Looking Back on Midna’s Adoption

I’ve been meaning to write an adoption success story for the website of the Utah Humane Society, but somehow never seemed to get around to it. We rescued our dog, Midna about two years ago and she has been a joy.

When we bought our house in November 2008, I’m pretty sure that Thrack knew the house meant I wanted a dog. I never wanted to have a dog in an apartment because I’d always felt that it’s hard to not have your own yard/territory. So until we had a house, we stuck with our Beaky; we also had fish for a while, but they outgrew their tank a few too many times so when we moved, we gave them to my uncle, who had the space and equipment to care for them properly.

Once we got settled in our house, I started trolling rescue websites. It is important to me that I rescue animals like dogs or cats because of the sheer number of good sociable animals that need homes. (Whereas I don’t feel like I had enough experience with companion parrots to risk adopting an animal with social problems I wasn’t equipped to handle. We purchased Beaky as a young bird, but he was bred locally and purchased through a mom & pop store that has well socialized hand-raised animals.) We thought we had found our dog through one of the regional rescue organizations, but it turned out to be a false-start where we ended up being second in line for a cairn terrier in need of a home.

We kept discovering dogs that were available for adoption were either larger than we wanted or much too small. We had discussed the type of dog we were looking for and came up with the following requirements: goldilocks size that was either on the large end of small or the small end of medium, female, preferably mixed breed and if possible, I really wanted a dog with perky ears (they’re so expressive!) And yet we had lots of trouble finding a dog that seemed like she belonged in our lives.

Then one afternoon we stopped by the main branch of the Humane Society to look around; I was looking through the larger kennels when Thrack came to get me. “You have to see this dog!”

Huddled at the back of the double wall kennel was Midna, ears back, looking miserable. Thrack was right that she was exactly the kind of dog we were looking for: size, sex, breed and even the alert ears. She was beautiful, but it was clear that the hysterical barking of the two Jack Russell Terriers in the adjacent kennel had panicked her. The food in the dish on the front of the cage was untouched. We wanted to see if she could be more confident outside her kennel, and asked to take her outside on the grass. She was a different dog.

She wasn’t initially as excitable and active as I might have expected for a puppy of six months, but just taking her outside away from the noise of the other kenneled dogs gave her confidence and curiosity (she’d been spayed just the previous day and was undoubtedly sore). She delightedly climbed into our laps and licked faces. I had been nervous about bringing home a dog not knowing how interested in birds they would be, but decided that she was unlikely to have much interest (as a herding dog) in a bird only a foot long.

Turns out that I needn’t have been concerned.  Not only was Midna not overly curious, but she was so anxious to please  that she was quickly dissuaded from even looking at the parrot.  Which can lead to some funny but awkward interactions.  The first time this happened, Beaky got down onto the floor in the front room, and started walking toward Midna fearlessly.  No doubt he was intent on showing her how big and important he was (I’m sure he would have lunged given the chance, obviously).  Midna looked at us on the couch, then glanced furtively sideways with just her eyes.  It wouldn’t count as actually looking at the bird if her head itself remained motionless.  So she stood there, frozen and terribly freaked out, eyes darting back and forth as the bird got closer and closer.  It was obvious Beaky was trying to push some aggressive crap, so we picked him up, but it was good to see how well she’d learned to ignore him.

I was surprised at the short adoption process at the shelter, although I understand that they have limited space and resources, so it makes sense to have a simple and easy approval process. I didn’t expect to be able to take our new girl home right away, but to my surprise, after ensuring we agreed to take care of her properly, they handed us a slip-lead and sent us on our way. When we got Midna home, we left to go to the pet store while leaving her at home with a friend to make sure she settled in. We shopped for food, leashes, collar, bowls, treats, shampoo, and a woefully-too-small-bed. We came home to find that Midna had sought comfort by finding some dirty laundry in our bedroom and lying on it. (Makes sense, it smells like her new people and that’s got to be comforting.)

