Boarding a roller-coaster

Unpredictable puppy, unknown past, uncertain future

By Paul Noah

Photo: A boy and his dog

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. But I’m also realistic. Though my wife’s and my childless lifestyle narrowly avails responsible cat ownership (I take him to work on a daily basis), it doesn’t justify dog cohabitation because we’re nearly never home. In fact, we’re fortunate to ever vacation without work-related luggage. It was during our paradise vacation last fall on the secluded rustic east side of the Caribbean island of St. John that we met Percy. 

A skinny, 25-or-so pound puppy fearfully growled at me as it stood between me and the beach. I assumed wrong as it returned shortly after I shooed it away. That’s when I realized it needed help. St. John – as is the case with most area islands – has little, if any, naturally running water and even less in the way of food. If I hadn’t intervened, the dog would not have lasted more than another few days. Not realizing it was a she at the time – I never really looked – I playfully named her Percy (short for one of my favorite British names, Percival). Percy was a typical “island dog” – looking something like a lab/shepherd/hound mix to my untrained eye. Though she clearly feared human hands (I suspect prior abuse), she was receptive to my slow, deliberate friendship gestures in addition to my being her new reliable source of nourishment. She laid her head in my lap as we watched for meteors and satellites under the moonlit beach. We were glue.

My wife could not have been more supportive about my new pal, but obligation superseded friendship and I responsibly transported her to St. John’s Animal Care Center for observation thinking, “OK, that was my good deed for the year.” Two days later, shelter manager Ryan Moore called with Percy’s clean bill of health and estimated 14 to 16 week age asking, “Would you like to watch her for the rest of your visit?” Otherwise, she would live in a cage most of the day until possibly adopted. 

“You can bring her back on your last day.” 

Moore also mentioned as long as there were no calls about a lost puppy by the time we were heading home, Percy would be available for adoption. What was I thinking when I said, “OK”? A day later I was calling Delta reserving her transport home to Ohio with us.  

Despite my limited dog experience, it was obvious Percy was above average. She never failed to surprise us – quickly learning and retaining nearly everything. Though she now had plenty of food and water, she patiently camped outside our villa in hopes of our attention. She obediently followed us to the beach and was a playful companion on demand. Why would bringing her home for the purpose of fostering her until adoption be a bad idea? 

By the time we left the island, riding in the car was old news for Percy. She emerged a champ from her air journey nine hours later – no quarantine necessary as St. John is a U.S. territory. 

Finally home in Ohio, that night when I playfully exclaimed, “Honey, there’s a dog in our downstairs bedroom,” I suddenly realized I had boarded a roller-coaster – pun intended. The ensuing tumultuous two months were humbling. 

Thanks to a tip from Frank Graci of the Downtown Flying Pizza, the eight-volume “Cesar’s Way” audio book quickly became my manual. I now consider it required reading for everyone contemplating dog ownership. I was suddenly the “alpha-dog” of the house – smartly relocating the cat to my mother-in-law’s until further notice. Thanks to my neighbor Dan, Percy had a daily 3 p.m. run around the neighborhood in addition to her three additional solid daily exercise runs with me, which dog trainer Cesar Millan insists necessary for every dog. I was fortunate to have a great support system for my new boarder.

Like any puppy, Percy didn’t want to be left alone. I’d be the same way, as solitude sucks – unless you’re a cat – and was the likely motivator for her short learning curve for “sit,” “stay” and other basic commands. “Go to bed” became all it took to summon her into her crate at bedtime. She even learned to sit on a small throw rug next to wherever I happened to be in the house at the time. Nonetheless, Percy’s actual human interaction time was limited to only a very few daily hours, at best. I continuously wrestled with the ultimate selfishness of keeping her. In her best interest, living with us was not optimal for a dog that was estimated to grow to 50 pounds or more. 

Once I finally trained her away from nipping at fingers and to potty outdoors, I stayed the fostering course, created and advertised her availability in the Dayton City Paper. 

“So, what’s the big deal?” you ask. “What’s so hard about raising an adopted puppy?” Though I’m not a whiner, “Puppy 101” was especially difficult for me, as my home time is limited at best. Suddenly, free moments to do what I wanted no longer existed. I had a puppy demanding attention. We could no longer travel overnight without inconveniencing someone else. I woke up at 3 a.m. for her nightly run to ensure no accidents. 

A dog is a child. It chews everything in sight. It howls when left alone. It demands full-time attention. Yet, somehow, the rewards of unconditional love and devoted companionship continued to mask the maintenance pain. 

Thanks to my Cesar Millan-guided puppy education, I realized Percy’s personal needs required a scrupulous adoptee checklist, including at least one full-time alpha human, a yard to run in and indoor accommodations. 

After screening dozens of inquiries and several in-home visits, Percy ended up just outside Columbus as the full-time companion to a six-year-old home-schooled boy. 

Six months later, my recent follow-up visit left me satisfied Percy was well placed. 

She’s in a loving home appreciative of her love and – barely – tolerant of her craziness because they know she’s still a puppy, less than a year old, soon to mature to a – hopefully – more serene personality.

Pet adoption must not be an emotional decision. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been incapable of avoiding my natural urge to rescue a myriad animals, both wild and domesticated. Baby opossum, squirrel, raccoon, duckling, squirrel, skunk (yes, skunk), turtle, cat and now dog have made my list. In most cases, actions like those above are costly. Once I added up the costs of the St. John veterinarian, Animal Care Center’s adoption fee, airline shipping fee, shipping crate, immunizations and a spay from the local Ohio veterinarian, accessories and food, Percy’s guest check amounted to just under $1,000. 

Costs beyond financial are easily miscalculated when masked by altruistic emotion. 

Pet stores bank on this common human reaction to puppies and kittens in their windows. Most importantly, consider the unintended consequences of pet adoptions: the hours of engaged activity necessary to the sanity of both you and your pet; the messes you’ll be cleaning up; the destruction of furniture, carpet and objects that were in the way; the unplanned veterinary visits and the possibility that your new pet’s personality may require outside help – though I happen to agree with Cesar Millan that most pet “problems” are owner enabled.

Before you adopt, consider selfishness. Consider the eventual size of that small puppy you’re about to bring home. Consider the devoted commitment you’re agreeing to by bringing home this living thing with its own set of needs, emotions and dependencies only you will be obliged to satisfy. Contrary to the trends of our disposable society, pets absolutely do not fall into the disposable category. 

Still ready for a pet? 

Then by all means, visit your local shelter and nurture a deserving new companion as fast as you can!

All photos: Paul Noah

Reach DCP Publisher Paul Noah at

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Reach publisher Paul Noah at

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