quickly. It wasn't until Ollie's first owner brought him back, exhausted and frazzled that I heard about him. "I thought I was ready for a dog, I'm just not. I'm not." she told a friend at the front desk. She barely stuck around long enough to fill out the surrender paperwork.

Another volunteer did a temperament test and couldn't find anything wrong with him. He was incredibly smart and she recommended moving him to foster care immediately. Smart and sensitive dogs don't fare well in shelter conditions. Around the time he was moved to foster care, Mike and I both had decided to look for our first dog.

The foster coordinator knew I had a different dog-- a three-month old scruffy thing-- in mind and called me to say someone had put in an application in on him. She told me about Ollie. "Is that the owner-surrender that came in last week?" I asked. "I heard he's really sweet." She gave me the foster-mom's phone number.

It didn't take long for Mike and I to fall in love with his sweet face. They thought he was a six-month old dachshund-beagle mix, which happens to be the same mutt type as Mike's parent's first dog. Ollie was interested, but not intrusive. He was a little handshy, but warmed up quickly to petting, so I was sure that could be changed. Two days later, we picked him up and took him home, and gave him his new name.

I took him from the shelter to Orange Cat's vet. It was a 'well baby' check-up post-adoption, she had her intern do the check. It went well. He was healthy. Being a new dog owner, I didn't know much of anything other than what I remembered from my dad's hunting dogs. I also knew that beagles get really chunky and being overweight for a doxie is bad on the back. I took Ollie out with me on my 'runs' while training for a half-marathon. I say 'runs' and what I really mean is 3-6 miles (5-10K) of jogging where once I was passed by an elderly speed-walker in matching track suit. I did have enough sense to run early in the morning or after dark.

Ollie was a great pup. He spent that summer playing, running, and growing. And growing. And growing some more. It was quickly becoming apparent that he was no dachshund. By late July, when Ollie hit 55 lbs, I figured he wasn't any sort of a doxie mix. I took him to the vet on an emergency visit (his jaw was cemented shut after a stealthy attempt to go diving for kitty clumps...eww....). As she wielded the water pick and Ollie's ridge went up she said, "Well... you've got an otherwise healthy Ridgeback on your hands."

She looked at his paws and asked if we had a concrete dog run. I explained our routine and her jaw dropped. "You've been running around with a 5-month old pup?" I said, no. He should be about 8 or 9 months old by now. He should stop growing any time, right?

She burst out laughing and informed me I needed to slow down on the running, keep it under 3 miles since he was used to longer runs, and I'd be lucky if he weighed in less than 75 lbs as an adult.

Ollie is by far the most highly expressive and empathetic dog I've ever worked with. He has an amazing vocabulary (over 50 phrases and names) and is able to figure out what is needed from him in a lot of varied situations. He has dog friends of all sizes ranging from a four-pound teacup Pomeranian to a 90-pound husky. Once he gets to know you, he is affable and goofy, and delights in showing off tricks he knows.

His neuroses and phobias, however, make him difficult to bring in public. He is scared of men in baseball hats. He is horrible at generalizing and I am never quite sure how he will react. His fears include (but are not limited to): topiaries, fire hydrants, newspaper vending machines, rectangle street signs, red plastic cups--not blue, yellow, or clear, clear plastic forks, duffle bags, newspapers--but not wrapping paper, garbage bags, garbage cans, cardboard boxes, tight spaces, and anything out of its normal order or place. When he is frightened, he does not bite or bark, but simply freezes and won't move except to look frantically from me to the offending object and whine.

In many ways, he is the dog version of Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie Rainman.

And I wouldn't change a thing about him.

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