As we got to know our new girl, we tried to figure out some of her history. We thought that she’d possibly been attacked by another dog, but was healing because she had some bald pink areas on her scruff. Wrong.  But more on that later.  We also found that she had picked up a case of kennel cough, which is unsurprising given the pressures of rescue facilities.  Midna got microchipped and checked out with a vet, where she got her remaining vaccinations.  But he was concerned about the bare patches we’d assumed were healing injury sites because he suspected they were actually caused by a common mite called demodex.  (Yes, this is the same organism that causes “mange” as extreme cases.)  Most dogs have them, as the organism is similar to mites that live in human eyebrows, but in some dogs, they can cause skin problems.  The risks are exacerbated by stress, infection and poor diet, so even a healthy dog could have skin issues if their system was particularly taxed.  A simple skin scraping put on a slide showed that this was precisely what had happened.  Considering her weight, stress and positive test for giardia, it’s not surprising that she had a very mild problem with demodex.

The problem came in treating Midna.  The first vet we saw wanted us to look up oral anti-parasitic medications commonly used to treat the skin mites and make our decision on which medication to try, without once warning us that the oral anti-parasitic medications had terrible side-effects for herding breed dogs including but not limited to: death, seizure, depression and change in personality.  Suffice it to say that once I discovered this, I was far from impressed with the vet we’d taken her to (chosen because of the proximity to our house).  I opted for a second opinion from a vet I knew I trusted: our wonderful avian vet 17 miles North of the house.

The doctor up at Lakeview not only was aghast at the idea of treating an Australian cattle dog mix with drugs known to cause herding dogs problems, but proposed that since it was a very mild outbreak most likely caused by poor nutrition and stress we could be conservative on treatment.  He gave us a shampoo that flushed out the hair follicles to help clear out some of the mites as she got stronger, gained weight and fought the infection back on her own.  And it worked wonderfully.  There were a few weeks where she looked worse (the damage had already been done prior to us adopting her) but it was one of those circumstances where she had to look worse before she looked better.  And soon there were no bald spots in her coat, and no further need for frequent baths, much to Midna’s delighted relief.

Thrack and I made a concerted effort to give her good opportunities for socialization, as she was still puppyish and we had no idea how much exposure she had to other animals and people.  There’s a great dog park not far from us that we’re happy to support, and we had great luck in making sure Midna learned how to interact with dogs of diverse sizes, ages and energy levels.  We’ve found that she doesn’t have any anxiety in socializing with dogs, actually.  She wants to play with cats, and doesn’t understand why they don’t want to play with her.  Although one of my brother-in-law’s kitties is starting to relax enough to play a little; I have hope they’ll get more friendly over time.  With people, I think we get some clues as to her background.

Midna is a afraid of hunched over old ladies, especially if they have canes.  It triggers a panic response so severe that she wants to run away, or if not possible, cower and tremble.  If she gets frightened enough, she will squat and pee; the submissive urination thing has largely gone away now, but it was frustrating to deal with.  It’s the nearly same level of fear response she used to show to stairs.  For months every time we’d get her near stairs, she’d crouch, tremble and cry out in fear.  We made due when necessary by picking her up and carrying her, but that was just as traumatic, and she would stiffen and windmill in an attempt to get away.  Even with literally a year of work, she’s still afraid of stairs, but can use them although she often whimpers the whole way down.  It’s pretty clear to me that she had been hit with something like a cane and she was definitely been kicked or thrown down the stairs during her early months.

The shelter workers had christened her “Munchkin” which we didn’t keep as it just didn’t seem to suit this biddable and eager blue heeler mix.  Thrack and I wanted a truly geeky name for her and it was a bit of struggle to figure out what to call her.  Of course, Midna turned out to be fairly accurate because although she’s still a dog in that she likes stinky things, she is the prissiest creature about water.  She hates rain and puddles and streams and baths and wet grass.  She tiptoes over wet turf.  So Midna (impish princess in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) it was.

She’s also a bit of a princess when it comes to soft things.  Midna is obsessive about finding the absolute softest available thing to lay on.  I have seen her choose a tarp on the grass over the grass, a little blanket on her bed instead of just the bed, and the soft pillows on the conversation-pit couch instead of just the couch cushions.  She turns and twists over cushy things like a cat, searching for the absolute cushiest thing to settle onto.  It’s  hilarious.

