by Susan Mikula Campbell
His eyes wide with panic, he darted from person to person in the room trying to find someone, anyone, who could take him away from this scary, noisy place. His raggedy, overgrown black coat was dull, and he obviously hadn't been eating - his frame was little more than skin and bone.
Finnegan was a long way from the pampered purebred miniature schnauzers that have ruled my household over the past 40 years. The SPCA politely called him a schnauzer-terrier "mix."
But I know my breed. I pulled a dog cookie from my coat pocket as he continued his frantic race past me. He skidded to a stop and made a U-turn, right into my heart, when he returned to put his paws on my knees, accept the treat, then rest his head on my lap, giving that soft "oou-oou" of schnauzer-speak in thanks.
I hadn't wanted another dog after my shadow, Elliott, died last year. For 14 years, Elliott's mission in life had been to be wherever I was. Put him outside, he'd do what he had to, then his nose would be pressed against the screen door worriedly checking to see that I hadn't somehow gotten away. Dogs mourn, too. After Elliott's death, Nessie, our 8-year-old schnauzer, turned into a couch potato and would heartbreakingly cry in her sleep at night.
As a reporter, I have written many stories about the SPCA. After interviews, I always head to the kennels to talk to and rub the noses of any dog that doesn't seem ready to tear my arm off. What people don't realize is that's most of them.
After seeing Finnegan and setting a date to return with Nessie for a "meet-and-greet," I headed for the kennel as usual. Was it karma that a black lab mix in one cage was named Elliott?
All but one of my previous schnauzers came from champion lines, and I'd met their parents and sometimes their siblings before taking them home. OK, Nessie did chew a hole in the dining room rug, right down to the floorboards, when she was a pup, but she grew up to be a sweetheart. The problem with getting a dog from the SPCA is that often little, if any, background is known. With Finnegan, we only knew that he was 2 years old and that he'd had at least two previous owners. His last family had given him up after only three months because he didn't get along with their other dogs.
Indecision over whether adopting Finnegan was the right move increased at the meet-and-greet. As per SPCA policy, Finnegan had been "fixed" two days before, but his first move was to try to mount Nessie, who shrieked and alternately tried to hide behind me or my grown son.
Shelter Director Amy Lewis, who has been putting in long hours to try to turn the SPCA of Niagara into a "no kill" shelter, arrived armed with a squirt bottle and the information that testosterone levels wouldn't start decreasing for a few weeks. A couple of spritzes of water cooled Finnegan's ardor. While we talked, I could see him wandering off to put his mark on all four corners of the room. Then an eye-watering odor arose behind us.
Nessie still cowered. Indecision crept in. For me, pet adoption is forever. I was ready for some training challenges, but was I ready for Finnegan?
I dithered and debated, but in the end, I knew I couldn't leave him behind.
At home, it only took a couple actual sprays from the squirt bottle before the sight of it alone made him back off. Plus, he finally tromped on Nessie's last nerve, jumping up on the couch where she had comfortably arranged herself on a pillow - Grrrrr! He backed off, jumped up again - How about if I just sniff your feet? Grrrrrrr! He sighed, walked to the opposite end of the couch, knocked down that pillow, mirrored her pose and spent the rest of the evening staring at her.
As the days passed, we were pleasantly surprised at how well Finnegan fit in, often remarking, "Why would anyone give this dog up?" My fears about house training never materialized; he waited to go outside. Of all my schnauzers over the years, he's the most affectionate, literally using his paws to give you a hug. Scold him, and those skinny legs fold up as he turns into a canine version of a Slinky toy, scuttling up to beg forgiveness. Our purebreds loved to chase a ball or toy, but expected you to chase them to retrieve it. Toss a toy for Finnegan and he brings it back ... and back ... and back. Ignore him and he plunks it on your lap or tosses it under your nose like a baton.
Finn, as he is affectionately known, is not perfect by any means. Dog toys that have been in the family for years have been disemboweled, as well as his dog bed. He fights being groomed.
He's not at all polite about helping himself to any food he can stretch to reach. The vet told us he was way too thin and to let him eat whatever he wanted, but I don't think she meant a half stick of butter. As it passed through his system, his eyes got glassy. "Urp!" He tried to hack up his stubby tail on the rug. Amazingly, an addiction was born. Even an empty butter carton in the recycling pile, lures him into a shredding frenzy.
Worst of all, when Finn is outside and the wind is in his ears, he forgets what "come" means. Our other schnauzers have done fine on a tie-out chain, but Finn really makes me wish I could afford a fenced yard. He's managed to slip from my grasp twice and go on walkabout. Thankfully, helpful neighbors were able to catch him, since he stops at every tree.
My first task each morning is putting the two dogs outside. One recent blustery day, Finn managed to get twisted around the one tree in the yard his chain can reach. He sat there waiting for rescue, looking like the poster child for "Les Mis," with his hair blowing across his face. Nessie, who knows the "go around the tree the other way" rule, went over to try to herd him in the right direction. Thinking she was coming to play, he pounced on her. Offended, she stalked back to the porch.
Because of a crooked leg, I use a cane on uneven ground. Not taking the time to go back inside for a cane, I grabbed a shovel on the porch and teetered out to pull him in the right direction - just as a young golden retriever entered the yard. I was afraid that Finn would slip out of his collar and go on walkabout again with all the leaping about that ensued, especially after he tangled his chain on the rocks of our neighbor's raised garden bed. The youngster who followed the errant retriever into the yard, kept gasping, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry!" until in desperation, he leapt and captured his pet with a hold that would have done a rodeo rider proud.
It was only later that I realized I must have scared the kid half to death. There I was, an old lady with bed hair, wearing a blue, fuzzy robe and slippers, waving a shovel and hollering "Finn! No! Bad dog!"
As for Nessie, she no longer cries in her sleep and has decided Finn is not so bad after all. She often initiates play and when they tear around the house, she's chasing him as often as he's chasing her. She has realized that not only is she taller and heavier than him, she's smarter.
It all started one day when the three of us were lined up on the couch watching "Dancing with the Stars." Finn climbed on my lap, put his paws around my neck and his head on my shoulder. As I rubbed his back, I noticed Nessie's sour look and invited her to join us. Instead, she jumped down and disappeared for a few minutes, coming back with her absolute favorite toy, a polka-dot pig that she had kept away from Finn in one of her secret hiding places. She stood in front of us and seductively squeaked "Hoggie." Finn bit. Of course, he did.
As he leapt down and happily began tossing the toy in the air, she smoothly jumped up, carefully arranged herself on my lap so there was no room left for him, and gave me a smug look that clearly said, "Men are sooo easy!"
Adopting Finnegan from the SPCA turned out to be a terrific decision. Sure, there have been some bumps in the road in the past three months (and there likely will be more), but this time, the happy-go-lucky, loving little guy has finally found his family.