Saturday, March 17, 2018

World, Meet Clarisse

Three weeks ago, we welcomed a new addition to our family. Clarisse is a 4.5-year-old poodle who has already stolen our hearts, at least, Trucker's and mine. Raycat is still figuring out this weird looking creature.

I have been researching dog ownership and looking for the right dog for a long, long time now (long-time readers may remember the scary dogs of 2015). I knew that when I adopted a dog, it was forever, so I was going to make sure that we had everything perfectly ready and that we got the right dog this time (our previous attempt resulted in both Trucker and my dad being bitten and my bro-in-law lunged at, while the dog was sweet as pie with Mom and me. Obviously the dog had had some bad experiences with men). My dear friend at work has been helping me--finding listings for dogs, giving me insights on certain breeds (she is a major animal lover who has had a variety of breeds over the years) and talking about certain dogs that I was considering. I've read a lot of books, joined a lot of Facebook groups for fans of certain breeds (If I was considering a breed, I joined FB groups to try to talk myself out of it. These groups shared the good, bad and ugly. I figured if I could be deterred by seeing the worst, it wasn't the breed for me), read countless articles and forums, met a lot of dogs, looked at a lot of listings, applied for many dogs from rescues, and talked to numerous breeders. Nothing ever quite worked out. Some dogs were adopted before my application got in, or the rescue wouldn't adopt out of state, or the dog just didn't seem to be a good fit for us for some reason or another. I was okay with it taking a long time. I wasn't going to mess this up. I often questioned whether or not I was ready, and then would throw myself into more research. Then I found her and it was right.
When she first came home.
After her spa day.

I was doing a Craigslist search for schnauzers because that was the breed we had pretty much settled on and I had only found one standard schnauzer breeder in my state. I had never considered a poodle, really. The show haircuts threw me. I saw a listing for a schnoodle and thought I would search for poodles also. I found a listing for a special dog needing a special home. Before I emailed her, I did some research to see what kind of situation I would be getting myself into. When I thought it all seemed within our ability, I emailed her. Once I realized that it seemed like a good fit, I started researching in earnest.

You see, Clarisse is a former puppy mill breeder. She was throwing litters of dead or deformed pups, so they didn't care about her. At some point, something happened to her eye, and the owner cut it out at home. Because they obviously didn't do a professional job, they damaged the optical nerves and she lost vision in her other eye as well. Her rescuer had a couple other poodles and found a listing for her. When she showed up, the puppy mill owner threw Clarisse to the ground, kicked her over and said, "Just take her. I don't want her anymore." Even though she didn't have the time to take care of a blind dog (she had a few kids, a couple poodles, a few cats and a new baby on the way), there was no way she could leave this little dog with them. She took wonderful care of Clarisse while she looked for a good home. She got her spayed, up-to-date on shots, vet checked and used to being loved on excessively. I will forever be grateful for how she saved my baby and taught her that the world wasn't all bad. She made sure that I was good for her before she asked if I wanted to meet her.
Her very first time tackling the stairs.

The day that we decided to drive the 200 miles to meet her, we randomly decided to hit a used book sale at the library. One of the first books that I found was Living with Blind Dogs, by Caroline D Levin. The volunteer at the sale had a blind dog at home. The next day when I sat down at lunch to read by book, the woman across the table started talking with me about her best friend's dog who is blind from diabetes and people don't believe she is blind because she is the happiest dog and plays so much. My mom was hesitant. She knew how much I wanted a dog and was concerned that I would end up with a dog that ate and didn't give me what I needed. The next morning, my techno-phobe Mom had blown up my phone with the results of the research she had done on the internet: "You put carpet runners down so they figure out where they are", "Put bells on your shoes so they can find you" "OMG check out the halo!"

The day that were were to meet and possible adopt her, we woke up early. We had spent the previous day getting the house all ready. We got all "stuff" off the floor, rearranged furniture to a more blind-friendly layout. We have a number of rugs already, but we rearranged them in a good fashion for navigation (long runner in the hallway between kitchen and living room, a certain type of rug in front of exterior doors, another type in front of her crate and her food dish, yet another kind at the top of the two stairs leading between levels). We made one last check that any sharp or pointy things weren't at eye level. Off we went.

We fell instantly in love with her. She was quiet, but settled right into my arms when her rescuer handed her to me. She was just sweet. We both loved her instantly. We talked with the rescuer a lot to hear more about her story, tips for helping her adjust, her likes and dislikes and why she was being given up (No behavioral issues. She even asked that if we ever had to rehome her, that we contact her and she would buy her back, which let me know a lot about how she had been treated/cared for and what kind of dog I was getting. She texted several times in the hours after that, heartbroken that she had had to let her go). It was obvious that she was very loved. I have kept in contact with her for these weeks, letting her know about adjustments and vet visits and sending pictures.
This photo perfectly captures her energy during our cuddles.

