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Andi's Big Day

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image Andi with Michelle at her graduation ceremony. Mitch Traphagen Photo

Stray animals are a heartbreaking and unnecessary problem in South Hillsborough.

By Mitch Traphagen

She arrived at our house as a frighteningly skinny puppy, but certainly not all that frightened. She had (and still has) an annoying habit of greeting people by jumping up to smash noses with whatever unlucky individual happens to even slightly bend over in her presence. Even with all of her bones clearly visible through her thin coat of fur, she bounded about as a happy puppy without a care in the world. I guess she had reason to be — from her perspective, she had found a home.

Within a week or so of her arrival, my wife found her a real home — “real” meaning not our home already overflowing with three dogs. Michelle dropped her off with the adoptive mother and drove home thinking all worked out well. But the next morning, the adoptive mother called asking us to take the dog back. “She cried all night and is still crying,” the woman said. Ruskin’s CARE animal shelter was full so Michelle brought her back home and we named her Andi. She didn’t cry again, unless we made the mistake of trying to take her somewhere in the car without the other dogs. She learned her lesson from the first time.

When she showed up back in 2006, we lived in a part of town we later found out was considered an animal dumping ground. We had been told that some snowbirds enjoyed having a pet for the winter but would not take them back to their homes in the north. Thus, when it was time to head for home in the spring, they would drive down to the country road near our house and let the winter pets go. If there really are people who do such things, I have a feeling they’ll find out that hell is a completely dog-less place. But whatever her circumstances were prior to meeting us, Andi was determined that our home would be hers.

Andi is insane. Of course, there are numerous definitions of insanity and hers would surely be a fringe definition. She has boundless energy, seems eternally happy, and can’t stand to see another dog get some attention without barging in and forcing some attention on herself. It doesn’t matter that she’s the smallest dog in our house, in her mind she’s the biggest of them all. When treats are passed out, we’ve learned to give Andi two while the rest of the dogs get one. Having two will sometimes dissuade Andi from cheerfully, yet earnestly, taking the treats away from the other dogs.

It seems the other dogs have resigned themselves to it, too. Sammy, the biggest dog, will at most let out a whiny little yelp when she takes his treat away. But he knows that attempting to keep it is futile. Andi is cheerfully relentless. I’m certain her biggest wish is that she had pockets so she could safely stuff away and keep all of the dog treats.

We researched her breed on the web and one person with experience with her type of dog strongly recommended that she be given a job within the household. Having a job would help her to deal with her energy level and obnoxious assertiveness. Unfortunately, I am reasonably certain the only job Andi would want would involve a badge and, quite possibly, a gun. I have a feeling that Andi would love nothing more than to arrest people and dogs at will — sometimes for thinking they should have a treat all to themselves, sometimes just for the fun of it.

After nearly six years of unbounded energy and seemingly endless happiness (that sometimes directly corresponded with the unhappiness of our other dogs), Michelle decided that it was time for Andi to go to school. She signed up for an obedience course in Brandon and painfully loaded Andi up into the car without the other dogs. Andi, of course, cried and shivered convulsively for the entire trip but magically transformed herself into a perfect angel dog once inside the canine classroom. The instructor commented on how well behaved she was and the human parents of the other dogs in the class applauded her good work during the lessons.

Week after week, the same scenario played out, with Andi celebrating her joy at actually being allowed to return to our home by attempting to leap six feet into the air to nose-smash me once back inside the house. And then the day came for her final tests and possible graduation from obedience school. Andi was nearly flawless on the tests that included everything from leaping through a hoop to walking past a treat purposely left on the floor (she was tempted, but she resisted). I’m sure that she was the best dog in the class. Of course, most of the class was made up of impetuous puppies that cared far more about treats and adventure than they did about a diploma.

Andi cared about the diploma. She posed courteously with the little mortarboard on her head as the instructor took her photo. Later in the pet store, she picked out a toy — a stuffed pink gorilla — as a graduation present and was so careful with it that it lasted for nearly three days before it was completely destroyed. In those three days, she was never seen without it — if she was awake, it was in her mouth while her tail wagged happily; if she was napping, she would be curled up with it.

There are more advanced obedience classes available and I think Andi would like to take them. Who knows, maybe after the next one she’ll get a badge.

Stray dogs and cats are an unnecessary problem in South Hillsborough and almost all of them would, like Andi, prefer to nap on a couch than on the street.  Shelters such as CARE are often filled to capacity.  For pet owners, the responsibility begins with spaying or neutering your animals.  In the Tampa Bay area, there are several no or low cost programs to help.  For more information, visit www.aspca.org.

For those looking for the best and most sincere form of companionship, visit CARE at www.careshelter.org or call 813-645-CARE (2273).  You won’t find Andi there but certainly a dog or cat is waiting to fill your heart.  Treats (and diplomas and badges) are always good, but a formerly stray dog or cat will be happy to just be in the same room as you.

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