Old School Dog

I got a dog recently, everybody. …I went down to the pound. I got one of those free dogs. Free dog. That’s how I say it too. I don’t say, “I rescued a dog.” I hate when people say that stuff. They say, “She’s a rescue. I rescued her.” Really? Did you pull her out of a burning building? Did you jump in a river with your wingtips still on with no concern for your own safety? Or did you just go down to the pound and get a free dog…? — Bill Burr, comedian

I gotta agree with Bill on this one. You’ve probably noticed that when people tell you that their dog “is a rescue” it has nothing to do with the dog’s situation. They are really telling you about themselves. I am a great person. I found this poor pitiable cur cowering in a corner. I, my magnanimous self, ushered it into the light of the civilized world and am giving it the life it deserves in its forever home. Am I not wonderful?

Okay. So I got myself a free Doberman.

I have wanted a Doberman pinscher for 20 years. They are the ultimate dog: sleek, elegant, muscular, not too big or small, typically brave, athletic, hyper-intelligent, minimal shedding, minimal drool, low odor. And they do not bark a lot.

They are all that and, by reputation, the last type of dog you would ever want to get from the pound.

As Bill Burr goes on to (very correctly, very hilariously) point out:

Dude, the shelter is not a pet store. It’s like Shawshank for a Golden retriever. Why don’t we just go down to the prison and rescue an inmate and just roll the dice that maybe the guy was wrongly convicted? Are you out of your mind? F—k that. I want a brand-new 2009 bulldog, all right? I don’t want some 1995 half-a-labrador with part of its ear chewed off, you know? I’ve got to put together its backstory. Every time I go to use the toaster, it starts freaking out because his last owner hung him from the ceiling fan every time the Jets didn’t cover the over, you know? Dude, that’s an animal, man. That thing can kill you.

And he’s right. This is an animal you do not know. That baleful look may be from selective breeding. But it might also be from poor socialization, neglect, mistreatment or abuse. It may have a neurosis you have no ability to detect or correct. That dog could be like the mad barber of Fleet Street, biding time until it can remove a child’s face as you try sneaking it onto a plane in the guise of your “emotional support animal.” (See footnote) To top it off, none of us are a Barbara Woodhouse, or a Sophia Yin, or, heaven forbid, a Cesar Milan. We have no clue what to do with a twisted animal psyche.

The way to avoid all of that is to raise a dog from a puppy. But I haven’t had 15 or 20 extra Benjamins stuffed into the mattress any time in the last 20 years to spend on a newly minted Doberman. Then this year we had a Christmas miracle.

My daughter, who volunteers at the pound, came home one night and opened her phone to show a photo of a pair of Dobermans that had come in together, a black male, and a red female. When she did, I blurted out, “I want the black one!” But with the image lodged in my wife’s mind being a snarling, leaping Doberman taking down a soft-armored perp in protection training that’s as far as I expected it to go. To her Dobermans represented what you least want in a dog: aggression. And pound dogs represent what you least want to deal with: an unknown backstory.

Don’t get me wrong. Of the eleven dogs, seven cats and fourteen turtles we have owned, all were rescues but three. (Have I mentioned that we are wonderful magnanimous people?) So maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me when my wife ended up steering me to the shelter. And in the chaos, in the cacophony of yapping canines—mostly pit bull mixes—the pair of Dobermans were as cool as cucumbers. Neither was skittish or aggressive. Any neuroses they had were wrapped in a demeanor of pure calm. That was enough for my wife to encourage me to put the black male on reserve. That is to say, its owner had five days to claim it. After that a Doberman rescue group could claim it. After that folks on the reserve list would be contacted. I signed the form, handed over the non-refundable $50 reserve fee, and waited to be disappointed.

But we weren’t. The pound called on the winter solstice to ask when we could pick up our new baby.

The mythical Doberman is protective, attached to a single person, quick to warn off strangers. The anecdote is that after the AKC recognized the breed, it won Best of Show three years in a row without the judges even looking at their teeth. But the mythical Doberman is just that: mythical. The aggression shows up mostly as an atavistic trait brought out by bad upbringing. The best kept secret about modern Dobermans is that they are absolute cuddle-muffins. In fact, if the secret were out, people would abandon their boring Golden Retrievers in droves and take up with the Doberman.

And what about ours? To Bill Burr’s point, he really does have part of one ear chewed off. He came to us underweight, dehydrated, dull, dirty. He was very unsure of his new status. There was no sign that he had any memory of spending a night in a house, or a ride in a car. He must not have ever had a toy, or chased or caught a ball. Early on he had an altercation with our rat terrier, Sammy. That got the terrier shaken like, well, a rat. And it almost got Jericho—that’s what we named him, Jericho—sent back to the pound. But he adjusted quickly. You could almost see him absorbing his new situation minute by minute. Inside of two weeks he and Suzie Q were fast friends, and Jericho was giving Sammy a wide berth.

All of that netted him rides in the car and walks in the park to get him exercised and socially adjusted. And that’s when I realized I’d gone old-school. A sleek, black, alert Doberman is a sight to behold. So people would stop to ask about him. And then they would say, “You don’t see many of these any more.” That set me back a step the first time. But my mind clicked through all of the inmates at the pound. Wall-to-wall pit bulls. All of those clunky canis lupus waddling the streets, some still sporting spiked collars? Pit bulls. They have become almost—well—cliche. Yeah, yeah, there are still more black labs than you can shake a stick at. We have golden retrievers up the wazoo. And you practically can’t move without stepping on a Chihuahua or its doo-doo. But the Doberman is almost an artifact.

And now I hear it on almost every circuit of that aging asphalt path. “Nice dog. You don’t see many any more.” “Gorgeous dog. I haven’t seen one in awhile.” Of course, Suzie Q gets compliments; she’s a straight up sweetheart. Strangers are friends she hasn’t met yet. And Sammy gets the occasional, “Oh look at the cute little fat one.” But only the Doberman is passé, yesteryear, old school.

That’s fine by me. The classics never go out of style.

Jericho on his first day at his forever home

Footnote: It’s true. One mom sued Alaska Airlines and Portland International Airport over facial injuries her daughter suffered after beng bitten by a pit bull traveling as an “emotional support animal.” Click here to read the story. 


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