The whole drive home, she was quiet. She was interested in us, but never made a peep. When we got home, I walked her around the house on a leash so she could get a feel for the lay of the land. We got her some food and more water. Then she napped. And napped. And napped. I knew that most rescue dogs go through a bit of depression for a week or so as they get used to their new normal, so I wasn't concerned. I just held her while I worked online or read a book. Then she woke up. All of a sudden, she was insane. She was snuggling and kissing and rolling around and doing this adorable thing where she covers her face with her paws. It was pure joy. Three weeks in, and she gets like this every morning when I wake up (and when Trucker wakes up), every time either of us gets home from work, and often after longer naps. She is the most joyful, fun-loving, vivacious thing.

We learned a lot through our research and that has made this transition a breeze (like, surprisingly easy). I taught her a swerve word. Whenever she is headed straight for something, I say "Oop!" and she swerves to avoid it.She wasn't leash trained, but being a poodle, she learned in 5 minutes. We walk her always the same way so she can learn the neighborhood. When she walks on one side of the sidewalk and there is a wall or overgrown bushes on that side, I say "This way!" and she moves back to the middle of the sidewalk. She has learned "up" and "down" for navigating steps (She can run up flights of stairs, but can only walk down one so far). She knows where to go for her food and water (and unfortunately where to go for the cat's food which makes her fart so we are working on a "leave it" command). She has only had one accident in the house. She doesn't destroy anything (in fact, it doesn't appear that she understands the concept of toys, so we are working on that as well), doesn't bark all night (crate training took about 10 days; the solution came when we started playing Beethoven for her each time we crate her. She loves it), allows us to administer any medicine or pluck ear hairs with barely a grunt.
This old wash tub was purchased at an antique
store for $8 and perfectly fits her bed. She
loves having a napping spot that is close to the
action but out of the line of action.

We took her to the vet to get her all checked out. Heartworm negative, fecal test came back good, and overall great health. She had some redness from her eye, but an $18 bottle of eye drops has gotten that under control. Her intra-occular pressure test came back low, which means she doesn't have glaucoma yet, but we are going to get her in to the opthamologist just to make sure that we are doing things right and we know what to look out for. Before we adopted her, I made sure we had the cash on hand to do an enuculation if it was needed. Obviously, I would prefer to not subject her to another trauma and the risk involved with surgery of any kind, but if I can't keep her out of pain without it, I will get it done.

There is so much more to say, but this is getting long, so I will wrap it up with this:

When I wanted to get a dog it was for three main reasons: 1). Companionship 2). Running partner 3). Watch dog. Once I heard her story and how loving she was, I decided that I was alright with making some compromises. Then I met her and knew that the companionship alone was worth everything. A few days later, she and I were playing in the kitchen when Trucker got home from a doctor's appointment. He parked on the street, so she didn't hear his van pull in. As soon as she heard someone messing with the doorknob, she was off running and barking at the intruder and kept at it until he talked with her. Another night, she had already fallen asleep when I realized I had forgotten something in the car. I think I woke her up when I went outside, but she wasn't sure exactly what had happened. When I turned the doorknob to come in, she started barking up a storm until she realized it was me. She is a fantastic watch dog because her hearing is so finely tuned. I have heard others say that their blind dog is a better watchdog than their sighted dogs. Finally, one day we were out walking the neighborhood. She was still getting used to the leash and all the noises and smells in the neighborhood (one day she tried to pull me into a house where the smell of skunk was strong...oh dear!). At that time, she wasn't confident enough to walk next to me (she now is), so I had to walk backwards and talk with her so she would follow my voice. This particular day, for some reason, she took off running towards me. I thought she was just trying to catch up, but she didn't stop. I jogged backwards while she ran as fast as she could towards me. I made sure to watch for anything she might trip over or run into and made sure I kept the leash loose so she didn't get choked. She ran all the way home and was super excited. She takes me on little jogs each day, we play chase in the backyard (usually I use clapping to let her know where I am, but she is starting to be able to track me with her nose), and we ran for a half hour at the dog park one day.

She is the smartest dog I've ever met. She is so loving and sweet. She is perfectly well behaved. She adores both of us and likes my family. She loves to cuddle and is as active as we want her to be (she will visit the pet store and sniff all the things and meet all the dogs and run like crazy at the dog park without stopping and then pass out hard when we drive home). She is everything I could have ever wanted in a dog. People sometimes tell me that we are doing something kind and sacrificial by adopting a blind dog, but honestly, she is everything we could have ever wanted. Here's hoping she ends up being a world-record longest-living toy poodle.


  1. Lucky you and lucky her! We too never thought to get a poodle but ended up with a 1 1/2 year old mini who had been rescued from an abusive home. She is now 8 1/2 and totally a happy girl although still hesitant around new humans. She developed Addison's disease 4 or 5 years ago but it is controlled successfully and no problems. Loving, smart, funny - best decision we have made in a long time. Enjoy your little one.

    1. Wow! So glad she has you. It is such an honor to give a good life to a dog that has survived so much hurt.

  2. I am right glad you have found each other and have begun your journey together as Family ♥♥♥


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