Midna is a foot and ankle biter.  The practical effect of this is that games involving stepping or poking with feet are wonderful fun.  She also tends to chew on slippers (but only when you’re wearing them because it’s no fun without toes inside.)  She also loves to run around like a maniac.  She may not have much of the heeler coloring, but she definitely has inherited her share of the herding instincts of a cattle dog.  Even as a young dog ~7 months, she was never hyperactive; she sits and watches everything until she can come up with a reason to run and chase.  This reason can be as simple as:

  • a box on your head (very upsetting)
  • stalking her
  • running away from her
  • barking at her
  • backing away from her
  • playing with a toy
  • occasional inscrutable dog reasons
  • “I was outside and that was fun but now I’m inside, YAAAY!”
  • snow (oh god, she loves snow sooooo much)

On snow, well, it’s tricky.  I never wanted to be that person.  You know, the one who puts clothing on dogs and frilly sweaters and jeweled collars and whatnot; I’m not a “girly” woman and have no desire for my bitch to be feminine either.  She is a dog not a fashion statement.  Her collar is simple unadorned leather, sturdy and long-wearing.  But Midna is kinda naked.  She has absolutely no undercoat and the hair is so short on her sides that you can see straight through to her skin speckles.  We quickly realized that we needed to give her some protection against the elements or she’d have problems.  So I found the simplest and classiest sweater that fit her: black with white/red argyle pattern.  So now I have dog that wears clothes, but at least it’s only because she needs them.

I find it strange that she loves playing and running in snow after all the hydrophobia.  But there you have it.  Our puppy runs at her most breakneck speed, on the very cusp of losing control as she turns rapidly and sprays snow everywhere.  This winter we had some storms where the snowfall was taller than she was.  Midna sprang and jumped through the deep fall, leaving big oval holes.  It was awesome.

Midna is not large, but she manages to seem so at times.  I think she’s like the Parkinson’s law of couches: not only does she wait for any opportunity to stretch out on all available space (for instance, the moment you get up to swap out a disk in the dvd drive), but she even sleeps with her legs rigid at 90° angles to her body.  She can easily occupy half or more of the couch.

She was over a year old before she figured out barking.  Midna had always made lots of howly-growly “roo-roo-roo” noises when playing and she was at least a year old before she started barking like a normal dog.  From what I’ve read, this is a pretty typical thing with Australian cattle dogs, possibly because they were bred with dingos.  Supposedly dingos like some other wild (non-wolf) dogs don’t really bark but make funny howls.  Midna has got the hang of it now as this is one of the bad habits she’s learned from my mom’s dog, including barking at people/dogs walking in the alley behind their house.

Now that she barks, however she’s applied it to her doggie territorial behaviors.  She’s one of those dogs that has a healthy degree of protectiveness of her home itself, but who relaxes as soon as people let her know that the people around are safe.  And she’s never protective of her space outside in the yard, it’s only ever when she’s inside the closed house that she will bark at passersby.  If a pizza delivery person comes to the front door, she’ll bark, but as soon as we open the door, she wants to lick everyone.

Midna can be very clever when she needs to be.  Last summer we noticed a great example of dog-reasoning when we were doing some work in the front yard.  She learned fairly early and easily what boundaries she needed to obey and keeps in the front yard without restraint, even in the temptation of cute children and dogs she’d really like to play with.  She is quite obedient and will sit when she spots something she wants like this, looking from the playmate back to us plaintively looking for permission.  So we don’t worry about letting her range in the front yard unrestrained while we’re out there.  There are some kids from up the circle that have a very sweet black lab who they take with them as they bike and walk around in the neighborhood.  (Less well behaved than our dog, but I can’t control what they do.)  She often plays with Midna when they come by, and Midna loves it.  We were watching the two dogs play one afternoon and noticed that when some of the dog’s children left (but not all), the dog looked like she was going to run after them.  Midna did not want to lose her playmate, but knew she was not allowed to leave the yard, so she started herding the dog from one end of the yard to the other.  As soon as the lab got the an edge of the front grass (we have a long corner stretch to run in) she turned the dog the other way and chased her.  It was then that we got an inkling of both how resourceful and capable she could be.  I sometimes wonder if we knew someone with working dogs to teach her if she would learn how to properly herd. Probably.

One thing she really doesn’t need to learn is the stare of a herder.  She still spends a great deal of her time staring at us or outside watching intently, waiting for a sign that she needs to do something.  It’s one of those things that you see with herding breeds where although they have lots of energy and running power, they tend to conserve it for when they need to chase something down. Without training on the job she’s supposed to do (keep animals together) she just watches.  I have never been around a dog that stares at me this much.  It’s funny.

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